Grocery shopping is a not-so-fun reality of being a real adult. As if you don't have enough budget problems, you've got to figure out how to feed yourself well without spending too much money, and you quickly realize that eating out every night makes your stomach happy, but your wallet sad. I'm a 20-something who grocery shops on a budget, and I've picked up on a few things that make a big difference when it comes to shopping smart.
1. Create a clear list before you go.
Before you leave your place, make sure to check your pantry and fridge to see what you need. Write down an organized list (I like to do this on the Notes section in my phone) so that you have a solid game plan when you enter the store.
2. Don't shop hungry.
A surefire way to guarantee a full shopping cart and high bill is to shop on an empty stomach. You'll pick up way more items than you normally would just because they sound good at the time. Shop on a full stomach, and you're much more likely to stick to your original plan.
3. Shop in season.
Eating seasonally not only ensures you get the best-tasting produce (tomatoes in December are the worst), but it'll also help you save money. If a store sells fruits and vegetables that aren't in their peak season, they're going to kick up the prices. Knowing what's in season will help you out in more ways than one.
4. Don't be afraid of the frozen aisle.
I'm not necessarily condoning buying frozen dinners (although Trader Joe's has some food-editor-approved frozen meals), but I am suggesting taking advantage of certain frozen foods. There's no reason to spend the extra money required for fresh salmon from a butcher when most stores carry perfectly good frozen varieties. Also, buying frozen meat and vegetables means you don't have to use all of it within a couple days to avoid spoilage.
5. Estimate how much your total will be, and aim to pay with cash.
By setting aside a certain amount of cash, you're more likely to stick to a budget. Of course, bring your card just in case you underestimated, but if you have a set amount in mind, you'll ask yourself if you really need that chocolate bar at the checkout line.
6. Bring your own bags.
If you live in a state that charges for bags, then bringing your own is an obvious way to save money. Buying a couple trusty reusable bags is both an environmentally- and budget-friendly strategy.
7. Know what to buy at each store.
Everyone knows different stores have different prices. Costco is the best for some grocery staples, Trader Joe's is the best for cheap party food, and your local grocery chain like has its own deals. If you have the time to make a couple stops, you'll end up saving more in the long run.
8. Buy certain things in bulk.
If you know brown rice or quinoa are things you eat on a regular basis, it makes more sense to buy in bulk (even if the price seems high). Buying one 20-pound bag of rice is more cost efficient than buying a small bag every week.
9. Know your store's policies.
Knowing secrets about where you shop can help you out big time. For example, did you know the Trader Joe's return policy is that you can return anything if you don't like it? Find out if your store offers rewards programs, coupons, or other useful policies.