1. Don’t shop hungry
Raise your hand if you’ve gone to the grocery store after a long day of work, planning to buy only dried pasta and veggies, but inexplicably leaving with organic granola bars, smoked gouda, and a tub of gourmet gelato.
While I would never begrudge someone ice cream, shopping while hungry impairs your logic and misdirects your decision making from your stomach. Your tastebuds will love you; your budget won’t. The best way to avoid this is to try to set aside a dedicated time (or times) to grocery shop on a weekly basis, preferably long before mealtime.
2. Capitalize on coupons
Take a few minutes each week to look through flyers for your local grocery stores and see what’s on sale that you need (or can use). You can cut down on the amount of time you spend running around from one store to the next by requesting a price match, a courtesy offered by No Frills, Walmart, Save-On-Foods, Extra Foods, and Real Canadian Superstore, among others. If an advertised sale item is out of stock, ask the cashier for a ‘rain check’ voucher that can be used at a later date when the item is back on the shelf.
3. Do some digital digging
After you’ve flipped through local print periodicals, put the scissors down and visit sites like SmartSource.ca and Save.ca to easily search for coupons relevant to your location. Just remember: Never use a coupon to buy something that’s cheap but personally unappetizing to your palate. You’re not really saving if the groceries you purchase sit untouched on your shelf (see tip #10).
4. Buy in bulk
Products with long shelf lives like canned goods, cereals, rice, and pasta can be bought en masse at cheaper prices. This strategy can also work for fresh items, provided they can be easily portioned out and frozen. For example, Costco sells bulk packages of 8 or so chicken breasts at a much better value than you can find at a regular grocery store. It’s worth your time to buy that bigger package and wrap and freeze the chicken breasts individually so that you can take them out as needed.
5. Make them pay for your business
Though you can save some money by buying different items wherever they are cheapest, you can save time by joining a major grocery chain’s loyalty program and focusing most of your shopping in its network. Programs like PC Optimum allow you to earn points on all the purchases you make in its 4500+ affiliated stores, and will even offer you extra points-earning opportunities based on the items you regularly buy, so you won’t feel pressured to change what you eat just to save. 10,000 points can be redeemed for $10 off grocery bills at stores within the President’s Choice network, so concentrating your shopping within one grocery chain can add up to significant savings.
6. Go generic
It’s easy to fall for the psychological trap that brand name = better. But more often than not we’re simply paying for well-marketed packaging rather than any discernible difference in taste or quality. It’s ok to have a few pet products (personally, I will always choose Heinz ketchup over any other label), but do your wallet a favour and try to gradually wean yourself off overpriced brands and onto more affordable, generic store substitutes.
7. Earn back on what you spend
Canadians are lucky to have several reward and cash back credit cards that help take the sting out of those big food shopping bills. We like the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite* Card with no annual fee for the first year* and a big, 5 points per $1 spent reward on groceries*; or the *KOHO card, which earns 1% cash back on groceries, transportation and up to 5% extra cash back with KOHO partnered merchants (including OpenFarm, Chef’s plate), and the KOHO Extra card which earns 2% back on not only groceries, but also eating & drinking, and on transportation (0.5% on all other categories). KOHO Extra also gets up to the 6% cash back extra at partnered merchants. KOHO Extra charges an $84 (or $9/month) annual fee, but this investment might be worth it if you spend at least $4,500 on groceries, restaurants and gas each year, because the 2% cash back you earn will outpace the annual fee.
insert koho thing if applicable
You can boost your savings even more by downloading a free app like Ampli, which allows you to earn extra cash back from a number of Canadian retailers, on top of the regular cash back you earn from your payment cards. Once you’ve racked up $15 in cash back with Ampli you can transfer the cash to your bank account via a free Interac e-transfer. It’s secure and requires minimal effort.
- Terms and conditions apply
8. Learn how to cook
Raw ingredients are cheaper than prepared food. Plus, let’s be honest, premade grub from grocery stores (especially the frozen section) are neither healthy nor particularly tasty. Trust me, you can make better.
Some people find the idea of cooking daunting, but it needn’t be. Shrug off the pressure of preparing a feast every night, and seek out simple culinary solutions like omelettes, filling salads, and soups that can be stretched out over several days. Like mom said, if you can read, you can cook. Browse websites like delish.com or allrecipes.com; the internet is full of easy meal ideas suitable for all levels of daring and experience.
9. Clear your cupboards
How many times have you wondered what to make for dinner, looked in your pantry or your fridge, and decided there is ‘nothing’ there…though technically it’s full of edible options? Even experienced cooks are guilty of complacently making the same comfort recipes over and over again; but this mindset can lead us to repeatedly make trips to the grocery store while we let more niche items that we already have at home go to waste. Things sit on shelves past their expiry date, produce goes bad if not eaten fast enough, etc. Waste not; want not. When you throw out expired food you’re throwing out money. You can minimize food waste and expand your culinary vocabulary by experimenting with a website like SuperCook, which allows you to input items you have on hand and try out recipes that make use of them.
10. Think seasonal
Most of our favourite summer fruits and veggies can’t be locally grown once the frigid Canadian winter sets in. As temps drop certain produce must be imported from warmer climates, and naturally, their prices spike. Buying produce that’s in season will not only be cheaper, it will also likely be of higher quality, as it’s transported from a closer source. In the fall, go for squash, cauliflower, cranberries, and apples; in the summer, choose berries, peaches, zucchini, and broccoli.
And if you like smoothies, pies, sauces, soups, or jams—anything that gets blended, pureed, or frozen, or that you plan to eat immediately—head to your local farmers market or grocery store at the end of the season for the ripe leftovers that tend to be heavily discounted. Some grocery stores even have a year-round section of “less attractive” produce for as much as 50% off the regular price.
Keep the momentum going
Trimming down your grocery bill is a great start to reducing expenses, saving more money, and building a softer financial nest. Once you’ve incorporated some of these grocery habits into your life, try to carry that motivation into other corners of your finances. Take the extra money you’re now saving and use it to reduce or eliminate your debt, put together a comfortable emergency fund, and start investing. If the uncertain times we’re living in now have left you feeling financially rattled, take a deep breath and check out our special article on money management tips for the COVID-19 era.
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