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It’s one thing to shop and find the “best deals” on a random assortment of unplanned things, using those sale prices as a guiding light, but it’s quite another to fill the pantry with healthy food and save money all the while.

For many of us, shopping is too riddled with buying things on special when we could be saving more by going for groceries that are a smarter choice. In other words, there is no point in saving money at the cost of health, and no real savings when buying on a whim.

With that in mind, avoiding spending too much at the supermarket becomes a completely different game. To have a healthy diet, the first trick is to buy the food we want rather than the food that’s cheapest. Better yet, we should buy the food we want at its cheapest.

In order to do that, we might need to change the way we shop as well as the way we prepare our food at home.

1. Stick to the List

Possibly the golden rule of thrifty supermarket etiquette is to write a list beforehand and do our very best to stick to that. Supermarkets, and stores in general for that matter, are designed to get us to linger, stumble upon “deals”, and spend more money. Avoiding the numerous deals and temptations is crucial for conquering the weekly shop. The idea is to arrive with a list of what we want and buy only what’s on the list.

2. One Midweek Trip

Since we are making lists, we might as well go once a week, picking up all we need in one visit. This keeps us focused on getting what we need, the stuff on the list, and only having to brave the lure of treats and once every seven days instead of multiple times. Midweek, like Wednesday and Thursday, is the best time to go because it is less crowded and last week’s stock is being moved off the shelf, i.e. on sale, to make room for the weekend rush.

3. Stock up on Staples

The crux of any good shopping list is filling the cart with staples. That means we are buying dry whole grains, pulses, and basic produce, such as onions, carrots, apples, and so on. These are the foods that are at the heart of a good meal plan. They provide nutrient-rich calories that provide the substance of meals. If we cook around the inexpensive staples, we will save on the whole.

4. Buy in Bulk

bulk wall

Source: Anna/Flickr

The other good thing about staple foods is that they often come in bulk bins, which saves on packaging as well. We can buy organic grains and pulses for much cheaper from bulk bins, allowing us to stock up on this stuff a few pounds at a time rather than buy the more expensive one-pound packaged versions. Nuts, spices, and herbs are usually cheaper when bought in bulk as well, even when the price-per-pound version seems more. Do the math to check.

5. Heap up on Whole Foods

A whole food diet, then, starts with staple foods and expands from there. That means we have the less costly basic of our meals—whole grains, pulses, and starches like potatoes and sweet potatoes—in place before we start accenting them with more expensive items. It’s better to use pricier features as additions rather than the core of dinner. Plus, buying ingredients rather than pre-made meals and products are far cheaper and healthier in the long run.

6. Banish the Brands

Using whole food and fresh ingredients automatically moves us one step away from brand names, but we can get even further away to save more. Most stores these days have less expensive, organic grains and pulses, as well as things like tomato paste, if we buy the store brand rather than name brands. When it comes to basic ingredients, particularly organic varieties, we aren’t really getting higher quality stuff by going with known brands.

7. Shop Solo

The old adage of peer pressure holds true in the supermarket. When we go with children or partners or even friends, we tend to spend a considerably larger amount of money because we are dealing with multiple people’s turn-ons rather than just one. Shopping solo means less idiosyncratic cravings to avoid, so we can buy what’s on the list and avoid being coaxed into shopping on a whim.

Shopping for healthy food, unfortunately, can often be more expensive than buying single-serving microwaveable stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. Cooking from scratch at home doesn’t have to take a long time, and it is usually far healthier than packaged meals or easy-to-make-at-home products like spaghetti sauce.

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