Grocery shopping can easily become two things–a hassle and a large expense. After housing and insurance, your food budget can be one of the largest recurring expenses you face every month.
Though you’ll still be saving a boatload over eating takeout or in restaurants, you can still eat up (pun intended!) far too much of your spending money on impulse purchases and food that goes to waste. Here are our best tips on how to save money at the grocery store.
Track Prices On Things You Buy Regularly
If you find that you’re at the grocery store on a weekly basis or more, you can build a repertoire of things at your favorite stores to know what they cost. Over time, you’ll learn what the best deals are at each store, and for traditional grocery stores, you’ll be able to comparison shop against loss leaders featured in weekly ads.
Different stores will have high and low prices on different items. One store might be cheapest for milk while another store is best for chicken.
You can create a price book of your most frequently purchased items to compare across stores. Find out which of your local stores sell those staples the cheapest.
To create your price book: you'll probably want something you can access while you are at the store, both to compare prices and make notes of changes. Pencil and paper would certainly work (you could keep it in your glovebox) or a spreadsheet on Google Drive would also work. I couldn't find a good app specifically for this function. If you know of one be sure to leave it in the comments!
You'll want to record the store name, type of item, brand name, the amount in the package, and the price. You may want to track both regular and sale prices in separate columns.
Skip The Name Brands
In the past, store brands were cheap knockoffs that barely resembled the taste or texture of the real thing. Today, many consumers can't tell the difference between the two. This is especially true for generic over-the-counter medicine that uses the same formula from now-expired patents.
To test this theory out for yourself, create your own taste-test experiment at home. Buy a small package of the generic and the real thing then sample them with your friends or family. If the taste is the same, skip the higher priced brand name and buy the generic going forward.
A friend of mine does this with his children's cereal. He keeps the brand name box, then slips the generic version bag in while the children are sleeping. The kids get the cereal they enjoy, while he saves some money.
Meal Plan Comprehensively
You’ll be able to snag the best deals on a weekly basis when you go into your shop with a plan. You can also plan your meals around what's on sale. If Walmart is having a great deal on chicken (and you'll know it's a great deal because you have your price book!) then you can plan a few chicken meals.
Planning for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks helps you avoid temptations at the checkout counter. You'll also learn which items you buy the most frequently and when is the best time to buy them.
By taking the guesswork out of your weekly grocery trip, you’ll make comparison shopping seamless. Stocking up on items you buy regularly will help you cut costs in the long run. If you know what you have in advance, you can hold off on buying certain items and time your supplemental shops strategically to build your stockpile.
As you get along on your meal planning journey, you may realize you don't need to plan a new meal for every single day. If you have recipes that create leftovers, plan to eat those the next day for lunch or dinner. Not only does it save you from cooking again, but it also leads us to our next point… reduce waste.
Double Up On Advertisements
Grocery stores mail weekly circulars highlighting their deals and special buys. If you look closely at the valid dates of the advertisements, many store deals will overlap by one or more days.
For my local stores, the dates overlap on Wednesdays. That's my favorite day to shop because I can then get the best of both ads–last week and this week. If any of the items are sold out from last week, most grocery stores will offer a rain check so you can receive the lower price when the restock.
Waste Not, Want Not
A recommended site for meal planning without doing a lot of digging is $5 Dinners. The site provides meal plan templates from a reliable source. It’s a great resource for streamlining your meal plans without having to start from scratch each week.
Meal planning not only helps you save money at the grocery store, but it also helps you avoid throwing money down the drain in food that goes to waste. In terms of dollars wasted, estimates range from about $640-2,200 in estimated food waste per household, per year. Truly, any amount that you’re throwing away is a huge bummer and by meal planning, can likely be avoided.
As stated above; planning on leftovers when you are meal planning can save you time and avoid waste. When you do have to throw food away, make a mental note of what and how much.
If you have recipes that routinely have their leftovers thrown away, perhaps those should be saved for when you are serving guests, or just replaced altogether.
Bulk Can Be Your Friend
A Costco membership will usually run you about $60 a year but can be a great way to build an arsenal of useful staples to help you save money on groceries. If you’re able to split a Costco or Sam’s Club membership with a friend or family member, your bulk savings can be even greater.
Stocking up on paper goods, such as paper towels and toilet paper, when they are on sale is a great way to save some cash. If you have the storage room you can't go wrong. It will all get used eventually.
