Lazy Budget Chef: 7 Easy Grocery Shopping Habits that Save Money

Thursday, October 30, 2014

7 Easy Grocery Shopping Habits that Save Money

Lately, I’ve been doing a big monthly grocery store trip and filling it in during the rest of the month with milk, coffee, and banana runs. Three staples our house does not run without. 

This month I came in under our monthly grocery budget – by accident.

seven easy tips to save money on food

I’d like to say I spent hours and hours combing through sales circulars and matching up Extreme Couponing quantities into a $5 cart of groceries but that didn’t happen because that’s not my style.

It’s fine if you do. I’m too lazy to create The Marshall Plan of Extreme Couponing every time I need to buy groceries.

My secret to saving money on groceries is simple. I followed the budgeting habits I know I should follow but sometimes (often) don’t. When I don't follow the spending and budgeting rules, that’s when I blow my grocery budget.  


How I Cut My Monthly Grocery Budget Without Really Trying

1. Keep a running shopping list in the kitchen. When I use the last of a staple item like flour, I put it on our shopping list tacked to the refrigerator. Then I just buy flour instead of all of the  ingredients I need to bake bread because I think I need them too.

The list on our refrigerator also keeps Husband and I from “helping” each other by accidentally buying doubles because one of us thinks we are out (like the mountain of masa we are still going through.)  If you have any recipes using masa harina please tell me in the comments below!

I tried dry canning to keep pantry pests of the extra masa. So far it is working. Learn how I oven can dry goods here.

2. I moved things around in the kitchen cupboards to see what I already have on hand instead of automatically putting those staples on my shopping list because it wasn’t in my eye line. We are trying to do this more often after last winter’s Eat From the Pantry Challenge revealed we have Out of Sight Out of Mind Disease when it comes to items in the back of our freezer and cupboards.

Guess what? This month I found ingredients that we kinda forgot we had. If we shift our menu a bit from family favorites we eat more often, there is a good chunk of groceries I don’t need to buy right away and I get cupboard and freezer space back!

3. Didn’t shop on auto pilot. There are some ingredients we use so often I automatically put them in my shopping cart even if they are not on my shopping list. That's when I find out I could have saved myself 20 bucks or so because I didn’t do Tip 2 and Tip 7

4. Pantries and stockpiles don’t save you money unless you use them. This is a little different than Tip 2.

In Tip 2, I’m talking about our daily/frequent staple ingredients – canned tomatoes, pasta, coffee, frozen backup vegetables, bread etc. I’ll call that short term storage for lack of a better term.

What I’m talking about here is the longer term type items. Warehouse club bulk buys, canned/dried garden herbs and vegetables, and homemade jam.  Stuff that it easy to forget that I have because I don’t use them often or in the case of my small kitchen, are in a separate utility room we use as pantry space where Out of Sight, Out of Mind Disease comes into play.

The results of last year’s BJ’s Warehouse shopping trip last November. I wish they’d open a store in Columbus!

5. We shop and eat seasonally.  Once I started to really read and pay attention to the weekly sales flyers (I read them online. I do not have a newspaper subscription) and print coupons for the things we use (you can print coupons from my Lazy Budget Chef coupon database here) I started to notice the sale cycles of various items. When I buy fresh produce according to what is on sale that week, I save a more money than if I buy a particular type of produce on whim or auto pilot. Not to mention, food tastes better when it is grown in season.

The same goes for coupons. Despite what many people say, there are coupons for the eco friendly items my family likes to use. They generally are not issued as often or are seasonal.

In this case, I have an extra on deck to get us through to the next time I can buy it at less than full price. The biggest tip here: If I have enough in use and as a backup I do not automatically buy something if it goes on sale or has a coupon. I'll save more money not buying something I don't need to even if it is less than full price.

Before you complain as I used to that you can’t shop for food seasonally because you live in an area with snow, learn how I shop seasonally and save money during the winter here. It can be done!

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice is the most perfect pumpkin spice in the world! We use it in everything, It is only available once a year. It makes sense for us to stock up. Stock ups don’t have to be a cartload of the item. Just enough to get you through to the next time it is available or on sale so for my family two bottles of pumpkin pie spice are more than enough to get us through to the following sale season next year.
If you follow me @condoblues on Instagram you  might have already seen how we we pumpkin spiced all the things!

6. I’m trying to avoid grocery shopped when I am stressed, sick, or in a mood otherwise I will shop stupid and end up spending more money than planned.  This isn’t possible all of the time. I’m trying a few things to make sure I already have something on hand when I’m tempted to run to the store and buy buffalo burgers because they are easier to cook than the stuff I have on hand.
  • Having a few freezer meals helped more than I realized it would.  We are experimenting with making occasional extra large size dinners so we can freeze the extra.

  • Sometimes it is better (for me at least) to make something from scratch occasionally than buy it and be tempted by all of the yummy things I don’t need and will be tempted to buy because I’m in a mood.  For example, I don’t make all of our bread anymore but I did when we ran out. Why? I  knew if I went to the store for bread I’d probably bring home three carts worth of pumpkin spice Trader Joe Joe’s. I wasn’t in a mood. Those cookies are crack.
7. Most important: Stick to a written list. This tip circles back to Tip 1. Every time I go grocery shopping with a list in my head I end up buying a lot of extra stuff or forget something important like butter. That doesn’t happen if I have a written list either on paper or on my phone.

It seemed strange not to buy staples on auto pilot this month but I did it. It also made my shopping trip shorter which is always a plus. This is a very basic tip but I’m also bad at it. You see that pumpkin spice pancake syrup in the photo above? That was the one item not on my written list Smile.

How to do you money on food at the grocery store? What are your tips?

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