Tips for a stress-free grocery trip that will also help you save money and promote health (especially during a holiday weekend)
Food is great, but developing healthy grocery shopping habits is also great especially if you’re someone who’s had some less-than-favorable grocery shopping experiences. (Was supposed to spend under $50. Ended up spending $250.)
We’ve written about how to experience your best grocery store trip, always. But that was back in the middle of 2019, before the chaos ensued. To say we need to revisit this topic is an understatement.
Much has changed since that article was published. We experienced the pandemic which prompted all of us to pay more than usual attention to health and safety; those working in the food & beverage sectors had to change how to serve us. (Because we still have to eat even during a lockdown.)
So, these easy tips for successful grocery shopping will help us avoid future shopping chaos altogether — pandemic or not. And not only do some of these tips help save money, but there’s the inclusion of healthier eating habits and safety and organization.
MONEY-SAVING TIPS/HABITS FOR GROCERY SHOPPING
1. Buy In Season
This could double-up as a healthy tip, too. We suggest that you buy vegetables and fruit in season because they’re more affordable this way. You could also avoid waste by buying fresh fruit at different stages of ripeness. Choose some fruit that’s ripe and ready to eat and some that’ll ripen in a few days so you’ll have enough time to eat all your purchases. Buying everything ripe or everything unripe is setting yourself up to either have some of those ripe fruits turn rotten, or some of those unripe fruits turn forgotten. Avoid both of these outcomes by purchasing in season and with a balance.
2. Look High And Low – Not In The Middle
In case you didn’t know, the most expensive items are usually put on the shelves where you can easily see and reach them. Talk about a good sales tactic? Some of the less expensive items may be on the higher or lower shelves. Don’t worry — if you’re too short, just ask an employee to help.
3. Buy In Bulk When It Makes Sense
If you can save money, over the course of a month or two by buying in bulk, do it. But be sure that you’re going to use all of the bulk items before they gets bad — it isn’t cheaper to buy in bulk if you don’t use it. We’d suggest buying nonperishable items such as rice, oats, flour, and other dried goods.
4. Pack Your Own Lunch Snacks
We’ll talk more about this tip in the “bonus” section, but buying pre-made snacks is a big waste of money. It might be convenient, but it’s better in the long run to purchase little baggies and buy the snacks in bulk. It’ll take just a few minutes to pack some snacks for lunch each day.
5. Go When The Kids Are In School
We all enjoy a little family vacay to the store, but going shopping without the kids will save you sanity and money. We figure this tip could fall under the “money-saving” category, too. And the “healthier” tips, too. The reality is that our kids are a bit of money-spending, unhealthy lil’ things. When you bring them shopping, they could pester and pester and pester until you buy some kind of junk food. Even if you’re able to give an affirmative no, it’s not pleasant having to repeat it 10 million times. In most cases, you’ll save money shopping without the kids and be encouraged to make healthier purchases. Also, did we mention your sanity will be a bit more intact? Yes, that, too.
6. Look for outlet stores such as bakeries.
Buying products from these outlet stores can help you stick to your grocery budget. And, sometimes, prices on food items can be reduced by more than 50 percent from store prices! In fact, there was a bakery down the street from my house that would sell a huge loaf of day-old “fresh” baked bread for only $2! Food establishments such as bakeries need fresh items daily, so once an item isn’t bought the same day, it becomes, well, less valuable. They’re less likely to toss these out, so they discount them heavily in hopes that some bread-loving, money-saving person would purchase them. Don’t miss out on these opportunities… check out local bakeries and other outlet stores in your area!
7. Bring Your Own Bags
We bet you didn’t see this one coming, right? Wrong. We know how much money could be spent over the years purchasing those $0.10 grocery bags. While purchasing a bag might be convenient, bringing your own saves money, plus those reusable totes are good for the environment. Some stores even offer discounts for every reusable bag you bring into the store.
HEALTHIER TIPS/HABITS FOR EASIER GROCERY SHOPPING
1. Avoid Shopping When You’re Hungry + Eat Before You Go
We’re sure you’ve heard this tip before (probably because we recycled it from our last grocery shopping article), but it really is solid advice. When you shop on an empty stomach, everything looks satisfying which can lead to impulsive purchases. You also may be more tempted to buy unhealthy choices and foods you don’t need. With a full stomach, you’ll lessen your chances of those impulse purchases. If you don’t have the chance to eat beforehand, grab a quick snack. You don’t need a full-course meal, just something to fill your stomach until you’re done shopping.
