According to her website:
An easy way to help your friends and family members learn how to save big on their groceries next year is to give them our book, “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half.” It’s only $6 on Amazon and has a 4.5 star rating. . . Check it out here.*
While I respect Ms. Nelson, follow her blog religiously, and have benefited from a lot of her couponing tips, I have an easier way to save money on groceries, and I’ll tell you for free. (You can pay me $6 if you want to, though…)
Make a List
Single most important thing you can do to save money. Whether you are grocery shopping, Christmas shopping, or tire shopping, making a list is a guaranteed way to save money. Another important tip – make your list before looking at sales flyers or ads. More about why in a bit.
Why is making a list so important?
What’s worse than going to the grocery store hungry? Going to the grocery store hungry and without a list. You’re going to put everything in your cart – from spray cheese to Oreos to several boxes of Cheez-Its – just because it “sounds good.” (And then you’ll go home and eat it, which isn’t good for your budget OR your waistline.) A better plan is to take a page out of Santa’s playbook and make a list…(I’ll let you finish it.)
So where does your list start? With another, more important list – a meal plan. I used to do a formal meal plan and calendar each evening’s meal. A more streamlined approach that I’ve started using recently is just to list out 5 meals (or 7, or 14, depending on how often you get groceries) and pick from that list when it’s time to cook dinner. This method is less overwhelming initially, allows for changing moods, and accommodates busy schedules. Once you’ve listed out the meals you need, you’ll have an already-made grocery list as well. Just add milk, bananas, and other incidentals, and you’re ready to go to the store.
Shop Your Pantry
This is really part of making a meal plan. Before you start pulling random recipes out, look at what you already have. The best way to save money is not to spend it at all! Use the ingredients you already have to help you choose which dinners to cook. This helped me save $7 at the store just this evening. When I passed a sale at our local grocery store, I almost purchased the item out of habit. Then I remembered, “I don’t need that for any meals this week.” So without clipping a single coupon, I saved $7. (This wasn’t the “best sale ever” so I didn’t have a problem passing it up. If it had been a rock-bottom price, I might have stocked up even if I didn’t need it this week. I’ll write more about stockpiling in a later post.)
Make Your List BEFORE Looking at Sales Ads and Flyers
This one is debatable, I know. Many people make their meal plans based on what’s in the sales flyers for the week. If you’re making your meal plan based on what you already have, though, you don’t really have to worry about what’s on sale. So I try to make my list before looking at the sales flyers and ads. Even if I see something that’s a good sale, I usually save money by realizing I don’t need it this week at all!
If it’s regular price $10 and it’s on sale for $8, I’d save $2 by buying it on sale. By not buying it at ALL, I save $8. Much better savings rate.
Like I said earlier, if I see something at it’s rock-bottom price, I may add it to my list and stock up. We’re not talking about the Grocery Budget Nazi here – be flexible. Just decide in advance if it’s worth it or not. And when you get to the store…
Stick to your List!
The Grocery Budget Nazi says, “If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.” (I have used that trick with my kids before: ”No, we can’t by the cereal that’s basically tiny cookies that you eat for breakfast. It’s not on the list.”) I take a more flexible approach. If you get to the store and remember you don’t have any eggs, please buy them. (They’re good for you.) But it doesn’t do any good to make a list if you don’t follow it at all. So exercise some self-control and don’t buy the 6-pound bag of rice that’s on sale. Especially if you don’t have any place to store it once you get it home.
So how does this help if you’re not grocery shopping? What if you’re shopping for shoes or Christmas gifts…or tires? The simple act of writing down the things you’re looking for solidifies in your mind what money you need to spend – and what money you don’t. I have to get new tires tomorrow, and I’m taking my printed piece of paper with the kind of tires I want. I’ll show the salesperson and ask for a good deal on the tires, but I won’t spend more than we’ve already planned.
I still firmly believe that the best way to save money is not to buy stuff – especially stuff you don’t need. What are your best money-saving tips?