Secrets for Slashing Your Grocery Bill in the New Year

by Vincent King · 12 comments

Woman using grocery shopping list

Each week, MoneyNing has been preparing you for a more financially-sound 2013. This week, we want to help you develop great grocery shopping habits that will let you leave 2013 better than you started it.

Wondering how to slash your grocery bill in the new year? Read on for our grocery shopping secrets.

Never Leave Home Without It

Not your American Express — your grocery list!

That statement might make you want to roll your eyes, but it’s a fact: people who shop without a list end up spending much more than shoppers with them.

Since groceries swallow around 13% of your budget, adding anything on top of that can be really painful.

But making any old list won’t solve your problems. If you sit and scribble a list without thinking, you’ll be left scrambling for ingredients or running to the store because you don’t have the zucchini needed for the Pasta Primavera.

And what does this quick trip to the store mean? You’ll spend a minimum of $15, because, undoubtedly, you’ll pick up something you’re craving or that looks tasty.

Master the art of list making, and you’ll create a shopping strategy that will save you hundreds each year.

Master the Art of Grocery-List Making

The art of grocery-list making begins with the critical step of planning your meals. Unfortunately, many shoppers skip this step since they don’t like to be strapped to a plan. They want to be creative, making whatever strikes their fancy.

Yet, a meal plan isn’t a rope that ties you down; it’s a key to unlocking your financial shackles.

All you need is seven recipes that you want to try, or love to cook (or 14, if you’re on a biweekly pay period). That’s it. No one says that you have to plan shrimp tacos for Monday night and that you then have to cook them on Monday. Even if you list the meals you want to cook, you can still decide WHEN you cook them. Since you have the necessary ingredients on hand, you can cook when the inspiration strikes — without wasting time or money picking anything up.

My wife keeps a Master List of groceries we buy all the time, and she’ll add random items as needed, such as salt, sugar, or portobello mushrooms (for the new grilled portobello recipe she found online).

Before we shop, she does an inventory/recipe check, circling the items we’re out of before moving on. It’s handy, effective, and FAST. We’re usually out the door within minutes of starting the inventory check.

Now that you have these list techniques in place, the second step in your new shopping strategy is to take the list with you.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made our list only to leave the house without it. Then, at the store, we always end up adding more meat than we need, or forgetting how much pasta we already had.

This amounts to money spent that didn’t have to be. If you just can’t remember your list, well, there’s an app for that!

Use Apps to Help You Remember

Of the nine million apps currently available, AnyList is by far my most beloved list app. If I add shaving cream to the list, my wife will know about it, since we’re sharing that list. Siri will add it for you, so you won’t even have to open your phone!

Since your phone will be with you while you’re shopping, you’ll never be able to forget your list again.

Add Everything

Don’t just record the ingredients required for next week’s menu; write everything else down, as well.

Need coffee? Write it down. Want snacks? Write down every kind of snack you’d like to get.

You may feel silly at first, adding every little item. If you write down everything — even how many bags of chips and cans of assorted nuts you plan to buy — then it will all be accounted for when you check out, and you’ve followed the next secret of strategic shopping.

If It Isn’t Written Down, Don’t Buy It

This is the cardinal rule of smart grocery shopping; you must follow it to maximize your money-saving strategy.

If you put it on your phone or on your paper, you can put it in your cart.

If not, you can’t. Skip it until next week, so you can teach yourself to be more diligent.

Over time, you’ll begin to only buy things that you need, and you’ll spend less on unnecessary items.

Saving at the grocery store will make a big difference in your budget over the course of the year. By using a list and these strategic shopping techniques, you’ll learn discipline and watch your savings grow!

Do you think lists are important for smart grocery shopping? 

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Marbella says:

    Try to shopping in two different supermarket as well so you can check the prices in the supermarkets and save more money.

  • Jeff H. says:

    I find two habits are helpful:
    1. Try the store brands. If you don’t like a particular item, you can always go back to the branded version next time. The savings can be significant, especially with over-the-counter healthcare remedies.
    2. Buy meat in bulk if it is on sale (like packs of 10 pork chops) then re-pack and freeze meal-sized portions for later.

