Recession Eating: Save Money by Planning Ahead

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Impulse buying at the grocery store is a big problem for many of us. Not only does it sabotage our efforts to eat right, it also sabotages our budget as well. The unstable economy and holiday season provide great motivation for smarter grocery shopping to save money. Do you know how?

Spending a little time preparing and planning before heading to the store can allow you to save money. Here are some planning tips for your next trip.

Plan your menu - Determine what meals you will be preparing and what recipes you will be using for the coming week. This will require a little of your time but is important so you can effectively check your refrigerator and pantry to accurately prepare your grocery list and buy only what you need. Be sure to review the weekly sales ads for the store where you shop and try to plan meals around sale items to increase savings. By getting everything you need for the week in one trip to the store, you will see additional savings on gas by reducing your number of trips.

Make a smart shopping list - Prepare your shopping list based on the path you typically follow at the grocery store. This will allow you to pick up items you need as you go and cut down on back tracking that can increase your impulse shopping opportunities. I would plan my list following this order: produce breads canned foods ethnic/specialty foods cereals baking goods meats frozen foods dairy snacks, listing what I need under each section.

Take advantage of coupons and frequent shopper programs - You don't have to take a coupon file box with you to take advantage of saving opportunities. If you typically shop at the same store, check for and use any frequent shopper programs they provide. You can save 10% or more on your grocery bill with a handful of coupons and selecting foods that are on sale. Using online coupon guides can be a great resource as well.

Take advantage of store brands - Gone are the days when 'generic' means white cans with black lettering. Today, many store brands are equivalent in nutrition to their brand name counter parts and share similar packaging but at a lower price. Just because you have a coupon for the brand name item, don't select it until you have checked the coupon price against the store brand equivalent. Many times you save more money by skipping the name brand with a coupon and selecting the store brand instead. If you don't have a coupon most likely the store brand equivalent will be your better buy. Use unit price information to help you decide which brand and size is the better buy.

Be aware of marketing ploys - Remember that marketing is everywhere and this includes your grocery store. Be aware of product placement intended for impulse buying. Some of the hot marketing strategies include end-of-aisle bins, stand along displays in the center of the walkway, recipe related items and middle shelf item placement. Items in these areas tend to be higher priced items or those that are intended for impulse shoppers. It is best to avoid these display items to save the most money.

Watch the scanner - Be sure to watch the scanner as you check out. When cashiers know you are watching, so are they and are more likely to fix something that rings up incorrectly. Be sure to watch when produce is being weighed to ensure that other things are not on the scale which can affect the weight and increase the price. Don't be afraid to ask for a price check on anything that doesn't ring up as you think it should. Most times the shopper is correct and misses out on getting the price they should because they don't want to speak up. Make sure you scan your receipt before you leave the store. If you find any errors with coupons, in-store discounts or sale items, be sure to go to the service counter and talk with a manager.

What cost saving practices do you use at the grocery store to help get the most nutrition for your dollar?

