During Ratehub.ca’s Financial Literacy Month budget challenge, money spent on fast food, restaurants, and delivery was a common spending category members of our team wanted to cut down on (see how we fared here).
If you’re like us, you might need to reboot your meal-planning and shopping habits. We’ve put together five tips that initially require a little extra effort, but it’s worth it once you get rolling: being organized saves you money, makes your work week less stressful, and gently prods you to eat healthier.
Check what’s on sale at your local grocery store
Before you go shopping, check the weekly sales flyer for your local grocery store—these days, they’re all online. Depending on the item, grocery store sales tend to occur in cycles of six to 12 weeks.
There are several staples you can stock up on that will keep for a while: basmati, jasmine, and white rice (2 years), dry cereal (6-8 months, unopened), oatmeal (1 year), spices (up to 3 years), pasta (2 years), and popcorn (2 years).
You can freeze bread (2 months), butter or margarine (1 year), frozen vegetables and fruits (6-8 months), broths (2-3 months), and casseroles (2-3 months). (Here’s a full list of how long you can keep freezer, fridge, and pantry foods)
The perennial household item to buy when it goes on sale: toilet paper. Seriously, think about it: you will never not need toilet paper. When you stop needing toilet paper, you’re dead.
However, you don’t need to resort to prepper-level stockpiling—the idea is to save money both immediately and in the long run by buying things when they’re on sale, and buying only what you need by sticking to a list (see below). Once you start to get a sense of the sale cycles at your local grocery store, and how quickly you use up what you have, you can comfortably restock your staples as needed.
Clean out your fridge, freezer, and pantry
Tossing expired condiments and stale half-eaten boxes of cereal not only frees up space, but alerts you to what you’ve wasted. Now, you can take inventory of what you actually need. If you find yourself haphazardly trying to jam items into a full cupboard and can’t remember the last time you saw the back of your fridge, it’s time for a deep clean.
Make a meal plan and a list
After scouring sales and taking inventory of your kitchen, you can make your weekly meal plan. There are several great meal planning apps out there to help with inspiration, planning, and list-making. Remember, food that’s in season is cheaper: here’s a guide to seasonal produce in Canada. If you need motivation, or just want to see what other people are doing, Instagram and Tumblr have weirdly fascinating #mealprep communities.
Once you’ve planned your meals, make a detailed list of the items you’ll need. You should never walk into a grocery store without a list, and you definitely shouldn’t go shopping on an empty stomach. Your list will help you get in and out of the store without falling prey to slick marketing techniques supermarkets use to make you spend more money.
Creating a meal plan is fairly easy, but actually sticking to it is harder. If a recipe is complicated and requires several fresh or perishable ingredients, will you make it before they go bad? Will you really want to eat chicken five days in a row? Be realistic about your skills and patience level, and tastes.
Don’t buy bottled water
As long as your community has proper water treatment facilities, both your wallet and the environment will thank you for switching to tap water. Get yourself a reusable bottle—it doesn’t need to be expensive. If you still want a filtered water taste, buy a Brita pitcher for your fridge (they make reusable bottles, too!), or get a filter fitted on your kitchen sink tap. Squeeze in some lemon, and learn to love it.
Use a cash-back credit card
Combined with the other tips listed here, using a cash-back credit card shaves even more money off your grocery bill by refunding a percentage of every dollar you spend. It’s true that some personal finance experts recommend paying with cash so you see just how quickly your budget gets diminished. However, by paying with cash, you’re leaving cash back rebates on the table. Because groceries are an everyday essential, the best cash-back credit cards offer the highest rates of return in this category. You can play around with Ratehub.ca’s credit card rewards calculator and input your exact spending profile.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
Earn 2% Money-Back Rewards on purchases in two 2% Money-Back Categories of your choice, and 0.50% Money-Back Rewards on all other purchases.
- No annual fee
- Earn 2% cash back on purchases in up to three spending categories of your choice
- 10 categories to choose from: restaurants, grocery, gas, drugstore, entertainment, home improvement, hotel-motel, recurring bills, public transportation, and parking
- Earn 0.5% cash back on everything else
- No limit on how much cash back you can earn
The Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card has a big advantage over other cash-back credit cards because it refunds cash back rewards monthly, rather than once a year. Assuming the same budget of $500 a month spent on groceries at a flat rate of 2% cash back with no limits on the amount that can be earned back, that’s $10 cash back per month, or $120 a year.