I’ll be graduating college soon, and as excited as I am to break out on my own and experience the real world, it comes with a huge amount of responsibility. One thing I’ve definitely taken for granted these years as a college student is the comfortable monotony of dining center food. It may not be the best-tasting or highest-quality food, but boy will I miss not having to plan meals for myself or put out extra money for groceries. Unfortunately, unless you grow all your own food or only eat out (which would be expensive and also unhealthy), buying groceries is a basic necessity. Humans need food for sustenance, so trips to the grocery store are pretty much inevitable.
Luckily, if you know what to look out for, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on groceries. Grocery stores, like so many other corporate entities in life, are designed to trick you into spending more money. Don’t fall into their trap. If you follow these tips, you can walk out of the store without that all-too-familiar pang of regret we get from spending too much money.
1. Avoid the inner aisles
Grocery stores are strategically designed to place essential items like dairy and produce on opposite ends of the store, with non-essential items like chips and cookies in-between, in the hopes that customers will pick up more than they need as they pass through these aisles.
2. Don’t shop on an empty stomach
You’ve heard this one before, yet you’ve probably done it anyway numerous times. Studies have shown that when you shop on an empty stomach, you’ll buy more, even non-food items, as being hungry heightens your desire to acquire things, according to research from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
3. Have a list and avoid impulse buys at checkout
If you come with a list of exactly what you need and stick to it, you can save a lot of money. Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before you leave home and make a list so that you buy only what you really need and are not wasteful. If you’re easily tempted by last-minute buys such as candy, gum, and magazines as you go through the checkout lane, do self-checkout instead. A study from IHL Consulting Group found that impulse purchases decreased 32% for female shoppers and 17% for male shoppers who used the self-checkout instead of going through a cashier.
4. Cut back on waste
This goes along with avoiding impulse buys and taking inventory. Americans end up throwing away about 25% of the groceries they purchase, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Sort through your fridge and pantry weekly and place items that are about to expire toward the front so you use them up. You can enter your leftover food items into the website Supercook, and it will give you recipes that call for those ingredients.
5. Use coupons
You may laugh at the coupon fanatics on Extreme Couponing or your mom when she pulls out a wad of coupons from her purse and takes time sorting through them when she goes to checkout, but using coupons is actually a really smart way to save money. Check out the store’s circular for store coupons and to find out what’s on sale. You can also snag some great deals online through sites like coupons.com.
6. Brand names aren’t necessarily better
Don’t feel that you have to buy brand names only just because they’re brands that you know and trust. Generic store brands are typically less expensive than name brands, using the exact same formulas and ingredients as the pricier name brands.
7. Avoid prepared foods
Convenience doesn’t come cheap. Prepared meals, pre-cut fruit, pre-washed salad, and pre-sliced meat will all cost you extra. It can be tempting to pay a little extra to save yourself the hassle, but if you want to save money, do the slicing and dicing yourself. Remember, someone is being paid to do these things you can easily do yourself, so you’ll pay more for that service.
8. Ditch bottled water
You can save up to $120 a month (if you’re drinking the recommended daily intake) by cutting out bottled water. Tap water won’t cost you anything, and if the taste or fear of impurities bother you, you can install a filter, which will save you money in the long run.
9. Look beyond eye level
Grocery stores tend to place the most expensive items on the shelf at eye-level to trick customers into spending more money, so be sure to look on the higher and lower shelves for more affordable items.
10. Be wary of sales
Most of the time, sales are a good thing- I mean the whole point of a sale is to save money, right? Keep in mind that stores have something to gain from sales as well, or else they wouldn’t have them. Their ultimate objective is still to make a profit. Look out for wording like “10 for $10” that make it sound like you need to buy 10 items to get the discount. What this really means is that the item is on sale for a $1, so you don’t need to buy 10 of them. Don’t let a sale trick you into buying more than you really need.