When you're living on a shoestring budget and still trying to build up your savings account, weekly and monthly expenses can be killer. You cut back on everything you can afford to, from date nights to insurance policies. But the one thing you can't cut out is the groceries. After all, you have to eat.
Try these strategies, whether you're cooking just for yourself, eating with a partner, or have growing children to feed. One or more of them is sure to positively impact your grocery bill.
1. Dig Deep Into Couponing
Coupons are basically free money, waiting for you to claim it, and they will never go out of style. Why? Because retailers love and depend on them, too, using coupons to drive brand loyalty (whether for the supermarket, or a national food brand), return visits and the all-hallowed impulse buys. But you don’t have to be an extreme couponer to see serious savings. And now that most of us are carrying around a tiny computer in our hands all day, there’s absolutely no excuse for not grabbing some savings, no matter what store you’re in.
- Maximize store savings. Have a favorite supermarket you prefer to shop in? Well then you want to become that supermarket’s best friend. Find them in every possible venue and sign up, whether it’s in-store for their “membership” club, on Facebook or Twitter, or by downloading their app. All three locations will offer up specials, deals and savings, and every time you shop there, the cashier will hand you your receipt along with a string of just-printed coupons inspired by what you just purchased. Another benefit? Holiday savings, where you can score a free turkey or ham, just by hitting a certain dollar amount.
- Follow your favorite brands Beyond the store itself, you’ll also want to become fans — official fans — of the brands you purchase the most. From breakfast cereal to toilet paper, national brands all have an online presence, whether it’s Facebook or their own website. Sign up in both places and you’ll be the first to get any special savings they offer to fans. And some brands have “clubs” you can join, where you might even be sent free product in order to be part of a focus group about those products, sharing your opinions while you score savings.
- Get organized. Having a single place to store any clipped coupons from grocery circulars that land in your mailbox is key to strategizing your shopping. So spend some of your savings on a coupon organizer, so you can sort all your coupons and have them at the ready — right in your grocery cart — when you shop, so you never miss a savings opportunity.
2. Buy Less-Than-Perfect Goods
- See the beauty in “ugly.” Some people can’t bring themselves to buy an eggplant with an unsightly lump; other people know that that unsightly eggplant is a money-saving opportunity. In fact, a whole industry has popped up around so-called “ugly” fruit and vegetables. Home-delivery companies like Misfits Market, Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest are packaging up produce that gets rejected by the big chains and sending it to customers at a steep savings. Also check for hyperlocal “ugly produce” companies (Cleveland, Ohio’s Perfectly Imperfect Produce is one example) in your area and you might be able to avoid paying shipping fees. But considering produce is often among the most expensive grocery items, you’ll be doing yourself a cost-cutting favor — as well as inspiring yourself to eat more fruit and veg. Win-win!
- Buy items just past their prime. If you buy “day-old” baked goods, and use them that very day, or the next day, you just got a real steal (since most times you buy stuff and don’t use it the first day, anyway). Also remember that things like bread and croissants and biscuits and muffins often freeze really well, too — so you can buy up the goods you know you like and revive them in a slow oven and they’ll be almost as fresh as they day they were baked!
- Look for the clearance shelf. Grocery stockists will often deeply discount canned or frozen goods that are approaching their sell-by or use-by date. Be sure to check with the store managers or clerks to ask where they put these goods — usually on a rack in a slightly-out-of-the-way hallway — and hit them up regularly for steep savings. But buy only what you can use in a reasonable time! Cheap cans of chicken soup you don’t use are expensive no matter what they cost.
3. Neighborhood Sharing
Fighting food waste is an idea that is finally taking off in the United States. And good thing, because each year 161 billion (yes, BILLION) pounds of food turn into garbage. Partner that statistic with the 1 in 9 Americans who are food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough to eat. So in our country, we throw away nearly 40 percent of the food we make, from waste generated by supermarkets, restaurants, and yes, even ourselves. What does this mean for you? Well, there is a burgeoning movement to use technology to match up food on its way to the dumpster with people who need it.
So find an app that operates food sharing near you. Some examples are Too Good to Go, Karma and Olio, which was launched in the UK, but is rapidly expanding in the U.S. after being funded by tech companies in Silicon Valley — proof that the idea has legs.