How to save time, money on groceries

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The glass doors part, opening to a sea of fresh fruits and vegetables, various aisles of snacks and canned goods, sugary delights and an entire corner of the store devoted to dairy. Decisions, decisions…you didn’t really make a list, nor have you eaten anything since lunch, but who knows what you might find with endless opportunities.

It’s not really your fault. Who has time to make a list or eat healthy all the time?

Incidentally, two hours and two hundred dollars later get you some essentials, junk food you probably didn’t need and a trip back tomorrow for the gallon of milk you forgot — your reason for coming to the store in the first place.

Where did I go wrong?

I’ve experienced many trips to the store like this, thinking “I’ll just stop for a bottle of shampoo real quick on my way home from work” or “I should make chicken for dinner tonight…I’m going to need some chicken.”

Those ill-planned trips are executed just as poorly. It’s not even a matter of being sold by clever marketing — although it, too, happens occasionally — it’s a matter of not knowing what I do and don’t need at that moment. It comes down to poor planning.

Planning

Planning trips to the store doesn’t have to be an arduous task with binders of coupons, sale ads and a babysitter lined up for your kids. I made a few changes to my weekly routine, and grocery shopping has never been easier.

Instead of waiting until I run out of something, I simply add things to the ongoing grocery list I keep in the kitchen. It’s pretty simple to gauge when something needs put on the list. I judge by how much is left, how frequently I use it and how often I go to the store. It saves me from making extra trips to the store because I ran out of something and it saves time in making a list. I simply grab the ongoing list before I make my weekly run to the grocery store.

I also go to the store around the same time every week. For me, it’s usually Sunday afternoon. Having a time set aside for grocery shopping keeps me from wasting a ton of time in the store because I have things to do later in the day. It also prevents me from going shopping on an empty stomach and dissuades impulse purchases.

Other things you should do to plan ahead and try to save time and money before shopping include the following:

Plan meals and snacks for your family ahead of time. If you shop once a week, you should plan to have enough food to make meals and snacks until you go shopping next. You can try to save money by planning meals that use up the food you already have in your refrigerator.

Check newspaper ads and store flyers. By planning your meals around weekly specials you can save money. It’s also a good idea to buy foods you use all the time when prices are low.

Cut coupons. Use coupons for items that you normally use. It doesn’t make much sense to clip coupons to spend more for a similar product just so you can use the coupon. However, using coupons for products you normally use is a win-win. Some stores even give you coupons for frequently purchased items with your receipt. If you don’t need the item right away, check the coupon’s expiration date and save it to use later if you can.

Write your list by store layout. It’s no secret why the dairy aisle is located in the far corner of every store. As you pass every other item in the store on your way to grab that gallon of milk you actually need, it’s easier to stick to your list if you have items grouped together that are in close proximity to one another. For example, your sections might be fruits and vegetables; canned foods; bread, cereal, rice, tortillas and other grain products; dried beans and peas; dairy; meat, poultry, fish and eggs; and frozen foods.

Review your shopping list and compare it to your budget. Does your shopping list look like it fits your budget? Reviewing your list before you leave the house can help you cut unnecessary items for things you actually need and prevent you from putting things in your cart that aren’t already on the list.

Shopping

If you’ve planned ahead, grocery shopping shouldn’t be that intimidating or time-consuming, and you should have a pretty good idea of what you plan to spend.

Here are some additional cost-cutting, efficiency-enhancing measures:

Sign up for a rewards card. Almost every grocery store offers some type of rewards program now. Most of these are free and offer shoppers access to discounted prices, special offers and coupons.

Get a familiarity of the store layout. If you go to the same store or store(s) every week, having a good feel for the layout will save you time and help you avoid buying unnecessary items.

Try store or generic brands. These products are similar to the brands that advertise nationally, except with lower prices.

Buy in season. Being aware of what fruits and vegetables are in season can save you tons on fresh produce. For more tips on saving money on fruits and vegetables, check out How to buy fresh produce on a budget.

Buy frozen vegetables. Purchasing frozen vegetables extends the shelf life of your purchase, they are just as good for you as fresh vegetables and typically cost less.

Don’t buy pre-cut vegetables. Whole fruits and vegetables are fresher and less expensive.

Use unit pricing to compare products. When comparing the same product offered by different brands check the unit price — price per ounce, per pound. Not all brands use the same sizes to package similar products.

Check expiration dates. When they stock their shelves grocery stores typically put the newer items behind the older ones. Choosing items from the back of the shelf ensures you’re getting the freshest product. This is especially important for foods with a shorter shelf life.

Shop for items on upper and lower shelves. Most stores stock the most expensive items at eye level.

Ask for a rain check on out-of-stock sale items. If the store ran out of a sale item on your list, ask for a rain check to purchase the item at the sale price after it is restocked.

Don’t pick things up at the checkout line. My daughter is the worst about trying to put things in the cart at the checkout. It used to be an extra $5 every time we checked out because I couldn’t say no. Don’t feel bad about saying no to the candy bar, the pack of gum, pop or whatever else catches your child’s eye at the checkout. Instead, offer a drink or snack that you already have in the cart.

Checking out

Remember your coupons. Make sure you have your coupons ready before you cash out. They are easy to forget.

Watch items ring out. Sometimes things don’t ring up at their sale price. By watching as the cashier is checking you out, you can save yourself a trip to customer service after you realize the mistake later.

Check your receipt. If you didn’t have time to watch every item be scanned, you can save yourself a trip back to the store or from giving up the money you were overcharged by checking your receipt on the way out.

Count your items. Almost every store puts the total number of items sold on the bottom of your receipt. By counting your items as you load them in your car, you can save yourself from making a trip back to the store for a bag you forgot.

Use store apps. A lot of stores have developed apps. Some even allow you to scan your receipt to check for savings. If you spent more on an item than its local sale price, you can be issued a gift card for the difference.

Avoid the store

There are plenty of things you can do to save money shopping the traditional way by going to the store; however, technology has also made it possible to shop for some items even cheaper without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Amazon Prime offers free two-day shipping on all Prime items. Sure, memberships are $99 per year, but if you already have an account for TV, movies, music, reading, photos, games or a number of other reasons, it’s kind of worth it to order things you might have forgotten at the store rather than running back out. I have a friend who orders one bar of soap at a time on Amazon because he hates grocery shopping that much. It’s definitely convenient.

Amazon is also coming out with new technology to make shopping from home even more of a possibility by introducing Amazon Fresh. For an additional $14.99 per month, Prime members in select cities can shop for groceries, perishables and favorites from local shops.

Additionally, Amazon recently started offering Dash Buttons to reorder household items at the push of a button. The buttons coast $4.99 a piece, but you receive a $4.99 credit with your first order. I have Dash Buttons for Tide PODS, Snuggle and Red Bull. However, there are a number of products that have Dash Buttons.

Amazon Dash Buttons are WiFi connected devices that reorder a product of your choice. For instance, my Tide button orders an 81 pack of the Free & Gentle PODS. They are actually cheaper per unit by ordering them on Amazon instead of purchasing a 72 pack at Walmart.

The Dash Buttons are easy and convenient. You can set your buttons up and manage your product selection through the Amazon App on your phone. Amazon also ensures the button only responds the first time you press it until that order is delivered. Additionally, Prime members get free shipping.

Amazon shopping might not be for everyone, but they are coming up with some efficient and cost-effective methods to save you time and money, as well.

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