For some grocery shopping is a painful experience. The crowds,the overwhelming number of choices, the fact that there are 20 checkout counters but only 2 are open. For others, grocery shopping is an exciting adventure. Hunting sales, sampling new products, knocking something off your To-Do List.
Regardless if you love it or hate it, we all need to eat, and groceries make up a large percentage (~10-15%) of our monthly spending. So keeping reading and learn how to shed a few bucks off your next grocery store nightmare/adventure…
1. Don’t Grocery Shop on an Empty Stomach
It is obvious and I’m sure you’ve heard it before but I’m still going to say it anyway.
“You buy more when you’re hungry.”
Your walking down the aisle and all the sudden your stomach begins to control your brain. You start tossing the weirdest shit in your basket…
“Organic Soft Wheat Flour? I can make some bomb homemade pasta with this!”-Your Stomach
In reality, you’ve never made pasta from scratch once in your life, and your certainly not going to start doing so tonight. Then you get to the checkout line and the REAL damage begins. Grocery stores have mastered the art of last second impulse purchases (Trader Joe’s is the king of this).
- Organic Cranberry Almond Protein Bars? Yes please!
- Roasted Kale and Seaweed Chips? No brainer!
- Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups? Eh f*ck it,why not?
Next thing you know you’ve added $10 to your grocery bill and none of these last second purchases are going to survive the commute home. Now sometimes shopping while hungry is unavoidable. I get it. So next time you find yourself hungry in the grocery store try to do the following:
Buy fresh produce that is ready to eat and can be easily consumed (apple, banana, carrot, etc.) on your walk/drive home. When you feel the temptation to buy random shit, just think about how good that banana is going to taste…
It sounds weird, but knowing you will have food available immediately after checkout really impacts your decision making. Plus, I guarantee it will be cheaper and curb your appetite more than those Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups….
2. Be a Trendy Eater
When fruits/vegetables are “in season” they are cheaper. Think of it like being trendy. But instead of having the freshest fall styles, you’ll have the freshest pumpkins and apples.
Now this doesn’t mean “out of season” produce is a complete no go. You just have to be more aware of the prices and consider other ways to get your fix.
I love blueberries. They are delicious. They are loaded with health benefits. And they are extremely versatile. However, the prices of fresh blueberries seem to be as volatile as bitcoin. One day they are $2 a pint and a few weeks later they’re $8. I’m convinced there is some sort of blueberry mafia out there…
But conspiracy theories aside, I still want my blueberries. So when the prices for fresh berries are high, I opt for the frozen or freeze dried variety.
3. Fill Your Basket with “On Sale” Items Only
This can be done several ways, but I’m going to focus on the two that I’ve actually utilized:
The “I’m Too Young for Coupons” Method
This method requires no preparation and involves a single lap around the grocery store. All you need to know is how many days’ worth of food you are shopping for.
Start in the produce section:
- What fruits/vegetables are on sale?
- Do I know how to cook/prepare/consume thisproduce?
- Are the “On Sale” items actually a good deal?
Move to the meat section and ask yourself those same 3 questions. Then make a quick pit stop in the dairy section and check if your favorite yogurt brand is on sale. While your there, you might as well scope the cheese area for deals. At this point you need to examine your basket.
“Do I have enough food for XX days??”
If not, proceed to the frozen section and fill in the missing items. Missing some veggies? Grab some frozen spinach. Lacking meat? Frozen tilapia will do.
Now obviously these examples are specific to me and my food preferences, but you get the point. You start with fresh “On Sale” items, then move to packaged items and finally finish with frozen items if necessary.
Disclaimer: When utilizing this method, you must have an idea of what is considered expensive for each item. For example, let say brussel sprouts are “On Sale” for $5 a pound. While technically it is “On Sale”, its still a rip off, because during a good sale you can get them for $2-3 a pound. In this case you’d be better off buying the broccoli for $3 a pound, even though it’s not “On Sale”.
The “Mom/Dad” Method
This is probably more effective than the prior method and gives you more control over what you buy, however it also takes more time and planning. Instead of just winging it and deciding what to buy while in the grocery store, make use of the store circulars and go in with a list.
Store circulars are a bit of an ancient concept, but they basically contain coupons and list all the items which are on sale for that given week. Most grocery store circulars are now available online or via the store’s mobile app.
4. Store your Produce Correctly
Fresh produce does not have an unlimited lifespan and you may be unintentionally shortening that lifespan even further.
“Did you know that apples give off ethylene gas and speed up the ripening of other fruits/vegetables in their presence?”
Pretty cool fact right? Feel free to use that at the water cooler on Monday.
But on a more serious note, learning how to store produce correctly can dramatically decrease the amount of food you toss each year. Every time you throw away food, you throw away money. You are not just trashing a rotten avocado, you are also ripping up the $2 you spent to purchase that avocado.
For produce items that you commonly buy, spend 5 minutes googling how to properly store that item. You only need to learn it once, and that 5 minute time investment could mean big savings over your lifetime.
5. Buy in Bulk
When it comes to food storage, your freezer is your best friend. If your freezer is not packed to the brim with chicken, bread, fruit, vegetables, nuts and shredded cheese then your missing out on some serious savings. Okay ill admit, “packed to the brim” is a bit dramatic. But the point is that you can significantly extend the shelf life of certain items by keeping them frozen.
“The key to unlocking the savings is to buy an excessive amount when prices are low.”-Captain Obvious
Red Hot Sales
Stock up next time there is a big sale on an item that you eat often…
Wholesale stores like Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s will almost always beat the grocery store in terms of price per unit. The issue with these wholesale stores is you are not feeding an army. Sure you like peanut butter, but do you really need a 5-pound tub of it? Probably not, but if stored properly I’m sure you could get through it before it turns rancid. Disclaimer: My true PB lovers out there are blushing because we know a 5-pound tub can be polished off in less than a week.
6. Learn to Love Staple Items
Nutritious. Available year round. Cheap.
If an item satisfies these criteria then I consider it a staple item. When properly prepared, these foods are all delicious. Learn how to cook staple items and your wallet will thank you for years to come.
7. Hidden Gem: Fruit/Vegetable Stands
Disclaimer: this one might be specific to NYC. I don’t know if these magical fruit/vegetable stands exist in other cities, but if they do, utilize them!
The first time I saw a fruit/vegetable stand on the sidewalk in NYC I thought to myself: “Who would be crazy enough to buy fresh produce from a sidewalk cart?”
Little did I know a few weeks later I would be their number one customer. These sidewalk stands (officially named Green Carts) can sell produce way cheaper than anyone else in the city. An avocado at the fruit stand costs roughly $1. The same avocado in the grocery store next door will run you about $3.
Why are these Green Carts so cheap? Is the food rotten or unsafe?
Relax, their food is just fine. The reason these stands can operate at such low prices is twofold:
- They do not have the overhead costs of a brick and mortar store. No electricity bill and no real estate taxes.
- They tend to get their produce at better rates than grocery stores because they buy items that are already ripe. Wholesalers are motivated to get rid of their ripe produce. Grocery stores don’t want it because the shelf life is reduced and the wholesaler obviously does not want to be left with spoiled inventory.
So to wrap it all up (and properly preserve this knowledge):
- Don’t Grocery Shop on an Empty Stomach
- Be a Trendy Eater
- Fill Your Basket with “On Sale” Items
- Store Your Produce Correctly
- Buy in Bulk
- Learn to Love Staple Items
- Discover Hidden Gems