In Saving

They say that you should spend about 15% of your budget on food, but how can you make sure you’re not overspending at the grocery store?

Everyone has heard those loved-by-mothers methods for saving money when buying food: “Clip coupons;” “Don’t shop when you’re hungry;” “Make a list beforehand.” All great advice, but are there any other ways to cut down on food spending each week?

Of course there are.

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As a full time college student, my monthly budget is pretty close to zero. This doesn’t give me a lot to work with when grocery shopping (or any shopping for that matter). I managed to cut down on my spending when I learned that grocery stores are specifically designed to make you buy more, and spend more on what you’re buying. If you know their sneaky tactics, you might be able to save enough for whatever you’ve had your eye on – whether it’s school supplies, new fall boots, or a weekend away with friends or family. Whatever you do with it, it’s more money in your pocket and less in the grocer’s.

Do your research

Before shopping, find out the cost of what you’re buying at the stores in your area. If your grocery store has a price match promise, either use it or avoid the store. Price match might sound like the store is committed to always having the lowest prices, but it actually allows the store to charge higher prices without losing any business. If you’re too lazy to research prices (like I am), check out sites like MyGroceryDeals.com and have them do the dirty work for you.

Start in the middle

Grocery stores put all the brightly colored fruits and fragrant fresh bread in the front of the store to put you in a good mood and psychologically trick you into spending more while you’re there. Admire the colors, but don’t fall for the tricks. Start shopping in the middle of the store to avoid buying more than you need.

Do the walking

Stores will do anything they can to get you to spend more. Whether that’s putting expensive salsa in the chip aisle, putting basics (like bread and meat) at opposite ends of the store, or just rearranging the store periodically, it’s all to trick you into buying more out of convenience and laziness. Don’t just buy what’s close; take the extra minute and walk a few aisles over to buy what’s actually on your list.

Do the math

At the store, pull out your (phone) calculator – how much does this can of peas cost per ounce compared to the other one? Is this 10 for $10 deal more expensive than the normal price? Does the per ounce price of this meat include the packaging and solution it’s in? You’d be surprised how often stores use so-called “deals” to actually make you pay more.

Don’t buy things that aren’t food

Need paper towels? Toothpaste? A greeting card? Go to a discount retail store where the prices will be cheaper. Grocery stores don’t rely on these items for business, so they often hike up their prices without worrying about losing business.

Buy in bulk

If you plan your weekly meals ahead of time, you can buy everything you need at once. So instead of paying $6 for a package of chicken breasts each time you need them, buy the family pack once for $9 and freeze what you don’t use right away. If you’re going to spend $2.99 on fresh herbs, plan ahead and use them in more than one meal – don’t just use a tablespoon’s worth and let the rest dry out in the fridge. The store plans for you not to plan – and they make a lot of money when you don’t.

Grocery stores make it easy to fall into the traps they’ve set, but with a little preparation and some extra legwork, you can outsmart them and get everything on your grocery list without blowing your budget.

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