17 ways to save money on groceries
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Inflation has cooled slightly so far in 2023 yet it still remains uncomfortably high as Americans continue to grapple with elevated prices of essentials such as groceries.
In fact, the price of food eaten at home rose 11.3 percent over the past 12 months, according to Consumer Price Index data released in February 2023. Categories that saw some of the largest increases included cereals and bakery products, which rose 15.6 percent, and dairy products, which rose 14 percent.
With prices soaring on everything from meat and produce to canned goods and frozen foods, it can feel impossible to keep your grocery budget under control. However, you’ll find you can spend less with a bit of planning and creativity. Here are 17 ways to save money on groceries.
1. Make a meal plan
Planning your meals for the week helps keep you from buying food items that you don’t necessarily need. You can avoid waste and overspending by going to the grocery store with a list based on what you intend to cook for the week.
This requires that you decide in advance what meals and snacks you’ll eat during the week, but having a list and sticking to it can help you avoid impulse purchases.
2. Shop alone if you can
Impulse buying can be one of the costliest habits at the grocery store. Shopping with children or a partner may increase the likelihood you’ll buy something on a whim.
Rather than bringing your family members with you to the grocery store, add their requested items to your shopping list in advance so they’ll still get some of their favorite snacks without the risk of added impulse buys.
3. Shop during the quietest days of the week
Crowds can have a negative impact on your grocery budget. When you’re in a busy store, it can be more difficult to take a good look at the selection and find particular brands or sizes that are most cost effective.
It might take some trial and error to determine the slower times at the store, but once you’ve figured it out, stick with that time.
4. Swap expensive cuts of meat for cheaper options
Depending on where you shop, ground turkey or even ground chicken might come at a lower price point than ground beef. Consider swapping your meat choice for one of the lower-cost options.
If you normally purchase higher-end cuts of meat, consider reducing costs by swapping out some of it with more affordable alternatives. For instance, grass-fed beef can cost as much as $4 more per pound than grain-fed beef, by some estimates.
5. Buy generic products
There’s no denying that brand-name products are more expensive than their generic counterparts. While saving an extra $2 or $3 may not seem like much, saving a few extra bucks on 20 items can add up.
Also, it’s worth noting that many generic products are manufactured in the same facilities as your favorite name-brand products. In fact, some generic products are exactly the same as name-brands but with a smaller price tag.
6. Avoid buying hygiene products at the grocery store
Many people buy household products at the grocery store without realizing how much they’re overpaying for those items. You can often find hygiene products for less at places like Walmart, Target or one of the dollar stores.
7. Stick to the store’s perimeter
Generally, the aisles in the center of the supermarket contain processed foods, which tend to be pricey, whereas the outer walls are where you’ll often find things like fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods that can be more cost effective.
Doing most of your shopping around the perimeter of the store also means you’ll likely be planning healthier meals, which is an added bonus.
When avoiding items that’ll cost you more, also keep in mind the adage, “Eye level is buy level.” Since products at eye level are most likely to get your attention, retailers often place more expensive items on these shelves.
8. Pay with a grocery rewards card
Grocery rewards credit cards offer cash back or points on purchases at the supermarket. Getting a little bit back from each shopping trip will help offset the costs of inflation. These cards typically pay between 3 and 6 percent in cash back or other rewards. Some also offer rewards on money spent in other categories, including restaurants, gas and home improvement stores.
9. Bring a calculator to the store
Use either your smartphone or a handheld calculator to add up the cost of your groceries as you go through the aisles. This can be especially helpful if you’re sticking to a strict budget.
Keeping track of your ongoing tally can help when trying to decide whether to buy something that wasn’t originally on your list.
10. Shop the sales
Be sure to check your local newspaper circulars or store apps to know what’s on sale and when. It can pay to plan your menu based on what’s currently on sale, especially when it comes to items such as meat and fish.
Be careful not to buy things simply because they’re on sale, without adding them to your menu plan.
11. Join grocery store loyalty programs
Plenty of grocery stores have loyalty programs you can sign up for that will earn you points and send you coupons, often integrated into the store’s app. A lot of stores will also have discounts specifically for loyalty members as well.
12. Take advantage of curbside pickup
If you’re too tempted to overspend in the store, shop ahead on your store’s website or mobile app. Many stores let you choose between picking up your order curbside or having it delivered. You may find curbside pickup to be more cost-effective, since delivery fees can be expensive.
13. Buy items in bulk and freeze the extras
Some foods are significantly cheaper when purchased in bulk. So when it makes sense, buy in large quantities and freeze what you don’t need right now. This can apply to bread, meat, cheese and more.
This practice can be especially useful during certain sales. For instance, you may find a deal that applies when you purchase two loaves of bread or two packages of cheese. Rather than trying to use it all at once, freeze the spare for later.
14. Shop on a full stomach
This is an age-old tip for grocery shopping. Going to a grocery store when you’re hungry could cause you to overspend. You’re much more likely to grab plenty of groceries you don’t need when all you can think about is your growling stomach.
Instead, eat a meal or snack before you head to the store so you’re not focused on how hungry you are.
15. Buy produce that is in season
Produce is more expensive when it’s out of season. Understand what produce is in season and when, so you can enjoy fruits and vegetables when they’re tastiest and cheapest.
16. Shop bulk bins
Don’t forget to make use of bulk bins if your grocery store features them. Bulk bins allow you to scoop into a bag the exact amount you need of things like grains or nuts. If you’re just buying a small amount, you’re also less likely to waste any.
17. Compare prices across stores
If you’re lucky enough to have multiple grocery stores near you, compare products and prices across the board and shop where you find the best deals. It might not make sense to do too much running around to get all of your groceries, but perhaps a couple different days of the week can be reserved for visiting a couple of different stores.
Reasons to spend less on groceries
If you keep a monthly budget, you’ll find that spending less on groceries frees up dollars for other areas to which you devote money, whether it’s debt repayment, your emergency savings, or your entertainment fund.
A good motivator to decrease your grocery spending can be rewarding yourself for a job well done. This can be as small as an occasional trip to the gourmet coffee shop or as large as taking your accumulated savings over time and devoting it to a vacation.
A little advance preparation can go a long way when you’re looking to save money on groceries. It often starts with planning your meals and creating a shopping list. Knowing in advance exactly what you need to buy can save you from wasting money and food by purchasing items you ultimately won’t eat.
Other practical steps, such as buying what’s in season, shopping on a full stomach, and stocking up on your favorite items when they’re on sale can make trips to the supermarket much easier on your wallet