Watch out! If you’re not careful, grocery shopping for one person definitely can be more expensive. If you’re a solo shopper, it’s always the same old story when you go grocery shopping: you step off your unicycle with reusable shopping bag in hand, mosey across to the supermarket entrance (thumbs tucked under suspenders) and then, the moment you step through the automatic doors, deathly silence. Immediately, everyone who has not come to the supermarket alone turns toward you and gives you the shifty eyes. The employees stacking the shelves’ jaws drop in alarm before power walking with huge strides into the back room storage area, crashing through every food display en route, their attention still fixed on your next move out of the corner of their eye. Finally, the grocery store manager lifts his head above a low display of Chips Ahoy behind which he’d been crouching, beads of perspiration already clearly visible at the brow. Carefully, he lifts his walkie talkie to his moustached mouth, wincing as if to deliver grave news and proceeds to whisper into the receiver, “there’s a solo shopper afoot; mark up the ready meals”.
Okay, I’ll admit that certain elements of the story have been embellished and curlicued, but you get the picture. As a solo shopper, the common assumption is that you’re going to end up paying far more for your groceries on a per-person basis than someone who is buying greater quantities of items for a group of, say, [insert number larger than one]. But is this assumption well founded? In certain respects, perhaps. But as a seasoned solo shopper myself, I am here to assist you in dodging those common meal-for-one premiums, weaving between those hiked up non-multipack costs-per-unit and ducking to avoid buying too much fresh produce that you’ll never finish anyway so that my fellow lonely shopping comrades can be just as financially prudent as their group-shopper counterparts.
Fellow solo shoppers, if you have had sleepless nights wondering how to save money grocery shopping for one person, sit back, relax and read on as I take you on a glorious money-saving adventure via ten nifty (and oh so thrifty) tips below. Your wallet can thank me later.
1. Consider Buying Frozen (As Opposed to Fresh) Produce
How often do you end up throwing food out which has gone off/out of date and which you just didn’t get round to eating? Every week? Fresh produce such as meat, fruit and vegetables have a very finite life, so if you’re finding that you’re throwing away more than you’re actually getting through, you have two options.
Option one: if you’re still keen on buying fresh produce (e.g. due to a preference in taste or for cooking purposes), only buy the quantity you need. If you have no idea how much you should be buying, try keeping a rough log over the next few weeks of how much fresh produce you buy, how much you actually get through and how much you throw in the trash. You’ll be able to keep track of this by weight. Most fresh produce is sold by weight and you can weigh the food you use during the monitoring period; you can then work out how much food you throw out by deducting the weight of the food used from the weight of the food bought. If you usually do your food shop on a weekly basis, figure out the per week average weight of fresh food you used during the monitoring period. By working this out, you’ll be able to just buy what you need rather than overfacing yourself every week and you’ll inevitably be saving money over the long run due to the reduced spend/reduced wastage. Just thinking about all the money you’ve spent on food that ended up in the trash this past year is surely enough motivation to try out this little analysis task.
Option two: Alternatively, if you have a freezer, frozen food is the way to go. Since frozen food is generally sold in larger quantities than fresh produce, I have found that there are massive savings to be had in sweeping the frozen aisle for big-expense items such as meat and fish. Even for items such as fruit and vegetables (whose fresh equivalents commonly find themselves in the trash due to rapidly going past their prime), buying them frozen can be a smart choice to help you in reducing wastage. With generally much longer use-by dates, the problem of buying too much and struggling to get through it all before it goes bad is much less of an issue with frozen food. As with meat and fish, if you compare the price per pound of frozen fruit and vegetables with their fresh equivalents you can often end up saving a significant sum.
2. Look Out For Special Offers
We all have our brand favourites which we would be reluctant to forgo save for in extreme circumstances (cue flashback to that one time the supermarket sold out of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food; can you even imagine?), but for the most part I have no brand loyalty and will merely swoop in on the best deal.
When buying longer life groceries for one person where use-by dates are less of a concern, it’s always a smart move to pick up on these “two for the price of one” type offers to stock up on items which are staples in your cupboards. Maybe it seems a little overkill to be buying three large jars of strawberry preserve just for yourself all in one go, but if you would end up buying that quantity over the course of a few months anyway you may as well take advantage of the special offer now and save money in the long run.
