Grocery shopping is a fact of life, but it can be way too easy to overspend if you’re not careful. Chances are it already takes up a large chunk of your budget – according to figures from the USDA, Americans spend an average of around 9% of their disposable income on food (opens in new tab), and if a family of four got liberal with their spending, the monthly bill could skyrocket to over $1,300 (opens in new tab) – and with food prices only ever seeming to be on the rise, it makes sense to look for ways to get more from your hard-earned cash. So, if you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve…
Make a budget – and stick to it
One of the first things you’ll want to do is take a close look at your monthly budget so you know where you stand, and from there work out how much you have available to spend on groceries. This is where the best personal finance software (opens in new tab) can help. Once you’ve got your budget down, you can start making your grocery list to keep within that – and try to stick to it at all costs – then after you’ve shopped, keep track of what you spent so you can see if there are any cutbacks that can be made next time. It can take a bit of effort to be this organized, but it can pay off in the long run.
Plan your meals
Meal planning is key when it comes to cutting your grocery bill down to size, because if you know what you’ll be eating from one day to the next, you’ll only buy what you need for those meals. You can start by seeing what store cupboard ingredients you already have and build a weekly menu around them, adding in fresh or frozen ingredients to suit. This could be an opportunity to try out some low-cost recipes, too, and the carnivores out there may like to take it up a notch and go meat-free once or twice a week – meat items can seriously bulk up the grocery bill, so cutting down on your meat consumption can not only be good for the planet, it can be good for your wallet as well.
Be sale savvy
When you’re in the grocery store, keep an eye on prices and compare costs at every turn. Be on the lookout for discounts and stock up on sale items when you can, but make sure it really is cheaper than the alternative – looking at the item price is a good way to tell what you’re actually getting for your money and whether or not the discount is really worth it, though if you spot one of your usual buys on sale, go for it! Just don’t get too carried away with perishable items; there’d be nothing worse than filling the refrigerator (opens in new tab) with cut-price deliciousness only to see it go to waste. Unless you can freeze it…
Stock up the freezer
If you’ve managed to get a bulk deal on meat, for example, stash it in the freezer (opens in new tab) for later use. You could also stock up with frozen ingredients, which can be cheaper than their fresher counterparts and will last longer, so you’ll always be able to whip up a healthy meal in a pinch. Or, for the truly organized, why not batch-cook some meals and freeze individual portions? This can be a useful trick if you’ve got some ingredients that are close to their expiration date, and it can be a great way to make your money go further.
Look up (and down)
Grocery stores know what they’re doing. They want to make it as easy as possible for you to part with your cash, and so they’ll put the most expensive, premium items at eye level. Don’t fall for it! Take the time to look at the higher and lower shelves, as this is where the more affordable items and less premium brands tend to be located. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to swap your usual brands for the store’s alternative – you may find you love the taste and quality just as much, and it can substantially lower your bills in the process.
Change where you shop
If you’re serious about saving money, consider where you shop as well. Try swapping Whole Foods for Trader Joe’s, stick to staples at Walmart, and shop at warehouse clubs such as Costco if you want to buy in bulk (though don’t always assume that bulk-buying is the cheaper option; while it can certainly make sense in some scenarios, you’ll still want to compare the price per unit with other stores, and make sure you’ll actually use everything so nothing goes to waste).
Apps can be used to great effect when it comes to keeping your budget in check, both when it comes to finding cheap recipes (which is where the best recipe apps (opens in new tab) come in) and saving money, with rebate apps (such as Receipt Hog, Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Saving Star) offering great discounts.
Alternatively, why not go retro and get couponing? There’s a reason people swear by it – couponing works, though it can take a bit of effort for it to really pay off. You’ll need to spend time sourcing coupons in the first place (local newspapers are a great place to start, particularly the Sunday papers, though there are plenty of online coupon sites and apps too), then organizing them and working out what you actually need to buy to meet the criteria.
For example, some stores will set limits on the amount of coupons you can use and others won’t let you coupon stack (where you use both store and manufacturer coupons at the same time), so make sure to check the small print. Don’t buy things you normally wouldn’t simply because you’ve got a coupon, either; it’s an easy trap to fall into, but can actually mean you end up spending more! The key to couponing is only using it for things you really need and can make savings on.
Know when to shop
Did you know that the timing of your shop can be crucial to getting a good deal? Get to know when your local grocery store tends to restock (they’ll usually mark-down the previous week’s stock at the same time) or the day they start their sales, and time your visit accordingly. Then, if you want to bag a bargain in the fresh aisles, get there early – if you’re first to the clearance shelves in the morning you could clean up, though equally, waiting until just before closing time could be the perfect way to benefit from marked-down deli or bakery items that they need to get rid of.
If you can avoid the grocery store altogether and shop online instead, you’d be surprised at how much you could save. This is because there’s far less opportunity to be tempted by impulse buys when you’re shopping on a screen and as such you’re more likely to stick to your list, and with plenty of grocery delivery services (opens in new tab) available – some even offer express delivery (opens in new tab) so you can get your groceries in under two hours – you could save time, too.
Use credit wisely
Paying with cash can be one of the best ways to stick to your budget as you literally can’t overspend, though if you feel like you have to use credit in order to cover your grocery bill, make sure to use it wisely. This means aiming to pay off the card before interest charges kick in, and ideally use a top credit card (opens in new tab) that offers rewards or cashback, giving you a little something back with each shop.