Living within your means is the key to good financial management. This requires a balancing act between your monthly income and monthly expenditure. Adjusting your income may be difficult in the short term when this is driven by your fixed salary. This would be your take home pay, that is, your salary once taxes and national insurance contributions have been deducted. This means that the way to cope with your budget is primarily through expenditure control.
When people think of their supermarket expense, they usually think of their main grocery shopping spree (what the Maltese call ix-xirja l-kbira). However all daily shopping counts and this, normally absorbs a significant share of your available income. Daily expenses add to a considerable sum of money. So, it makes sense to start exploring for savings in this area. Learning how to spend less at the supermarket is a key skill which is taken for granted, but which can bring about tangible financial benefits. Buying intelligently can help reduce the stress of making ends meet till the end of the month. Here are useful, easy tips to help you control your spending whilst achieving savings at the supermarket.
- Go with a shopping list and stick to it. Be careful of special offers which may tempt you to purchase items which are not on your list, and which may not be needed.
- Buy fruit and vegetables which are in season. Rather than going for a pre-determined fruit or vegetable, select the ones which appear cheaper than normal. Then structure your cooking and dessert based on what has been purchased.
- Check the price of pre-packaged items carefully. While buying pre-cut vegetables and fruit or shredded cheese can save you time while cooking, it is possible that supermarkets charge more for the convenience. Have you ever thought of chopping as necessary at home and freezing yourself?
- When you are next to the cashier, focus on what you have already bought and do not be tempted to buy things which are next to the counter. Treats are normally placed by the till since these are impulse buys, so putting them near the till gives you the last opportunity to grab an unneeded food item.
- Skip items which are not necessary. You can buy chocolate occasionally rather than each time you go to the supermarket. Take the opportunity to eliminate costly and unhealthy habits by not buying cigarettes. Purchase normal water instead of soft drinks, juices or flavoured water. This is not only a cheaper option but also healthier. Choose normal rather than flavoured milk.
- Consider buying the large size version of the products. Normally these tend to cost less per unit than if you were to buy the small sizes. The practice of checking unit prices (example per 100g or per litre) can be especially suitable for products which are not perishable (such as food preserves and washing liquids). You can still buy large sized food items which are cheaper by weight and in this case, you can cook the full packet and then freeze the meal for later consumption. Buy items such as water in packets of six rather than individually as the latter is often more expensive. Buy large water bottles instead of small bottles. Another more sustainable option for water could be the purchase and installation of a Reverse Osmosis system (there are a variety of different priced systems on the market) or a filtration system.
- Seek ways to benefit from special offers which a supermarket may provide, such as when spending above a certain amount of money or when shopping on certain days of the week. One way to do this is by using a longer shopping list and going to the supermarket less often. This also means less fuel usage. You may combine your purchases with that of another household to achieve such amount more easily. Sign up for a loyalty scheme. Supermarkets often provide offers based on the points earned through your purchases.
- Study carefully the brands that are offered for the various products and compare their price. Choose the ones which give you the best value for money. Do not stick to the same brand, but try cheaper brands, when possible. If you are satisfied with the cheaper product stick to it unless you find something even cheaper.
- Supermarkets often cross-subsidise their products. Some products may be very competitively priced to attract customers, while some others are sold with higher margins. Rather than opting for the same supermarket, try to identify the specific products which a particular supermarket sells cheaper than others. Purchase your products from more than one supermarket. Do not just stick to one and avoid shopping in a rush, as it would mean grabbing without any notice.
- If possible, try to avoid orders through online delivery, as this often incurs a charge unless the delivery is provided for free.
- Avoid buying on credit. The seller could be financing the option to pay at a later stage by charging higher prices.
- Try to keep track of the product prices. In this manner you will realise whether a supermarket has increased the product price and can consider switching to an alternative seller or product.
- Try to prepare some things yourself, such as sauces, by buying the ingredients, rather than opting for the final product purchased from the supermarket, as this is normally more expensive. Try to plan meals ahead.
- Plan for simpler dishes. Try to avoid the ingredients which are expensive, especially if their purpose is purely for taste or decoration rather than for health reasons. Choosing to make a complex recipe can easily absorb a significant share of your budget simply because of the number of ingredients it requires. Pick few simple recipes that only require few ingredients.
- Try to buy items which are on sale. However, pay attention to the expiry date and keep in mind the actual money paid. If a product is discounted, it can still be more expensive than another brand which is cheaper. Bright colours and the words ‘discount’ and ‘sale’ can make you feel that you are making a bargain, yet the reduction may be marginal and cheaper alternatives may be available.
- Be aware that the supermarket’s layout is structured with the purpose of encouraging you to buy more things. Regularly bought items (such as milk or water) tend to be spread around the supermarket and at the back, so that people pass by many other tempting products before completing their shopping.
- Even the way products are displayed on the shelves is meant to maximise the supermarket’s profits. Eye-level products are normally the most profitable ones. Keep in mind to look at the very top and bottom shelves as there could be products which provide better value for money.
- Check the clearance rack. Supermarkets may have products which are close to expiry heavily discounted.
- Do not go shopping when you are in a bad mood as there is the risk that you subconsciously engage in higher spending in an attempt to revive your mood. Do not go when you are hungry as this may also spur you to splurge more than you need on food stuffs.
- Take your own shopping bag instead of buying it from the supermarket. Keep shopping bags ready for use in the car. If forgotten in car, go grab them. It will only take a minute or two.
In a nutshell, small regular savings which can be achieved by following these tips can allow you to cope better financially and to actually save.