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6 Tips to Grocery Shop on a College Budget

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chapel Hill chapter.

Grocery shopping can be daunting, especially for those trying to stay on budget. Faced with endless food options and persuasive advertising, a trip to the grocery store can quickly and effortlessly sabotage your wallet. Stores want to make a profit, but you’re trying to save. Try these tricks next time you head to the store to help you stay on track as a smart shopper.

1. Make a List. A tangible grocery list is your best friend. It keeps your purchases in check, making sure that you only buy the items you need and helping you keep away from impulse buys that rack up the bill. Whether on paper or your iPhone, a list that you can refer to while shopping is a foolproof way to avoid buyer’s remorse.

2.Know the Sales. This goes hand in hand with making your list. Thanks to the Internet, you have the ability to scout out deals before you even get to the store. Most grocery stores post their deals online with an option to print the coupon. Click here to see an example. You can check all the ones you want and the computer will compile a single list for your convenience—forget coupon clippings that fly away and get lost in the depths of your purse or pocket. It’s also important to know what the sales mean. Just because there’s a “Buy-1-Get-1-Free” sale doesn’t mean you have to get two in order to get the deal, but you probably have to have the store’s rewards card.  

3. Sign up for a Rewards Card. How many times have you been asked by a cashier if you want to sign up for the store’s rewards card and save an instant 15%, and you’ve declined because you’re in a rush to leave? I think most of us are guilty. The amount of money you’ll end up saving is worth the extra two minutes it takes to give your email address and sign up for the account.

4. Never Shop Hungry. Take a trip to the grocery store with a growling stomach, and your cart is sure to end up with a few unexpected buys. We know that hunger affects brain function and one’s ability to make informed choices, so avoid this pitfall and snack before you shop. Treat grocery shopping like you would a presentation at work because, let’s face it, it’s no easy task.

5. Carry a Basket. Unless you’re feeding a family of 5 or stocking up for a party, shop with a basket instead of a cart. It’s more effort to carry so you’ll be naturally inclined to fill it with less. The physical weight of the basket makes you aware of all that you have inside—and less likely to be surprised when you get to the register. It also leaves less room for bulky items like bags of chips and big soda bottles, so as an added bonus it keeps your food choices healthier.

6. Shop at Night. I know, you’d much rather unwind at home after a long workday and nighttime isn’t your most convenient time to shop. However, it can save a lot of time and money. Avoiding busy and congested times of the day means that you have more time and patience to think through your purchases and not grab whatever’s closest regardless of the price. It’s especially helpful if you’re lacking willpower and may be enticed by a fellow shopper’s choices. The grocery store is most crowded after-work and on weekend afternoons, so try and fit in your shopping trip sometime less popular.

Having a planned, organized approach to grocery shopping is key with staying on budget. Saving is not always an easy task, especially at the grocery store, but hopefully these tips will give you a good start.  

Image courtesy of Totalbeauty.com

Melissa Paniagua is a senior journalism major at The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, specializing in public relations. She is currently a fashion market intern at ELLE Magazine. On campus, Melissa acts as the Her Campus president as well as the vice president of the Carolina Association of Future Magazine Editors, UNC’s Ed2010 chapter. In the past, she has been an intern for Southern Weddings Magazine and a contributing writer for Her Campus. Melissa has an appreciation for all things innovative, artful and well designed and hopes to work in marketing for a women’s lifestyle magazine in the future!