It's often thought that by the time you drive to the store, pay for your groceries, and spend the evening cooking, you can easily (and more cheaply) order out to eat. And while this may be true in some scenarios, especially if you lean toward the likes of fast food or Chinese takeout, nothing beats a homemade meal, health-wise or budget-wise. The trick to saving money and eating well starts before you ever learn how to cook — it starts with learning how to shop wisely.
Here are five tips for navigating a grocery store, leaving with your wallet intact, and filling your bags with good, wholesome food:
#1 Go beyond the coupon — it's all about the apps.
The days of physical coupon clipping are long gone. Every major grocery chain has its own app, and you'll find loads of deals that are specially tailored to your shopping habits. Simply link your rewards account with the app, and you'll receive in-app offers as well as email deals. Some apps, such as Vons, track your spending in their stores and reward you with gas points that save you money at the pump as well.
#2 Set a weekly budget for food.
Easier said than done, right? But it can be done. If you can't figure out how to set a budget, start by calculating how much you spend on average. Budgeting apps like Mint can help you keep track of your spending; at the end of the month, you'll have a better idea of what you're allocating for food. Balance your grocery budget with reasonable funds for eating out, and try to spend only that set amount each month. It will help you reign in frivolous spending like impulsive Ben & Jerry's pints and excess Starbucks runs.
#3 Never shop on an empty stomach.
This is the worst offender of blowing your budget at the store; when we're hungry, our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs. Suddenly, everything looks good and you justify purchases by thinking you'll eat/make/cook them as soon as you get home. Resist the urge to shop when your stomach's growling; save your grocery runs for when you're feeling full and satisfied, and you won't be tempted to splurge on unnecessary items at the checkout.
#4 Make a list and stick to it.
If pen and paper aren't your thing, use a list-making app and keep a running grocery list of items you need to stock up on throughout the week. Try to shop just once or twice a week, instead of making several trips to the store, as it will help you group together items that can be bought in bulk (for example, buying a whole basil plant when you originally only needed a few sprigs). A list also keeps you focused at the store, instead of wandering the aisles and wondering whether you already have something at home.
#5 Eat less meat and less dairy.
This isn't simply another call for you to do Meatless Mondays (although it is a good way to start reducing your consumption of meat, for frugality's sake or not). A plant-based diet is, without a doubt, less expensive to maintain, even if you buy all organic. Good meats and cheeses are some of the priciest items at the store. If you strive to buy only grass-fed steaks and local dairy, you'll value your food more and eat less of it due to cost — a win-win for your health and your pocketbook.