By Meghen Jones
You’re going through your fridge, and it’s looking a bit empty, so you move on to the pantry where it’s just as barren — if not more. The first thought that comes to your mind is how badly you need to make a trip to the grocery store. So, you start examining your grocery budget and comparing it to your list of needs and wants. As a college student on an extremely tight budget, there’s nothing more testing than having to pick and choose between the food essentials and those snacks that you just cannot hold out on.
But, as you’ve heard time and time again—thanks to your beloved parents— the key to this whole “adulting” thing begins with budgeting money and saving any extra. To get yourself on track before you’re officially out in the cold, cruel world on your own, you should consider smart shopping. Even though you have no choice but to shell out the cash you need on food, you can still save money while grocery shopping—just like you would in any regular retail store. Take the first step towards life as a successful, fully-functioning adult and learn all about uCribs’ 5 favorite grocery store hacks.
Create a Grocery List
Grocery shopping alone can be a bit frustrating sometimes. We’re not all expert meal planners, that’s for sure. But, like anything in life, practice makes perfect. And if you didn’t already know, creating a comprehensive grocery list of everything you need for the week is the perfect place to start when it comes to budgeting for vital needs such as food and other at-home supplies. With a set list in hand, you will not fork over more money than necessary once you reach the cash register.
Before making a grocery store run, take a few minutes to look through your refrigerator, cabinets, and any other places of interest. Next, plan out your meals and snacks for the upcoming week. Whatever you already have in your possession, you can utilize for your meals—which is why it’s always smart to take note of what you have at your off-campus apartment before meal planning. Obviously, whatever is lacking, you can add to your list and locate once you get to your chosen shopping destination.
We also recommend keeping a small, magnetic whiteboard, chalkboard, or notepad on the fridge, so you can keep track of any must-have items you need by your next trip. It will save you a ton of time in your list making process if you start with a basis of necessities, and by the end of the week, you’ll know exactly what you need. Although we admit ignorance can be bliss, a basic part of the whole “adulting” process includes an awareness of all the important matters that encompass your daily life—including your financial budget.
Download Couponing/Cash Back Apps
Although the old school method of couponing has not necessarily run its course, it doesn’t align with our modern-day, digitally-infused lives. It really takes a special someone to sit on the floor with advertisements spread before them, taking the time to evaluate what products they need, calculate which coupons would be most valuable, and so forth.
Instead of forcing yourself to coupon, we suggest that you do what you usually do: turn to technology. There’s nearly an application for pretty much everything, including apps that will help you save some money on groceries— either through digital couponing or rebate and cash back rewards. There are even coupon apps specifically for the grocery store.
If you’re looking for recommendations, we couldn’t speak more highly of Ibotta, an app created to help you earn cash back on in-store and mobile purchases. Ibotta allows you to save such as Walmart, Whole Foods, and Target. Whether you are team iPhone or Android, Ibotta can easily be downloaded through both the Apple Store and Google Play. The only catch here is that you must have a receipt or purchase verification to earn your rewards, but that’s not too hard for a responsible student such as yourself, right?
Sign-Up for the Grocery Store’s Incentive Card
The grocery store extends beyond food these days. You can find a lot of must-have items such as vitamins & supplements, toiletries, cleaning products, and even school supplies. Think about how many times your run to that corner grocery store in a week, spending a little here and a little there. Over time, it really begins to add up. That’s why it’s not only good to prepare ahead of time with your coupon-saving apps in hand, but it’s also smart to keep a membership incentive card handy for your respective retailer.
Just like your favorite fashion stores, grocery stores have membership cards available for all of their customers, and better yet, most come free of charge. Once you become a member of a store’s loyalty program, you’ll have access to the biggest savings in the store on any given week. Imagine how much you will be saving in the long run once all of the discounts add up!
Whether you become a member at SE Grocers, Target, or Kroger, these incentive programs only require a quick, simple sign-up process and unlock special savings in the store. Most utilize a point-based system that allows you to earn special rewards such as free in-store items, gift cards, or discounts at the gas pump. Despite the system, you’ll be saving money in the long-run, and in the end, that’s all that really matters.
Buy in Bulk When You Can
Can you recall those times when you went with mom or dad to the grocery store? Their processes were always so strategic. Couponing, venturing out on certain days for certain deals, and bulk shopping were among the common contenders. Sure, it may have seemed like your parents were going overboard by purchasing excessive amounts of frozen and canned goods, but if you examine their strategy as a new adult, it all really adds up.
Although bulk might not work for every college student, especially if you’re one to fly solo, it makes sense for students who have multiple roommates or live in a sorority or fraternity house. When you shop in bulk, you can stock up on important food items you need, spending more at-first but saving more money overall. Water, toilet paper, paper towels, soda—the list of popular bulk items is not a small one, which is why whole retailer chains such as Sam’s Club and Costco are dedicated to the market.
Just make sure not to go overboard when it comes to bulk shopping. We know how enticing it can be to load up on fun items such as cheeses, meats, chips, etc. but the fact of the matter is buying in bulk doesn’t excuse you from expiration dates. It would be counterproductive to buy in bulk in order to save money—only to purchase way too many items that expire before you can eat or use them. So, just remember to always shop smart, bulk or no bulk.
Purchase Off-Brand Products
Have you ever noticed how much we tend to go for products based on their brand name? For some reason, it just seems like the more well-known brands are worth the extra cost. At least that’s what we think, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Most of the time, we just fall victim to very well-thought-out marketing campaigns.
Did you know that the same brand-named item you purchase is more than likely being made the same exact way as the off-brand? Believe it or not, brand names are just a simple marketing strategy used to persuade you to purchase one brand over another. It’s actually pretty interesting how much we pass up and item because it reads as a store brand.
Granted, there are certain items—dairy products, juice, table salt—that you actually do want to purchase from a select brand, but generally speaking, it’s perfectly fine to purchase the off-brand. We encourage you to consider which items are worth the extra cost, as opposed to the items that are not. In the long run, you’ll save cash by being more thoughtful when it comes to the selections you make.
Although our grocery store hacks may not appear as satisfying as scoring free food at all your favorite restaurants, they will come in handy if you’re hoping to do more at-home meal planning in 2019. As you slowly adjust to an independent way-of-life, you’ll realize that not only is it easier on your gut if you regularly stock up on groceries every week or two, but you’ll also see how much relief it gives you wallet. Whether you aim to try one of our listed hacks or go for all five, we’re positive you’ll be more confident hitting all the different aisles with some tricks up your sleeve.