11 Ways to Save Money on Groceries
Posted by Jill on October 26, 2009
One of the money saving tips you’ll read about most often is to eat out less and cook more. But just like you need an overall spending plan to manage your income and expenses, you might need a good grocery shopping plan to make sure that cooking is actually cheaper for you.
Over the last two years, I’ve developed some decent strategies for keeping my grocery costs as low as possible – saving as much as 50% from my first grocery store experiences!
Here are some of the tips I’ve used.
How to Save Money on Groceries
- Shop monthly: The absolute biggest way I cut my grocery bill is by making a maximum of one major grocery trip per month – sometimes I wait as long as 6 weeks! The only thing I buy between major trips is milk and produce. The big trip may take me up to 1.5 hours and cost $100 or more – but it gets both the time and money out of the way for weeks, and cuts down on those “extra” purchases that always manage to creep into my basket. If you shop weekly and add just $10 of unplanned or unnecessary items each time, that’s $520 per year. Shop monthly instead and cut that number down to $120 – a savings of $400!
- Use coupons: I subscribed to the Sunday paper solely to get the coupons. The key is to cut coupons regularly (at least every week), keep them together, and pay attention to expiration dates. Only cut coupons for items you normally use or that you will substitute for items you normally buy (like one brand of toothpaste for another). Otherwise coupons will encourage you to spend more rather than save. Many stores double coupons up to a certain amount or on the best day to buy groceries for your store.
- Stock up on sale items: Go over your grocery store’s circular, or sign up for their e-mail list. Note the items that you usually buy that are on sale, and plan to purchase them. If anything is a particularly good deal buy as much as you can reasonably store before it goes bad. If you aren’t sure how to use a particular item, visit Supercook, where you can search for recipes by ingredient. Grocery stores put items on sale at least once every 12 weeks if not more often – hold on to your coupons until you can pair them with a sale to save even more.
- Make a list: Before you shop, open your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what you actually need. An even better way to keep a list is to leave a pad on the fridge and add to it as you run out of a certain item. Making a list and sticking to it will help you get everything you need (thus minimizing repeat trips) and also help you avoid buying extra items.
- Buy in bulk – strategically: Look for savings on larger packages, but beware – the larger package is not always the best deal. If your store labels do not show unit price, calculate it yourself. Also make sure that you have room to store what you buy and that you can actually eat it before it expires – otherwise you lose your savings when you throw it away.
- Make the freezer your friend: Buy large packs of meat (often cheaper per-pound) and freeze in meal-sized portions. You can also make a casserole or large batch of soup and freeze the excess in individual portions for an easy lunch or quick dinner. This allows you to eat a home-cooked meal even when you don’t have time to cook, and lets you buy items in larger quantities.
- Use less meat: If you buy ten pounds of meat, you can make 10 meals with 1 lb of meat each or 11 meals with .9 lb each – you just increased the number of meals by 10%, and probably won’t notice the very small difference. Since meat is the most expensive portion of most meals, that can be a significant savings. You can reduce your portions even more and simply increase your veggies or other (cheaper) side items to make up the volume.
- Purchase produce wisely: If an item is priced by the number of pieces, buy the largest/heaviest available to maximize your dollar. If an item is priced by weight, buy smaller or lighter pieces. Also remember that just because an item is packaged a certain way doesn’t mean you have to buy it that way – a former roommate taught me that you can indeed buy half a bundle of asparagus or pound of grapes! This is especially good if you live alone like I do. Get the best deals by purchasing in season – and when quality is truly lacking, turn to frozen veggies instead. Finally, recognize that different varieties of an item can vary widely in both size and price per pound. For instance, Honeycrisp apples can be as much as $2.00 per pound and weigh up to one pound each, while you can get 2-3 smaller apples per pound and pay as little as $1.00/lb. If the smaller apple will truly suffice, why pay the premium?
