Five Things to Consider When Grocery Shopping

Everyone has to eat. This can be achieved through preparing food at home, or eating out at restaurants. In almost every case, preparing food at home is more cost effective and usually healthier.

If you’re looking to save money, one of the first things usually recommended to cut is eating out. This can be hard, certainly Poopsie and I are not as good at this as we had first thought. It is incredibly effective though, for cutting costs.

Whether you opt to continue eating out or not, it is probably safe to assume that you will still prepare at least some food at home and therefore, grocery shopping will be an expense. Just like eating out, this can easily balloon. As with most things in life, it is possible to spend very little on grocery shopping and it is possible to spend a lot. To spend very little, your nutritional needs may not be met. It’s important to find a balance between eating well and saving money.

Here are five things to consider when trying to lower your grocery bill:

1. Where to shop

Not all supermarkets or grocery stores are created equal. In the USA and UK, there are a wide variety of stores to choose from. I have never lived in either country, so can’t really comment. If you’re from either place, I recommend checking out some frugality blogs in your own area for specific tips as to which store is better.

In Australia, Coles and Woolworths have always been the two leading supermarkets. A few years ago, Aldi came to Australia and provided some significant competition. There are also IGAs and smaller chains like FoodWorks. In some areas, these smaller chains can and do offer competitive pricing. However, in larger cities, it is very hard for them to compete with the major chains.

Don’t necessarily shop where the crowds are…

For Poopsie and I, Aldi is now where we do about 95% of our grocery shopping. We only go to Woolworths for one or two brand specific things, such as Twinings Lemon Tea. We also prefer to buy washing powder from Big W, a subsidiary of Woolworths. Everything else is bought at Aldi and we have saved significantly by doing this.

Costco is now in most capital cities in Australia, so if you live near one, this could be a good option. There is a $60 per year membership fee and it is still important to conduct your own price comparisons.

2. Price Comparisons

I know a lot of people who tell me they shop at Costco because it is so much cheaper. During the one year I lived away from Poopsie in Canberra, I joined Costco (Newcastle does not yet have a Costco). Over a couple of weekends when Poopsie was visiting, we spent hours trekking between Woolworths, Aldi, Costco and Big W doing cost comparisons.

We found that in almost all cases, it was cheaper or equal in price for us to shop at Aldi- and if you took into account the need for a membership fee at Costco then it was definitely cheaper. Admittedly, this did surprise us. We assumed like others that Costco would be competitive. While it was not usually significantly cheaper to shop at Aldi, every dollar still counts. For us, especially now that we are both in Newcastle, Aldi is also much more convenient (the nearest Costco to us is a three hour drive away) and again, there is no membership fee.

Definitely do your own cost comparison. We found that many boxed and processed food items were cheaper at Costco, but we don’t buy these on a regular basis so it was irrelevant to us. Your results will vary depending on the products your family enjoy.

3. Brand Loyalty

Most of the time, brand loyalty should not factor into your grocery shopping. I know I just said I venture over to Woolworths to buy lemon tea, however, there is no lemon tea sold at Aldi. If there was, I would try my hardest to adjust my taste buds to it.

The generic or store brand of most foods are made using the exact same ingredients and methods as their more expensive counterparts. Unless there is an allergy related reason, it usually doesn’t matter what brand you buy. Buy whichever is cheapest.

4. Stock Up

For non-perishable items, when you find them on sale, stock up. They won’t spoil and you know you’ll end up using them. This is especially effective for toiletries.

If these spices were on sale, I would have stocked up!

If these spices were on sale, I would have stocked up!

Recently, the shampoo I usually use (I use it because it is the cheapest, not because of its brand) was 50% off. I now have enough shampoo and conditioner to last me for about two years. Sure, I outlayed some initial expense, but it means I don’t have to buy this product for a number of years and I saved money in the process. Over the next two years, I would have needed shampoo and conditioner anyway, so why not save money buying it now.

If you do have particular brand loyalties that you just can’t shake, then wait until that product goes on sale and stock up.

5. Shop Weekly

Even if you shop with a list (which would be number 6 on this list), you can often leave the grocery stores with extra items. Either you genuinely forgot to add an item to your list and it’s only once you see it at the shop that you remember or, more likely, you see an item you “just have to have”.

One way to avoid this second conundrum is to only shop weekly. If you were to shop daily or every couple of days, you are exposing yourself to the potential for more impulse buys. By shopping weekly, you’re only at risk of impulse buying once.

You can also save money by shopping weekly due to the size/quantity that you can buy. It is far cheaper to buy enough milk for a week rather than just enough to last you a day or two.

What are your top tips to save money when grocery shopping?

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