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Good read and tips.For some odd reason I enjoy food shopping I go thru our local food flyers to compare pricing and assist in part of the planning for the week. Our stores are close together which is an advantage at times the weekly specials result in additional savings. Report
Thank you for a really useful article! Report
I get the supermarket flyers and go thru them with my coupons then I look up receipes so I know what to get from the supermarket. It is working out great and saving me a lot of money. I also buy a lot of the things in bulk. Like paper towels, ground beef, chicken, etc. BJ's warehouse accepts their coupons and manufacture's coupons so you can really rack up. Report
I do plan fairly carefully, and I compare generic brands to store brands to find the right mix of ideals: caloric content, fat, nutrients versus cost. Report
I go to Aldi's and try and stock up on the meat and canned goods there and even the bread I than down size the items that I can and freeze them so hopefully the next month less shopping but that only works for the things that can be frooze unless someone knows how to freeze fruit and milk and things like that and still taste just like fresh Report
I always remind myself" when I fail to plan, I plan to fail" Report
I used to plan our meals for along time. For some reason I have stopped and noticed that we spend way more than we would have if we had the menu. Only thing I would forget is fast to make foods and a few healthy snacks to have around the house. I use coupons every chance I get when I go to the grocery store. I will be planning again our meals now since I was reminded. Report
I try to plan ahead & shop smart, but it always seems like we are lacking the time to prepare a home cooked meal. During the week when things are a little more hectic & everyone is ready to eat as soon as we get home, more often then not, we seem to default to the convenient & quick dinners. Report
great read Report
Well, I do a lot of things. This year it started when local groceries stores compeated for our stimulous checks. They offered 10% bonus for store gift certificates that you bought. So I bought the maximum each store allowed. ($300.=$330.). Next I check all the flyers included in the newspaper and then check the online adds. I make a list of items that I want to buy, where and how much. I check my coupons and rebate offers. I clip a list to each grouping of coupons and start with the stores that offer double/triple coupons first. Sometimes I find that the other items may have a regular price cheaper than the sale price at a following store. I often find that name brand items on sale and/or with a coupon can be much lower than the generic. For example, Chicken of the Sea tuna fish was 25cents a can at our local store in an unadvertised manager special. We bought a hundred cans and dated each can with the date we purchased them. (we are giving many to the local food bank). I immediately do the rebates when I get home so that they do not get set aside and forgotten. I check to see if buying in bulk is more economical. I buy my beans that way as they always are cheaper in this area. I go shopping early before work to buy my dry staples when the stores are less busy, many employees are stocking shelves and marking items down. I also stop at stores on my way home from work to buy the perishables. It may seem like two trips instead of one but they are on my way and I can take my time to comparison shop this way.
I keep a notebook handy and write down information. Many times I will get a coupon for an item and cannot find it in the store before it expires.
I save at least 57% avg. each week on my grocery bill off regular prices. Oh, one more thing; my local grocery stores automatically give me 5 cents off for each reusable grocery bag I use rather than using their disposable. Some stores charge you a fee for using their bags. I kept a record this year and avg. a couple dollars a month savings using my own fabric totes. This adds up and is better for the environment.
I have noticed that some of the stores are offering $10 off a $50 purchase midweek. We also have some stores that have their own gas stations and if you make a minimum purchase they give you a discount coupon to use at the pump.
They also offer additional savings if you buy certain items. I have gotten some great discounts there.
I take my time and organize. I don't impulse buy. I stock up on sale. Buy in bulk. Do electronic coupons, regular coupons, double and triple,rebates,etc. It all adds up. The internet has a lot of sites that have printable coupons.
I don't buy any junk food, but rather only my vegetarian lifestyle foods.
Check with your usual store to see if they have a price match guarantee. The major stores in my area do, and if another store's sale paper shows a lower price, they will match it, saving travel to different stores.

I also agree with watching what the scanner rings up. Two of the major stores in my area give you the item for FREE if it scans at the wrong price. And it happens more often than you think. This is only good for one item, but multiples are at least adjusted to the correct price.

I had one instance where it actually scanned at less than the sale price and the cashier thought I was crazy for commenting on it and wouldn't give me the item free because it scanned for less than the advertised price. I made her call the manager. The policy is that if it scanned wrong, it was free. Period. The manager agreed, and I got it free.

I always bring someone with me when I shop. That way I can watch the register while my son/boyfriend/girlfriend, loads the groceries onto the belt etc. Otherwise, I'd miss the error half the time. Plus, I'm too busy chatting with whomever I'm with to even notice the impulse items when I'm cruising the aisles. Report
Due to the fact we're down a car and my daughter needs one for school and work and my husband the other one fo work we've decided o use Cobourn Delivers for grocery shopping. 've found I don't do as much impulse shopping. Plus I can use coupons on my grocery order. In fact I'm more likely to use the coupon while grocery shopping on the Internet than I am in the store itself!
One reason is I can do all my shopping one my computer and have the coupons next to me. I can also save my order without sending it so that giives me time to wait for the Sunday paper and also to see what coupons I'll get in m email.
I have a feeling I may actually save more money once I become more profficient at it! Report
When we used to have a house full of kids we always made up a menu. It would probably be a good idea to start doing that again. It really did save us on the food budget. Report
Speaking of scanner errors. In the past I remember grocery stores giving me the item free when it rang up higher than the shelf price. I've gotten free items at Kroger's, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, and probably others because I noticed the overcharge.

Now I notice that stores do not do this any more. When an item rings up higher they just charge me the correct price after a price check.

Seems to me that if stores just correct the price when it is overscanned there is no incentive for them to fix the problem; they make more money when customers don't catch it and only loose nothing when they do.

I think the old policy of not charging for overcharged items is the least grocery stores should do.

I did feel guilty one time. My ex used to do state fair cooking contests and sent me out for pecans for several recipies. A store in our area had pecans on sale for a great price so I went there for them. All I got was $30 worth of pecans and they didn't ring up the advertised price so I got them all free.

