8 Tips to Slim Down Your Grocery Bills
1. Menu Planning
The first step to saving money on your groceries is to plan a menu. How often have you picked up things in the grocery store thinking you will use them to make something later? Then you find that same thing much later on, spoiled because you didn’t actually get around to it. When we go in without a plan, we get overwhelmed with options and end up having to throw out unused perishables. Take time out to sit down and prepare a menu beforehand. You can even make it a family event; everyone can have their pick of meals throughout the week.
Tip: The best time to make your menu is once you’ve received your flyers, so you can correspond meals with products that are on sale (e.g. if cheese is on sale, throw pizza or lasagna in to the mix).
Once your menu is set, make a list of all the groceries you’ll need to make only those meals. You can even mark down which stores have sale items. Try your best to stick to the list when shopping and not get tempted by other products. All of this might sound like a lot of work, and it might actually be difficult or time-consuming in the beginning, but after a few weeks, it’ll come naturally and you’ll find yourself saving time and money in the long run Insha’Allah.
I’m sure when many of you hear the word ‘couponing’, you think of the ‘Extreme Couponing’ series on television. Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re not going to walk away with hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for pennies. But there is significant amount though that, if done right, can save you a good chunk off your weekly grocery bill.
To start couponing, you will firstly have to collect coupons. How?
Paper inserts: Every few weeks, you’ll find a coupon book in your local paper or with your flyers.
Online: There are MANY coupons available online. There are coupons that you can order by mail or some that you can print right at home. If you are looking for a coupon for a particular product, check the company website for coupons. Many of companies now offer coupons on Facebook as well. Save.ca, Websaver.ca and GoCoupons.ca are just a few sites to get you started.
Tear Pads: You can find tear pad coupons in some stores, sometimes near the actual product and a few stores have them on a board near the entrance. Remember not to clear out the pads; take what you need.
In-product: Some products will often have coupons in or on the packaging for the same product or other products from the same company.
Using these methods, you can build up quite a collection pretty quickly. Since you should always have these coupons with you, find a practical way to organize and store them. A good way is to have them separated by department (food, baby, health products, etc.) with clips and put in a little pouch or wristlet that will fit in your purse.
3. Price Matching
Remember having to drive from one store to the next, scrambling for sale products?! Well, thanks to price matching policies in many stores, you can save money on groceries and on gas. When going through your weekly flyers, circle or mark what you’ll need from each and keep those flyers in the car, so whenever you decide to do your groceries, you’ll have them on hand. Some stores that price match are FreshCo, Wal-mart, No Frills and Real Canadian Superstore.
4. Stocking up
Another great way to save money is to build a stock pile. When you find a really great deal on something, stock up! Just be aware of expiry dates on those products and stock only what you will use up by those dates. Good products to stock up on are diapers, toothbrushes, soaps, canned foods, pastas, etc.
When it comes to halal meat, it’s hard to find great deals. One way to save money on meat is to buy in bulk. Madina Fine Foods, for example, sells boxes of chicken legs at less than retail. So for larger families, it might be worth investing in an extra freezer so you can stock up on meat and frozen food products.
5. Reward Points
There are some stores that have reward point systems that give you points on things you buy. Shoppers Drug Mart, Sobeys and Metro (Air Miles) and recent Loblaws (PC Points), which works a little differently (you earn points only on certain products). There are also several credit cards that offer their own points, so by using those cards for your purchases can earn you twice the rewards. These are just a few of the many rewards programs that retailers are offering to gain customer loyalty.
6. Cash budget
You won’t know if you’re actually saving money unless you have a cash budget. Figure out how much you’re spending every month on average for groceries. Set this amount in a jar and have another jar for savings. Whatever you save at the end of the month, throw into the savings jar. When the savings have added up after about six months, use it towards an investment (e.g. mortgage, RESP, etc.). If you’re paying for your groceries with a credit card to take advantage of rewards, just pay back using the cash from the grocery jar. Some months you might need more than the allotted funds if you’re stocking up on something. If this happens, just pay back the ‘borrowed’ amount as soon as you can. Keeping track of the money like this and seeing the physical cash that you’re saving will Insha’Allah help motivate you to stay on track.
7. Cash Back Programs
Even the couponing field is trying to keep up with the ongoing technology trends. A few companies have introduced apps that can be downloaded on your phone and provide ‘instant coupons’ or cash back. Every week, these apps offer cash back on specific products (e.g. $1 cash back on Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or $2 cash back on Scott’s Paper Towels). Often the offers of the week are also on sale at the stores and if you get lucky, you might also have a coupon for the same product! The great thing about these cash back apps is that you can use them in combination with coupons and other in-store offers. Once you buy the product(s), you upload the receipt to the app and, usually within 24 hours, your account will be credited with the cash back amount. Once your account has a balance of at least $20, you can request a cheque to be mailed to you. Make sure to cash the cheque and add the funds to your savings jar! Cash back apps available right now are, Checkout 51, CartSmart and SnapSaves.
8. Choose a store
When trying to save money, it’s important to decide on a store that’s right for you. You will likely be hitting up the store at least once a week so it’s essential to find one that will help you save money without making it painstaking experience and hopefully rewarding you with points for doing so.
To help you decide on a store, here are some things to look for:
Helpful, knowledgeable cashier. They will go through price matches and coupons quickly and not hold up the line.
Easy price matching policies. Some stores do offer price matching, but will only price match with specific stores and are very strict with which products you can match. If, for example, a flyer says ‘Christie cookies’, some stores will allow you to match any Christie cookie and others will only allow the ones shown in the picture.
Reward Points. It’s rare finding a store that does both price matching and has a rewards system. In fact, Real Canadian Superstore is the only store in Ontario that does price matching and now offers a free reward points program (without having to use their credit card).
Reasonable regular prices. You can’t ALWAYS get a great deal on groceries you need. Therefore, it’s important to choose a store that doesn’t charge outrageous prices on things that aren’t on sale. Check out a few stores to see what the set price is for items you routinely buy.
In-store specials. Some stores offer great, unadvertised deals in their stores. The aforementioned Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills stores have these beautiful 50% off stickers that they stick to everything from diapers to pasta. Choosing a store that offers clearance deals like this is a great way to save even more money!
By these 8 Tips to Slim Down Your Grocery Bills, you can save a substantial amount each week. It can be overwhelming to try to do these things all at once, so take baby steps. Once you see yourself saving even a few dollars, insha’Allah you’ll get motivated to do even more to save money for your family. Being frugal means spending your money wisely and not being wasteful.
Zeynab Kazi is a mom and wife who loves to cook and shop, all while trying to save money for the bigger things in life.