Almost everyone is on a budget these days. One massive influence on your budget is food. Improper planning can drive up your food spending significantly, so implementing money-saving tips is imperative for your next grocery trip.
Grocery costs have risen by 2.4% since 2020, and the trend continues with sizable monthly increases. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or your family, you can save some serious money on groceries by planning. Here are some tips on how to save money on groceries.
Table of Contents
- 1. Look for a Cheaper Grocery Store
- 2. Set a Budget for Yourself (And Stick to It!)
- 3. Build on What You Have
- 4. Hunt for Seasonal Foods and Sale Items
- 5. Start Meal Planning and Prepping
- 6. Look Past What Meets the Eye
- 7. Try Out the Bulk Bins
- 8. Freeze and Preserve Some Food
- 9. Look to the Blue Zones
- 10. Cut Back on Packaging
- 11. Whip Out the Coupon Book
- 12. Shop Mindfully
- 13. Decrease Your Meat Bill
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. Look for a Cheaper Grocery Store
Yes, your nearby grocery store with friendly employees is convenient and pleasant to shop at, but they might be charging you twice as much for the same food item as another store. Some of the cheapest grocery stores in the United States include:
- Dollar General
- Market Basket
- Sam’s Club
- Trader Joe’s
Even budget-priced stores can add up, especially if you purchase specialty items. You should explore dollar stores, but keep in mind that they upcharge some canned foods that often cost less than a dollar at other grocery stores.
Try to compare the prices of the items online with a service like InstaCart or Shipt to see which stores have the cheapest items. If you have the time, you may want to shop at multiple stores. You may get an excellent deal on meat at Walmart, but find that Market Basket has cheaper produce that week.
Also, don’t discount places like farmer’s markets, butchers, and local farms. They may sell their items at lower prices than grocery stores. You can check them out at the end of their shift to pick up anything that they fear may go bad if not frozen or cooked that day. The difference in price is sometimes significant.
Farmer's markets are my favorite places to buy fresh fruits & veggies. If you go, don't forget to bring cash as many of the merchants I've purchased from at the farmers market won't take a card.
2. Set a Budget for Yourself (And Stick to It!)
If you want to halve your grocery budget or spend no more than $40 a week, start shopping with a calculator. Hold yourself accountable by pulling out your phone to add the price of every item.
Before shopping, check out the grocery store’s website or InstaCart and search for the cheapest versions of the items you want. Write a grocery list with everything you want and follow it verbatim. You are more likely to remember your list if you put it on your phone, but paper ones work as well.
Setting a budget will help you avoid impulse purchases and help you with meal planning (more on that coming up). The USDA recommends spending between $40-$90 per person each week on food.
Depending on your income, that may exceed your budget. If you want to save a significant amount of cash, aim for your grocery costs to land at a maximum of 15% of your income. However, the actual amount depends on your other necessary expenses.
3. Build on What You Have
Before heading out, check your refrigerator and pantry. Take inventory of what you have already to see what you need. Try to buy ingredients that will complement some of your pantry staples like pasta, rice, beans, or anything else. You may find you can throw together a few meals out of what you already have, which can reduce your grocery needs.
Also, see if you can substitute an item in a recipe with something you have. You may have everything for a nice spaghetti but onions, and you find you have onion powder. It might not taste exactly the same, but it should do the trick.
You could try taking photos of your pantry before making your grocery list. Compare what you write to what you have and see if you come up with any new meal ideas or substitutions. Try to stretch out your current stock as long as possible, such as by weakening your coffee, cutting back on added sweeteners, or using less milk in your cereal.
4. Hunt for Seasonal Foods and Sale Items
When you hit the produce section, pay attention to what items are in season. These items cost less because farmers have an excessive amount of them, so they will likely be on sale. Other benefits of shopping in-season include:
- Getting a wider variety of flavors year-round
- Exploring new foods and recipes
- Potentially eating the nutrients your body craves at that time of year
- The produce will probably taste better
If you were wondering how to save money on groceries, you might already know that you should buy what’s on sale. Follow brands and stores on social media or join their mailing lists to see if you can catch wind of any sales as they begin.
