Old-School Money-Saving Grocery Tips That Just Aren’t True Anymore — And 3 That Still Hold Up

published Sep 26, 2022
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Cashier scanning items at grocery store
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Where I live, the cost of certain groceries, like eggs, cereal, peanut butter, meat, and laundry detergent, have seen double-digit increases. And some items, like diapers and formula, can’t be had for any price. Frequent shoppers (like me) who have to work within a budget are searching for money-saving strategies that work in today’s grocery environment. We’ve all heard about things we should be doing, but what really makes a difference?

To help me fine-tune my grocery game, I called Dr. Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, an extension field specialist with South Dakota State University. Dr. Saboe-Wounded Head teaches personal finance and financial wellness classes, so I wanted to ask her what money-saving strategies were actually worthwhile. She says it’s all about managing resources (including your valuable time!) when finding better ways to stretch a dollar.

Read on to find more about what I learned, including which three age-old money-saving tips just don’t make sense (cents?) — and the three that are worth keeping around.

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1. Don’t spend hours clipping coupons.

Couponing has become an extreme sport, but it’s likely your energy is better spent elsewhere. “It costs money to take the time to clip coupons if your time is valuable,” says Dr. Saboe-Wounded Head. “These days large stores like Safeway, Kroger, and, my own favorite, Hy-Vee, offer loyalty programs and digital coupons along with sale prices or fuel points.” You can access these benefits using a store card, which you can sign up for, for free.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot

2. Do take time to create a loose meal plan.

Dr. Saboe-Wounded Head recommends you use that time to plan your meals instead. And remember that the plan doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. She suggests you think of it as an organizing idea, like having tacos on Tuesday or pizza every Friday night. This way, you are less likely to buy things you don’t need or have a plan to use.

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3. Don’t buy in bulk.

This may be controversial, but hear Dr. Saboe-Wounded Head out. While stocking up is a technique that worked in decades past, it can be tough for families today for a few reasons: It ties up financial resources as well as taking up prime real estate inside our homes. “And then there’s the family,” she says. “Are they going to eat oatmeal for breakfast every day?” If you aren’t diligent about using up the stockpile, it can grow old and, eventually, even end up in the trash, which is a waste of more than just your money.

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4. Do log inventory of what you already have.

It’s easy to lose track of partially used items that may get moved around when bags of fresh groceries get unpacked. (We’re looking at you, half-empty jar of olives.) Take inventory of what’s in your pantry, cabinets, fridge, and freezer before you make your shopping list. Better yet, log it somewhere you can easily access and update: a Google sheet or doc, or a free app, like Whisk are all excellent options. You can buy a small magnetic dry-erase board and stick it to the fridge for keeping a running inventory list. Having an accurate inventory helps with meal planning, reduces food waste, and helps you create your grocery list more quickly.

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5. Don’t shop hop to chase deals.

Driving from store to store to chase the best deals is another tactic Dr. Saboe-Wounded Head advises against. Chances are the money you save on groceries won’t offset the time and gas money you spend traveling to and shopping at multiple stores. And then there’s the temptation factor. How many times have you gone into a store for three items and come out with four or more? You’re definitely not the only one.

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6. Do shop after you’ve eaten something.

Rather than visiting multiple stores, she recommends a time-tested piece of advice that remains one of the most brilliant money-saving tips today: Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. You’ve heard this one before. And it’s worth repeating! Everything looks and sounds good when you’re hungry. Eat up and then go shopping. If, for some reason, you find yourself shopping on an empty stomach, here are a few tips to get you in and out of the store without a cart full of items.

Got any other tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments below!