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Blog » Personal Finance » The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Groceries

The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Groceries

Posted on August 18th, 2023
Deficit Generationally

Chances are that, like most people in the past few years, you’ve found yourself staring down a total cost on a grocery store receipt in pure shock. How could you have spent so much money on groceries in one trip? Isn’t this the same food you always buy? How did you wind up paying so much more this time than you did a year ago, or three years ago, for basically the same items?  

While the base cost of food products have finally begun to plateau in recent months, the costs of groceries you buy each week haven’t done the same. So while price hikes have slowed, we’re all still hurting a at the checkout counter. Inflation relief payments from 19 states have helped some individuals but many are still struggling. 

Thankfully, lots of strategies can help you trim your grocery bill without sacrificing the quality and variety of your snacks, meals, and drinks. Below, explore a few practical ideas to save money on food and make your entire grocery-shopping experience easier on your wallet and a little less terrifying at the checkout counter. 

Plan and Prepare

As with most things in life, a little advance planning can go a long way towards improving your grocery shopping expenses. Take a measured approach that focuses on preparation and meal planning in order to keep your costs down. The following four strategies will help. 

1. Make a meal plan

Meal planning helps reduce costs and food waste, and can help simplify home life in the process by reducing decision-making and uncertainty when it comes to food preparation. Strategically choosing your meals for the week ahead, with an eye towards the most efficient use of ingredients to minimize waste, helps you make the most of your food budget. For example, you can extend the life of the chicken parts you buy for chicken salad by using an entire chicken and then using the remaining meat and bones for a chicken soup. 

There are lots of resources available online to help improve your meal planning and save time too. However, the basic process is fairly straightforward. Start by selecting meals for the week ahead, with an eye towards your family’s dietary preferences and needs. Give yourself plenty of time to evaluate your options, choose meals that will make leftovers more efficient, and take advantage of any pending sales.

2. Create a shopping list 

Heading to the grocery store without a list or plan is a recipe for disaster. A well-structured shopping list is an essential tool for saving money on groceries. Before heading to the store, go through your meal plan and jot down all the ingredients you’ll need. Organize your list by sections corresponding to the store layout, making it easier and more efficient to navigate the aisles. Stick to your list while shopping to avoid spontaneous purchases that can quickly add up.

3. Create a shopping plan

When you know where the items you need are kept, you can physically map out your path through the store for maximum efficiency. The shorter your trip, the closer to your list and plan you’ll stick, and the more you’ll resist impulse purchases, all of which can drive up that final total on the receipt. 

In most grocery stores, the items are laid out according to zones, including produce and dairy, which tend to be placed on opposite sides, with the meat and seafood counter typically in the rear of the store, and canned, processed, and frozen foods placed in the middle of the store. Sticking predominantly to the outer sections will help you choose whole foods with little processing and can even help control your grocery costs. Changing your shopping mindset to accommodate healthy physical and personal finance principles will help you save money and stay healthier, too.  

4. Consider delivery options

Using delivery services can be a mixed bag when it comes to controlling your grocery expenses. Most delivery services and many participating stores offer higher prices than you’d find if you went to the store yourself, in addition to delivery charges and tips. On the other hand, you’ll almost completely eliminate the risk of impulse purchases while still retaining full control over the final  choices. 

You’ll also save yourself the time and energy of a long, weekly grocery store shopping session. You could then dedicate that time to constructive rest to improve your health, or to freelance or side work and possibly even wind up making money for that hour or two!

Smart Shopping Strategies

Being strategic about grocery shopping might seem like overkill, but with rising prices and the memory of supply chain disruptions still fresh in mind, it’s probably a good time to get a little more serious about how we shop for food. 

Compare prices and shop sales

Store and brand loyalty are admirable qualities, but if you want to trim your grocery costs, it’s time to put your own interests first. Take some time to look at the published prices for specific items on your list, both from different brands and from different stores. You can check this information through local paper shopping supplements or through the supermarket’s own website. You’ll also be able to track sales and promotions as they occur, and work the sale items into your meal plans and grocery list. 

