It's a classic grocery store scenario. You go in for milk. Just milk (which is conveniently located as far from the entrance as possible, so you have to walk past all of the goodies in the store) and you end up walking out with a basket full of stuff. Stores are designed to get us to spend and with food prices on the rise, we're going to be spending even more.
There are, however, a few simple ways to reduce our grocery bill. And what we do before, during, and after our trip can make all the difference to our total savings. Below are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you're prepping for your grocery store run.
Before you shop
More than 50 per cent of the annual $27-billion in food waste originates from food thrown away in Canadian homes, according to Statistics Canada. The main reasons include not using our purchased food before it spoils, cooking and preparing too much, and a lack of confidence to use leftovers. I've been guilty of all three, especially not using up the fresh stuff.
A site like SuperCook.com can help to make the most of the random items in your fridge. Just enter what you have and the site will come up with suggestions based on your entries, or suggestions that require you to pick up one or more things to complete the meal. It will even print out a shopping list. And lists are important. Market research shows that almost 60 per cent of all products bought at the grocery store are unplanned. So before even entering the store, check your own stock, make your list, and oh, leave your kids and spouse at home. Apparently, we spend 38 per cent more when grocery shopping with our partner, and 30 per cent more when we have our kids in tow, according to Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.
At the store
Avoid the urge to pick up a shopping cart, and opt for a basket to tote your goods, especially if you're just heading in for a few essentials. You'll be less likely to linger and pick up items you don't need if you don't have a cart. If it's a big shop, then take the four wheels, but stick to your list. And keep in mind that the most expensive items are at eye level. Take a peek at the shelves above and below eye level for better deals on similar items.
At the store and have a smart phone? There are a number of free apps, like Clip Mobile, that make using coupons easy. Simply open the app wherever you are, and it finds your location and creates a list of features and promotions around you. Select your business, pick a coupon, and show the code to the cashier.
Sites like GroceryAlerts.ca also eliminate the need to sift for coupons, as the deals relevant to you and your area are sent directly to your inbox. There are 3.6 billion coupons distributed every year, but we only cash in about 3 per cent, according to the Coupon Industry Association of Canada. A quick coupon search during or prior to our shop can lead to multiple discounts.
When checking out, keep your eye on the till for accurate pricing instead of scanning US Weekly. Overcharging happens all the time, so it's vital not to space out while shopping.
After your trip
Take your food home, and eat it. All of it. Being mindful about what we buy, and how and when we consume, helps to make the most of our purchases. The food category in any budget usually has room for improvement. Following a few simple tips will help you avoid deprivation and still save.
Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group.