How to Save Money on Groceries and Shop on a Budget
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Being frugal and spending your money wisely is a valuable life skill, and this includes saving money on groceries, shopping on a fixed budget, and not spending more money on food than necessary. Here are forty ways to do just that:
1. Sign up for a grocery store loyalty program
Almost every grocery store has a loyalty program that rewards you for shopping there. Since the grocery store business is competitive with multiple brands vying for your business, the loyalty programs of each one can be very rewarding. By signing-up for the loyalty programs at the grocery stores you regularly shop at, you will be offered exclusive deals and discounts. Be sure to take advantage of this since signing up is quick and easy to do.
2. Down the free grocery store app
Almost every grocery store has a free app that customers can download. These apps frequently offer exclusive deals not available anywhere else.
3. Scan the grocery store weekly specials online
We recommend scanning the weekly specials online for your local grocery store before going shopping. Grocery store chains regularly post loss-leaders (products that do not make a profit) in order to lure you into their store in the hope that you will also spend money on other more profitable items (of course, you are not obliged to purchase them!). The weekly sales can offer substantial discounts and savings, so it would be wise to learn what is on sale before heading out to shop. Many grocery stores also offer previews of next week’s sales so that you can make better purchasing decisions and avoid spending more than necessary.
4. Clip coupons
Clipping and using coupons is still one of the best ways to save money on your groceries. It is so convenient to be able to clip coupons online these days. You can easily save the coupons on your phone to use at checkout. We also recommend purchasing the Sunday newspaper because grocery stores often advertise great deals in print.
5. Use a rebate app
Many people do not take advantage of rebate apps that offer specific product rebates. These rebates are independent of existing grocery store deals so you can save even more. That frozen bag of blueberries or jar of peanut butter that you bought on sale may also have a cash rebate offered by the manufacturer. If you are diligent about checking rebate apps for product rebates, you may be surprised how cheap some products eventually cost.
6. Consider buying generic or grocery store brands
Have you considered buying generic rather than branded products? While you may have a favorite brand of peanut butter or tomato sauce that you enjoy, we suggest trying generic or grocery store brands because they can be equally good. Manufacturers spend a lot of money on advertising and then pass on the cost to you, the consumer. Buying a generic, grocery store, or unknown brand bypasses this added cost, so give them a chance. They can be substantially cheaper.
7. Make a list and stick to it
One of the most effective ways to save money on your grocery shopping is to make a list before shopping and then sticking to it. Be resolute about not purchasing any items that are not on your shopping list. We recommend making your shopping list at home after checking and taking stock of what is already in your fridge or pantry. It feels great to leave the grocery store knowing that you only purchased the items you came to buy.
8. Only buy items that are on sale
This tactic takes discipline and practice but it can save you a ton of cash, especially in the long run. After scanning the list of items on sale, decide which items you really need and only buy those items. Resist the temptation to buy that candy bar that is not on sale. Grocery stores count on shoppers giving in to temptation and buying higher-profit items. But you are smarter than that!
9. Avoid pre-cut or pre-packaged food items
Do you purchase celery sticks, carrots, or fruit that has already been cut-up and pre-packaged? We know that it is more convenient, but remember that you are paying more (often MUCH more!) for that convenience. If you want to save money, buy whole celery, carrots and fruit. It only takes a minute or two to cut them up at home, and they stay fresher longer, too.
10. Join a wholesale club
We did a search for wholesale grocery stores in our area and we found quite a few located close by. These include Costco, but also other lesser-known stores. These outlets often do not have the frills of regular grocery store chains (for example, no Starbucks) but the products they offer can be much cheaper. Sometimes, these stores package products in bulk, but not always. So do a search in your local area and find one or two wholesale grocery store alternatives.
11. Compare different grocery store prices
This may seem intuitive, but many people do not take the time to compare prices of products at different grocery stores located near them. Those avocados that cost $1.50 each at Krogers may be on sale for 60 cents at Safeway (an actual example in our area). You do not have to visit both stores on the same day, but comparing prices regularly and shopping accordingly can save you big bucks.
12. Bring your own grocery bags
We like to bring our own reusable grocery bags with us when we shop. Not only do many stores offer small cash rebates if you bring your own bags, we also use our bags to gauge the quantity of food we purchase.
