Grocery shopping can take a big bite out of your monthly budget. And unlike a trip to the movie theater or a visit to the salon, it’s not something you can just skip when money is tight. So if you want to save money on groceries you’re going to need a different approach.
Luckily, there are lots of simple, common-sense ways to save money on groceries. With a little preparation and a few new frugal living habits, you can reduce your food costs while still eating the things you love. Keep reading for our favorite money-saving tips that don’t require hours spent clipping coupons.
1. Don’t shop hungry
Consider this the golden rule of grocery shopping. When you shop on an empty stomach you’re much more likely to buy off-list items to satisfy a craving. And chances are good the foods you choose will be less nutritious. So do yourself a favor and schedule that supermarket trip for after you’ve had a good lunch.
2. Buy only what you need
Just because the store is advertising two tubs of cream cheese for $5 doesn’t mean you have to buy two. In most cases, you’ll still get the discounted price if you just buy one, so there’s no good reason to buy extra perishables that might end up going to waste.
3. Try Shopkick
Download the Shopkick app to earn reward points (called “kicks”), which can be redeemed for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Starbucks. You can earn points when you visit a participating store, scan select products, or make purchases (even online).
4. Get organized
You can’t figure out what you need unless you know what you already have. And it’s hard to see what you have when your pantry is a jumbled mess. Take the time to organize your cabinets and throw away expired items every once in a while.
It will pay off in the long run because you’ll be much less likely to buy unnecessary duplicates. No one needs five jars of nutmeg going bad in your pantry.
5. Shop once a week
Have you ever run into the supermarket for “just one thing” and ended up leaving with a cartful of stuff you didn’t intend to buy? By planning one big shopping trip a week instead of multiple visits for just a few items at a time, you’ll drastically reduce your opportunities to overspend on impulse buys.
6. Let someone else shop for you
Put an end to impulse buys and save money on groceries by avoiding the grocery store entirely! Many stores now offer free pickup—just use their app to select your items and choose a pick-up time. They will do the shopping and load up your car…you don’t even have to set foot inside the store.
7. Plan out your meals
Now that you’re only getting groceries once a week, you’ll need to start planning your meals in advance. Make your shopping list based on your plan—and stick to it! You’ll be much less likely to order takeout if you already have a dinner idea in mind, and all of the ingredients you’ll need to make it in the pantry.
8. Do your own food prep.
You may be paying extra for time savers you don’t really care about. For example, pre-sliced veggies and shredded cheese usually cost more than their un-prepped counterparts.
There’s nothing wrong with paying a little extra for convenience—but if you don’t mind a little slicing and dicing, you can save money by choosing blocks of cheese and whole fruits and veggies.
9. Avoid “grab and go” snacks
Prepackaged snacks are very convenient, there is no arguing that. But they can also cost a lot more. Save yourself the extra money and prepare your snacks yourself.
10. Buy in bulk
Another great way to save money on groceries is by buying bulk. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club to buy in bulk. Go ahead and stock up when you see a good deal on some of your non-perishable staples. Dry pasta, canned goods, and paper products can all be easily stored away until you need them. But don’t buy something you don’t use regularly just to take advantage of a bulk deal.
11. Look for the unit price
Sure, the smaller jar of peanut butter costs less…but how do you know if it’s the best deal? To compare value between different sizes, brands or varieties, just look at the unit price, which shows the cost per pound, quart or another unit of weight or volume. You’ll usually get a better deal by choosing the largest size–but that’s not always the case. If your grocery store doesn’t share unit prices, bring a calculator to do the math yourself.
12. Watch those expiration dates
Buying in bulk doesn’t do you any good if your food goes bad before you use it! Before you stock up on an item, check the expiration dates to make sure you’ll have time to use it all. Why save money on groceries that are about to go bad anyhow.
13. Pay with cash
Paying in cash is a great way is a great way to save money on groceries. How? Because it means that you have to stick to your grocery budget. At the beginning of the month, determine how much you want to spend on groceries and withdraw that amount in cash. Throughout the month, use only that cash to buy groceries—no debit or credit cards allowed! To learn more about budgeting with cash, check out our blog post on the cash envelop system.
14. Pick your store
Some bargain hunters enjoy driving all over town to snatch up good deals at multiple grocery stores, but I prefer to simplify. To find the supermarket that will give you the best deals overall, just make a list of the 10-15 staples your family buys the most often and compare prices at a few stores. Whichever one gives you the best total price wins. And don’t forget to take location into consideration—if you have to drive all the way across town to get there, you might not be saving as much as you think!