Also, join your grocery store’s membership card program to get access to more sales and BOGO deals. You could pay attention to weekly ads for sales as well. Looking online before heading to the store can also clarify the best low-price items available.
If you want, you can write down when a staple food item of yours goes on sale and compare the prices week-to-week to see if there are trends. Then, you can predict when things will be on sale to help with your budget shopping.
However, do not buy something only because it is on sale. Stick to your list, but consider buying extra of something if you can readily preserve it and know it will not be on sale for a long time.
5. Start Meal Planning and Prepping
One of the best tips on how to save money when grocery shopping is making a meal plan. You start by choosing a few meals for the week based on what you already have and what is on sale. Then, look for recipes featuring these items.
Try to aim for one or two breakfast options and two to four lunch and dinner options. When preparing your lunches and dinners, cook a large batch to eat as leftovers throughout the week. If you are busy, you can quickly reheat a serving.
Look for low-cost items that you can make a handful of meals from, like eggs and oatmeal for breakfast. We’ll discuss staple items more later on, but try to choose a few customizable items that you can manipulate with spices to make new meals.
For snacks, look for something simple with a high nutritional and price value. A box of Cheez-Its might cost less than a bag of apples and a jar of peanut butter, but the latter will be more filling. Opting for satiating snacks will reduce the amount you need to buy and help you snack throughout the week rather than eating that box of Cheez-Its in one or two sittings.
Food waste is a waste of money. If after a meal you find that you only have small amount left but also have a calorie count to keep in mind, put that food in the refrigerator. I have often enjoyed what I call a ‘leftover sampler platter” meal that was quite enjoyable to eat and there was zero food waste.
6. Look Past What Meets the Eye
Stores often put their brand-name, high-cost, high-demand items at eye level. Instead of reaching for these brands at eye level, look at the top and bottom shelves for generic brands and bulk items.
Also, check out the outer aisles. Be careful with some sections that advertise a specific brand. You can grab a box from there and see if they have cheaper alternatives in the aisle to replace it with. Treating your grocery shopping like a treasure hunt can help you save cash and have fun.
7. Try Out the Bulk Bins
Some grocery stores have bulk bins that will let you try out new beans, grains, nuts, and spices. If you only need a cup of rice for a recipe, you can save on buying a whole bag by going to the bulk bin. The per unit price tends to be lower on items sold this way.
If you're inclined, you can reduce the amount of waste you produce from shopping by bringing a bag from home. As a bonus, some stores offer discounts for reusable bags.
Dried beans, for example, also cost less than canned so going to the bulk bin and stocking up can help. In your free time, you can soak and boil the beans to store in the freezer for later.
8. Freeze and Preserve Some Food
Three vegetables that usually cost less when frozen include spinach, peas, and artichoke hearts. Also, it might be cheaper to buy an off-season fruit in the frozen section.
If you love a specific food item and find it on sale, you can buy it in bulk and freeze it for later use. Try to only buy meat when it’s on sale and store it in the freezer.
Look to cook freezer-friendly meals that store for months at a time. You can readily purchase a bunch of ingredients on sale, cook a few meals on a free Sunday, and freeze them. Then, you only need reheat the meals when you’re hungry. Less prep time…awesome!
Nothing beats fresh fruit or vegetables. However, you can preserve some summer produce like tomatoes and berries by making some pasta sauce or jam and storing it for later. If you know how to can foods in a pressure cooker or water bath, go for it. You can get quite creative with your own canned goods like pre-mixed peach pie filling. (my favorite)
Otherwise, place your items in vacuum-sealed bags and freeze them for later use. You can also try making curry and cheese sauce this way.
9. Look to the Blue Zones
Take some inspiration from Nicoya, the Costa Rican Blue Zone, and invest in some versatile basics that you can eat in all your meals. Mesoamerican culture considered the three sisters of food to be beans, corn, and squash. These items grow well together and provide a complete nutritional profile. Plus, you can make a ton of meals with them.
