Swimsuit season is just around the corner, but there’s never a bad time to improve your grocery shopping habits in an attempt to eat healthier. And if you can eat well without busting your budget, that’s even better!
Since last summer, my boyfriend Steven and I have been trying to find a healthy eating regimen that works for both our bodies and our grocery budget. We tried so many different plans – juicing, all-organic, low-carb, no-carb, you name it – but nothing stuck. It was too easy to throw money at diets that aren’t enjoyable or financially sustainable. So much kale just rotted in our fridge because we just couldn’t eat it anymore.
Fortunately, since 2016 began, we’ve gotten our eating habits and grocery shopping expenses under control. These days we focus on making simple meals using whole, unprocessed ingredients, even though instant mac and cheese and frozen pizzas definitely make for a cheaper shopping bill.
As a result, we’ve developed a few shopping habits that help us buy nutritious food (and quite a bit of it) without breaking the bank:
1. Use a cash back card whenever possible.
I have a cash back credit card with rotating reward categories and right now I only get 1 percent back on groceries. However, if we strategically shop on Amazon.com using Steven’s Amazon.com rewards Visa, which results in 5 percent back, we save a few bucks on grocery staples, such as protein bars, nuts and granola. In some cases, our favorite snacks are cheaper online than they are at the store anyway.
Plus, thanks to Amazon Prime, these orders also qualify for free, two-day shipping. Between the cash back rewards, lower prices and the overall convenience factor, this shopping tactic is an all-around win.
If you have a cash back credit card, I highly recommend exploring ways you can incorporate it into your shopping routine, even if it means buying some items online. I’m eager to see what our savings will be when I can earn rewards on our fresh food purchases using my card, too.
2. Make a shopping list.
Driving to the grocery store and “just winging it” never ends well, especially when you’re trying to eat healthy and get suckered in by food advertising. Before you know it, you’ve busted your grocery budget on gluten-free, sugar-free, low-fat this and that, but still don’t have a stocked fridge to make wholesome meals.
Instead of aimlessly filling a shopping cart, take 10 minutes to plan ahead and make a shopping list to ensure you can make good meals and prevent waste by buying what you’ll actually prepare and eat. This tip is especially helpful if you plan on shopping somewhere a bit pricier, such as Whole Foods or Fresh Market. Those stores will eat a whole month’s grocery budget in one day if you’re not careful.
3. Utilize coupon apps.
I wholeheartedly love coupons, but paper coupons are cumbersome and easy to forget. My cellphone, on the other hand, is always within reach. Between Target’s Cartwheel app, the Whole Foods app and texted coupons from my local supermarket, I always check my phone before pulling out my credit card when buying groceries. I once saved $5 on a $15 produce purchase at Whole Foods just by showing the cashier my downloaded app!
Now, planning food shopping around coupons can be difficult because not all items or brands are coupon-friendly or qualify for discounts. What’s the point of using coupons to save money on mass quantities of instant noodles, canned food and snack bars if you are trying to eat healthy, right?! I totally understand.
As a result, I recommend using coupons to purchase basic items such as olive oil, seasonings and oatmeal based that are on sale. I’ve found I’m not picky when it comes to the brand of such items and can easily buy the cheapest kind with no regret.
4. Comparison shop.
We used to buy all our groceries at the chain supermarket about a mile away until a Whole Foods opened up down the street. After shopping at both places on and off for a couple of months — and spending more money on groceries than necessary — we noticed some of our staple “healthy diet” foods, such as berries, fish and rice, are actually significantly cheaper (and better quality, in my opinion) at Whole Foods than they are at the supermarket.
Conversely, our favorite whole-grain bread, peanut butter and almond milk are cheaper at the supermarket, even though the products and brands are exactly the same at both stores.
With this in mind, I now make two grocery lists each week: one for Whole Foods and one for the local supermarket. Since the stores aren’t far apart, stopping by each place saves us money.
If you have a selection of grocery stores around you, I recommend checking out each one and comparing the prices of your regularly purchased items. You might be pleasantly surprised that a few minor adjustments to your shopping routine can make buying good food more affordable.