Tip 15: Avoid the grocery store

How you do your big weekly shop has a big impact on both the quality of the food you buy and how much you pay. Many people head to the supermarket at the same time every week with only a vague idea of what meals they plan to make. They then browse all the aisles, buying the same things they always buy, or what’s on sale. This almost guarantees they will end up with far more food, and more junk and processed foods, than intended. We’ve already discussed planning your meals and doing more of your own cooking. But to really save money and improve your diet, avoid the grocery store completely.

Supermarkets are wonderful places but they are in business to make money. Their goal is to get you to buy more stuff.  And supermarkets and food companies have a myriad of tricks to tempt us into buying their products. Everything from free samples and offers, to wafting the scent of fresh baked bread around. You’ll also notice that the offers prominently displayed on end caps tend to be for big brand processed foods. As discussed previously, big brands have a much higher margin than supermarket own brands. Where a product is placed on a shelf is also key. People tend to buy the product which is at eye level, in the middle of the shelf. This is where they put the premium brands, with budget brands on the top or bottom shelves.

If you want to save money, you need to shop strategically. The first step is to plan what meals you will be having this week, check your cupboards for ingredients, and make a shopping list. NEVER go grocery shopping without a list. Once in the store, do your very best to stick to the list. This means only going down the aisles you need to. By skipping the supermarket aisles dedicated to junk food and fizzy drinks, you’ll be less tempted. And remember to check the top and bottom shelves for budget versions of what you need, rather than buying the first thing you see.

You can also take it a step further. I no longer do my food shopping at a grocery store at all if I can avoid it. For the past ten years I have used online grocery ordering and delivery (a legacy of living in London without a car). I find that by ordering at home I am much more likely to plan healthy meals and stick to a shopping list. Buying junk foods becomes a conscious choice, rather than wandering down the bakery aisle and ending up with cake because it looked good. I can also check what’s in my cupboards as I go along, so rarely buy doubles of things I already have. At the same time, I am less likely to buy things simply because they are on offer or because the store was giving away free samples.

All major grocery stores in the UK now offer a delivery service. Most have the option of paying a regular monthly fee (usually £6-8) for unlimited deliveries at a time of your choosing. This means that, if you are placing an order once a week, the  delivery cost is less than £2. You certainly save that much in impulse buys alone.

I know every time I go into a grocery store I end up buying more than I planned, and the extra items are never the healthiest foods. Rather than rely on superior planning and willpower, I simply avoid the grocery store.

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