As part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” project, HuffPost Taste will focus on simple ways you can reduce food waste in your own home.
Grocery stores are expensive. It’s all too easy to go in for a couple of items, only to leave with an empty wallet. Since we all have to eat, there’s really no way around this — despite the high costs, buying groceries and making homemade meals is still the cheapest, smartest way to get fed.
We have good news, sort of: Chances are, we’re throwing down way more money than we should. While it’d be hard to cut grocery spending in half, there are many tricks to avoid over-spending at the supermarket — 20 of them, in fact. Using them all together might add up to big savings. (Bonus: many of them make for more sustainable food choices, too.)
Shop smarter, folks, with these 20 easy money-saving tricks.
1. Stay away from the inner aisles.
Grocery stores are strategically designed to place essential ingredients, such as dairy and produce, on opposite ends of the store. This forces most shoppers to pass through all the aisles, often times picking up items they don’t need. Try to skip the middle aisles of the store and stick to only the items you need.
2. Don’t be afraid of coupons.
Coupons can save you some serious cash. Check out sites like coupons.com for great deals. And then double your savings by combining coupons with what’s on sale at your local store. The store’s circular is the best way to know what’s being promoted. Make it a point to read it on a weekly basis, it’ll save you lots.
3. Put the toiletries down.
While buying toiletries at the supermarket may be easy, you’re paying a price for that convenience. Save those items for the pharmacy, where they are usually cheaper.
4. Don’t be tempted by brand names.
You might be used to a particular brand of cereal or sugar, but the generic options are usually cheaper. Generic brands often use name-brand products with their own labels on it, and they offer it at a better price. Just check the ingredients to be sure you’re getting the same product.
5. Look up and look down, because it’s the eye-level shelves that stock the priciest items.
Since we tend to look at items that are at our eye level, grocery stores know to place the more expensive items on the shelves we see first. When shopping, look at the higher and lower shelves for cheaper items.
6. Remember rain checks.
When an item that most people use, like olive oil, goes on sale at the store, it sells out quickly. Inquire about getting a rain check. Some grocery stores offer the option of getting an extension on sold-out sale items.
7. Consider dried beans.
Many people opt for canned beans because they’re either intimidated by cookingk dried beans or they don’t think they have the time. But making a good pot of beans is really easy — we promise! — and it tastes far superior. While the difference in price is not enough to break the bank, these little changes will add up.
8. Don’t go to the store hungry.
Many of us go to the grocery store after work and before dinner, which is when we start to get hungry. If you buy your groceries when hungry, you’ll purchase more than you need. Try to get the shopping out of the way on the weekends, when you can shop on a full stomach.
9. Stay away from the prepared foods.
Don’t buy the pre-made foods, no matter how good they look. You’re at the store already, just buy the ingredients and make it for a fraction of the price at home. It’ll taste much better fresh, too.
10. Try to eat with the seasons.
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: eat the produce that’s in season. Not only will it taste infinitely better, but it will save you serious money. Out-of-season produce travels far, which are costs you end up paying for.
11. Don’t splurge on exotic spices.
While experimenting with your cooking is a good idea, it’s not always wise to buy those spices at your local grocery store. Making a trip to an international market can save you a ton on spices and specialty ingredients.
12. Reconsider buying bottled water.
Bottled water is a billion dollar industry, and it’s coming out of your pocket. The average 16 oz. bottle of water costs about a dollar, and it’s recommended that you drink four of them a day; that equates to $120 dollars a month on something you can get for free from your faucet.
13. Take the time to make a grocery list.
No matter how good your memory is, write a grocery list. Not only will it make sure you don’t forget things you need, it’ll more importantly deter you from buying the things you don’t need.
14. Consider keeping your children at home, if possible.
While sometimes we can’t avoid shopping with children, it’s best to try to buy your groceries when they’re not around. Children will often want to buy food items that you don’t need, and it isn’t always easy to say no.
15. Remember, you’re paying for the convenience of pre-washed salad.
Yes, it’s convenient to have your lettuce pre-cleaned and contained in trimmed plastic tubs, but it also costs nearly three times the price. If you buy your own head of lettuce, wash and trim it right away, and have it ready to use, you won’t even notice the difference.
16. Pre-cut fruit is going to cost you.
If someone is getting paid to do a job that you could easily do yourself at home, like cutting up a mango or watermelon, you’re going to be paying for it.
17. Don’t waste big bucks on a few sprigs of fresh herbs.
You’re literally throwing money away by not starting your own herb garden. And you can do it no matter the amount (or lack of) space you have. Fresh herbs cost a small fortune at the grocery store. Often times you can buy an entire plant for less than you can a few sprigs at the supermarket.
18. Just grate your own cheese.
Just like with pre-packaged lettuce and pre-cut fruit, grated cheese costs you extra for the convenience. But it’s not that hard to grate your own cheese. With a less expensive block of cheese, and a cheap box grater, you can start saving money on this ingredient.
19. Put down the spice mix.
Fancy spice mixes and marinade rubs can easily set you back $5 a piece. This is the biggest waste of money since you can make your own spice mix with seasonings you most likely already have on hand. Remember, a large portion of most of the mixes are just salt.
20. Pinch pennies on potatoes.
The good folks at Elizabeth Street reminded us that bagged potatoes can prove to be a really good bargain. Sometimes stores charge just as much for two loose potatoes as they do a five pound bag. Compare as you shop, you’ll be surprised where you can find savings like these.
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