Saving money at the grocery store can be as easy as adding one step to your shopping routine: Pause before checking out and put back three to five items you don't need. Each time you do this, you'll save money.
Because April is financial literacy month and I'm inspired by the CNBC "SavingUp" contest, I've been going over some of my favorite easy ways to save money, and I remembered this tip from Cherie Lowe, author of "Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After," who shares her own story of financial freedom on her blog, Queen of Free.
Lowe calls the trick her No. 1 money-saving tip. "You will save $5 to $10 every time you shop without cutting a single coupon," she tells CNBC Make It. It works for two reasons: It makes you think before you buy everything you happened to put in your cart, and it shaves down your bills little by little.
"It's the pause before you check out that I think is so effective," Lowe says. She notes that this is especially true in grocery stores, where it's easy to nab appealing items without much thought to how the extras can add up.
"There are some things that sometimes we pick up and maybe we might need them next week — and it's fine to go ahead and buy them next week — but right now you probably don't [need it]," she says. "Just pause and only buy what you really need."
When I tried the trick on my own trip to the supermarket, I was able to shave $7 off my bill by putting back fun but non-essential items like chocolate.
For me, pausing before checkout was an effective way to save because I was able to cut down my bill without sticking to a strict list. Although following a rigorous budget helps many people save, it's not a strategy that works for everyone, myself included.
Grant Sabatier, who saved up over $1 million by age 30, says that "budgets are the worst." Because they focus on the nitty-gritty of where you can cut and what you can give up, they can become too restrictive and actually hold you back from saving, he explains.
And although only saving $5 to $10 at a time might not seem like much, slashing your grocery bill can add up significantly. After all, if you're like most Americans, a substantial amount of your money goes toward three big-ticket items: housing, food and transportation.
In addition to pausing and reevaluating your cart before checkout, there are a number of other ways you can keep your grocery bills low. Start by creating a meal plan for the week and sticking to it, for example, so you avoid over-buying.
If you'd rather plan as you go, you can also price compare and shop outside of your neighborhood, choose generic items over brand name ones, swap out meat for veggies a few times per week, or go cash-only, since having only a predetermined amount of money to work with usually means you end up with fewer impulse purchases.
This is an updated version of a previously published article.
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