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How to Stay Within Your Grocery Budget

Of course, deciding how much you want to spend on food isn't the hard part – it's staying within your budget that's tricky. But here are some ideas:

• Plan your meals.

It sounds obvious, but plenty of people kind of figure out what they’ll be eating that week while they shop. If you really think about it before you go, or shop online at home, you’ll probably save money. “Plan your meals around what's already in your fridge and pantry to avoid buying extra ingredients you don't need and utilizing what you have,” says Kara Myers, founder and recipe developer at the family meal website Sweetly Splendid.

For instance: “Is there a rogue can of beans that's been in your pantry for a while? Make chili that week,” Myers says.

• Create shopping lists.

This is a common practice, but you could probably improve how you write up your shopping list, says Eileen Roth, an organizing expert in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of "Organizing for Dummies.”

For instance, if you're scanning the contents of your refrigerator and pantry before you go to the grocery store, add items on your shopping list when they are two-thirds gone. So if you aim to keep mayonnaise in stock, for example, get into the habit of buying a new jar when the current one is two-thirds empty, Roth recommends. This way, you'll always have a refill ready and you'll have more time to look for deals.

• Create a meal routine.

Routines make grocery shopping more predictable for your wallet, according to Roth. "Another way to watch your budget is to plan your meals," Roth says. "Every Wednesday is spaghetti night. Every Friday is fish night. Every Sunday is chicken. Every Monday is steak night, etc."

• Utilize leftovers.

If you plan right, you’ll not only have leftovers, you’ll have a use for them. “Even if you aren't someone who typically likes leftovers, there's always the opportunity to make them into a completely new meal and avoid buying groceries for another dinner. You can take things like leftover pot roast and potatoes and turn it into shepherd’s pie or take leftover baked chicken and turn it into a chicken noodle casserole or stuffed shells,” Myers says.

• Careful about going bulk shopping.

Yes, you can save a small fortune at bulk warehouse stores. You also can waste plenty of revenue shopping at one, if you aren’t careful. “Buy in the right quantities,” Myers says. “Instead of buying bulk sized items of food you'll never use, buy the container that's closer to the quantity that will actually get consumed in your house. It may feel like you're saving money by buying something in bulk because it's cheaper per ounce, but if you end up throwing out half, you haven't saved the money.”

• Create a shopping routine.

Patterns also open the door to savings. "If you shop on the same day each week, at the same grocery store, you will know what they carry and where it is – saving you time as well as money," Roth says.

• Be careful with coupons.

Coupon apps and strategies can be useful, but be aware of your spending mindset. "Don't just use them because you have a coupon," Roth says. She also advises consumers not to get sucked into the idea of buying two items because you have a coupon, especially if it is a product or brand you've never tried before. "It doesn't help to have bought three to four boxes of something you don't like. Now you waste money instead of saving money," Roth says.

• Shop on sales days.

earn when your grocery store starts a new sales cycle. "Many stores have ads that come out on Wednesday, but grocery stores do differ," Roth says. "Watch your newspaper ads and see if you notice a trend for sales too." She adds that a good time to save money is following a holiday. "Once a big sale is over – like a holiday sale – stores will discount the excess," Roth says. "Valentine's candy, the day after Valentine's Day, and turkeys the day after Thanksgiving Day."

• Order online instead of shopping in the store.

Jessica Randhawa, owner, recipe creator and head chef at The Forked Spoon, a website featuring family-friendly recipes, opts for Whole Foods grocery delivery with the Amazon app. It's far more convenient than shopping in the store, according to Randhawa.

"Instead of managing a grocery list, I can simply add items to my cart when planning recipes, or simply add items to my cart if I notice I am about to run out of an ingredient," she says. "The reduction in time spent driving, waiting (in line) and wandering aisles, coupled with the lack of impulse buying, has been a huge saver of my time and money," she says. You can also take your time with online shopping and look for affordable foods.

• Use rewards programs.

This is another classic strategy. "If you shop at a major retailer, the store most likely has a customer rewards program that gives you automatic discounts on most items. Definitely sign up for it," says Audrey Del Prete, a fitness instructor and health and wellness coach in Los Angeles. "You will save a lot each time you shop."

• Buy store brands.

Sometimes called generic products, these brands are only sold by the store where you’re shopping. Generally, they’re cheaper than name brands and usually just as good, says George Gansner, head of global accounts at NSF International, a product testing, inspection and certification organization. “Most stores have systems and programs in place to help ensure their products are just as good as the major brands,” he says.

• Shop more often, not less often.

That sounds counterintuitive. If you shop more often, won’t you spend more? Maybe, but Gansner recommends more frequent trips to the supermarket and says you’ll probably spend less than if you do one mega-visit every week or two.

The idea: You'll buy what you know you will consume in the next few days rather than purchase a lot of items you think you will be using in the next week or two. “This can help to avoid food waste, which is a common problem for many,” Gansner says.


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