15. Find the clearance section
Perhaps you’ve walked by it: a shelf of dinged cans and holiday-themed snacks tucked away in the corner at your local supermarket. Next time, take a closer look. A grocery store’s clearance section can have great deals on all types of products, sometimes just because they’ve been discontinued or have undergone a packaging update. You might walk away with a great deal on one of your staple products—or you may just find a bunch of pumpkin-flavored pancake mix and discontinued hair dye.
16. Consider store brands
If you grew up with a frugal mom as I did, you might have memories of generic snacks that didn’t live up to their name-brand competitors. Luckily, store brands have come a long way! In some instances, they are produced at the same factories and use the same ingredients as name-brand items. Even if you hold out for name-brand favorites for some things (I still like Cinnamon Toast Crunch more than Bunch O’ Cinnamon Squares), you can save 15-30% on lots of other items and never taste the difference.
17. Be loyal
Once you’ve chosen your store, sign up for their loyalty program and shop there every time to maximize savings. Many programs offer rewards for meeting spending thresholds in certain categories or send personalized coupons for items you buy frequently. Some stores, like Safeway, Kroger, and Costco, even let you earn rewards that can be used for reduced prices on gas.
18. Stay alert during checkout
Keep an eye on the point-of-sale terminal while the cashier is ringing you up. Pricing mistakes happen more frequently than you might think, whether due to technical malfunctions or human error, and you don’t want to pay extra for some else’s slip-up.
19. Eat with the seasons
Eating seasonally can add up when you are trying to save money on groceries! You could save up to 30% on fresh produce by sticking to fruits and veggies that are in season in your region. Seasonal produce costs less to farm and it doesn’t have to travel as far, which makes it cheaper and fresher than out-of-season selections. You can still enjoy many of your favorites, such as berries, throughout the year by freezing them when they’re in season.
20. Choose bagged produce
Another tip for saving on fresh produce: grab the bulk bag instead of paying by the pound for loose fruits and veggies. A 5-pound bag of potatoes or apples is usually much cheaper per pound than their unbagged counterparts.
Just plan your meals and snacks to make sure you use them up before they go bad.
21. Use Ibotta
Ibotta is a free smartphone app that lets you earn cashback on your everyday purchases. Just find an offer for an item you want to buy, purchase the eligible product, and provide proof of purchase—all within the easy-to-use app. Your account will be credited within 48 hours. It’s a great way to save on items you were planning to purchase anyway.
22. Go meatless on Mondays
Meat is the priciest item on most peoples’ shopping list. Even if you’re not ready to go vegetarian all the time, you can still save a chunk of change by ditching meat one day a week. Get creative by cooking with other protein-rich foods that are easier on your pocketbooks, such as beans, eggs, and lentils.
23. Beware of end-caps
Are you trying to save money on groceries? Skip that end cap! Those special displays at the end of the aisles aren’t necessarily the best deals. In fact, end-cap prices might actually be higher than you’d find for those same products located in the aisles. Food manufacturers pay grocery stores to display their products prominently, so you’re seeing what they want you to see, which may or may not be a good value.
24. Skip the bottled water
In addition to being an environmental nightmare, bottled water is no friend to your grocery budget.
Tap water filtered through a PUR or Brita filter is just as safe (and much cheaper) than bottled water.
25. Eat leftovers
Stretch your food budget and save money on groceries each week by making sure nothing goes to waste. When you are cleaning up after dinner, pack up your leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. Better yet, give them a second life as a different meal entirely and they won’t feel like leftovers at all. A simply grilled chicken breast can become fajitas, chicken Alfredo pasta, chicken Caesar salad, stir fry…
26. Freeze meals
If you don’t like to eat the same thing two days in a row, you can avoid wasting food—and money—by freezing your leftovers. In fact, I often make double batches of soups and casseroles on purpose, so that I can pop one in the freezer for a night when I don’t feel like cooking. Why order takeout when you have a home-cooked meal waiting in your freezer?
27. Learn how to store food properly
So, you’re making a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of fresh parsley, but the smallest bunch at the grocery store was way bigger than you needed. You can save those herbs for up to two weeks by storing them appropriately. Just cut the stems and put them in a cup of water, like you would fresh flowers.
That’s just one example—a quick Internet search will turn up tips for the best way to store fruits, veggies, cheeses, etc.
Do you have your own tips and tricks to save money on groceries at the supermarket? Please share in the comments below.