One of the reasons why it’s so important to save money on groceries is that it’s one of those expenses that you have the most control over. Think about it. You can’t reduce your house payment quickly, or your car payment or your health insurance premium. That means that you need to find other places to save money – and groceries are one big category where you can.
To help you in that effort, were providing 35 ways to save money on groceries. Pick any 10, and I’m betting that you can reduce your grocery bill noticeably.
That’s best done at different stages of the grocery shopping process.
Do Your Homework – What to Do Before You Head Out
If you’re serious about saving money on groceries, there are a few things that you need to do before you even leave home.
1. Have a Detailed Shopping List
This may sound really old-school, but you should never go grocery shopping without having a list that details everything you need. Not only is this a reminder of what you need to buy, but it also acts as a failsafe to keep you from buying what you don’t need. (HINT: always stick to your list!)
You should also make a practice of checking off a few items that may not be entirely necessary. The reason for doing this is that if it looks like you’re going over your budget, you can cross these items off the list.
2. Review the Grocery Store Brochure for Specials
Virtually every grocery store puts out a weekly flyer that advertises their specials for the week. You should always pay close attention to this brochure. Any items that are on sale could be a tip to stock up on those. Also, highlight the specials on your list so that you know to look for them once you’re in the store.
3. Get Your Coupons
Couponing isn’t nearly as much of a pain as it used to be. With apps like Ibotta, you can select coupons on your mobile device as you are in the store or before you leave your home. Once you are done with your trip you only need to scan your receipt to receive your credit. Top online coupon apps include:
Along with the digital option you can always do the old school coupon cutting which can many times be stacked on top of the digital coupons above. The process may be tedious, but clipping coupons can add up. If you can save $10 on a $200 weekly order, you can save over $500 a year.
4. Look for Manufacturer’s Coupons for Higher Priced Items
Don’t limit yourself to in-store coupons. Many manufacturers offer coupons on their websites that aren’t available elsewhere. Check out the websites of the brands of higher priced items, and see what’s available before you go shopping.
For example, razor blades are notoriously expensive. But before you go to the store, check out the Gillette website and look for coupons.
5. Organize Your Coupons
Accumulating coupons can create a mess. Not only do you have multiple coupons from various sources, but you may also have some that have expired. It can be a real nightmare to match up coupons with the actual products that you need to buy.
You can actually buy wallets designed specifically for coupon organizing. They’re usually set up alphabetically, something like a very small and portable accordion file. But they can enable you to find the coupons that you need quickly when you’re at the store.
It can also help if you notate on your shopping list any items that you have coupons for. This will remind you, while you are at the store, to pull out the matching coupon when you find that item.
6. Set a Spending Budget
This is one of the very best but most underrated ways to stay on budget with groceries. If you go into a grocery store without a budget, you’re doomed to feel bad about how much you spent by the time you get home.
You can fix that by setting a fixed dollar amount – say, $200 – and staying within that budget no matter what. If by the time you get to the end of the store you realize that you’ve gone over budget, you can simply put a few items back (remember in Tip #1 I mentioned highlighting a few items on your list that may not be entirely necessary – this is where you put that to work).
7. Tally Up Prices as You Shop
As you buy items and check them off your list, enter the price of the item on the right side of the list. Before you check out, total up your purchases. That will let you know what your grocery bill will be before you check out. If you’re over budget, this is the time that you can decide what items you’ll put back.
For example, if your list total is $200, but the final bill comes to $212, you’ll immediately know there’s a problem. You can investigate it, and take care of it before you leave the store. That will avoid having to make a return trip, if you wait until you get home to find the error.
8. Eat a Good Meal Before Heading Out
This is probably the most common tip for saving money on groceries, but that’s because it’s an effective one. If you go to a food store on an empty stomach, you’re virtually guaranteed to buy more than you planned. But having a good meal beforehand will help you to stay within budget.
9. Have Smartphone Apps Ready
There are some good smart phone apps available to help you save money when you go grocery shopping. Check out these three:
Flipp allows you to check for deals on groceries by matching circulars with coupons from popular name brand manufacturers. It actually serves as a paperless coupon source, once again avoiding the need to pack in paper coupons.
Grocery Pal sifts through your grocery list and identifies items that are on sale at both grocery stores and discount stores. Some of the retailers that they work with include Safeway, Kroger, Food Lion, CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Target, ALDI, Kmart, Harris Teeter, and some of the dollar stores. It can help you to know if there are better deals on high-priced items or staples at different stores.
Choose Where You Shop – Carefully
Where you shop has a lot to do with how much you pay for your groceries. Here are strategies to keep you out of the places where you will spend the most money, and in the ones where you’ll find the most savings.
10. Avoid Upscale Food Stores
You know those boutique grocery stores that seem to be popping up all over the country? Avoid them like the plague. They may have high quality items, but they’re designed for people who don’t need grocery budgets.
11. Join a Food Wholesale Clubs
You have to be careful here because the stores usually don’t have everything that you need. And since they sell in bulk, there’s a real potential to buy more product than you need (see #35 below), which is a complete waste of money. But they can still be excellent places to buy staples in bulk at lower prices.
