If you are frustrated by the sometimes lengthy family budgeting process and are longing for a quick fix that will save you money almost instantly, start in the grocery store. Your food bill is probably one of the largest budget-breakers. On average, U.S. consumers spend more than 13 percent of their income on food. Fortunately, your food bill is one of the most easily manipulated, and saving money is virtually effortless.
First of all, everyone’s heard that you should not shop when you’re hungry, and that’s a good idea. Here are other smart shopping ideas to consider:
- Always shop with a list. On average, impulse buying accounts for 20 to 50 percent of a total grocery bill. Instead of wandering aimlessly through the aisles, bring a shopping list and a pen with you.
- Grocery stores are for groceries. Books, batteries, light bulbs, and pet supplies can all be found at the grocery store. Before you purchase everything you need from one store, make sure you aren’t paying too much.
- Shop alone. Marketers spend a lot of money convincing kids to buy their cereal for a reason. By reducing your distractions, you can make thoughtful purchase decisions.
- Carefully consider the cost of convenience. As a general rule, the more convenient the item, the more it will cost. Ask yourself if it is really worth paying more for shredded cheese when shredding it yourself would take mere minutes and save you some cash.
- Shop only once per week. Try to adjust your schedule and your purchases so that you are going to the grocery store once a week. This will help reduce impulse shopping and should be a big cost saver. If you must go more than once per week, stick to your list.
- Plan your route. To find the most natural and least expensive ingredients, such as dairy, bread, vegetables, and fruit, try skipping the center of the store and make a loop of the outermost aisles.
- Consider generics. Look for generic brands of items where it really doesn’t make a difference. For example, most dry goods have the same ingredients, regardless of the brand. The difference in price, however, can be as much as a 50 percent discount.
- Use coupons wisely. Only use coupons for items you are planning to buy anyway. Also, make sure you compare the price of a product with the discount on the coupon to the regular price of the brand you normally buy.
Finally, don't assume that all supermarkets have the same prices. Make a list of the ten or so products you buy the most and do some comparison shopping. Often you will find a huge difference between chains, and if you can save just 5 percent it will add up to hundreds of dollars in the long run.