Grocery bills are on the rise and I’m always looking for ways to save money. I was recently intrigued when I read about a $5 a day meal planning program until I realized the writer was American. I don’t think it’s possible to shop the same way in Canada. Our food prices are a lot higher, and our grocery stores don’t offer double and triple coupon days or coupons on fresh items such as produce, meat, and dairy like they do in the U.S.

Nevertheless, I’m always up for a challenge and I’m trying to convince my husband to give it a try. I wanted to go beyond couponing and buying generic brands.

Related: Couponing to the extreme

Statistics Canada (2013) reports that the average Canadian household spends $241 per person on food each month. A general rule is allocating $200 – $250 per person per month. Can you aim for less?

1. Plan your meals

Meal planning is one of those items on the to-do list that always gets pushed aside because it seems so tedious. But, a proper menu plan can make a huge difference in your grocery budget, and it prevents you from making quick runs to the store at the last minute and wandering around for inspiration, or resorting to take-out yet again.

Ask your family what their favourite meals are and keep a list in a meal plan binder or folder. You can reference it to see what you can make with your weekly sale items.

You will eventually get to where meal ideas come easily to you based on what your family enjoys. Follow your plan, and enjoy your dinner.

2. Buy fewer pre-packaged foods

I regularly see people in the grocery store, their carts loaded with all kinds of expensive prepared food and junk food.

Related: How to save money on groceries

One of the biggest ways you can save money – and improve your health – is to make your meals from scratch. Now that there is just the two of us at home, we’ll regularly cook a big meal and divide it into smaller batches to freeze for another time. You can take leftovers to work for lunch the next day.

Choose larger packages instead of individual servings of items such as oatmeal, juice, and snacks, and transfer serving sizes into reusable containers.

Alternatively, buy smaller quantities of things like spices from the bulk bins. You can buy just what you need and avoid the leftover bit sitting in the pantry forever.

Chop your fruit and vegetables yourself. Shred your cheese. Shell your shrimp. You can also make your own salads, stir-fry sauces, salad dressings, etc. for a fraction of store-bought versions.

Buy local and in-season, when fresh fruits and vegetables are more delicious and easier on the wallet. I don’t can my produce like my mother once did, but I do freeze some (such as berries) to enjoy in the winter.

3. Check your store flyers

Jot down items that are on sale. The best deals of the week are usually on the front pages. Know your prices though – not everything in the flyers is on sale. Many grocery stores will match their competitors’ flyers so you don’t have to travel from place to place to get your deals.

Related: Would you buy your groceries online?

Stock up on items your use regularly – within reason – when the price is right, and if you have the room and budget for it.

My husband does most of the cooking and grocery shopping, but he is a terrible shopper.

Me: “Look, that sauce you like is less than half price. We should buy a couple of jars.”

Him: “Nah! I don’t need it right now.” (I’ll buy it next week when it’s full price.)

4. Stick to your list!

Research shows that people who avoid impulse spending can save up to 23% on their grocery bill.

Also, a Dun & Bradstreet study found that people who shop with a credit card pay 12-18% more than those with cash. I know – you want to collect your reward points, so make especially sure you stick to your shopping list. 

5. Double-check your pantry

Challenge yourself to use what you already have in your pantry and freezer for a week. See if you can skip a grocery shop and live off what you’ve already stockpiled.

Some helpful apps

A couple of select apps on your phone can help you save money, keep track of the best deals, and help you plan your shopping list. I’ll admit I don’t own a smart phone so I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but here are a few that have been recommended:

  • Checkout 51 – A list of offers is provided each week. Pick the ones you like and upload a photo of your receipt. When your account reaches $20, you will get a cheque.
  • A similar cash back tool is Snap by Groupon. Both of these apps have coupons for fruit, vegetables, and dairy that are not usually available with paper coupons.
  • Flipp – Browse local flyers, search for a specific product sale price.
  • Salewhale – Search grocery flyers, scan barcodes to compare prices, set alerts for when products go on sale.

Do you use an app to save money?

Final thoughts

Buying groceries is the second highest monthly expense after mortgage or rent payments. It’s one area that’s easy to overspend.

Related: 30 signs you grew up in a frugal family

How much is your typical monthly grocery budget?

What are some strategies you use to save on groceries?

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