13. Learn to cook your favorite dishes
One of the best skills you can learn is to cook your favorite dishes at home. This will allow you to spend less money eating out or ordering take-out (this adds up fast). Plus, we think that home-cooked food always tastes better if cooked right!
14. Change the way you look at meals
Eating good food is one of the pleasures in life, but we do not have to be bound by traditional eating habits. For example, a meal does not have to consist of a large serving of protein, two side dishes, and a carbohydrate. We have so many more food options at our disposal these days. A lunch could consist of a healthy quinoa bowl, a delicious sandwich on whole grain bread, or a quick Chinese stir-fry dish served over rice. Experiment with new ingredients and find the ones you like (you do not have to like everything). This will open up more options when you shop.
15. Keep a running tab as your shop
Another way to keep your grocery spending in check is to keep a running tab while you are shopping. Mindlessly adding products to your grocery cart will present you with a larger bill at check out. Use the calculator on your phone to add food costs as you shop to avoid this problem and to spend less. It works!
16. Round up your grocery shopping expenditure
When you add an item to your grocery cart, round up the cost to the nearest dollar. For example, when you add an item costing $2.65 to your cart, round it up to $3 instead. That way, you will not exceed your budget and will be pleasantly surprised when you find that your total grocery bill is less than you anticipated.
17. Shop for food items that are in season
Not only does food taste better when it is in season, it also is cheaper. If you insist on buying berries or peaches in winter, know that they probably are imported from a foreign country (or somewhere far away), so you will be paying for the shipping costs. And they just wont taste as good.
18. Practice batch cooking
Batch cooking is an effective way to save money on groceries. Why? Because you make large quantities of each ingredient, allowing you to purchase in bulk at cheaper prices. It helps prevent wastage (we’ve all been there) and throwing away ingredients that have spoiled. It also offers convenience and saves time because you have pre-cooked your meals for the week. Now you can buy your beans in bulk and cook up a large pot, along with some rice, or potatoes and perhaps a few other dishes that you like, making meal-planning simple. Lastly, you will be less tempted to eat out because your meals have already been made.
19. Freeze your meals
Many people under-utilize their freezers. Cooking your food in large batches and freezing your favorite dishes is a great way to save money and simplify your life. You can make anything from enchiladas to burgers to stews and casseroles and freeze them in smaller portions for lunch and/or dinner. You will save money on your ingredients and you won’t need to order take-out when you are hungry and want a quick meal.
20. Check your pantry before you shop
Have you ever gone to the grocery store, bought a food item, only to return home to find out that you already had some at home? We have! And it is not a pleasant discovery, especially if you are trying to save money. Always check your fridge and pantry at home to ascertain what you already have. This simple habit can save you lots of money over the course of a year.
21. Buy in bulk discriminately
We have already discussed batch cooking and freezing food, and that allows us to purchase many ingredients in bulk at cheaper prices. However, it is not always worth buying items in bulk. For example, just because thirty-six eggs are cheaper than twelve, it does not mean that it makes sense to buy the larger option, especially if you do not eat eggs that much, have a small family, and you know eggs are perishable. So purchase bulk food items only after careful consideration. Wasting food is akin to wasting money.
22. Shop on a Wednesday or Thursday
Research shows that most grocery stores start their new sales on Wednesday. That means that last week’s items need to be sold and often are discounted. Also, most grocery stores publish their store specials on Wednesday so you will have lots of options for sale items.
23. Beware of items displayed at eye-level
It is important to note that grocery stores are expert marketers and one of the tactics they commonly use is to place high-profit and impulse items at eye-level in the grocery store. Very often, you will find less-profitable competitor products on the bottom shelf, so look down!
24. Shop the outer aisles
As you may know, the center aisles in grocery stores are stocked with countless food options that are processed, profitable (for the grocery store) and, very often, unnecessary. Try to shop in the outer aisles because that is where they stock fresh items like vegetables and fruit. Simply avoiding the center aisles as much as possible will save you money in the long run.
25. Never shop when you are hungry
This may seem obvious, but it is a bad idea to shop when you are hungry. We are psychological beings and it is only normal to be tempted to spend much more in a grocery store when you are hungry and almost everything looks inviting. Do not go to the store hungry!
26. Only grocery shop after eating a meal
In line with the point above, make a decision to only shop after eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You will spend less. It is that simple.