Then again grocery stores have "loss leaders" or items they loose money on to get people into their store assuming that while they are there they will buy a few other things. if stores are allowed to not honor sale prices they could use this marketing tactic without the loss. Report
I work up weekly menus and base my shopping list on those meals. My store sends me a weekly email on their specials and has a link for coupons to print. But I only print out those coupons that are really useful to me. When I get to the store, if an item isn't on my list, it doesn't go in the cart--unless it was something that I truly forgot to put on my list and truly need. This cuts down a lot on impulse buying.

If I do see an item that interests me and that isn't on my list, I read the nutrition label and ingredients list before deciding whether or not to put it in my cart.

There are only two of us in our household, but we do have a large freezer and make good use of it. We buy as much of our dry goods at Costco as makes sense for us. We buy whole pork loins and whole beef eye of rounds. We also buy ground beef that is packaged in 1/2 pound rounds. When we get home, my husband cuts the port loin into 1/2 inch thick chops and the eye of round into 3/4 inch steaks. We wrap them up two at a time in a sheet of foil, and then put the foil packets into a large zip-lock freezer bag with the date and contents labeled on it. We wrap the burger rounds individually in foil as well. This save us a lot of money buying our meats this way as opposed to the smaller packages at our supermarket. We have bought whole pork loins at $2.29 a pound and compared to $3.49 a pound for boneless pork loin chops that were cut by the meat guy in Costco, well, we can certainly cut our own chops for the savings we can get.

Regarding watching the check-out scanners....Alot of stores have a policy that, if a product scans incorrectly (high), you get the product for free. I have gotten numerous products for free at one of my local grocery stores by just watching that scanner. Report
Yes, watch the check-out scanner.. I've found many a mistake over the years.
Also watch the daily instore specials... so many of them are NOT in the newspaper flyers. Take a LIST to the store and don't 'browse' the isles. Ask if your store takes other stores' discount coupons! Most do. Report
Every week I plan out my menus for the week starting with what I already have in my pantry and freezer. It is amazing how much food collects in your home, you buy the stuff for a recipe and never get around to making it. At the end of the month when I'm low on grocery money (I use cash only) I can feed my family for days (if not weeks) out of the pantry and freezer, with just a few additions of fresh produce and dairy! Report
The best piece of advice in this article? Watch the scanner!

Especially now that the holiday season is upon us, it's not at all unheard of for items to ring up incorrectly - this goes for anything you buy. If possible, have a calculator with you in the store and add up the items as you put them in your cart. This way, you'll have a good idea of how much the total should be and can get it fixed while you're still in the checkout lane.

I've caught many errors this way (some that would have cost me well over $25!), so I really recommend this, especially now when times are a bit tighter.
I'm lucky to live by one of SoCal's best farmers' markets. I buy 85-90% of my food there, so it's fresh, seasonal, and often organic - and cheaper than grocery store shopping, even with coupons. I cook seasonally and stash in the freezer what I can for future meals. And I avoid processed, prepackaged foods like the plague. We eat 90% made from scratch meals 20 out of 21 times a week. Report
e-coupons at upromise for those who are upromise people is really convenient. You sign on to your account each month and select the coupons you wish to use. They are "activated" on your shopping cards, nothing to take to any shopping store.
Also, checking the scanned price can really pay off. I was purchasing cat litter at Superfresh and the shelf had a sales price that did not wring up at the register. Not only did I get the sales price on the item that I was purchasing but I received a second of the same item free due to their error.
Sometimes it really pays to check that!

