Ask anyone where they want to save money in their budget, and the answer is usually groceries. Your family’s grocery bill is probably one of your biggest monthly expenses, other than mortgage or rent.
But even if you think you’re doing a great job planning and saving, I guarantee that you are spending too much money and making mistakes that are killing your grocery budget!
The truth is that even I’m guilty of making some of these grocery budget mistakes. I admit it. I own it! But, I also recognize it and have taken steps to be smarter when I shop to save money on groceries.
COMMON GROCERY BUDGET MISTAKES
Skim through my list and see which grocery budget mistakes you’re making — and then challenge yourself to make a change, even with just one grocery shopping tip. Your wallet will thank you!
1. YOU DON’T HAVE A PLAN
I’m not talking about your shopping list (though that’s important too and comes up in just a minute). This crucial plan is your meal plan.
Your meal plan outlines what your family will eat for each meal, each day of the week. Meal planning not only saves you time each day by knowing what to cook for dinner, but it also makes grocery shopping much simpler and more efficient. When you’re armed with a weekly meal plan, you know which meat, produce, staples, and snacks to add to your shopping list, saving you additional trips to the store.
Read more: Creating a Menu Plan That Works
2. YOU DON’T HAVE A LIST
To piggyback off of your meal plan, you also need a shopping list. Shopping without a list is like taking a road trip without a map. You need to know what you need and where to get it. Put in on paper or use an app on your phone — it doesn’t matter how you do it, just make a list!
Sticking to your grocery list ensures you get everything you need so you don’t have to make extra trips to the store. All of those small additional trips waste time and fuel, and you often end up spending more on an impulse purchase even though you’d planned to dash in and grab “just one thing.”
3. YOU AREN’T STACKING COUPONS WITH SALES
Grocery coupons are great. And your weekly ad will work even harder for you when you apply a coupon to a food item that also happens to be on sale. Learning how to use coupons the right way is the key to significant savings at the grocery store. Clipping coupons helped me work my way out of more than $35,000 in debt!
Also see: How to create a weekly family budget
4. YOU WASTE FOOD
Food waste is a biggie. According to the USDA, Americans throw away 30% to 40% of our food supply!
Make sure you grocery shop for only the food you can consume in a week. Sure, you may find a good deal on a flat of fresh strawberries, but if you don’t eat them all, they will spoil. That is money going right into your trash can.
Never buy more than you can eat right away or have space for in your freezer — even when the sale price is awfully tempting.
5. YOU AREN’T USING YOUR PHONE
You read that right. Your phone. These include the popular Ibotta app and Checkout51, which is another rebate app. The best thing about these apps is that you don’t have to remember to bring coupons to the store with you – because you always have your phone!
6. YOU ARE BUYING OFF-SEASON
When you buy fresh fruit and vegetables that aren’t in-season, you will pay more. There’s no getting around it. Plan your meals around in-season produce, or opt for frozen vegetables when the fresh option, like a salad, costs more.
7. YOU AREN’T SIGNED UP FOR THE STORE PERKS CARD
Your local grocery store almost certainly has a loyalty program. Sign up and get the rewards card — you can often get special offers and discounts, which puts money back in your pocket.
If you hate the idea of carrying the little plastic keyfob around, then you may want to try KeyRing. This app stores all of your rewards card details and is scanned at checkout.
And, if you’d rather skip the app too, just give the cashier the number associated with the card (I recommend choosing your phone number so you always remember it) and he or she can manually enter it and find you in the store’s system.
8. YOU’RE TOO BRAND-LOYAL
Have you ever actually noticed a difference between name-brand canned goods and the store brand — besides the price? Store-label products can often save you big money. And to take your off-brand savings to an even bigger scale, consider grocery shopping at a warehouse club, dollar store, or discount store like Aldi. Their no-frills shopping experience translates into more savings for you.
9. YOU DON’T USE COUPONS
Using coupons doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it doesn’t need to take a lot of your time. If you are new to the world of coupons, you will want to learn how to use them. Then, check out sites such as Coupons.com, SmartSource and RetailMeNot Everyday to find coupons you can print right at home.
10. YOU DON’T TAKE INVENTORY BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
Take time to clean out your fridge and look though the pantry before you create your shopping list and head to the store. This is actually a double bonus for you because not only do you get the fridge cleaned up, but you also ensure that you don’t forget to pick up those must-have items. It also prevents you from buying food you don’t need. There’s nothing more annoying than finding a brand new jar of peanut butter in the back of the pantry when you’re unloading another one from your shopping bag.
11. YOU BUY SINGLE-SERVE CONVENIENCE FOODS
This is one of the grocery budget mistakes I was making! I’m busy and so are you. And I know pre-packaged snacks and foods can save you time … but they can also be budget-busters. Although you may need them for the soccer game snack, you should pass on them for your own family.
We started repacking larger boxes of snack foods into bite-sized portions for our family’s snack basket. I spend less money this way, and less packaging is better for the environment, too. It also helps with portion control for my kids.
12. YOU DON’T STICK TO YOUR LIST
I’m raising my hand here as I’m guilty of this mistake myself. Buy only the items on your grocery list, and don’t fall for descriptive packaging or fancy store displays.
Read More: Free Shopping List Download
13. YOU DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SALES
When you make your meal plan, you might look at the weekly ad circular and include meals with items that on are sale. But are you really taking advantage of them?
If you see that chicken breasts are on sale this week, don’t just buy one package for dinner on Thursday. Instead (as long as you have room), grab two or three and toss the extras into your freezer. Now, when you want chicken breast next week — and it’s not on sale — you’ll still have saved money.
When it comes to sale items, always buy the items you know you will need over the next few weeks, rather than waiting until you need them — when you’ll usually have to pay full price. This is especially helpful for staples like meat, canned tomatoes, dried beans, and even household staples like toilet paper or detergent.
14. YOUR GIFT CARD IS COLLECTING DUST IN A DRAWER
Did you know that the balance on gift cards can decrease over time — even if you don’t use them? I didn’t, and I sat on some cash cards for a few years only to discover that the cards’ annual fees had pretty much eaten up the entire balance. Grrrrrrrr! If you have a cash-value gift card sitting around, why not apply it to your grocery spending? Letting gift cards sit around is like leaving cash on the table … so if you’re trying to tighten your grocery budget, using a gift card is an easy way to save on a grocery trip or two — and make sure you get the most out of the card’s balance.
WHAT WILL YOU STOP DOING?
With a few adjustments to your grocery routine, you’ll eliminate some of the most common mistakes that kill your food budget. Did anything on our list jump out at you? Which of these common money-suckers are you going to conquer next?