3. Don’t Just Be Distracted By The “Special Offers”, Check The Price Per Pound/Kilogram
It’s hard to look past a big colourful price-drop special offer signs. They’re big and colourful. In fact, some of these grocery store special offers will indeed offer the best value available for that particular product. However, when you’re looking for a particular item which is generally sold by weight but you have no affinity for any particular brand, always check the price per pound/kilogram. A branded tub of peanut butter with a 30% off promotion might still be more expensive than a store-brand generic option at full price on a per pound/kilogram basis, so don’t be so easily taken in by the distracting special offer graphics.
For those wanting to know how to save money grocery shopping for once person, the price per pound/kilogram is particularly important as it is often the case that the smaller sized products will be cheaper, but will have a much higher price per pound/kilogram than the larger sized products. So for those products that have a longer shelf life (e.g. peanut butter), don’t just go for the smallest size (even if you’re only buying groceries for yourself). If you’d end up getting through the larger sized product anyway, you may as well just buy it and enjoy the cash saving rather than repeatedly buying the much more costly small-quantity alternative.
4. Buy Essentials (e.g. Toiletries) Online
There are so many items which we just pick up at the supermarket out of convenience rather than in consideration of the cost involved, particularly when shopping on our own. For example, I always used to grab all of my toiletries at the grocery store including deodorants, dental products and shampoos. After years of doing this, I have only recently discovered the error of my ways in taking advantage of this grocery store convenience.
First off, not all supermarket essentials will be overpriced. It’s often the case that the supermarket makes a lot of its own basic products (or at least puts its name on mass-produced white label products) which are great value. For example, if you’re just after some basic soap in bar form, supermarkets generally stock this at a very low price, so there’s no real need for you to consider online/bulk options.
However, an example of a product which I used to buy from supermarkets but no longer do are the replacement toothbrush heads for my Oral B electric toothbrush. These things aren’t cheap, so I would always wait until the supermarket placed these on discount before purchasing. However, after doing a little eBay research, I was able to find these replacement toothbrush heads at a fraction of the cost of even the discounted supermarket price.
So if there are similar essentials that always take their place on your shopping list, I would definitely recommend putting together a list and then combing through Amazon and eBay to see if you can find them cheaper than your local grocery store.
5. Avoid Store-Bought Pre-Prepared Individual Meals For One (and Consider Meal-Prepping if You’re Short on Time)
Pre-prepared meals for one person are generally very expensive relative to their constituent ingredients, so striking them off your shopping list is essential for learning how to save money grocery shopping for one person.
I’m no expert on the economics of the pre-packaged meal industry, but I would assume that the premium price for individual meals stems from the added manufacturing and packaging involved in producing a meal just for one person (as opposed to a meal for four). I get that a lot of people living on their own succumb to paying the pre-packaged meal premium because of a manic schedule, long work hours and having no time to cook, but a solution to this could be to prepare your own pre-prepared meals.
By getting into the habit (say, each Sunday evening) of putting together the coming weeks’ five dinners and refrigerating or freezing them, you’ll still be able to accommodate a busy work schedule and benefit from the cost saving in avoiding those premium-priced pre-packaged meals.
As an added bonus, meal-prepping yourself will likely result in food that is far more healthy than the pre-packaged equivalent which are generally highly calorific and heavily seasoned (check the salt content on the back of one of these bad boys and cringe).
6. Make Use of Your Go-To Supermarket’s Loyalty Scheme
Most supermarkets offer some form of free loyalty scheme which generally offers you discount coupons or other money saving incentives to come back to the store once you reach a certain spend-threshold. If you’re not sure whether your local supermarket has such a scheme in place, go to their website to find out. These schemes are generally free to sign up to, so if you’re a regular to a particular grocery store, you could be missing out on some sweet coupon savings by putting off the loyalty scheme registration.
Watch out though, there seems to be a sub-category of these supermarket loyalty schemes which are paid-subscriptions (as every industry seems to want to try and emulate the Netflix business model). If your local supermarket is trying to make you pay to join, avoid such schemes unless the benefits genuinely outweigh the monthly costs involved.
7. Never Buy Single Items, Always Grab the Largest Multi-Pack
Shopping for one person is no excuse to succumb to the allure of the well-stocked single-item display fridge near the supermarket checkouts. Now, I’m no saint. I know it’s tempting. I see you, Starbucks iced latte. I see you too, colourful Monster Energy Dragon Tea. But no, I shan’t be tempted to spend over the odds even on a regular individual Coke!
