Budgeting for the grocery store seems easy when you're doing it: You make a list of everything you need and the prices you know those items usually cost. It seems so simple and straightforward. But then, somehow, when the cashier is finished ringing everything up, the number on the bottom of the receipt is way more than the number in your perfectly organized Excel sheet budget.
If you constantly find that your grocery budget is ballooning out of control, read on for tips on how to avoid the mistakes that lead to overspending on your food budget.
Train yourself in the art of perimeter shopping
Perimeter shopping can be great for your budget and your health. It refers to avoiding the center aisles of the grocery — the ones full of processed and pre-prepared foods — in favor of the products typically shelved along the perimeter of the store (produce, milk, fresh deli meats, bread, etc.). These staple items tend to be affordable, and together, they're everything you need for a lot of healthy, home-cooked meals, so you'll feel very adult on top of it all.
Avoid the end caps
End caps are always full of flashy displays. In the grocery store, these displays might also make you hungry or remind you that you really do need more toilet paper. What's more, end caps are tricky. The item highlighted on the end cap is likely on sale, which makes it seem like a great deal. The truth? Oftentimes, the product on the end cap isn't the best deal; it's just the one you see first. If you take the time to walk down the aisle and look at all the deals in that section, you might find a similar product for an even cheaper price.
And, since end caps almost never highlight store brands and generics, the chance of finding better savings is even higher. "Buying generic brands is one of many ways to combat escalating food prices," consumer expert Andrea Woroch told AOL News. "Before grabbing the first item that attracts your eyes, look for less-gaudy house brands and compare unit prices."
Don’t buy from the cashier aisles
If end caps are tricky, cashier aisles are a total money pit. The items in the checkout line — candy, sodas, batteries, chapstick, and all the other little things you "need" that are small enough to fit in your purse — are handpicked to encourage impulse shopping. You're stuck in line, waiting to pay, and there's a Snickers or the AA batteries you keep forgetting to buy. You might as well just pick them up there, right?
If you need something, put it on your list before you start shopping, find it in the aisle it belongs in, and compare prices across brands. Impulse shopping in the checkout aisle is never a good idea.
Pass on the salad bar
The salad bar seems like a great idea. It's full of healthy food that's all prepped and delicious. There's everything you need for salads, along with pastas and soups and other ready-to-eat selections. But, as Consumerist points out, the more ready-to-eat something is, the more money you're wasting. The salad bar is tempting, with its pre-sliced fruit and everything, but you're better off buying your salad bar cravings from the produce section (or the pasta aisle or the soup aisle or wherever) and preparing everything yourself at home. It will take a little extra time, but save you a bunch of money in the long-run.