Food is a flexible part of your budget, but with planning and research you can avoid surprises in the checkout line. Prepare for your shopping trip with a list of what you need and a clear sense of where you can purchase those items cheaply. Stick to your list. While you're at the store, take a few moments to keep up-to-date with the prices of your most commonly purchased items.
Know Your Needs
A shopping list is an invaluable tool for a predictable grocery bill. Make your list an accurate reflection of what you need to buy to feed your family until your next trip. A realistic list helps you to avoid "emergency" trips to the market for items you didn't realize you would need. Carefully plan breakfasts, dinners, school lunches and snacks.
Price Out Your Shopping List
Keep receipts from previous grocery shopping trips and use them as a starting point to price out your current grocery list. Many people have access to a few different markets in their area to purchase groceries. Get to know the prices of your most-used grocery items at each local market. Often, it's worth your while to divide up your shopping between a few different stores; consider creating a manual price list and updating it in-store or by looking at the store's website. You also can use a mobile app, such as ScanLife, to find the best deals.
Estimate Your Total Before Shopping
Assign a price to each item on your shopping list and add it up. Remember to factor in any taxes on the purchases as well. You can calculate this amount, or simply estimate a reasonable cushion on your shopping list total. Split out your shopping list by store so you will know what to expect when it comes time to pay. You'll also be better prepared to spot any scanning errors when you know exactly how much you should be charged.
Take Advantage of Sales and Discounts
Know when to deviate from your plan by tracking sales at all supermarkets. If something is cheaper at a different location, it may be worth it to change your shopping route. Use paper coupons and store loyalty cards to maximize your savings. Survey each store's markdown section, where reduced items can be "red-tagged" in-store at half the cost.
To save the most money, look at the cost per unit of the items on your list in various sizes and quantities. If your family uses four gallons of milk in a week, and it is cheaper by volume than a 1-gallon container at a different store, buy the larger size to reduce your bill.
Other Things To Consider
Know your gas costs and make sure to check a store's online weekly circular before heading out. You will know exactly what items on your list are going to cost which will save you time and money. If you spend more in gas driving from store to store than you will save by purchasing the cheapest products, it won't help your overall budget.
Also, read the fine print on multiple deals. Items on sale 4 for $5 may be $1.25 if you buy only one. Or, the price may be 4 for $5 or $1.50 for one. Depending on the store, you may not have to buy multiple items to get the discounted price.