2. Read Nutrition Facts Labels
We suggest doing this even for foods you think may be healthy. Ingredients and nutrient content can vary a lot. When there’s more than one choice, compare labels. Choose the item with the lowest amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. You can also search for products bearing the Heart-Check mark; they’re certified to meet the nutritional requirements for a heart-healthy food.
3. Grow Your Own
In this article, we’re encouraged to plant tomatoes, peppers, carrots, lettuce, and more. We’re sure this can fall under the money-saving category, too. Doing this will help you save money and get better flavor at the same time. (Have you ever tried oranges picked straight from the tree vs. store-bought? The flavor is just different.)
4. Always Grab Meat and Dairy Items Last
When you plan a longer shopping trip, you need to consider what items could lose their cool… literally. When completing lengthy shopping trips, begin in the produce section and end in the dairy or meat aisles since those products can spoil if left in a non-chilled environment for too long.
5. Always Grab Perishable Items from the Back of the Shelf
Employees who stock the food tend to follow a first-in, first-out organization (and so should you). This means that they stock new inventory behind the older inventory. For many items, like packaged foods or frozen foods, expiration dates are far off anyway. But it’s worth reaching to the back for dairy, produce, eggs, and other fresh foods to grab the item with the most-distant expiration date.
ORGANIZATIONAL TIPS/HABITS FOR EASIER GROCERY SHOPPING
1. Make a grocery list and stick to it.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning because it could also be a tip that’s easy to forget! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up at the store, staring at pints of ice cream, wondering what flavor to get when I specifically remember making the trip for some potatoes and rice. Your grocery list should include the ingredients that you need to make healthy meals and snacks.
2. Plan Out A Weekly Menu
Make a menu plan to help you put together your grocery list so you buy only what you need. This absolutely goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. Making a list and planning a menu are the best ways to ensure you’re buying only what you need and enough of what you need. I typically make dinner on a whim, as in I’ll find something I’m craving then shop for it. The issue with this is that I end up making multiple trips to the store for items I might only use once (we’ll get more into that later). So I recommend planning a weekly menu then duplicating it for the next week — this way you can shop for two weeks at once.
3. Keep A List On Your Fridge, And Write Things Down Immediately
When you run out of something, don’t leave it to your memory; the likelihood of us forgetting is very, very high with everything else we have going on in our daily lives. Jot down something you need immediately, that way you’ll never have to run back to the store for forgetting something like eggs or salt.
4. Grocery Shop During Slow Times
One of my favorite times to shop is late at night (shout out to all the night owls our there… early birds are also pretty cool). But during working hours or other non-peak times is good, too. The suggestion: Avoid the grocery stores right after 5 p.m., on paydays, and near major holidays. We know it could be tempting to hit the stores right after work, but the in-store traffic might be everything but stress-free. Remember: The goal of these tips is to create a stress-free grocery shopping experience.
5. Skip ingredients you won’t use again
Remember not too many points ago when I mentioned going to the store to buy one ingredient because I tend to shop based on meals, rather than meal plans? Yeah, this point helps with that bad grocery shopping habit. If you’re like me, you tend to look at a recipe that calls for one tablespoon of one random ingredient a) you’ve never heard before b) you don’t know how to pronounce and c) you’re pretty sure you’ll never use again. Here’s a tip: SKIP. Doing this will help keep your grocery budget in check — and cut down on clutter in your pantry. So not only is this good for cabinet organization, but it also helps with saving money.
1. Know When to Use the Self-Checkout
When you’ve only got a few items (or can’t stand the idea of making small talk), the self-check option is super appealing. However, know when to skip this option. Skip the self-checkout lane if you’ve got a whole cart full — it’ll take you twice as long to scan and bag all your items. Opt out if you have anything that requires ID, like alcohol or even certain OTC medications. Skip it if you have coupons, too. Many stores require employees to digitally sign off on them.
2. After The Grocery Shopping Is Done, Divide The Snacks
We briefly talked about this money-saving tip #4: When you get home from the store, portion out your snack foods into individual serving sizes in snack containers or baggies. This will save you time in the future, help you avoid overeating, and may be cheaper than buying individually packaged snacks.
3. Cook A Lot, Then Freeze
Let’s say you cook a whole heaping potful of spaghetti, you can freeze it for multiple dinners. What’s even better: You can designate one day out of the week to cook for the week (or even for the entire month depending on what you’re making. You can plan 5-6 freezable dinners and cook them all at once.
If you’re used to shopping on an empty stomach or during a holiday weekend (either is the perfect equation to creating stress and buying the wrong items), this list is perfect for you.
If you find this list helpful, be sure to share it with others! And if there are other tips you’ve implemented that’s made grocery shopping more effective — whether it be a money-saving, health, organizational tip, or something else — we welcome you to share it!