27. Eat leftovers and be creative with it
Some people love eating leftovers the next day while others do not. If you want to save money, eating leftovers is a great idea, especially if you get creative. Have some rice left? Make a fried-rice dish. Left-over roasted potatoes, mash them up and add some other ingredients to it to create a new dish. Have left-over black beans? Use those tortillas in the fridge to make a bean burrito. Best of all, many left-over dishes actually taste better the next day.
28. Keep a list of all food items in your fridge and freezer
This little trick really works if you make it a habit! Before putting all your groceries away, create a list of items you purchased. You can do this on your phone or simply write it down. Write down dates of expiration or shelf-life whenever possible. We recommend creating two lists: one for the fridge and the other for the freezer. Having these two lists allows you to easily check on the ingredients and foods you have on-hand without constantly rummaging through your refrigerator. Having the expiration dates handy also helps you to meal-plan more efficiently and avoid food wastage.
29. Shop alone or without your kids present
Another tip we have is to, whenever possible (sometimes it is just unavoidable), avoid grocery shopping with your kids. By doing so, you avoid distraction and are able to focus on shopping wisely. You also will avoid the pressure from your children wanting to add items to the grocery cart.
30. Learn to preserve food
Food preservation techniques like pickling, canning, and jam-making are fun and effective ways to lower your grocery bills. You could buy tomatoes in bulk and can tomato sauces, for example. Bell peppers can be pickled for consumption in the winter. You can make blueberry jam in the summer and fall to enjoy later.
31. Eat more beans, veggies and fruit
Simply by substituting more beans, vegetables and fruit to your diet, you will save money. Why? Because these foods are generally cheaper than meat and dairy, and they have the added benefit of being healthier for you (bonus!).
32. Grow your own herbs
Fresh herbs are wonderful additions to dishes, but they can be expensive. Consider growing a small array of your favorite herbs near a window or in your kitchen. Herbs such as parsley, green onions, oregano, rosemary, etc, are relatively easy to grow at home, especially if you invest in an inexpensive growing lamp.
33. Limit your grocery store visits
All of us have experience with going to the grocery store to pick up a small item only to emerge with five other items that caught our eye but do not need. Try to plan ahead and limit the number of times you visit the grocery store.
34. Finish the food in your fridge before shopping
One method we use to save money on groceries is to use up the existing food in the fridge in creative ways before going shopping. For example, a small head of cabbage, a couple of carrots, a bag of peas, a small amount of pasta, and some left-over broth can be cooked and made into a delicious soup. If you get creative, you can have fun coming up with new dishes using the food you already have.
35. Use a credit card that offers cash back
Many credit cards offer cash rebates on grocery items. It only makes sense to use these types of credit cards when shopping because this helps you to save additional money, even on items that are already on sale.
36. Learn and check prices per unit
As we discussed earlier, grocery stores are expert marketers and want to get you to spend as much as possible. One way they do this is to offer seemingly good deals that are actually not that great. The way to circumvent this is to pay attention to unit prices. For example, calculate how much those berries or nuts cost per ounce so that you can compare it with other options and brands. Figure out how much an item costs per ounce so that you can compare all your options, including other grocery stores.
37. Always check your receipts
While not intentional, it is common to be overcharged for items at the grocery store. With thousands of items in the store, it is inevitable that some prices will not be recorded correctly by the check-out scanner, especially sale items. Always check your receipt.
38. Dried beans versus canned
Beans and legumes are probably one of the cheapest nutritious foods you can purchase. A can of beans often can be purchased for US$2.50, which is pretty cheap. However, if you are determined to save even more money, buy dried beans instead and soak them overnight before cooking. A whole pound of black beans in my grocery store costs around $1.25.
39. Use rainchecks
Many grocery stores will give you a raincheck if they run out of a sale item. That means that you can come back at a later date and they will still honor the sale price. They do this because they want your regular business.
40. Learn how to store food properly to avoid waste
Did you know that green onions keep well when placed standing up in a glass of water on your kitchen counter? Cilantro does well the same way but lasts longer if that glass is kept in the fridge. Spinach does well in the fridge when stored with a dry paper napkin to absorb moisture. Doing a bit of research on how to preserve the life of different types of foods is definitely worth the effort.