Saving money is always important. In a world where high unemployment rates keep us all on edge and rising fuel prices have increased the cost of nearly everything, effectively reducing the buying power of each hard-earned dollar, saving money is paramount. My grandfather was a very successful entrepreneur and placed a lot of his focus on effective purchasing departments. I often heard him say, "You don't get to keep what you make. You get to keep what you save."
With that paradigm in mind, I set out to adopt some simple, yet effective strategies that would allow me to save as much money as possible while shopping for my family. I live an extremely busy life, so the strategies had to be relatively simple measures that I could easily apply to what I was already doing. Nothing fancy and nothing so involved that it resembled a second job. Also, I knew the strategies themselves were less important than the self-discipline required to remain faithful to my new Below is a list of the five simple, yet effective habits that I applied to my shopping strategy.
Make a Budget and Shop with a List!
That sounds like such a no-brainer that it shouldn't even warrant inclusion in the list, right? Before answering that, ask yourself how many times you've resolved to create a budget only to do so and then very quickly strike it from memory the first time you're faced with an impulse buy. I listed this one first because it is simultaneously the simplest and most difficult measure to apply. Creating a budget requires a bit of homework and at least a small amount of soul-searching as you determine what you can't live without. Sticking to that budget, on the other hand, requires something much more difficult for most of us: discipline.
A budget alone is not enough, though. In order to turn that budget, which is no more than a number, into something useful while out shopping, you need to create a shopping list. With a bit of experimentation, you can create an all-inclusive shopping list that reflects your budget and then use that list as your bible when buying groceries. Without such a list to use as your "shopping GPS," you're more likely to buy things you don't really need. Remember that buying groceries should not resemble shopping at all. You're not browsing. You're there to pick up the items you know you need based on your prearranged list and then go home with groceries and savings in hand.
Use a Calculator When Shopping for Groceries!
I know… "gasp." Who wants to be seen using a calculator at the grocery store? The use of such a long-abandoned shopping tool suggests that you aren't wealthy enough to buy whatever you please - and you want to be seen as a high-roller, right? Luckily, this is the 21st century and there is a simple, covert solution. Everyone walks around with their faces glued to smartphones these days. And what is one of the apps included with virtually every smartphone ever made? A calculator. To onlookers, you'll simply appear to be texting while shopping. And they'll be right - You'll be texting yourself… savings. Boom.
Store Brands Don't Suck!
More and more people are finally catching on, but it is still worth pointing out that store brands generally offer the same level of quality as their brand-name counterparts. In some cases, I find that I actually prefer the store brands over the more expensive brand names. This one may require a bit of experimentation, though. Not all store brands are created equal, especially when accounting for personal taste, so it will be important that you try out other stores' offerings if you dislike the one from your normal supermarket. If it's an item you use in large amounts, it would especially be worth an extra stop.
Fast food is groceries!
That is the case in budgeting terms, at least. I won't try to draw any further similarities between the two when it comes to health, cost or quality. However, your food budget should be just that - your food budget. If you budget $150 for food each week, make sure that you either work potential fast food stops into your grocery budget or create a separate line-item that specifically accommodates grabbing carryout. If you're anything like me, you plan out the meals you're going to cook for the week only to sometimes experience evenings when something happens and you're not able to get home in time to cook.
That scenario often leads to carryout, which needs to fit somewhere in the budget. My own food budget includes certain luxuries that I don't truly need. If I stop to pick up fast food one night and the expense cannot be covered by a surplus from the current week's food budget, that amount is reduced from the following week's budget - meaning I sacrifice a few luxuries to account for my unexpected purchase and stick to my budget. It might sound draconian, but you'll thank yourself for applying that small measure of discipline to your spending habits.
As a final note on this one, try to look ahead at your week when making a grocery list. If you know something is happening that could derail a certain night's dinner plans at home, don't buy groceries for that night's meal and instead budget for what you believe will be a fast-food-night.
Watch for snakes! I mean sales!
I do not have enough time in my busy life to get serious about using coupons. I do use them, but more or less at my convenience and without any real organization. What I do try to adhere to, though, is a strict practice of looking at sales papers for my local grocers prior to shopping. Quite often, a store will offer buy-one-get-one-free deals on items you regularly purchase, making an extra stop worthwhile. A few stores, such as Publix, even list the week's BOGO deals on their website, making your search for savings that much easier. If you shop at a store that offers to match their competitors' deals, then take advantage of the policy and save money without having to take your business elsewhere.
Be careful with this one, though. Stores often benefit from these sales due to the fact that people will purchase items that they otherwise would not have considered and do not actually need. You're only saving money if you get a great deal on something you need. A sale on something you don't need isn't a good deal - it's an impulse buy. Avoiding that pitfall is one of the reasons we're following a budget now, right?
Saving money can be accomplished by applying any number of simple measures. The trick, however, no matter what methods you employ, is to practice self-discipline when it comes to the way you spend. Don't let your commitment to practice smart shopping habits fall into the same bottomless pit that mercilessly devours most of our New Year's resolutions. It's more or less like losing weight or quitting an unhealthy habit such as smoking; you can do it and there are tools out there to help you - but you have to want it badly enough to stick to your guns.