If you’re serious about saving money (even if you’re only grocery shopping for one person), you need to maintain the will power to ignore the gleaming colourful single-item displays. You’ll find that there’s a serious mark-up on these individual units compared to the cost-per can of one unit forming part of a multi-pack. I understand that we all have our vices, so if you cannot forgo your pamplemousse La Croix, do a little research to find the best deal available from a wholesale seller such as Costco and you’ll be amazed at how little the cost per can turns out to be. Once you have made the switch to wholesale purchases of long life items such as soft drinks, those glossy single-item fridge displays will lose their charm forever.
8. If You Buy Fresh Vegetables or Fruit, Buy it By Weight Rather Than Pre-Packaged
I realise that this point seems to contradict point 1 slightly (where I suggested that individuals who are grocery shopping for once person should consider buying frozen fruit), but there are certain items which you wouldn’t necessarily buy frozen (such as bananas or grapefruit).
So, when you are picking out fresh fruit and vegetables, there are generally two options: (1) the fruit and vegetables which are open to the air and usually displayed in cardboard or plastic boxes for you to pick and weigh yourself and (2) the fruit and vegetables which come in pre-packaged bags with a barcode. In the past, I always found that the easiest option was just to go straight to the bagged option, examine the fruit briefly and add the bagged fruit or vegetables to my basket.
Not so fast, my frugal subconscious would now say. As a follow on from point 3, I have now found that these pre-packaged fruits or vegetables are often more expensive per pound/kilogram than their unbagged equivalents. This seems bizarre, but the next time you are in your local store, check for yourself. Take the bananas in my local supermarket, for instance. The loose bananas which you must weigh yourself are significantly cheaper per pound/kilogram than the same amount of bananas which are pre-packaged in a plastic bag with a barcode.
This may seem like a minor saving, but try to think of these savings over a longer period (perhaps 10 years). Over a long enough period, the difference between the bagged banana buyer and the loose banana buyer becomes all the more considerable – especially if the loose banana buyer proceeds to invest her savings sensibly and reinvests the interest over that period! I jest, but this is a clear saving for literally the same product.
9. Swap Named Brands For Store Brands
I realise that I may get booed for this one, but hear me out! There are always products that each of us will refuse to substitute even if that means spending extra to obtain the desired brand. However, such products are generally the exception and, for the most part, most people would probably be willing to swap out other name-brand products for generic store-brand alternatives.
Take something like mayonnaise for instance. It may be the case that, out of habit, you always dive straight for the same brand and ignore the shelf of alternatives. But even if you quite like that particular brand, just consider whether you would even be able to tell the difference in a blindfolded taste test involving a lineup of premium brands and the generic store-brand. In practice, it is unlikely that you would be able to pick out the premium brand options from the low-cost options and you may even find that you prefer the cheaper alternative.
Again, if you are a die hard fan of a certain mayonnaise brand and you object to my suggestion that you would not be able to distinguish it from a low-cost alternative, then by all means continue to purchase it. But the principle remains that there will be plenty of items on your shopping list that you regularly buy, but which you are unnecessarily paying a premium for when you could be picking up the generic store brand alternative for a fraction of the cost.
Pick up one of your recent store receipts and see if you can’t swap out a few of these premium branded items you are indifferent to for cheaper alternatives. You may be shocked to realise that you are probably just paying a premium to help the branded product turn a profit and recoup the cost of a $10 million dollar marketing campaign!
10. Find Out When The Super Market Usually Discounts Produce and Descend Like the Vulture of Sweet Deals
Okay, this one may be going too far, but if you’re hardcore about how to save money grocery shopping for one person (and you’re immune to the funny looks you may receive when loitering next to the shop assistant with the discount labelling machine) then this can be a great way to find some ridiculous food bargains.
As the discounting is generally applied to food running close to the end of its shelf life, food bargain hunting is best suited to us solo shoppers who are happy to plan their diet ad hoc around the deals on offer. Some may see this as a wild way to live, but sometimes you just need to take a few risks in life (and figure out how to make a meal out of unlikely combinations – just imagine yourself as the Heston Blumenthal of the discount aisle).
Unless you’re willing to hang out in the supermarket 24/7, I would assume that the best way to find out when your local supermarket generally discounts its food is to ask an employee. If there is no fixed schedule, you’ll just have to keep your eyes pealed each time you’re there for signs of discounting activity. You’ll know once that discount label maker appears as all those who are similarly thrifty will commence an American Football style charge toward the deals. Just make sure that you lead the charge and guard your discount eggplant with your life.
Well, I Hope the above tips have given you some ideas for how to save money when grocery shopping for one person. Let me know if you think I’ve missed any obvious thrifty moves; I’m always open to new money saving life hacks!
Check out my other articles if you like the cut of my jib.