By Monika Ritchie
More Canadians than ever were already looking for ways to save on grocery bills before the coronavirus pandemic even started. Now, with so many families affected by a loss of household income, grocery shopping has become that much more stressful.
Unlike a lot of other variable expenses — coffee shop purchases, gym memberships, or entertainment, for instance — food isn’t something you can simply eliminate from your budget. Fortunately, with some creative recipes, online research, and meal planning, you can make some drastic cuts to your grocery shopping budget. We’ve got seven tips to help you get started.
1. Always Make a Shopping List
There’s a reason why this advice never goes out of style; put simply, it works. Shopping with a list keeps you on budget, saves you money, and stops you from needless impulse spending. As an added bonus, during a time when we should be avoiding outings into public spaces, you’ll save yourself a lot of time not making multiple trips to the grocery store because you forgot an item (or two or three).
2. Planned Meals will Lead to Planned Spending
Trying to shop when you don’t know what you’ll be cooking that week is a recipe for overspending and frustration. Making a simple meal plan for the week will help you build your shopping list and can save you a lot of time. Instead of wandering aimlessly and waiting for inspiration to strike at the grocery store, you can get in and get out with what you need. Because meal planning is tied to your shopping list, it will discourage impulse spending and help keep you on budget. Stuck for ideas? Meal plans and recipes are available for free online; check out Pinterest for some great, budget-friendly ideas.
3. Save Time and Money with Good Shopping Habits
If you’ve never shopped this way, making a list and meal plan can feel a bit overwhelming, but once it becomes a habit, you’ll be amazed at the time and money you save. Start with your staples; there are things that you’ll likely need to replenish on a regular basis such as bread, milk, and produce. Once you have those, work off of a meal plan to figure out what you need.
Try to use recipes that will make leftovers and can be reused with similar ingredients. For example, you can add rice and a little cheese, veggies, and salsa to your leftover chili to make a healthy, inexpensive lunch bowl. This is not only budget-friendly, but can minimize your outings to the grocery store – especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.
If meal planning for a whole week seems like too much to tackle, plan your main meal for 3 – 4 days. As you get better at it, add a few more days and then add a few more meals or snacks to round out a whole week.
4. Use Meatless Mondays to Boost Your Food Budget
If you’re used to having meat as a regular staple in your diet, the idea of suddenly going vegetarian might seem a bit daunting. But a simple, healthy, and cost-effective option is to have one day a week as a meatless day. Not only is it a great way to encourage yourself and your family to eat healthier, but it can save you a lot of money. You can find delicious meat-free recipes online and many are simple to make. If you find you’re enjoying the dishes, you can always increase your meatless meal days and save even more money.
5. Tally Your Grocery Bill as You Shop
A great way to keep track of your costs and avoid unnecessary “stocking up” is to keep track of the items in your cart and calculate how much they’re costing you. Because you’re focusing on the cost of each item, it will become easier to ignore the urge to impulse shop for items that you don’t really need. During the pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind that retailers and suppliers have said that there are no actual shortages of essentials. Any shortages are caused by stockpiling and overbuying food and other necessities. This is not only a waste of money and possible source of credit card debt, but it can also cause shortages for more vulnerable individuals such as seniors, people living with disabilities, and those with severe restrictions on their budget.
6. Use Strategic Shopping to Save
Did you know that the way you shop can affect the way you spend? Many grocery stores are strategically designed with essential ingredients — dairy and produce — on opposite sides of the store. This means that you’re forced to pass through other aisles that will tempt you to pick up things that you don’t really need. If you can, avoid going down every aisle; the perimeter of the grocery store has the essentials that are more likely to be on your list. And an added bonus, keeping to the outside edge of the store means you won’t be coming upon unhealthy and expensive budget breakers like cookies, candy, pop, and convenience foods.
7. Take Advantage of Digital Coupons and In-Store Flyers
Spending the time to read through in-store flyers, logging into your favourite store’s app, and taking notice of the coupons and deals for that week can save you a lot on your weekly food budget. Often, the cashiers can simply scan the flyer for you, saving you the trouble of clipping coupons every week. If you combine coupons with weekly in-store offers, you can also increase your savings by that much more. Websites like save.ca have a variety of printable and digital coupons that you can use to increase your savings on your food budget. Do a little online research to find other coupon websites that will help you save.
Get Help Budgeting for Groceries from a Non-Profit Credit Counselling Organization
Saving on your grocery bill can be a crucial step to getting your finances on track. However, if you’re facing a difficult time and you’re finding the process of budgeting and cutting back overwhelming, there is always help available. A trusted, accredited non-profit credit counselling organization in your area can help you address both the smaller details of budgeting as well as any bigger issues that might be causing you trouble with your money and debt.