Okay, so I’ve come to the unpopular conclusion that couponing to save money at the grocery store is a total and complete pain in the ass. If you’ve tried and been unsuccessful, then you know how time consuming it is to collect inserts, clip, sort and then remember to take them to the store and figure out all the loopholes and math associated with being a really good couponer. For, me it just didn’t happen.
So, for about a year now Matt and I have been working on keeping our grocery budget on a “dirt cheap” status, while still eating healthy. We have got this system down to a science and it only takes us about an hour to an hour and a half per week. Total. How do we do it? Read on for six proven tips to shrink your budget, your waistline and overall grocery shopping time.
1. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.
For real. If you’re not meal planning then you need to be. I’m not talking 100 croc-pot meals in one Sunday. I’m talking about sitting down for about 20 minutes on Sunday (or any other day of the week you choose) to figure out what you’re having for dinner each night of the week. Write it down. Then write the groceries you need in a list on the same piece of paper. This will help you realize those last minute ingredients you’ve run out of, but forgot you needed for a meal.
We have been using these meal planning sheets for the past year. Last year when I created my planning binder, this simple fix was one of the few things that stuck–because it really works. Here’s an updated version I’ll be using for 2015.
Click to download for free!
Side note: Meal planning also keeps you from going out to eat or getting fast food at the last second. You should have everything you need for the whole week after your shopping trip, so there’s no excuse why you can’t go home and cook.
2. Make sure you have a base of go-to meals.
My parents have always told me that if I learn anything from them, it’s “live below your means.” So, listen to my parents (they’re frickin’ smart) and don’t plan meals you can’t afford. If rent is due this week or you had to make unexpected repairs to the car or the house or had to buy a bridesmaids dress for your best friend’s wedding, take this week to plan staple, go-to meals that you can make with mainly ingredients you already have. For us, that usually means pasta, general tso’s chicken (with homemade sauce), fajitas or grilled chicken and veggies. We almost always have frozen veggies, chicken, pasta and brown rice. Those are our staples. Find yours and be prepared for hell weeks. Side note: this also works for weeks when you’re busy and don’t have much time to cook.
3. Shop at your local discount store first.
Every single time we go grocery shopping, we go first to Aldi, then to our regular local grocery store, Hannaford (I’m still learning to cope without a Wegmans, sigh). Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t you say these tips were supposed to save time? Yes, yes I did. You will save time if you meal plan ahead of time. Seriously guys, meal planning rocks.
Aldi can be a scary place if you walk in not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. You have to pay a quarter for your cart, pull things out of boxes and off shelves (see image above), and then bag your own groceries in bags you brought yourself. But seriously, you can get groceries for half the price, and it’s not just crap either. Aldi has their own brands of health, gluten-free and natural foods. It’s rare to find name brands there, but when you do it’s a gem and the item will likely cost half of it’s regular price. Side note: Don’t be skeptical of off-brand food. I promise you, it’s the exact same thing. It really is. It’s all in your head that it tastes funny. I promise that if you give it a shot, by the time you get to check out you will not care that your tortilla chips aren’t Tostito brand.
Buy everything you possibly can on your list from your local discount store first and save what they don’t have for the more expensive store. Just be sure to double check produce and check expiration dates, it’s usually okay but sometimes you won’t get the freshest stuff.
4. Only buy what’s on your list.
Since you’ve planned out your week and know exactly what’s required for each meal, you shouldn’t need to buy anything that’s not on your list unless it’s an ingredient you missed. Period. No exceptions. Stick to the list and your wallet will thank you.
5. Eat before you grocery shop.
This is the oldest trick in the book, but it really makes a difference. If you go into the store on an empty stomach, you’re likely to grab the first thing you see that you can easily stuff your face with the second you get home. That would be breaking rule #4, so just don’t do it.
6. Don’t buy something if it’s too expensive.
Shop for groceries like you shop for clothes. If you really want it, but it costs way more than it should, just don’t get it. It’s January, but you really want it to be July, so you’re really craving that $6 container of strawberries. Don’t do it, girl. Wait for a special or for your coveted item to pop up in your local discount store (Aldi has off-season produce every few weeks or so). Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and sing “Let It Go” to yourself quietly. You’re not going to die without it.
Follow these six simple rules and you’ll be one step closer to financial fitness in the new year. I hope you find it helpful! Let me know! Is there anything I missed? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me @qqquimby016. Also, let me know if you’d like to learn more about Aldi, their products and how I meal plan with my favorite Aldi items. Until next time!