    • Kate says:

      If you live alone and have an apartment-sized fridge, buying anything in bulk is a non-starter. If I have to throw half of it away, it’s not a deal. One of the larger problems here in Kanukistan is that they assume everyone lives in a two story house with a basement and has a family of eight, at least six of whom play high school sports. This in spite of the fact that the majority of people in this city live in 600 square feet or less, and have no storage space whatsoever. Of course, I have my Seven Last Words of Canada: “I will buy it in the States.” I never come home from Syracuse without a suitcase full of individual serving sized cans of vegetables and two-packs of toilet tissue, not to mention $1.99 parmesian cheese (as opposed to $7.49 in Toronto).

  • Kate says:

    I have an eating pattern of five menus per week, including carrying my lunch every day except Friday when I buy the Sub of the Day at Subway for $4 and a bag of chips for $1.34 at the place where I get my newspaper. I consider food to be fuel, by and large, so it doesn’t bother me to eat the same thing every week. Our grocery store plays “chicken” with some products and price cheese at $10 a block until it’s clear nobody will buy it at that price, and if you play “chicken” 6and time it right, you can get it for half price before they’re all snapped up. I also buy frozen Bistro thingies only when they’re reduced 2 for $5 instead of $5 each, and so on. Once a month there’s a “no tax” day, which is 13% off the price of things you can’t eat, and I wait for that day to buy them. (Canada taxes everything, even postage stamps. Socialism is expensive.)

  • Canadian Budget Binder says:

    We never go to the grocery store without a list, flyers, coupons and shopping bags in hand. Without a list we would spend far more than what we budget for. It wasn’t always this way and that is why in 2012 I started The Grocery Game Challenge which is starting it’s second season on my website. It’s a way to motivate you to stick to the budget by checking in weekly and posting your shop. So when you have that urge like you say to spend more or buy something that isn’t on your list you know you potentially might spend more than you should be so you don’t. That and you don’t want to have to report spending more than the budget although it’s a challenge against yourself and no one else. Mr.CBB

  • lee says:

    I have a list of everythng that we buy and then I have a list of what we need to buy that week.
    I buy what is on the list but if I see something that is on the master list that is on offer (and it will not spoil by keeping and the shelf life is long enough )then I may buy up to six of that item.

    This has the effect of keeping my weekly list small as usually a high proportion of ingredients that I need for that weeks meals are already in my store cupboard. So I can then buy what is on offer without spending an extortionate amount.

    I find this works well for my family and saves me money. You do have to be disciplined and not eat stuff just because it is in the cupboard though.

  • Bert says:

    Good post. I keep my list on my icebox, and add to it as needed. I shop once a month, going into town for visits to my warehouse club, and two separate grocery stores, where I am familiar with what items are carried where, at the best prices. I don’t drive all over town, these three locations are in close proximity. When I get home, I start my new list with something I may have seen that I might want to buy next month. On my limited budget, I may not buy every single listed item, as I may load up on sale items for the pantry, etc. Things left not purchased are transferred to the new list. As the days near to my monthly trek, I winnow the list down to one I can manage. This list allows me to judiciously set a great table/

  • Holly Wolf says:

    A list is important but you also have to be open to unadvertised bargains. Manager’s specials are a great example. You can get great bargains on meat, seafood and fish that are about to “expire”. Take advantage of the mark down and freeze it.

  • Donna says:

    At 23yrs old in college I did a term paper on grocery shopping. There is much more than just the list. Cost comparison, per unit cost, brand vs generic or store brand, the tricks the store uses to get you to buy more, and so much more! I was glad I chose that topic. I learn so much I was able to save for a house, car, and other needs from the savings. Every penny adds up.

  • Manya says:

    I remember my parents do the same. My mom has a master list and whenever my parents are out shopping for grocery etc, they take along the years old diary with them. This helps keep them on track and once the shopping is done we are allowed 1 extra treat that we were craving for…. 🙂

  • artesanatos says:

    I really think you touched the most important point on keeping a healthy family budget. It is so many times that i go to the grocery shop thinking that i just want to buy milk and i return home with a bag full of other items and spending 100 dollars more than i was planning. Grocery lists are essential for just buying really want you need. Another tip is to not bring with you the card. Just bring the money that you need to spend. This way you will really avoid overspending.

  • Carlos says:

    Here is my list.. I look it over before leaving the house.

    turkey breast
    organic chicken
    organic meat
    organic eggs
    naan bread
    organic spinach
    organic milk
    dark chocolate
    some chips
    olive oil
    tomato sauce
    pom juice

    If during the week I notice anything “irregular” missing I will add it to the list

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