There are articles on how to save money shopping for groceries on every frugality and personal finance blog out there. I should know- I’ve written a few of them myself! A lot of the information is very specific however, and doesn’t address the underlying beliefs and behavior that influence how we shop, but rather tries to help people save money through tips and tricks.
Not that these ideas are bad, far from it. Saving money through judicious use of coupons, or grocery shopping on certain days of the week in order to fully take advantage of store loyalty programs still has the end result of saving you money. My problem with these ideas is that they’re too localized. For example, I can’t take advantage of any of the coupon clipping schemes you often read about, because I live in France. Nor can you benefit from my strategy of shopping every two weeks, because there aren’t many American stores that offer those sorts of reductions.
But what if, instead of trying to save money, you tried to change your mentality instead?
I think it’s a lot like when you try to learn how to eat healthier, and the side effect is that you lose weight. I’ve noticed that when I prioritize my food choices, and accept that certain things are important to me and thus worth paying more for, I spend less overall.
For example, I generally believe that store brands are as good as name brands for many products. I’ve noticed, however, that the store brand of corn is not as good straight out of the can, and so I end up throwing most of it away. I am reluctant to pay full price for corn that gets baked in cornbread or cooked in soup however, so I struggled with eating an inferior product. When I switched to buying a few cans of the good stuff, and a few cans of the soup-grade product, I realized that I enjoyed the end result more and threw less (none) away.
Anther example is the price difference according to flavor. A 3 kilo bag of chicken cat food costs â‚¬1.50 less than the same brand’s fish flavor. Providing my cats with a fish kibble instead of a chicken kibble is not a compelling enough reason for me to spend an extra â‚¬39 per year. Cat food is not the only product with such a large price difference- it exists in many different brands and products.
I also pay attention to serving size, and how much we really eat. There’s no point in spending money for a box of six big ice cream cones, when I can pay half as much for a box of twelve tiny ones (and my kids are twice as thrilled). I’ve learned that I can buy far less cheese than I originally thought, and that it doesn’t matter how many times I buy fresh heads of lettuce, I’m rarely going to serve a salad. So, I don’t buy it.
Last year, I tried to grow some of our own food. I didn’t have time to do that this year because of my school schedule, but even the littlest things (like sprouts) can be a great way to connect with your food as well as saving money.
There are many processed foods available that I don’t think justify the price. While I appreciate the convenience that comes along with a premade frozen meal as much as the next over-extended working mom, I prefer to try to cook a bit more on the weekends and freeze my own food, whether it’s individual ingredients (like cooked beans) or a whole meal, like an extra lasagne.
Finally, I try to think about what we consider to be important when it comes to choosing how and what food we buy. I don’t believe that the cost of buying all organic merits, for us anyways, the associated health advantages, I do believe that it’s important, for a whole host of reasons, to try to buy as locally produced items as possible. So for me, it’s worth it to spend a bit extra on dried garbanzo beans from the region, rather than Morrocco. I’ll also forgo buying a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables out of season, if they were grown far away.
I don’t think that these are tips that fit one and all. What I’ve tried to illustrate instead, is that by fully thinking about how and what food we buy, I’ve been able to find ways to save money on our grocery bill.
Have you undergone a grocery shopping epiphany? What’s your underlying philosophy to saving money at the grocery store?