By Betty Gold/Real Simple
September 29, 2019

With back-to-school season comes a roster of new responsibilities. From shopping for school supplies for the little ones and stocking up on new (warmer!) work clothes to managing childcare, after school activities, and packing lunches, let’s just tell it like it is: these extra errands are going to cost you. One thing that shouldn’t blow the bank? Grocery shopping.

Indeed, no matter how tempting takeout can be in busy seasons like Fall, cooking at home is always going to be far more affordable than eating out. You’re already saving big just by getting yourself to the grocery store, so give yourself a pat on the back. But if you really want to make your food shopping wallet-friendly, stock up on these genius tips and tricks from Lauren Greutman, the savings expert for Flipp, and Chef “Spike” Mendelsohn, a Top Chef and Iron Chef alum. We guarantee you’ll wonder, why didn’t I think of this sooner? after reading a few. No time like the present.

1. Make a meal plan each week.

First things first, you need to come up with a strategy before you shop. Make enough so that you have leftovers for another meal—if you plan right, you can stretch your food and your savings for days. Why? Because you’re eliminating waste. “Planning ahead, you can save yourself hundreds per month. And to help with that busy first month of school, you should organize your meals around everyone’s new schedules,” recommends Greutman. “On the nights where we have night activities, I plan a quick dinner like slow cooker tacos that everyone can grab and eat quickly,” she says.

2. Check your pantry before you shop.

Do you already have three bottles of coriander? It’s easy (and expensive) to forget about food items and ingredients you might have tucked away in the freezer, fridge, or pantry that you can build a meal around.

3. DIY your snacks.

The price premium can be huge on snack-sized items. Instead, buy the largest size available (which is typically the best deal) and make your own snack sizes. For example, ounce per ounce, a regular container of Jif peanut butter costs 40 percent less than Jif To Go singles. Make your own singles with tiny plastic containers. You can use the same method with yogurt, cottage cheese, and fruit cups. And use little baggies for chips, pretzels, candy, and other snacks that are often sold in single-serve packaging at a big premium. (Even better if they’re reusable snack bags.)

4. Plan your meals around what’s on sale.

“A big mistake that people make is that they shop on autopilot,” says Greutman. Many of us don’t look at the sale flyers to plan around what is on sale. “I like to plan my meals around what items are on sale that week. If salmon is on sale, we eat salmon. I stock up on items when I can get them for less, and plan around what I have in my pantry and what is on sale.”

5. Have your groceries delivered.

Instead of eating out because you don’t have any food at home, sign up for a grocery delivery service like Instacart. Do your shopping while you’re at work and have it delivered when you get home. Add an already cooked rotisserie chicken to your list, and you will have dinner ready for under $10 instead of that expensive takeout.

6. Don’t ignore the clearance racks.

Yes, even in supermarkets. They might look like a jumble of stuff you don’t need, but stores are always clearing out inventory to make room for new products and the markdowns can be 50 percent or more. Just be sure to check expiration dates.

7. Use basic ingredients.

Remember, it’s possible (and cheaper) to get creative with basic ingredients rather than focusing on specialty items. It’s also a lot easier to stick to your budget. Instead of buying an ingredient you can only use for one meal, buy a basic, affordable ingredients and think of all the ways you can use it.

8. Buy in bulk.

“Foods like rice, grains, and dried fruit in bulk can save you anywhere from 30 to 96 percent,” Greutman says.

9. Make breakfasts in big batches—and ahead of time.

To keep mornings stress-free, especially during the first few weeks of school while we are all getting used to new schedules, make batches of muffins, pancakes, and waffles on the weekends and freeze them. In the mornings, simply get them out and zap them in the microwave—breakfast comes together in seconds.

10. Check circulars.

If you don’t use the weekly local ads to plan your shop, you’re shopping blind! The circulars can help you decide where to shop and what to buy—saving you a good chunk of change each year. Make it easy by downloading Flipp, giving you access to all the circulars in your area. With the shopping list feature, Flipp shows you the deals in your area for the items you are looking for while staying organized.

11. Ask for a rain check.

Always ask for a rain check if an item is on sale and out of stock. A rain check entitles you to the sale price when the item is back in stock. Most rain checks do come with time limits so read the fine print. If you had intended to buy multiple of the item, make sure that is noted on the rain check.

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