Six strategies to save at the supermarket

By Jenni Wolf

Pretty sure none of my friends would be surprised when I say that browsing the Sunday grocery circulars with my dad was one of my favorite childhood activities.

Yes, indeed, I was clipping coupons and scouting sales before I even had any money to spend! With the recent rise of food prices, saving money at the supermarket is on my mind more than ever.

Fresh, whole produce has a much lower price per unit cost than a prepared, store-bought fruit platter—if you have time for it, do-it-yourself. Photo by Jenni Wolf.

Here are six strategies to help you save:

Identify your staples. It is good to have variety, but stocking foods you don’t use often and that will sit in your pantry is taking up dollars that could be put towards an item you use on the regular. Don’t keep or buy inventory of things you “might” need one day.

Be willing to try different brands. In our house I have the mantra, “try it once, and then you’ll know.”. Sometimes a generic-branded item is not as good as the name brand, sometimes it’s way better, and sometimes it’s “good enough” because of the cost-savings.

I remind myself that if I don’t like the Aldi-branded Oreos, I can go back to buying Nabisco. But if I do, I could be saving myself over 50% each time I buy them! It’s worth the “risk” to me to try and see.

Consider price per unit. Not everyone wants to whip out their phones to calculate unit prices, but doing so can save you a lot of money over time. You can also check the product price tag, which often will have the price-per-unit already noted on it, making it easy to compare brands and sizes on the shelf.

It is often assumed a bulk package is always more economical, but sometimes it’s actually more expensive or the same price as a smaller-sized package. Yes, I am that person in Costco on my calculator—and you’d be surprised how many things are not actually cheaper there. Which leads me to my next tip.

Embrace the two-stop shop. Learn what stores sell your family’s grocery needs at the most affordable prices and then prioritize purchasing those items there.

I know not everyone has time to shop multiple stores, but this can be another major money-saver.

For example, I love the co-op. But if I bought all my produce there, I’d overspend my budget before month’s end. I stick to buying bulk goods there, like spices and grains, and get my produce mostly from Aldi or the farmers’ market.

Plan meals around your current food inventory and supplement with a smaller, weekly shop. Yes, you still have to purchase groceries that week, but your bill will likely be lower as you’ll be using that can of tomatoes already in your pantry rather than buying a duplicate.

Temper your urge to stock up on sales. My favorite tip to remember, is: If it’s on sale, but you don’t need it and you do buy it, you are not saving money. You are spending money!

For example, Cashews are on sale at the co-op. You have a bag at home. You buy a bag. You save $5 on that bag, but now you just spent $10 you weren’t planning to spend.

Oh, and remember, things will go on sale again. Most products and stores actually have a sale cycle; if you pay close enough attention you might even be able to figure it out! 

Jenni Wolf, a registered dietitian, writes about food and nutrition for the Bugle.

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