I have made big savings buying spices at a local health food store.Rather than buy a brand of spice at 3/4 dollars a container I just bought 6 spices that I needed by bulk for that same price range and it's fresher.
Another savings is on the rare occasion that I use a liquor for flavoring, is while I'm out shopping, I take a container or two to a bar and buy what I need.This allows me more versatility in my dishes without having a lot of expensive bottles lying around gathering dust.The last time I was at the hospital I got some extra specimen bottles,for free,and use it for this purpose as well as storing such item's as the remainder of the tomato paste..etc.
I already have bought a dozen herb seeds for my planter garden next year since for me there is nothing like fresh herbs to inhance my SP diet.
I have found for me that the fee of a Sam's Club membership is well worth it for bulk buying.A lemon here is .70,at Sam's a bag of 12 lg.lemons is 3.50 ...etc. and eventually saves me more than a lot of sale buying since I get month's worth of items at one time,saving gas and my time.Of course it's not for everyone.Figuring out the actuall food cost per serving makes a place like Sam's Club the best value for my buck and they take coupons.
Since comming to SP 10,295 sp points ago :-),I have learned to think differently about what I really want to get out of a meal.Beans and brown rice are definatly a stable and the meat's take a secondary roll.
Lastly I also use a list and don't wonder aimlesly around the store,if I were to do that I'd end up in front of the twinkies and the old fat minded elf that sit's on my shoulder would be whispering in my ear that 1 wouldn't hurt...Hah.
I wish all my Spark Friends a Happy Thanksgiving and if Ya got to have that slice of Pumpkin Pie,make it sugar free...Have a Blessed Day.....Chef Jim Report
Getting overcharged for sale items happens to me a lot. That's why I usually use the self check out aisle. That way I can keep an eye on the items I scan. Report
I'm a shocker, I do all the right things food wise and then see some gadget or household item that will come in handy and pop it in the basket. It gets me every time. Grrr, but I'm very good on the food shopping using a shopping list and making sure that those tempting items do not slip into the basket. Report
I take advantage of coupons and sales. Right now I have three shelves of canned goods and a freezer full of meat. I buy in bulk and then my husband and I split the packages and put two pieces of meat in its own bag. This way I don't cook too much and we still have variety. I am also lucky that my husband is not a picky eater so we never throw away any food. Las shopping I saved 23.00 with coupons. Report
we shop at Sams club,walmart and publix(hubby works there). we freeze meats in small ziploc bags for just enough for that meal and we buy big bags of frozen veggies, and other foods that keep longer in bulk at sams clubs, milk,eggs and bread at publix, since its convenient for him to bring them home after work. Report
I've enrolled into every Store's Website for their newsletters, specials & coupons & money savings clubs. Most will also let you make & print shopping list too! Report
I also buy meat and seafood on sale and I always take a shopping list and try to stick to it. I'm not so good at that sometimes but most the time it works. Report
In my state, it is a law that whatever the store overcharges you, they must reimburse you IN CASH, TEN TIMES THE AMOUNT up to $5.00!! I shop at 7am on Sunday morning. I ma the only customer, the stockers are in each aisle, all I have to do is ask and they fetch what I need from the back of ths store! Also, there is marked down produce, especially organinc, fresh meat, even things like ocntainers, juices,etc..
My Krogers doubles dollar coupons, has many BOGO's, fuel rewards,, I save a minimum of $85 when I shop! WHen I refill my Rx's, they also earn fuel rewards! Another poster mentioned about never going on an empty stomach,, that is so true.
When they have the meat on sale, I buy a minimum of 15 pounds, repackage it in portions, freeze it. I wuold NEVER consider going in the regular grocerys tore without coupons, I start shopping at ALdi, then on to a resale grocery store near me,, then I finish up at Krogers on the weekend,, All of these stores are within a mile of my home. Krogers also recycles the plastic shopping bags,, I use my canvas ones anyway,, I usually get about $20 worht of free things each trip to Krogers.. soups, popcorn, bar soap, toothpaste, juice, fruits and veggies too!
I use plastic milk crates in my freezer to rotate foods faster. I put new foods in blue, slide the blue crates to the back of the freezer,slide the green ones to the front. Works great!! Report
If I find meat or seafood when it's on clearance, I buy it and put it directly in the freezer. In the past couple of weeks, I found individual packaged Tyson chicken breasts on clearance and bought 3 packs of them. I like that I can just take the one out and not tamper with any of the others (no freezer burn!) And it will definitely last me a while!! :)) Report
I buy all of my meat when it's on sale, put them in small freezer bags, just enough for two of us and freeze them. This way, I can have meat that I take out of the freezer in the morning and when I get home, it's ready to be cooked. Report
Yes, this is also an area I need to work on. I have four kids so I need to get my act together and start doing these things! Report
I check the flyer and make a list sometimes just a mental oneand it always helps to stay on track. Report
I already do all those things and I take a calculator to keep a running total. I was taught this 29 years ago by a very smart high school Home Ec teacher. Report
Great blog! This is an area I really need to work on. I appreciate all the tips and plan on putting them to good use. Thanks! Report
Grocery lists, coupons and now scanning throug Sparks Recipes. Some great ideas. Report
I have been planning a weekly menu for years. For me, the best thing about it is I don't have to wrack my brain in the morning to come up with something for dinner. Because I sit down and plan the week's meals, we not only eat heathier, I make a much greater variety of main courses than I would if I had to decide each day. Report
Of course, the very best recession cooking is also the healthiest, becuase it's from fresh ingredients right out of your backyard or container garden.

