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    11 Ways I've Saved On Groceries That Have Nothing To Do With Lists

    You don't need to eat only top ramen, either.

    It probably comes as no surprise that we're spending more on groceries than pre-pandemic. According to a survey by LendingTree, in the US we're shelling out 17% more on groceries than before COVID-19. Plus, 31% of respondents say they always overspend when at the grocery store.

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    Trying to stay within your budget on food? In the canon of classic personal finance advice, when trying to cut back on your grocery spending, you're likely to hear, "Make a list and stick to it."

    But food shopping lists don't really work. At least not for me, anyway. As a sucker for all those seemingly too-good-to-be true deals, I'll be the first to admit that while I've created a tidy grocery shopping list, I hardly stick to it. I pretty much always toss a bunch of impulse buys into my cart. 

    After trying a bunch of different tactics, here's what does work, and has helped me save on groceries without following a list:

    1. For about a week every month, I only cook with what I have.

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    Because I'm someone who tends to buy waaay too much during trips to the grocery market (10 jars of pickled beets might come in handy, right?), about one week a month I go on what I call a "cook what I have in my pantry" challenge. 

    I take a peek at what's creeping in my kitchen and make do. My friend Sarah, who is the queen of making borderline-bougie meals from whatever ingredients she has in her kitchen, gave me this idea.

    Sadly, this hardly feels like a challenge because, by month's end, I usually still have quite a bit of food left. It also can be fun coming up with dishes with whatever's in your fridge and pantry. While what I come up with is a far cry from anything notable, my "cook with what you have" culinary concoctions are edible, and sometimes even tasty. 

    Pro tip: Not sure what to do with that one onion and a can of tomatoes? The Tasty app (iOS and Android) has a feature in its search menu called "What's in your kitchen?" that will suggest recipes for you based on a few items you have lying around. 

    2. I stagger between "big spend" and "little spend" weeks.

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    Big spend weeks and little spend weeks are exactly what they sound like: During "big spend" weeks, I load up my cart, and go big on my grocery spending. In any given month, each week I'll alternate between a larger shopping trip and a smaller one. 

    During "little spend" weeks, I check what I have in my kitchen cupboards and fridge, and spend on the essentials: eggs, Greek yogurt, hemp milk, and the like. This levels out my grocery budget during the bigger spend weeks.

    3. I don't step foot into the market unless I've planned on it.

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    I'll be the first to admit that I have zero willpower when it comes to food spending. As in, I don't really trust myself to step foot inside the market because I'm bored and work avoidant. What I anticipate to be a $10 shopping trip can easily balloon into a $50 one.

    Unless it's a "little spend" week, I avoid going to the market with the justification that I'm only going to pick up a few items. It's like a gateway drug. A few aisles in and it's over. 

    4. I cut back on perishables.

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    After trying one of those meal-kit subscription services for a week or so, I soon realized how a few veggies can go a long way. As someone who lives alone and has been for the last 10-plus years of my adult life, I have a habit of loading up on wayyy too many perishables — i.e., fresh fruits and veggies. In a week's time, those pristine-looking broccoli crowns? They be looking sad and wilted, and headed to the trash. 

    And that 5-pound bag of yams? Best to skip it. Unless I'm cooking for a potluck or meal-prepping and cooking en masse, a couple of large ones can last for a few meals. I've now learned to cut back big-time on what I load into my shopping cart from the produce aisle, and to buy only what I need for a week. 

    5. And I load up on frozen veggies instead.

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    Because I'm cutting back on fresh veggies, I load up on bags of the frozen ones instead. Instead of spending $5 on a pint of fresh strawberries, I pay $3 for a pound of frozen mixed berries that are perfect for smoothies. Frozen veggies are usually less expensive and obviously have a longer shelf life. And contrary to popular belief, it turns out that frozen veggies are just as nutritious as the fresh stuff.

    6. I buy generic staples.

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    As the store brand is cheaper than name-brand versions, I'll toss the generic version into my shopping cart. That way I don't have to hunt for deals of the week and sale items. I'll be saving simply by choosing the generic version of shampoo, pasta sauce, and tinned fish. 

    7. I use shopping lists on apps to guesstimate my spend.

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    I know. I did say this was going to be about not using lists while grocery shopping. Consider this a slight departure. I sometimes will use a grocery store app to do a tally of what everything I want to buy would cost me. It's kinda the same idea as taking inventory of what's in my cart before I head to the checkout line. 

    I find this to be a super-helpful step to do pre-shopping. So if my grocery budget for that week is, say, $60, I can use the shopping app to get an idea of what everything will cost. If I go over, I "virtually" take a few items out of my cart. 

    8. Split bulk packs with a friend.

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    I think we've all been guilty of heading to Costco with the intention of buying just a few things, only to leave the store with a glut of brie cheese and enough toilet paper to get through the next decade. 

    You could potentially save by buying in bulk, as the cost per unit is less expensive than if you bought them at a local store. Instead of lying to yourself and saying you'll be able to get through those, say, 10 pounds of strawberries in the next week, go halfsies with a roommate or shopping pal. 

    I wish I had thought of this when I bought 50 rolls of toilet paper online many moons ago, only to realize it was 1-ply (which I hate and dread). Live and learn, I guess. 

    9. I don't shop when I'm hungry.

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    Research reveals that shopping hungry puts you into "hunting and gathering mode," which means you might spend more while hungry than if you were perusing the grocery aisles on a full stomach. 

    Interestingly, this can spill over to non-food shopping as well. So it's best to not shop hungry while you're at home in front of your computer, even when purchasing non-consumables such as clothes or gadgets. 

    10. Only buy sale items that you were already going to purchase.

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    Remember: It's only a deal if you were gonna buy it anyway. Otherwise, you might want to be careful about caving in to those BOGO deals, purchases from the clearance rack,  "10 for 10" specials, and other clever tactics retailers use to make you spend more money. For non-essentials, it's probably best to skip the sale items entirely. 

    11. Finally, I let myself indulge in a few splurge items.

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    When grocery shopping, plan for one or two "treats" so you don't feel deprived. I personally like to give myself a bit of padding when I'm out and about. If it's not something you need or were intending to buy, that's perfectly OK. If it's not going to break your budget, why not? It'll prevent you from feeling deprived, which could fester and cause you to go on a mega-splurge later. 

    What's your go-to money-saving move at the grocery store? Tell us all about it in the comments!

    And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.