Beware, though, Costco is also a treasure trove for impulse purchases–fancy chocolates, a new set of glassware, and a pool float are usually not on your list, but often are priced so temptingly they are hard to resist. Plus when you compare a $5 box of delicious looking chocolate to the $50 worth of chicken you just bought, it seems like no big deal.
Biggest Isn't Always Best
Although bulk packaging is supposed to be a great deal, that isn't always the case. This is especially true if you buy the bigger size and end up throwing away some of it because it spoiled before you can use it all. This happens to me more times than I want to admit when I shop at warehouse stores.
Grocery stores and brands realize that consumers have been trained to think that biggest is best. Here's what I do instead.
Look at the tag on the shelf and look beyond the total price of the item. Instead, focus on the price per unit when comparing different package sizes of the same item. There are many instances where the smallest or medium-sized package offers a better deal. When grocery stores have sales or offer special promotions, the price can go even lower.
If your local grocery store doesn't do the math for you, use your smartphone to do the calculation. Divide the price by the number of units. For example, if the bulk size is $9.99 for 19 ounces, that would be $0.52 per ounce. This week, the smaller package is 10 ounces and is on sale for $5.00, which is $0.50 per ounce. This means that the smaller package is the better deal.
Eat Produce In Season
While it’s tempting to get raspberries in the middle of winter, it’s not the most cost-effective. Familiarizing yourself which produce is in season when will help you get more value for your dollar, and probably help the planet, too! The USDA has a seasonal produce guide that makes shopping in season easy.
In season produce is cheaper and tastes better.
Related: How To Find Cheap Produce
Experiment With Proteins
While the podcast has explored going vegan for a time as an experimental lever to FI, there are other tactics you can implement to reduce your grocery budget. Mixing up your meal plans with “meatless Mondays” and even experimenting with cheaper forms of animal protein can be beneficial. Swapping out meats for less expensive cuts, or even learning how to cook, cut, and fully utilize a full chicken to DIY your own cuts can save you plenty.
If you’re willing to experiment with new animal proteins or swap out animal products for a vegetarian option, you can save more on groceries. Items like tofu and chickpeas can offer unique flavors in stir frys, casseroles, and soups while packing in cheap protein.
Swapping canned beans for the dry versions with a bit of prep can stretch your dollar even further.
Listen: The Vegan Path To FI
Coupon Traditionally Or Digitally
While printed circulars and coupons are quickly becoming a thing of the past, you can still coupon to help save money on groceries. While print coupons are being phased out, you can still score great in-store deals with Catalina coupons at checkout, along the aisles, and of course, in your weekly paper (if you still receive it!)
Each grocery chain that you frequent (with the exceptions of Aldi and Trader Joe’s) will have an app that you can download to digitally clip coupons and save a few bucks. You can stack these savings with apps like Ibotta to take photos of your receipt and earn some cash back when offers align.
Use The Right Credit Card
How do you pay for your groceries? You can reduce your grocery bill by paying with the right form of payment. Banks offer many cards that give bonus cash back, airline miles, or hotel points for purchases made at grocery stores.
The cash back goes right into your bank account, while airline miles and hotel points reduce the cost of future travel. Although those travel rewards won't directly lower your grocery bill, they do keep more cash in your wallet by reducing the cost of flights and hotels.
Avoid Triggers At The Store
As much as we love our family, sometimes bringing them along for the weekly grocery shopping means that we are either distracted or that things magically find their way into the shopping cart. And if you’re really trying to change your shopping habits, shop mindfully, and think through your purchases, having focus is key.
If you see something at the store you want to buy but isn't on your list, skip it on this trip but keep it in mind and put it on your list for next time. This will strengthen the habit of only shopping from a list. And if you can't remember the item long enough to add it to your list for next time, was it really that important in the first place?
If possible, leave the well-meaning but often-tempted family members at home. It’s not always a choice to bring along a spouse who loves to impulse buy, but get the family you do bring along on board to avoid overspending. Truly, shopping with a plan is a family affair!
We hope these tips were helpful to help you save money on groceries. By being mindful about how you shop and even simplifying the process with a meal plan, you can shave hundreds off your bill each month and likely eat healthier to boot.
If you haven’t already, give Episode 7 a listen, it’s well worth your time. Brad and Jonathan go into detail how they approach their grocery budget and offer some great additional tips to help you save at the grocery store!
- How To Find Cheap Produce (Plus Two Recipes)
- The Ultimate Costco Meal Plan–Part 1
- Pay Less For TV: The 3 Best Cable Alternatives