Buying meats as un-processed as possible is also vital - I used to (on rare occasions, because it was sooooo expensive) pay over $7.50/lb for "clean" deli meats for lunches. Now I'm buying on-sale chicken breasts with skin and bone, stocking my freezer with turkeys, poaching or roasting or smoking them, using the bone and skin for stock, and getting prime, clean "lunchmeat" for around $1.38/lb

And of course there is the bonus of utterly healthy delicious stock for soups and sauces and gravies. Report
Most grocery stores have their weekly ad online. Spending a little time shopping on the net and planning accordingly can save you big $$ both in sales and sticking to a pre-determined meal list. I started doing this when I was in college and still do it today. Another thing is to stock up on the BOGO sales that they run if its something you know you use every week (staples). Most grocery stores will give you a raincheck if the item is not in stock. I've gotten most of my fresh and frozen veggies BOGO and saved tremendously while maintaining a healthier eating lifestyle. Win win for me and my pocketbook! :) Report
Planning is the most important part. I buy on sale and @ Sam's Club. I always read all the ads to see what is on sale this week it was frozen veggies 10 for 10 dollars a dollar a bag. So I stocked up. I buy the leanest ground beef @ sam's in a huge tube abt 10 lbs then I pkg it for the freezer. I make my 1 lb pkgs only 10 oz's so I am using less meat in my meals. Meat as a flavoring not the center point.
Hugs Martha n TX Report
When on sale I buy spiral hams, cut , package and freeze for daily lunches. Turkey breasts, cooked,sliced and frozen in small packages for sandwiches. The bakery breads are often less expensive than packaged breads. Report
I plan (using the nutrition tracker works great), use a list (splashshopper for Treos is a fabulous piece of software), try to use my pantry as much as possible (stopping hoarding is a hard habit to break), buy in bulk (using a FoodSaver to keep the quality up), buy staples on sale, and use coupons. It all helps! Report
I love Spark People I plan the whole week and only shop for what I need. I save money by staying on track. Report
I use coupons some, but mostly try to buy generic...especially if they have a satisfaction guarentee. Report
I've found that it saves to travel a bit further to a grocery store that's not in a premium neighborhood. My local grocery store is at least 40 percent more pricey than one a mile in the other direction. Watch not only WHAT you shop for but WHERE you shop. Report
I try to make a list before each grocery store visit and like to have it in order of the flow so it is harder to get distracted by impluse buys. Report
Planning is good, but I need to cut further. I seldom buy fresh meat because it is too pricey. But I do look for in-store, manager's specials in the meat department. It is usually meat that it is the last day they can sell it. So I plan to fix my next meal around it or freeze it.
I buy frozen, individually wrapped fish, and canned fish/seafood products. In fact we have started eating more canned than we ever have. We have a canned tuna dish at least once per week, and either canned clams or salmon at least once per week.
I buy frozen chicken tenders this time of year. I have found that the frozen chicken breasts are usually big enough for two people or more. I can control the portions with the tenders better. Unless there is a store special, chicken is usually more expensive in the meat department. I buy whole chickens whenever they are less than $1/pound. I put several in the freezer, and roast one. I save the skin and bones to make my own broth. I also save peelings from carrots & scraps from onions, celery, and other veggies in the freezer until I have enough to make broth.
To make broth, I put the bones & veggie scraps in the crockpot, fill it with water, add any herbs that may be going stale, and cook over night. If you are busy, it can simmer in the crockpot for 24 hours. then drain it into a large bowl. Refrigerate over night, and skim off any fat. Then, freeze in portions or keep in the fridge and bring to a boil for 10 minutes about every 3rd to 4th day.
Most of the time, I find coupons a waste. I do use them to buy yogurt. I rarely can find it for cereal. I used one for hamburger helper in combination with a store special, but I don't use it much. I gave half of the boxes to the local food pantry. Report
coupons and some store brands. I also look for sale items. Report
thanks for the info and ideas. Report
I use alot of coupons. I get the Wednesday and Sunday papers so I can get the specials. I do a weekly menu, count on specials and coupons to save some. I am a SAHM and we have 3 kids. We are on a strict budget. Great blog....some good tips! Report
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