Black beans, rice, corn, potatoes, and lentils work in countless dishes. When combined with in-season produce, you can have new, low-cost, and delicious meals every month.
Also, look for items that grow locally. Consider foraging for wild greens, flowers, and produce to integrate into your diet. Check into a local foraging guide to see where you can find safe, edible plants and learn some new recipes. If you have a taste for expensive items, like morel mushrooms, this could be something to look into.
10. Cut Back on Packaging
Reducing packaging is not only eco-friendly, but it will save you cash. Getting pre-packaged salads can cost you twice as much as Romaine lettuce with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Follow suit with other vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower.
You will need to spend more time washing, chopping, and prepping the food, but it can save you a few bucks each week. Try to get most of your produce fresh and unbagged, especially when it is in season.
Instead of buying a bunch of packages of chicken wings each week, you can purchase a huge one with a smaller price per unit and freeze what you do not use immediately. You may spend more that week, but you will save throughout the month. Also, you reduce the amount of waste you produce.
Speaking of packaging, most store brand food items are actually packaged by the big brands so you may not be skimping on quality by looking for store brand food. For example, I prefer Kroger canned tuna to all the other brands and it also lowers my grocery bill.
11. Whip Out the Coupon Book
Look for coupons wherever you go. Make an email account devoted to coupons and subscribe to some of your favorite brands and stores. You can get a bunch of deals delivered to your inbox each day.
Clipping coupons? Ugh, you say. I get it. Fortunately there is a very easy-to-use app like Ibotta can really help with this. The app will provide you with coupons and also cash back on some purchases. All you have to do is scan your grocery receipts. I highly recommend Ibotta as a useful grocery app.
Search on coupon websites for store and item-specific ones. Even if you cannot find a coupon for something you want, you may find other deals that you can apply to your grocery spending that week.
12. Shop Mindfully
When going to the grocery store, ensure you leave any over spenders at home. If your kids bat their eyes at you and ask for two boxes of cookies your food budget will only afford one, leave them at home. If your husband/wife tries to buy prime cuts on a cube steak budget, leave them at home. You do not need anyone tempting or manipulating you into spending more this month on groceries than you planned.
Also, try to shop on a full stomach. Shopping while hungry may lead to you choosing more unhealthy items that would satisfy your cravings at the moment. Trust me, everything looks tasty and justifiable when you're hungry. You might gravitate towards bakery items, junk food, and convenience items when you could instead purchase simple, whole, cheap ingredients.
13. Decrease Your Meat Bill
If you enjoy meat like I do, you can reduce the cost by purchasing cheaper cuts, organs, and canned meats. Look to buy items in a bulk package that you can store for later. If you have a local butcher, ask if you can get any of their unwanted cuts for a cheaper prices.
Shrimp lovers should always buy them frozen. Most “fresh” shrimp is just thawed for you, so you might as well buy the frozen stuff to thaw yourself later. I'm going to argue with myself here. I am a shrimp lover and, after living on the coast in Florida, I find that all shrimp not bought shortly after the catch is inferior. Frozen shrimp is most certainly inferior but I no longer live on a coast and I have to follow my budget.
Also, consider integrating more meatless meals (I can't believe I just wrote that) into your week. A simple meal based on beans, rice, and vegetables will provide complete proteins while costing significantly less.
Stock up on eggs as well. These cheap foods are nutritious and versatile. You can use them in any meal of the day and pay a dollar or so for a dozen.
Side note: Getting a Camp Chef pellet smoker grill significantly increased my meat purchases for more than a month. Pellet smoker grills make it very easy to cook steak house quality food and the flavor is addicting. Hmm…I think I'll have burgers for dinner tonight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about how to save money when grocery shopping.
If you want to know how to save money on groceries, try to follow some of the above tips on your next shopping trip. You can start integrating them one at a time until you feel satisfied with your grocery expenses.