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Get your grocery budget on track

A lady in a grocery store

Do you feel like you spend too much on food? It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns when we’re meal planning and snacking, without taking into account what we’re spending to fill ourselves up—and how we could save. You don’t need to become a careful coupon clipper to find savings in the grocery store aisles.

Saving on groceries can really add up over time. Those savings can go toward other needs around the house, and can also help to offset the takeout orders and late-night snack buffets that we sprinkle into our weeks--and rightly deserve.

Start saving at the store so you can spend more where you like.

Write it down
Whether you prefer pen and pad or a spreadsheet, try to make note of every item you purchase at the grocery store for a month. Jot down the item, the amount, the brand and the price. And if you subscribe to any gourmet food services or CSAs, include those as well. This will give you a high level snapshot of your general spending habits; which is easily lost while we’re scouring the aisles, hunting for a quick dinner. The cost of the food you buy throughout a month may surprise you, but don’t worry. You will find ways to bring that number down.

Plan your grocery lists
Make a list of what you’re going to get before going to the store. It’s the best way to cut down on those tempting impulse buys. Go in with a plan, and stick to it.

There are plenty of budgeting and food apps that you can download to help keep you on course and within a budget. Take your grocery list and separate the items into groups that make sense for you--like drinks, frozen goods, meats, snacks, fruits and vegetables, etc. Once you have grouped your items, you can set spending limits on each group.

Take into account your personal preferences—it’s ok to spend more on fine foods or local goods if that’s your taste. On items that you don’t have specific preferences for, consider the store brand over the name brand. Non-name brand goods are often just as good, and can be a lot cheaper.

Cut what you can
We can’t always make a plan for every crumb in our pantry, and we all generate food waste. That’s why it’s important to consider not just what you are buying to eat, but also what you might throw away after it goes uneaten. Whether it’s half-eaten bags of bread lying around or milk going bad in your fridge, get an idea of what you don’t use—and leave it on the shelf at the store next time around.

Setting a budget can help you eat healthy, too. Foods that are heavily processed or packaged (like cookies, chips, soft drinks and granola bars) tend to be high in price and low in nutritional value. These are an easy target to cut from your grocery list and see immediate savings.

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So before you head back to the grocery store, or make that online order –keep in mind these budget-friendly tips to improve your spending habits, reduce waste and eat well. Getting your grocery budget on track will be one step closer to improving your overall financial health.

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