Grocery shopping on a budget

You obviously can’t escape spending money on food, so here are some easy tips that will not only save you money but make you a more savvy shopper in the process.

Coupon clicking
Coupons aren’t just for Sunday papers and grandmas anymore. There’s a slew of websites that offer coupons for popular brands. Save.ca and brandsaver.ca let you select the coupons you’d like, then mail them to you within a few business days. Company websites and e-newsletters can also be fabulous if there’s a particular product or brand you’re after.

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to email companies and tell them how much you like a particular product. They love to hear from happy customers and will often send coupons or samples if you ask nicely.

Using flyers to save money
First, start reading flyers every week. This will tell you where to go for the week’s best sales. It will also give you an idea of how much things usually cost, so you’ll know when you’re getting a really good deal.

Next, it’s time to hit the stores. If the item you’re after is something you use frequently, is non-perishable, or freezes well—such as meat, bread, or butter—stock up! And if it’s sold out, ask the customer service desk for a rain cheque.

Pro tip: Combine sale prices with coupons to maximize your savings.

Kitchen essentials
There are a few staples you should always have on hand. These include frozen fruits and vegetables; canned goods like diced tomatoes, chickpeas, and tuna; meats such as chicken breasts, beef, and pork chops; and grains like pasta, barley, and rice.

These basics are nutritious, cheap (and almost always on sale somewhere), store easily, and can be combined to make a host of delicious meals.

Pro tip: Stay away from prepared/packaged foods like frozen pizza, canned soup, and microwavable meals. They’re usually pretty unhealthy and also substantially more expensive than making a meal from scratch.

Is Costco really cheaper?
The answer is that it can be—if you know what to look for. Some items at Costco are great deals, while some are more expensive than at a grocery store. There are two things you need to know to save money at Costco: how much things cost at normal stores, and how to calculate a unit price.

To calculate a unit price, you first need to decide on a unit. 100g (or ml) works well for most foods. Next, figure out how many units the item contains. For example, a 450g box of cereal contains 4.5 100g units. Finally, divide the price by the number of units. So, if the box of cereal costs $3.99, dividing that by 4.5 gives you a unit price of  $.89 per 100g. This will help when you’re trying to figure out the best price between differently sized items, which you’ll likely encounter when comparing Costco to grocery stores.

The good news is that food prices generally don’t change too much. So once you’ve figured out which items you should buy from Costco, you won’t have to worry about the math behind it.

Pro tip: Share a Costco membership between friends and family members to split the cost of the membership and any items that would be too big to use on your own.

Organizing your list to save time
While saving money is always great, saving time at the grocery store can also be important. When you’re making your list, organize it by food category (produce, bakery, deli, frozen, dairy, and inner aisles). That way you can knock each category off the list quickly and without having to zigzag across the store.

Pro tip: Always shop with a grocery list. You’ll be less likely to forget items you need, and you won’t have to search through the store trying to remember what’s on sale that week.

The store makes the difference
Some grocery store chains market themselves towards a higher income group so if you’re hoping to save money, steer clear of the luxury grocery stores in your region. For instance, Sobeys and Metro may have certain specialty items but your bill will be high if you do the bulk of your shopping here. Whereas, Price Chopper and No Frills offer bargains you may be sacrificing quality and selection.

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