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How to Save Money on Groceries Without Coupons

November 8, 2019

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We all know shopping for food can add up. The total may vary depending where you live but it’s generally in the hundreds of dollars each month. Don’t worry, though, there are lots of ways for you to shop within your budget even if you're not into coupon clipping. Here at Varo, we took an informal social media poll and discovered that 75% of people shop on a weekly or biweekly basis.

5 habits that can help you save money on groceries 

Make trade-offs if you buy organic

An insight from the poll suggested that 54% of people like to buy organic food, which tends to be more expensive. That means you might have to make a tradeoff in your budget. If you value eating organic foods then maybe your budget for groceries should be higher than your budget for other things in life. 

However, if you would like to maximize the amount of food you can buy with a lower budget, then chances are you might have to skip the organic aisle. (You might check out this list which can help you decide what is worth splurging on organic — and where it doesn’t matter so much.) 

Compare prices inside the store—and between stores

Another 56% of people who took the poll said they compare prices between food items at the store. Let’s see how that works and take a closer look at these blueberries for example. At a local store in Berkeley, Calif., blueberries were sold for $0.69 (pint), $1.29 (pint), $1.59 (18 oz) basket, and $3.29 (organic pint). Although most stores have just one price for blueberries, you may encounter stores with more than one option or perhaps you may start to realize that they are priced differently at different stores. 

Why are there so many different options? Well, it might depend on the ripeness of the blueberries. (Usually the price drops when they are extremely ripe!)It could also be that some are organic ($3.29 a pint). Whichever option you choose, make sure you don’t just grab the first basket you see. Take a moment to look at all your options and buy according to your preference, how soon you think you’ll eat them, and your budget.  

It’s also important to compare store item prices between the local stores nearest you. Again in Berkeley, Trader Joe’s sells cage-free eggs for $1.99 a dozen at its lowest price while most other nearby stores sell $1.99 for half a dozen and for $2.99 for a dozen (see images below). The prices between different types of eggs often reflect the way they were made — free range= pay more.

Figure out how much more you can save with bulk items

If you had to pay for a single egg every time you ate one, would you rather back 24 cents or 33 cents? You’d probably take the cheaper one, all else being equal. But this is where stores often get you — you only get that cheaper price if you buy in bulk. Take this example from our Berkeley grocery store outing.

The offers we saw were:“ $2.99 for a dozen of eggs or half a dozen for $1.99.”That’s $0.33 an egg with the half or $0.24 with a dozen, you may want to reconsider buying just half, and instead, buy the dozen.

So ask yourself, how many eggs you think you’ll eat realistically? If a dozen isn’t worth saving almost 10 cents per egg, then maybe losing out on those extra pennies won’t matter to you. It’s all up to your preferences. 

It may also be cheaper and more efficient for you to shop at a store that does not pre-package most of its produce. That way, you can pick and choose how much you are realistically able to consume and afford (make sure to weigh your produce). The point is: make sure you’re getting the most value for your lifestyle.   

Budget your spending for groceries

Our poll showed 53% of shoppers don’t have a budget when they grocery shop. If you’re trying to save money, that could get tricky. Here’s a better idea for students and other people on tight budgets:

Figure out how many times you’ll dine out a week, including those dinner hangouts you plan with your friends. You can budget eating out separately from eating in or you can combine them with the cost of your groceries. To put into perspective, if you dine out every day with an average meal priced between $10-14, you’ll be spending $30-$42 for three meals a day, which adds up to $210 - $294 a week. However, if you cook at home, it could range from $5-8 a meal, which ends up being $105 - $168 a week. Imagine saving $105 - $126 a week! 

The main point is, have a budget set and stick to it. If you have a hard time making a budget or would like to checkout a few deals, you can try these apps: Mint, Shopper App, SavingStar,  Groupon. In addition, here are some low-budget foods you can make at home 

Shop after you eat, not before

We’ve all been guilty of having eyes that are bigger than our stomaches — also called projection bias. It’s one reason it’s tempting to buy more food at the store when you are hungry: you’re convinced that you’ll eat everything you buy for the future.

To prevent spending more than you need to and potentially save yourself some money, eat meals before you go grocery shopping. After you eat, you’ll be satiated and your appetite would less likely dominate your decisions in the store. That way you won’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach.

Feeling good about your money

Now that you’ve saved between $5-10, you can use that to cover your ride-share home or put it in your savings jar. In a month, that will be worth a whole Saturday night out. For example, if you save $5-10 per grocery visit, that could add up to $60-75 each month, which rounds to about $900 a year. With these habits, you’re guaranteed to save money on every trip to the store. It takes repetition and time to really turn these tips into habits, but saving a few dollars each time can go a long way for your savings goals. 

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Stephanie Li is an intern at Varo and a third-year college student studying economics and cognitive science. These are a few habits she adopted on her grocery runs. She observed shopping habits of several consumers and wanted to share a few that have helped her save at least $7 each time. 

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