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Saving Time and Saving Money at the Grocery Store

These grocery shopping tips can save time and money.

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To save money and save time is a neat trick that most of us wish we could do everywhere -- not just the grocery store. So often the two have an inverse relationship. When you save money, it takes more time, and many things that save time cost more money. Work-at-home moms may have more flexible schedules, but time is still a precious commodity.

With some practice you can save time and save money at the grocery store. Yes, at first some of these ways to save money take extra time, but eventually they will save time and money too.

1. Shop prepared.

Do most of your decision-making at home. Develop a meal plan for the week then make a shopping list. This saves time in the store because you're less likely to need to fetch forgotten items and at home because you have a game plan when cooking meals. And it will cut the impulse buys, saving money.

Organize your list in the order that you will encounter items in the store. For instance, group produce together at the top of the list if that's the first stop in the store. Also eat before you go because hungry people buy more.

2. Get the lowest price.

  • Look at the unit price (i.e. price per item, ounce or pound). But you may still opt for the higher unit price because a larger size might mean waste.
  • Try store brands. Most are as good as name brands. But the first time you try something, just buy one, so you aren't stuck with stuff no one will eat.
  • Stock up on sale items, but be reasonable. Again don't buy too much of something new. If you throw out stale, spoiled or uneaten food, you didn't save any money.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season in your area, when possible. Of course, in winter this would mean no produce at all for many. During these times, buy more frozen and canned vegetables and fruits. Produce in season in South America goes on sale in U.S. supermarkets in winter.

3. Shop at places besides the supermarket.

While the idea behind a supermarket is convenience and lower prices, some things are cheaper outside the supermarket. But since convenience is one of the pillars of supermarket shopping, it's hard to say this is a time saver.

However, if you can integrate stops at the many other places to shop for food into your daily routine, you won't spend a lot of extra time on shopping. And you may keep yourself from needing to make a trip to the supermarket for a few more days.

For instance, I always stop in the bread outlet in the same shopping plaza with my kids' pediatrician office when we visit the doctor.

4. Consider leaving the kids home.

Bringing the kids will slow you down and, unless you have a steel will, make you spend more. But often you don’t have a choice or grocery shopping doesn’t seem a practical use of your child-free time.

So if you are bringing the kids, set the rules in advance to avoid overspending or wasting time debating the merits of fruit snacks. I usually allow them to pick one item (and if it is fruit snacks, so be it). Deciding on that item can burn up excess energy.

Enlist kids' help unloading the cart, running back for forgotten items (if old enough) or loading the car. Keep younger kids engaged by talking to them constantly. Explain your food choices. It may go over their heads at first, but eventually it will sink in.

5. Use coupons wisely.

Coupons can save money, but they eat up time. Finding, clipping and organizing coupons is very time consuming.

And remember manufacturers issue coupons with the desire to make you buy things you wouldn't otherwise buy, so they don't always save you money. Often it is cheaper to get a generic item than the name brand one with a coupon.

If you plan to use them, go to stores that double coupons. Before you spend time joining an online coupon service, be sure that the stores you shop in accept online coupons. Some of the best coupon deals are not the manufacturers coupons, but the ones issued by the store. It takes very little extra time to pick up a store sale flyer and scan it for coupons or to grab from the coupon dispensers in the aisles.

6. Keep a running total in your head.

If your math skills are as good as mine, this can take some practice. Round everything up or down to the nearest dollar for simplicity’s sake. If you’ve brought along an older child, do this together to help sharpen his or her math skills.

This eliminates sticker shock at the checkout and makes you think about the cost of each item you put in the cart. And really if you can calculate and walk simultaneously, it takes no extra time.

7. Buy more ingredients and fewer prepared foods.

Think about how much time those time savers are really saving, and weigh it against the added cost. Some are worth it, but some are not. Not too many of us make our own spaghetti sauce, so that's a good one to pick up at the store. But how much help is a box of Hamburger Helper? Couldn't you add pasta and spices to hamburger yourself?

And that lovely fully prepared roast chicken in your supermarket's deli seems like a great time saver. But work-at-home moms have the opportunity to prepare meals, such as a roast chicken, that really don't take a lot of prep time, but do need to be started several hours in advance. See some WAHM Recipes.

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