Everyone’s gotta eat, but unfortunately, grocery shopping is also eating up our money. Food is the third most expensive item on most Canadians’ budgets, just under shelter and transportation. If you’ve ever wondered how much the average Canadian spends on groceries, it's estimated that we’re spending about $200 a month, per person, on food bought in stores. For a family of four, that’s $800 a month! This figure also increases for those living in larger cities. For example, Torontonians spend around $254 a month on food per person. So, with back-to-school in full swing and Thanksgiving next month, if you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, we have a few suggestions.
9 Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries
Grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be a chore, and it can save a lot of money that can then be put towards your bills or even used to set up an emergency savings fund. Plus, saving money on food doesn’t always mean clipping coupons or poring over grocery store flyers (though that can help—and we included it as an option)—it just means being smart about grocery shopping. Here are our top nine grocery shopping tips that can save you a bundle.
1. Keep and follow a grocery list
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us shop without any clear direction, grabbing items as we see them and falling prey to those end-of-aisle deals that catch our attention at the store. A grocery list helps ensure you only pick up items you actually need. You can keep a physical list (à la pen and paper) writing down items you need to pick up throughout the week, or if you’re more technically-inclined, there are apps you can use to create an ongoing grocery list that you can add to as you discover more items that you need. You can also share your grocery list with other members of your household if multiple people do the grocery shopping at home. And when you are in the store, you need to walk down the aisles like as if you have blinders on, with laser focus on getting your list items only.
2. Leave the kids at home
It’s not always possible, but when you can, it’s best to leave the kids at home when you're going to go grocery shopping. They’re likely to ask for items you don’t need, and they're suckers for junk at the checkout line. That’s where grocery stores put items designed to get you or your kids to tack on an additional purchase that probably isn’t necessary. Also, many stores will place certain products at children’s eye-level. (Ever notice how children's cereal is always on the lower shelves while “adult” cereals are on the higher shelves.) Check out our story on How to Stop Impulse Buying and Learn to Just Say No to learn more.
3. Start couponing
Clipping coupons may seem like a hassle, but it can really pay off. Maple Money offers a number of ideas on how to be an extreme couponer, including organizing coupons, checking flyers, and stocking up on certain items. Tech-savvy? Then forget the grocery store flyers, you can also save on foods online. For example, there are some apps that pay you back, like Checkout 51. It offers money back on specific products after purchase; just take a photo of your receipt, upload it, and once it’s approved, generally within 48 hours, you’ll see money in your account. Once you’ve acquired $20, you can request a cheque. Toronto-based digital flyer company Flipp is another great app that can tell you where all the best local deals are for items you need. It allows you to comparison shop at local retailers and search for deals by brand, category, or item type. Canadian Grocer estimates that as many as two million Canadians are using Flipp, so get in on the action and start saving money.
4. Buy generic
Most of us are trained to grab brand names that we know and love, but it can wind up costing a small fortune over time. And let’s face it—generic and store brands really don’t taste much different. If you check their labels, you’ll usually find that the ingredients are exactly the same, and often times they are the exact same product but just in different packaging. Wondering how much money you can save on food by switching to generic brands? Financial expert Dave Ramsey has already done the research for you, revealing that you can expect to save around $80 per month just by making the switch!
5. Buy in bulk
Stocking up by buying in bulk is a great way to save money, especially on non-perishable items such as toiletries. It also helps you save on food items, but you need to be careful. You don’t want to buy large quantities of a perishable item and run the risk of it reaching its expiration date before you’ve had a chance to use it. One option is to ask neighbours, friends and/or family to do a grocery store run or Costco run together. You can purchase items in bulk that you both need, and then split the bill and savings.
6. Check expiration dates
Speaking of expiration dates, smart grocery shopping means always keeping a close eye on these so you don’t overbuy an item that’s going to go bad in a few days. Even for ridiculously cheap groceries on sale, you need to be realistic. If you’re not going to be able to incorporate it into your weekly menu before it goes bad, there’s no sense in buying it. Also, remember that stores rotate products as they come in, putting those with the shortest expiration dates in the front. By looking at the items in the back of the row, you can often find ones with an expiration date that’s significantly later.
7. Shop on a full stomach
It’s a fact; when we’re hungry, we buy more. But some researchers have found that this hunger-spending phenomenon applies to both food and non-food items. So say for example you go to the Dollar Store to pick up some snacks, and while you’re there you also need to pick up some hair clips and stationary. But you’re also hungry. Research shows that not only are you more likely to overspend on the snacks if you go shopping hungry, but you’re also more likely to overspend on the other items too, so instead of buying just one pack of hair clips you actually buy a couple, and you load up on the stationary too. So, before you fill up your shopping cart, fill up your belly.
8. Shop discount stores
You may want to go to your favorite supermarket for meats and produce, but shopping at a discount store like Dollarama or Dollar Tree for toiletries, kitchen wares, canned items, and more can save you a bundle versus even the cheapest grocery store. Just the other day I was shopping for my favourite conditioner, which was on sale at a local pharmacy, but I stopped at Dollarama first. Luckily I did because I just so happened to see my conditioner on the shelves, and it was a whopping 50% cheaper than the “sale” value at the pharmacy. Good Housekeeping created a list of 50 Things You Should Always Buy at the Dollar Store that you can check out by clicking here.
9. Pay with cash
It’s easy to buy things we don’t need when we’re using our credit cards, because the only thing stopping us is our credit limit. But in most cases (if not all), our credit limit is in no way related to our actual monthly budgets, and goes way beyond how much we can safely spend without going into debt. Instead, use cash. Not only does it psychologically hurt more to use cash versus credit cards (so you end up spending less), but you also become much more aware of your spending and your monthly budget. That means you’re more likely to be conscious of what you’re buying and think about whether it’s really necessary.
Contact Credit Canada for Budgeting and Debt Help
These are just a few ways on how to spend less on groceries. Have some grocery shopping tips of your own? We’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments below. And, if you’re doing smart grocery shopping but still having trouble making ends meet at the end of the month, give us a call at 1.800.267.2272. We can set you up with a free counselling session with one of our certified Credit Counsellors. They can provide you with money advice and help you with your debt. All of our counselling is completely free and confidential, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.