- Go generic: A grocery store’s own brand is almost always cheaper than the national brand, without noticeable difference in taste or quality. I’ve tried generic items from pasta sauce to canned soup to cheese and more. Give generic items a try – and if you truly don’t like a certain item, then it is ok to switch back. Be practical – if a sale plus coupon combo makes the name brand cheaper, go for it.
- Avoid convenience items – unless they make sense: If you can do it yourself, the grocery store will probably charge more to do it for you. So cook your own pinto beans instead of buying canned. Steam your own broccoli in a covered pot with an inch or two of boiling water instead of buying a microwavable package. But when it makes sense, go for the convenience: at my grocery store, pre-shredded cheese is the same price per ounce as the big block. So no hand grater for me!
- Love leftovers: if you are cooking for one or two it can be hard to make the exact amount you will eat for dinner – it seems like recipes always make 4-6 servings! Stretch your grocery dollar further by eating dinner leftovers for lunch – this eliminates the need for sandwich or other lunch items and also stops you from throwing away excess food. If you don’t have a full meal left, repurpose pieces of different meals to create a whole new meal.
More Grocery Saving Tips
There are also a few grocery tips that other people recommend, though I haven’t used them. If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
- Shop at discount grocery stores.
- Grow your own produce.
- Visit multiple grocery stores in one day or week to search out the best deals.
- Find deals using paid websites like The Grocery Game or free ones like A Full Cup.
- Keep a price book.
- Use canning techniques to preserve food.
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I completely agree with shopping less often; my fiancee and I are down to once every other week, and we’ve seen a drastic cut in our grocery bill from just a year ago! Ofcourse we also sale shop with coupons and stock up. We used to spend $320 per month on groceries, now it’s just $160!! And the variety is great.
the unspoken item that backs up several on this list is to MENU PLAN. Yes, developing a list of meals and from that your grocery list cuts way down on impulse buying and over-purchasing (how many 1/2-used packages of pasta do you have in the pantry!?). I’ve had success using emealz.com’s menus (a $15/3-month subscription) and have consistently saved $40 to $50 per week.
I think number 9 is a great point. Private label offerings used to be the crappy cheapo brand, but in recent years retailers have really stepped up their game, hiring the best people away from national brands to really compete.
I was consulting for a consumer goods company recently and they were doing a study on private label competition for some of their breakfast offerings. For all of the private labels tested, the quality was as good if not better than what this company offered. Now the box may not be as pretty and it may not be a brand you know, but its cheaper and better – so why not?
One thing to watch out for with private labels though is now some of them are getting so good that the price can often be higher, especially in places like Target or Whole Foods where they have tiered offerings for their private labels. It is not uncommon to see Archer Farms or 360 Organic cereals selling for more than the Kashi, Kellogg, or General Mills equivalent.
So be careful – just because it’s private label doesn’t necessarily mean it is cheaper. But, for the most part, it does mean it’s just as good if not better.
@Amanda – I started once-a-month shopping about the same time I got really into coupons, etc. But I definitely think the frequency matters. If you just don’t go to the store, you make something work with what you have. If you let yourself go, the same items stay in the back of your pantry/fridge for weeks or months!
@Michelle – Yes, menu planning is great. I usually just jot down my plans on a piece of paper or in Excel.
@Bryan – excellent point. An underlying point in ALL these tips is that you have to make sure they are true at your grocery store for the things you buy. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks for posting!
These are some totally awesome strategies. I definitely employ the “buy in bulk” strategy, but my biggest issue is I sometimes go overboard, particularly with fresh fruit and vegetables. I often find myself each week emptying out a lot of the groceries I’ve bought – uneaten, completely gone to waste!
I’ve been thinking of possibly buying my groceries for only 2-3 days in advance – what do you think about this?
Also, I’m not sure if there’s a similar credit card where you live, but here in Australia the largest supermarket chain Woolworths actually has a credit card they issue – the Woolworths Everyday Money credit card, and it offers 5% cashback on groceries and liquor.
Thanks again for posting these tips!