12. Check Out ALDI
If you’ve never shop there, ALDI is a bit unconventional. That’s because it’s a food retailer that’s based in Germany. But they’ve opened hundreds of stores across the US, and a plan to keep growing.
That’s a good thing, because ALDI really does have lower prices than grocery stores on most items. Like the wholesale clubs, they don’t have everything, nor do they have a wide selection in each category. But you can save a lot of money, particularly on staples like milk, bread, cheese, eggs, cereal and orange juice.
13. Become a Preferred/Loyalty Member of Your Favorite Grocery Store
Some stores have very low advertised prices, but if you’re not a loyalty member you’ll pay something higher. An example of this is the Kroger Plus Card. Kroger has low advertised prices, as well as low prices marked at the store. But they have two prices, the one for members in the one for nonmembers. Trust me, you’ll want to become a member.
14. Avoid Duplicate Purchases if You Shop at More than One Store
If your shopping strategy involves shopping at more than one store, be very careful not to duplicate purchases. For example, if you buy meat, milk and eggs at a warehouse club, but do your regular shopping at your local grocery store, you’ll need to avoid buying meat, milk and eggs at that store too.
Once You’re in the Store…
I’m guessing that most people are probably not aware of it, but grocery stores are specifically laid out in a way that will get you to spend more money than you would. Here are strategies to get around that trap.
15. Go Easy on the Beef
We can blame the use of corn in the production of ethanol for high meat prices, but it seems to have especially impacted beef prices. You can save a lot of money by buying less beef and more other meats.
16. Avoid Meals-in-a-Box
You can generally assume that any prepared meal that comes in a box or package is going to cost more than a meal that you prepare yourself. If you’re trying to save money, these meals are always best avoided. This is particularly true if you have a family to feed, since you’ll have to buy a meal for each member of the family. The math just doesn’t work out in your favor with these meals.
17. Buy in Bulk When Staples are on Sale
Don’t be afraid to stock up on products that you regularly buy when they’re on sale. This can include items like meat, cereal, butter, beans and pasta. All can easily be stored, and no matter how much you buy, you’ll use them sooner or later. This can be a real opportunity to save some serious money on groceries.
18. Don’t be Swayed by the “5 for $5” Come On
Hopefully you understand that these offers are designed to get you to buy more of an item than you actually need. This is a real problem if it’s something that you don’t usually use. You may use two or three items, and end up throwing the rest out.
If an item is advertised as “5 for $5”, or “10 for $20”, or whatever the arrangement, convert the package to a single item in your head. For example, a single item might be just $1. If you only need two, then you can usually get them for $2. The point is, you don’t have to buy all five (or ten) to get the deal.
19. Avoid Name Brands – If it’s “Cool” It’ll Cost More
Store brands are almost always less expensive than popular name brands. As long as the quality and flavor of the store brand is reasonably close to the national brand, you should favor the store brand, especially the price is much lower.
Also watch out for any item that’s “cool”. Cool always costs more! You can usually figure this out easily. Just look for the items that are being advertised a lot on TV. And always remember the cool items mean that you’re paying for all that advertising.
20. Don’t Buy Something Just Because it’s “On Sale”
Some people just can’t resist a sale. In their minds, it translates into ”I’m saving money.” That may be true – if you actually need the product. But if the only reason that you’re buying it is because it’s on sale, then your spending money to no real advantage.
21. Avoid Buying Small/Single Servings
This gets close to the meal-in-a-box problem, but it extends to more items. It makes sense if you are in fact a single person. But if there are two or more people in your household, it makes little sense to say, buy milk by the quart. That’s because buying four quarts of milk usually costs a lot more than a whole gallon.
22. Pass on the Prepared Foods
This includes meals that are prepared in-store, and are typically available at the deli counter. Regular grocery stores are increasing their offerings of prepared foods, making them harder to escape. But any food item that’s prepared in-store is going to be more expensive than the same items prepared at home. You may need or want these items from time to time, but don’t make it a habit. They’re more like restaurant light than grocery items.
23. Watch Out for Impulse Items – They’re All Over the Store
Do you ever see those displays set up around grocery stores, particularly the ones that are at the end of the aisles? They’re called end caps, and they’re designed to draw you in. They’re usually selling items that people don’t necessarily need, particularly higher-priced ones. But by putting them right in your face, where you can’t avoid them, they’re hoping you’ll bite.
Don’t. Though there can sometimes be low-priced specials at the end caps, in most cases it’s the exact opposite.
24. Keep Your Hands to Yourself at the Check-out Line
Speaking of impulse items, do you know all of those snacks, magazines and magical gadgets that they have on both sides of the checkout line? Those are the ultimate impulse items in grocery stores.
They’re put there because they know that you’ll be staring right at them while you’re stuck waiting in line. And they’re hoping that impulse will take over, and you’ll add a few of them to your order. But that’s a good way to bust a budget that you have spent an hour or more trying to stay within.
