How to Save Money on Groceries: 15 Tricks to Try
In 2018, Americans spent $372 per month on average for groceries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And for many of us, social distancing in light of COVID-19 has sent our grocery bills even higher as we stay inside, cook at home more, and — let’s be honest — stress buy.
Whether you’re shopping once a week in person, or having your groceries delivered, there are several ways you can save money on groceries, even during a pandemic. Here are our favorite tricks:
1. How to Save Money on Groceries: Start with a Budget
It is all too easy to justify spending more on food. After all, it sustains you. But putting your blinders on when you head to the grocery store can quickly spill over into your other spending, putting your whole budget out of whack. Start by adding food costs to your monthly budget, dividing by the number of times per month you shop, and giving yourself a limit per trip.
2. Create a Meal Plan
Plan your meals before you shop. Grocery stores have kept weekly circulars going through the pandemic. This is your starting point. You’ll buy much of your food for the week at a discount if you build your meals from what’s on sale.
3. Be Flexible
Due to higher demand and supply chain disruption, some sale products sell out quickly. Having a back-up plan can save you from having to buy a more expensive item on the fly. For example, most grocery stores run several cuts of beef on sale at the same time. If you’re looking for chuck roast, but round steak is also on sale, put both on your list so you can swap out quickly if stock is low.
4. Do the Math
One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to compare the cost per ounce. Typically, grocery stores list price per unit or price per ounce on the sales tag. Always compare the cost breakdown between two brands to make sure you’re really getting the best deal.
5. Compare Package Size
Packaging can be tricky when it comes to grocery items. Often, there's less actual product in a large package than you might think. You might find that buying several smaller packages of a particular product will actually cost you less than buying one larger one.
6. Think Outside the Grocery Store
Remember, competitors for your grocery dollars are everywhere. You can score great deals on groceries at major box retailers like Target and Walmart. Many farmer’s markets are also often cheaper on produce, nuts, and grains. Several farmer’s markets now offer bulk buy produce boxes. The boxes come with a range of in-season vegetables at a discounted price.
7. Compare Bulk Store Prices
Warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco offer great deals on some products, but those stores aren’t automatically cheaper just because you’re buying in bulk. Compare per unit costs between your grocery store and your warehouse club to make sure you’re not accidentally busting your food budget. Most warehouse clubs offer pricing online.
8. Use Rebate Apps to Get Cash Back
Apps like Ibotta and Checkout51 partner with stores and brands, offering cash back deals beyond the weekly sales. Most rebates can also be “stacked,” meaning you can claim a rebate on a sale item for a bigger discount.
9. Get the App
Major box stores like Target and many grocery chains have deal apps. By signing up for your local stores, you’ll get access to exclusive discounts, loyalty coupons, and special sales. Often, those discounts can be stacked with manufacturer’s coupons and rebate apps to save even more.
10. Compare Delivery Prices
Contactless grocery delivery can be the safer (and time saving!) choice, but costs can add up. If you want to save money on groceries and stay out of the store, do a little legwork beforehand. Compare the cost of delivery services. Many delivery apps like Shipt offer both one time fees and monthly plans. Depending on how often you order, opting for a monthly plan may be cheaper.
11. Do Your Own Prep
When you buy food prepared ahead of time, you're likely paying for the convenience. To save money, buy fresh food and produce and do the prep work and cooking yourself. It's easy to buy pre-chopped vegetables and throw them in a pan for a quick meal, but you'll save money by doing a little chopping on your own. The same goes for microwave-ready dinners or pre-packaged salads. If you're willing to give up some time to do the legwork in the kitchen, you can save a lot of money on groceries.
12. Rethink scraps
Americans waste nearly 1 pound of food per day on average. Get more mileage out of your food by rethinking what you toss. For example, leftover citrus peel can be zested and frozen for future cocktails. Tomato paste can be frozen in an ice cube tray for quick and easy portions later. Even the peels of most vegetables can be boiled down to make a vegetable stock.
13. Track Your Spending
Keep track of your grocery bills. Budgeting tools like Quicken and Simplifi by Quicken makes this easy for you by automatically adding your transactions. Once you’re tracking your spending, keep an eye on your overall food budget to make sure you’re not overspending. Periodically, look for increases so you know when to cut back. Even in the best of times, it is all too easy to overspend at the store.
14. Monitor Price Increases
Overtime, the cost of groceries rise with inflation, in light of seasonal changes, and even shortages and demand. Some disruptive events, like COVID-19, can also cause a sudden spike. In April 2020, overall grocery prices jumped 2.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Periodically check in on your tracked grocery expenses to stay on top of increases. If you’re spending more than you budgeted for, your expense tracker can help you easily spot increases overtime so you can make adjustments to your shopping style to stay under budget.
15. Don’t Forget the Takeout
Use your budgeting tool to keep track of all your drive through stops, weekday takeout grabs for lunch, and dinning out. Even cheap value meals can quickly add up in a month, blowing your entire food budget. If you find yourself overspending consistently, you may want to consider adding ‘dining out’ as a new budget category so you can keep costs separate and under control.