For most families, groceries (and food costs generally) tend to be one of the largest expenses in their budget, so reviewing our shopping habits is certainly warranted to make sure we aren’t allowing wastage.
We aren’t referring to eating less or necessarily buying less food, but this could apply to families that throw away a lot of food. Instead, we are considering is there anything we can we do differently, habits we can adopt, or lifestyle changes we could make that will lower our grocery bill? (FYI, the post Save Money by Cooking we explored the value of cooking versus buying food.)
We believe there are a few strategies that you can use to save money. Although we’re not spending time on the obvious ones, here are a few examples:
- Use a budget. We discuss this at length in our Budgeting Series (check out the post How to Create a Personal Budget for an overview). Like all budgets, they are only as good as the effort you make to stick to them.
- Use coupons. While store coupons do not seem to be abundant in the Caribbean, there are certainly advertised sales. So pay attention for these in the press.
- Shop around. Some stores are just more expensive compared to others 10-15 minutes drive away. An extra 50 cents or a dollar a product can add up pretty fast in a full grocery cart.
- Pay attention to the check-out clerks – scanning mistakes happen all the time.
Let’s consider some other less-obvious approaches.
Grocery stores (supermarkets) abroad have become a battleground, designed to make you spend money, and we have noticed that trend growing here, especially in larger stores. If you know the tricks, it’ll help you win the battle:
- The layout makes us walk the whole store. Items we buy regularly tend to be at the back or spread around so we are forced to pass by the other products.
- The more expensive products tend to be at eye level while cheaper items are placed on the low or high shelves.
- Avoid the inner lanes if possible; that’s where the more processed foods are.
- Ignore sweets and magazines by the cashiers. These are placed there to entice you into one last impulse buy and are usually expensive.
- There are other psychological tricks: in-store bakeries (the smell relaxes us, which encourages spending), lighting/music (also for relaxation), bright colourful displays (to put us into a good mood), etc. When you are relaxed and in a good mood, you stay longer and shop more.
Make a list
Given the battleground you face, one of the most important steps is to make a list and stick to it. Without a list, a need develops for every product you see – whether this need is real or imagined (most likely imagined). A list helps you keep focused and stay in control – and within budget!
Also consider limiting grocery visits to once a month, except for perishables (e.g. vegetables). Frequent visits would likely lead to you spending more.
Buy in bulk
Why buy paper products or soap by the handful? Buy nonperishable items in the largest packaged quantity you can find, and then you do not need to think about it for another few months. Bulk quantities provide a better price. Just manage your cash to allow you to spend more every few months to re-stock. Again, having a proper budget will help.
In a way, the flip side to this is to avoid anything that is individually wrapped. A good example is corn flakes. Yes the little boxes are sometimes convenient, but they are bloody expensive. It is far more sensible to buy a larger box, store it well, and portion it out for snacks, etc. Look for other examples as you shop.
Watch out for brand-name items: they will be more expensive than the generic products, although in many cases generic products are virtually the same (pay particular attention to common pain killers and pharmacy items). Sometimes a brand name better suits your personal taste e.g. some prefer Heinz ketchup vs other brands. Or it can sometimes signal a better quality. But many times a brand simply adds additional costs with no discernable added value, so choose carefully.
We always find personal-care products (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc.) and non-food items (like cooking utensils etc.) to be more expensive at a grocery store. We assume this is because you are paying for the convenience to do one-stop shopping. As a result, we never buy these items while shopping for food; instead we visit stores that specialize in these items – the price and selection are better.
Above we mentioned that you should avoid those inner lanes because they mainly contain the processed, already prepared, or convenience foods. We should include here the freezer section with frozen foods (e.g. waffles, breaded meats, etc.) – anything “ready to cook”.
When did a grocery become an alternative to a restaurant? We can now pick up a frozen or pre-packaged meal for us to just reheat, fry, or bake. The problem is, these products are usually awful, unhealthy, and expensive. Read the boxes: they are made from many unpronounceable items and most flavour comes from sugar/sweeteners or salt. Instead, focus on buying real ingredients. Canned ingredients are fine, although fresh is obviously superior if you can properly store and use before they spoil.
Related to this, are the snack aisles: have you noticed how much space they occupy? We are sure the space dedicated to them has grown over time because being cheap to make, they are insanely profitable. The reality is, we should pretend these lanes do not exist. The products only provide a sugar rush and there is nothing of nutritional value. The only way not to be tempted is to just walk past.
Consider skipping the meat
Meat is comparatively more expensive, so consider making non-meat meals once or twice a week. Think about vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, salads and soups, etc. They create a wonderful variety for your diet and are healthy choices.
But when you do decide to buy meat, consider buying larger quantities (once the price is lower for the upsize) and freeze it in portions.
Don’t underestimate the importance of managing your food bill. If you have not yet prepared your personal/family budget, do it NOW. You need to know how much your food costs. Yes, you know it’s “high”, but you need to internalize the actual dollar amount. With a little discipline and effort, you’ll be able to easily save a few dollars and probably make a few healthy food choices in the process!
We hope you found this post useful. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!