Shopping on a Fixed Income

Shopping on a Fixed Income

Over the course of the last two years, grocery prices have been going up at a rate of about 7-9%—a whole lot more than most people’s incomes have been going up, fixed or not. This means learning how to shop in ways you might not have considered before.

Cutting Grocery Costs

Plan your grocery shopping trip. It’s a simple fact. When we impulse shop, we always buy differently than if we plan the trip and stick to the plan. Running to the store for a half dozen items costs more, than if we shop once or twice per week and make it a longer but more comprehensive trip. Plan your meals so that you can work them around fewer ingredients.

Create a list. You are much more likely to stick to what you need when you have a list than if you don’t. No list means you are likely to buy based on what looks good rather than what your budget, diet, and common sense will advise.

Eat a snack or lunch before you go. There’s a reason why food looks good when you buy it at the store. It’s supposed to. And if you are hungry, this appeals to your desire to buy it even more. If you shop after you’ve had a good meal, you will be more resistant to impulse buying.

Study sales cycles —Most foods go on sale about every 10-12 weeks. Around major holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, these cycles are shortened. Look for sales on turkeys near Thanksgiving, and hams for Easter and Christmas.  Steaks go on sale for summer holidays, and you can get some great deals on corned beef around the 2nd week of March. These cycles also exist outside of holidays. Look for sales and stock up.

Use coupons but look out. Every buying guide tells you how much money you can save with coupons. They are right, so long as you would buy that item and brand with or without a coupon. If it is still more expensive than you otherwise would spend on a different product or you wouldn’t buy it at all, the coupon has hurt your budget, not helped it.

Shop the perimeters. The stuff that makes up most of your budget and that you plan your meals around like bread, veggies, meat, and dairy are on the sides and back of your supermarket. Shop these areas first, find the savings, and then work out the rest of your budget from there. Studies show that when people get the things they need first, they are less tempted to buy the prepackaged convenience stuff in the center of the store.

Don’t shop in front of your face. The most expensive and popular items are generally at eye level.  More frugal options are generally above that level and near the ground.  This isn’t always the case, but it is often enough to make worth noting.

Convenience foods. We all know these are easier, but we also know that it costs time and money to produce and package convenience foods. Pre-cut veggies and meat, peeled and mixed fruits, pre-made salads, and other convenience foods are more expensive than if you do it yourself.

Get your card. Many supermarket chains carry a discount card. Get one and use it to save some serious money.

Buy bulk stores. It might pay to shop bulk stores like Sam’s Club and Costco using a bit of strategy. If you have friends with the same tastes, agree to buy certain items and divide them up. A few storage bags can help you cut your food costs by as much as 40%. Also consider cooking around certain items. You won’t want enough spaghetti sauce to feed 20, but use it for that first, then convert the remainder into chili and freeze part of that for later. Finally, it might pay to buy it, use most of it and throw away the rest. This is particularly true with spices you use a lot. You can often get a full pound of a spice for the same price you can get for an ounce of it in the supermarket.  So if you only used up half the container, you’ve still come out money ahead.