10 Cheap Ways to Simplify Food Shopping

Since May is the fifth calendar month, and five is half of ten (or something), we’ve decided to make May our Official Month of Top 10 lists. Every Wednesday for the next … uh … 19 days, you’ll find a post full of tips and tricks (ten, to be exact) for making your cheap, healthy eating much easier.

Last week, we revealed secrets to simpler cooking and ways to eat green without an actual greenmarket. Tomorrow, Leigh is tackling potlucks. Over the next three weeks, we’ll cover:
  • 10 Ways to Cut Down on Meat
  • 10 Techniques for Maximizing Storage and Leftovers
  • 10 Tactics for Painless Meal Planning
If you have any wonderful shortcuts dealing with those three subjects, do tell! I’ll include the best in the lists (with attribution, of course). Also, I promise the posts themselves will have snazzier names. Because that’s how we roll.

But first! Today! We’re all about food shopping. The following strategies for simplifying your supermarket trips are born of experience and … other stuff.  If you have ideas unmentioned, please feel free to add ‘em in the comment section. We love that.

NOTE (added 5/13/10): Some of these tips are intended for folks with families (#8), while others are meant for those of us living on our own or with one other person (#1). Choose and use as you see fit.

1) Buy only what you can carry.
This naturally whittles purchases down to the essentials, and saves you the trouble of dragging a shopping cart through crowded aisles. It’s especially useful if you’re shopping for one or two people, or have only limited storage back home. Your upper arms will look pretty sweet afterward, too.

2) If possible, don’t bring anyone else.
Okay. This one might be up for debate, but bear with me: I shop faster, cheaper, and healthier when Husband-Elect is not with me. When he’s present, we tend to meander, and are much likelier to buy snacks and beer. If your goal is like mine: to get in and get out with as few extraneous purchases as possible, leave the kids/husband/marching band at home.

3) Fill the top of your shopping cart with produce.
You know where the kids usually sit? Yeah. There. This does three things:
  1. It creates a tangible health goal. Packing that compartment part of the cart with fresh foods automatically means you’re spending less and eating better.
  2. It fills your visual field with fresh food. Since it seems like you already have so much food, this keeps you from buying a ton of additional stuff later.
  3. It prevents fruits and veggies from being smushed by heavier objects. As the produce aisle is located at the entrance of most supermarkets, this is important. You don’t do as much re-arranging later, either.
4) Carry the circular with you as you shop.
Have you ever seen a bean bargain in an online circular, and arrived in the bean aisle itself to find no “sale” sign? Or maybe you brought the 17-ounce box of cereal to the register, when the 12-ounce box was the discounted item? Toting the circular around eliminates this confusion. Bonus: It makes a nice hat for your kids.

5) Group your grocery list by supermarket layout.
What areas of your store you tend to frequent? In what order do you usually hit them? I go: produce, eggs/dairy, cereal/breakfast stuff, bread/cookies, frozen foods, baking items, dry goods, paper products/storage, and meat. When I group my grocery list by these basic categories, I rarely forget items, and don’t waste time hunting them down.

6) Divide by ten.
When food goes on sale, it’s sometimes tough to deduce the final price in your head. But there’s a simple shortcut: drop the last number of the total cost, multiply that by the first number of the discount, and subtract it from the initial price. It might sound complicated, but once you get the hang of it … it’s nice. Here, check it out:
Olive oil = $11.39
Discount= 30%
$1.13 x 3 = $3.39
$11.39 - $3.39 = about $8.00

If your discount is 15% or 25%, add half of that $1.13 number. Your final number should be within a few cents of the discount price. Or, you know, just bring a calculator.

7) Keep a running list of needed groceries on the fridge.
And make sure you have a writing implement nearby. Whenever something is empty, put it up there. This is particularly useful for basics you don’t use very often, but need regardless (raisins, sugar, syrup, etc.).

8) Shop every two weeks instead of every week.
This takes practice and planning, but getting out there bi-monthly will, at the very least, save you a few extra trips to the market. Buying in bulk can frequently net you better deals, as well.

9) Have your coupons, discount card, and payment method at the ready for checkout.
And let your cashier know you have them before he/she does anything with your groceries. Actually, just do everything in this post from Almost Frugal. It’s kind of genius.

10) Consider the self-checkout.
Some of you hate and fear these things. I understand. Glitches are common and getting them to register coupons is akin to blindfolded calculus. But. But. But. Once you have the knack, it can be way faster than standing on line for the cashier. Plus, you can monitor purchases more easily, to ensure you’re getting the correct prices. Any user error is your own.

And readers, that’s it. What about you? What gets you through the supermarket faster, healthier, and cheaper? Let us know!


If you like this piece, you might also enjoy:
(Photo courtesy of Photo Dictionary.)