It’s easy to overspend at the grocery store.
Sometimes we stock up on too many sale items, other times we get distracted by in-store promotions and often, you’re entire grocery list can change as soon as you walk into a store.
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Experts will tell you the best way to cut back on costs is to go with a plan — but it can get difficult to start this process. Start with a meal plan, knowing what you want to cook during the week is the best way to ensure you stick to your budget.
Also, go in with a list. Not only will you save money by setting yourself a budget, but you won’t be tempted to pick up those extra items.
Below, five experts share their top tips on how to save money on your next grocery bill.
You need to start with a plan
“When you dedicate a couple of hours one day to plan out your meals it helps you to be efficient and organized when it comes to grocery shopping,” said registered dietitian Anar Allidina. Start by looking at what’s on sale at your favourite grocery store and come up with meal ideas around those items.
“Plus, by planning your meals your grocery list will be more streamlined and you will likely have fewer grocery store trips and only buy what you need when you are food shopping.”
Get the right apps
Price matching apps like reebee and Flipp can also help, Allidina said. “It takes just a few minutes to look up items that are on sale elsewhere. All you need to do is take a screenshot of the item that is on sale and show the cashier and they will match the price for you.”
However, not all Canadian grocery stores offer price matching, so make sure you are aware of the grocery store’s policy before you fill up your cart. “You will be surprised at how much you can save by doing this.”
Don’t shop when you’re hungry
Going shopping when you’re hungry can easily lead to overspending on food you may not typically buy, said Shahzadi Devje, a registered dietitian and host of the Morrocco Real Food Adventure based in Toronto.
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We often end up spending more money on junk food. “Shop when you’re less vulnerable to opt for high-calorie foods that may be of low nutritional quality.”
Seasonal food is cheaper
“Fruits and vegetables are cheaper when they’re in season,” Devje said. “Find the best buys of the season and purchase in bulk and freeze.”
She also recommends visiting your local farmer’s market to find further deals on local produce. “The prices don’t include shipping costs, which saves you some bucks.”
Not all food has to be fresh
“Buying some food frozen can also help you cut down on cost,” Allidina said. “Frozen produce can sometimes be better than fresh because they’re picked at harvest time and flash-frozen (so all the nutrients are intact) as opposed to fresh veggies and fruit that have traveled from long distances.”
The options are also endless these days. You can find everything from frozen spiralized zucchini noodles to cauliflower rice to cubed butternut squash.
Give beans and lentils a chance
Not only are these plant-based protein sources cheaper than animal protein, but they are also nutritious. “Canned beans and lentils are fine and a great price point but buying dried beans and lentils and prepping them yourself is a major money saver,” Aillidina said.
Order groceries online for pick-up
This may sound odd, but ordering groceries online and picking them up later on will help you save in the long-run — even with an added fee, said Jessica Moorhouse, a millennial money expert and financial counsellor based in Toronto.
“When you order online then pick-up later, you can more easily stick to your grocery list of what you actually need instead of succumbing to impulse buying or hunger shopping which we all do when we’re at the grocery store.”
Bigger is cheaper
Registered dietitian Jessica Tong of Vancouver says instead of buying individual packages of items, look for larger sizes.
“(For example buy a) large block of cheese instead of individual portions, and cartons of 18 eggs instead of six or 12.”
Look into grocery store reward programs
Again, this also depends on where you live in Canada, but several grocery store chains include reward programs for shopping at their stores. This can include cash-back credit cards or a points system for free groceries. Moorhouse says they are usually free to sign up for.
Tong says stores like Safeway or Metro use the Airmiles rewards program. “If you set your reward preference to cash miles, the miles you accumulate can be used as money off your grocery bills. This is a great way to save money or splurge on gourmet products.”
READ MORE: How a family of four can eat healthy on a budget of $200 a week
Personal finance expert Barry Choi of Toronto adds it does come down to research and figuring out which program works best for you. He recommends also looking into in-store offers. For example, the PC Optimum program often offers 20 points through their Shoppers Drug Mart brand. These points can be used towards groceries at Loblaws or No Frills.
Actually look into what’s on sale
Not only should you meal plan around what’s on sale during the week, but Choi said by simply buying fruit, vegetables and protein on sale will save you anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent in savings. And if you’re up for it and have the time, shop around: sometimes you can find multiple deals at a variety of stores.
Go to local ethnic grocery stores
For major urban centres, Choi says you can save a lot more money on protein, fruits and vegetables buy shopping at local ethnic grocery stores. Besides this, you will also find a variety of produce.
Stop buying expensive brands
We all have our favourite go-to brands and often, it comes down to taste preferences. But Devje argues when it comes to some products (think flour, sugar, salt and spices), store brands are much cheaper.
“Read the nutrition label and ingredient list carefully to compare products, and be sure you’re getting the most for your cash”
Choi says tomato paste, dried beans or even barley, for example, is another product that doesn’t need to be expensive.