You have to eat to live and you have to pay to eat. It’s a vicious, hungry cycle. While spending on groceries can run up a big charge, there are tons of ways to save along the way. Although shows about extreme couponing make it seem like a full-time job, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re wondering how to save money on groceries without losing too much of your free time, check out these helpful tips.
Tip 1: Create a monthly budget
Your first step is mapping out exactly how much you want to spend on groceries each month. Don’t forget to factor in things like cleaning supplies and toiletries—groceries aren’t limited to food. Debt.com offers a range of financial planning resources, so you can make a budget that works for you. Try the 50/30/20 budget, which will help you split up your income efficiently to cover your needs, wants, and savings.
Although there are tons of budgeting tools out there, find the one that minimizes the hassle of managing your money, so it’s easier to stick with planning and saving. We recommend Tiller, a budget spreadsheet system, that can make it easier to plan out your spending.
When actually putting together your budget, be sure to add some room for indulgences—like a few pints of ice cream. If you plan to be as bare-bones as possible, you could get frustrated and give up more easily. Rewarding yourself is always a responsible part of budgeting!
At the end of the first few months, look back on how much you ended up spending to see if your budget is reasonable—or if there are any extra costs you can cut and save on.
Tip 2: Compare prices and check out grocery store ads
Although shopping at your favorite grocery store is convenient, it might not be the most affordable. Trader Joes and Whole Foods are two examples of stores that carry amazing and organic products, but it tends to come at a higher cost. Browse around at a few stores to ensure you’re getting the best prices. Also, different stores have sales at varying times, so be sure to check out their weekly ads. BeFrugal is a great website that has tons of popular stores’ online weekly ads. Look for stores near you and find out what they have on sale!
Don’t forget about gas prices, though. If a store 15 miles away has slightly lower prices, the cost to get there may not be worth it.
Tip 3: Find coupons for the products you want
While you could always cut coupons out of newspapers and store paper ads, it might take a lot of time. Online coupons make it especially easy to get the products you need at a lower price.
Look for coupons both before and after you make your list, as it might help you be more efficient about when you buy things you need. For example, you may not be out of your favorite laundry detergent yet, but a $3-off coupon that expires next week means you should buy it now for the best deal.
Tip 4: Make a list and stick to it
Creating an itemized list is one of the most important steps in budgeting. Grocery stores are designed to be tempting, which means it can be difficult to resist picking out unnecessary sweets and expensive pre-packaged meals. Having a list can help you stay focused on getting only what you need.
Only write down the foods you know you and your family will use, otherwise you could waste a quarter of your money on food that never gets eaten. At the end of the day, budgeting might not be the best time for experimenting.
Once your list is put together you can compare items and swap them out for less expensive alternatives. For example, a great way to shop and save is to invest in frozen and canned foods. They retain more nutrients, last much longer, and are very versatile ingredients, not to mention they’re usually cheaper.
Tip 5: Consider meal planning and meal prepping
If you’re having trouble keeping your grocery list to a minimum, try meal prepping. Planning out your meals and preparing them all at once can save you time and money. Making a weekly menu schedule for all your meals means you will know exactly what to buy at the store and ensures you don’t waste any purchases.
Meal planning also enables you to be prepared when you’re in a rush. If you wake up late for work, there’s no need to worry about breakfast because you already have some overnight oats stashed in the fridge. If you need a quick dinner before a night out, all you need is to reheat your already prepped chicken breast. Getting started will take some adjusting because of the time it takes to plan, but if you get used to it, it’s worth it.
Try the Budget Mom’s meal planning freezer challenge that can help you jump right into this money-saving hack.
Tip 6: Sign up for cashback and loyalty programs
Many grocery stores offer rewards to shoppers who frequent their stores. This is known as a loyalty program, which can help you get exclusive deals or money back on certain items. Look to see if your favorite supermarkets have a program like this, you can often find a way to sign up through their app, website, or asking in-store.
Cashback from credit cards and free apps can help you save even after you spend. Try installing and signing up for Rakuten, which will automatically find you deals and give you cashback when you shop online. All you have to do is buy what you need and when you earn enough money back, you’ll receive a check or PayPal direct deposit. Rebate apps like iBotta can help you redeem money-back offers on items you purchase in various stores.
In order to maximize your grocery purchases, you could also consider getting the best credit card for grocery and gas purposes—only if you’re financially ready for the responsibility. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is one of the best credit cards for groceries in the U.S. offering 6% cashback at supermarkets—for up to $6,000 per year in purchases—and 3% back at gas stations.
Tip 7: Try shopping in bulk
If you have a big family, buying your groceries in bulk could save you more money than you think. Although Costco or Sam’s Club might charge you for a membership, the savings usually outweigh the annual cost. Purchase a member card to a warehouse store and start stocking up on non-perishables and other staples that can last in your pantry for a long time. It might also be cheaper to purchase things like dish soap or laundry detergent in bulk, depending on the prices at the store you’re a member of.
Some bulk stores also have gas stations, so you can save money on transportation costs, too.
Tip 8: Plan your bulk shopping trips around grocery store sale schedules
Supermarket sales run on a specific shipment schedule that is easy to track and follow. Each month, like clockwork, holidays, or special annual events causes demand for certain food products. Certain months at the end of a store’s season will even bring major clearance sales. For example, every time the Super Bowl rolls around, there are great specials on frozen foods and snacks. After Thanksgiving, you can stock up on non-perishables like frozen vegetables, cranberry sauce, and canned pumpkin. Love chocolate? Post-Valentine’s Day sales will be perfect for you.
Tip 9: Check the prices again at the store
Not only should you double-check the cost for the brands you already have on your list, but also keep an eye out for comparable items at lower prices. In addition, there could be in-store sales that you missed when doing research online and in weekly ads. This could be your chance to take advantage of stores that have price-matching programs. Some stores, including Walmart and Target, will match lower prices on qualifying products.
At most supermarkets, there are areas such as non-perishables or produce that list an item’s price per ounce. This price is a better indicator of the value of the product. For example, you may think that a $4 jar of tomato sauce is better for your budget than a $5 jar, but because of differing sizes, the $5 jar may have a better price per ounce.
Tip 10: Ensure that everything checks out correctly
Grocery shopping can be exhausting, but don’t think getting to the checkout line means you can relax. Keep an eye on every price as it’s being rung up. A sale may not register correctly or there may be coupon discrepancies that you were unaware of. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think something is wrong.
Tip 11: Store your groceries properly
Being able to properly store things is as much a part of saving money on groceries as tracking sales. Even if you’re a master at couponing, all that work is worth nothing if your purchases go bad after a few days. Make your food last as long as possible by learning how to store it the correct way. To start, read these Real Simple guides for storing fruits and veggies, storing meats/seafood, and storing dairy products.
Tip 12: Buy your groceries online
Buying groceries online could be beneficial when you’re just starting out on a budget. While shopping, you’re able to see an updated total, which can help you stay within your budget and determine what you want versus what you need. In turn, it can help you easily find cost-effective alternatives to any out-of-budget items. Amazon, Instacart, and Walmart are just a few sites where you can order groceries online, and sometimes even get your items delivered to you for free.