25. Check the Top and Bottom Shelves in Every Section of the Store
When you go through grocery store aisles, your natural inclination is to look at the shelves that are at eye level. Grocery stores know that, so that’s where they put their most expensive items. If you want to find the best deals, carefully scan the top and bottom shelves. That’s where the lower-priced items are, and where the stores are hoping you won’t look.
26. Buy In-Season Produce
The price variation between a certain produce item in-season versus out-of-season can be enormous. The item that you might pay $2 for in- season, could cost $6 out-of-season. When it comes to produce, try to stay with buying only-in season items. That means that you’ll have to adjust your produce needs every couple of months. But you can save a lot of money doing just that.
Go online and look for recipes for various produce that are in-season during the different times of the year. It’s often just a matter of coming up with good preparation ideas that will make different items more desirable.
Extra Strategies that Will Save Even More Money
Finally, here are strategies that will help you to keep saving money on a permanent basis.
27. Set-up an At-Home Grocery Corner
It’s always easier to know exactly what you need when you have at least most of your food items stored in one place. If you don’t have a pantry, set it up in a corner in your basement or garage. Keep it well organized, that way you can see exactly what the items are that you need before you head out to the store. It works better for bulk items that are larger, and require storage space. But the organization alone can help you to save money, since you always know exactly what you need to buy – as well as what you don’t.
If you don’t already have one, getting a freezer or a spare refrigerator can also help you to stock up on foods that need to be frozen or refrigerated. These can hold the bulk items, freeing up your kitchen refrigerator for smaller items that you use more frequently. In addition, the extra units will allow you to take advantage of sales on meat and frozen goods.
The more control you have over your home food inventory, the easier it will be to save money on groceries.
28. Draw Down Your Food Inventory Periodically
Every now and again you should concentrate on using up your excess food inventory. That will not only avoid food going past its service life, but it will also force you to use items that you might be ignoring. If your inventory is particularly large, you might even be able to use this method to save yourself a few shopping trips entirely, as you “shop” down your home inventory.
29. Check out Dollar Stores for Non-Food Items
Dollar stores have certain items at lower prices than what you can find in grocery stores. This is primarily non-food items, such as paper goods, soap (but not laundry detergent), batteries, light bulbs and even certain canned goods. Plan to make a trip to a favorite dollar store once or twice a month, to stock up on these items.
30. The Most Frugal Spouse Should do the Shopping
In most households, one spouse is more frugal than the other. It’s probably some kind of natural inclination, but it can be a real advantage when it comes to grocery shopping. The more frugal partner will be more adept at finding bargains, and resisting the temptation to buy items that might break the budget.
31. Always Shop Alone
If you shop with your spouse or one or more of your children, you will almost certainly find yourself buying more than you would if you shop alone. If it’s difficult to resist your own impulse shopping, it’ll be many times more difficult to manage the impulses of two or more people.
32. Limit Your Shopping Trips
You should try to limit your shopping trips to certain predetermined intervals. That might be once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, depending on what works best for you and your household.
Multiple shopping trips mean multiple exposures to buying unnecessary items. If you’re on a diet, you necessarily want to stay out of ice cream shops. The same thing applies to grocery shopping. If you want to save money, you need to minimize the amount of time that you spend at the store. Each trip that you take presents the opportunity to spend over your budget.
33. Pay with Cash or a Debit Card
There’s a lot of debate on this point. Some say that you should use credit cards and take advantage of cash back rewards offers. That might make sense if you’re getting cash back of something like 5%. But if it’s only 1% or 2%, it probably won’t help.
The problem is that when you spend with a credit card, there’s always that fudge factor to go little bit over your budget. When you spend with cash or with a debit card, it’s easier to stay in budget, since you don’t have the opportunity to carry the float (excess) over to the next month.
Try and see which payment method better enables you to save money. If you’re highly disciplined, and you have a good cash back rewards program, a credit card may be the way to go. But if you find yourself spending more money using the credit card, cash or a debit card will work better for you.
34. Shop on the Quietest Days of the Week
It’s tough to maintain your game plan in a crowded store. Everything takes longer, including waiting in lines. One of your goals when you go grocery shopping is to minimize the amount of time you spend in the store. That lowers the chance that you will buy something you weren’t planning on. It’s easier to do that if you shop on the quietest days of the week.
I’ve found that weekends bring out the biggest crowds. Weeknights, especially on Monday and Tuesday, are usually the quietest. That’s when you can breeze through the store, get what you want, keep your list and coupons organized, and save the most money. It’s also usually when the stores are least likely to stock out of popular items, which could force you to make a return trip (and spend still more money).
35. Never Buy More of an Item than You Need
In an effort to save money, you might make a habit of buying in bulk. That can save you money, but only if you’re actually using the products that you buy. If you’re buying large amounts of items, just because they have attractive prices, you could be wasting money. That’s because any item that you purchase, and don’t actually use, you’ll end up throwing away. And that means that you be throwing away money.
Grocery shopping is one of the few areas in your budget where you have an opportunity to save a serious amount of money. Here’s your chance to make the most of that opportunity.