Buy in bulk

If you have the space available, consider buying non-perishable food items in bulk while they’re on sale to further maximize your savings. Warehouse clubs and stores offer discounted prices on a wide range of products. Of course, some perishable items may go to waste if bought in bulk. Bulk buying isn’t for everyone, but if you know what can be safely stored for longer periods (in a cabinet or in the freezer), you can take advantage of these deals to keep your costs down. 

Use coupons and look for available discounts

Coupons and discounts can be efficient tools for slashing your grocery bill. Look for coupons in newspapers, magazines, online coupon websites, and store apps. Additionally, check out your favorite stores’ loyalty programs, which often provide exclusive discounts and rewards for customers. Many delivery services will allow you to connect your loyalty card to your account, so that you can take advantage of loyalty-card savings even when someone else is shopping for you. 

Finally, consider using cashback apps and web browser extensions such as Rakuten that provide cashback or rewards for your grocery purchases. By combining coupons, discounts, and cashback offers from multiple sources, you can save more money at the register.

Consider generic alternatives 

In many cases, generic versions exist for your favorite food products, and they might be just as tasty while costing considerably less. Because store brands and generic foods don’t spend a lot on packaging, branding and marketing, they’re usually priced quite a bit lower than the premium versions. In many cases, these options are just as good as the more famous brand item but come at a lower cost.

Shop Wisely

In addition to approaching each grocery shopping trip with an eye towards practical logistics, you’ll also want to adopt a money-saving mindset either at the grocery store yourself or when you submit an order for delivery. 

Avoid impulse buying 

Impulse purchases are one of the most common drivers of higher-than-expected grocery bills. Grocery stores spend a lot of money researching ways to make you spend more, strategically placing particularly enticing products near the checkout counters or in prominent display areas to tempt you to grab them before you check out (or to tempt your kids to beg you for “a treat”). 

The best way to meet the challenge of impulse purchases is to come armed with a list and resolve not to deviate from it. Another great way to reduce impulse purchasing is to make sure you don’t ever do your shopping when you’re hungry. It’ll make everything in the store look that much more appealing. Staying frugal and resisting consumerism at the checkout counter will help you keep more of your money each week. 

Stick to your shopping list

Don’t deviate from that carefully selected list. Resist being swayed by advertisements or displays. Since you’ve already planned your meals and chosen the ingredients accordingly, stick to the list. Stay disciplined, unless it’s a genuinely necessary item that you simply forgot to add to the list ahead of time.

Be mindful of portion sizes and expiration dates

Buying too much food leads to waste, and that’s no different than willingly setting your hard-earned money on fire. Be mindful of portion sizes and expiration dates to save money. Take the time to measure and portion out your ingredients according to your needs, ensuring that you’re not buying more than you really need. Additionally, regularly check expiration dates on perishable foods so that it won’t go bad before you can eat it. 

Money-Saving Tips Beyond the Store

Some strategies that you can employ outside of the grocery store can likewise help you maintain your budget and reduce grocery costs. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you save money on groceries beyond the store.

  • Home gardening: Cultivating your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be a great way to save money. With a small backyard or even just a few plant containers on a balcony, you can grow a variety of fresh produce. Some beginner-friendly options include tomatoes, salad greens and lettuces, and green beans. 
  • Growing your own herbs: Fresh herbs can add a burst of flavor to your dishes, but they can be quite pricey when purchased from the store. Growing your own herbs helps save money and gives you access to a ready supply of the herbs you want. 
  • Meal prepping: Cooking and preparing a week’s worth of meals in advance not only saves you time but also money. Avoid the higher costs of last-minute takeout or ordering delivery. By planning and cooking meals in bulk, you can take advantage of buying ingredients in larger quantities, which often helps you save at the register. 
  • Cooking and freezing in batches: Similar to meal prepping, this money-saving technique where you cook and freeze meals in batches that you can defrost later will help you save both time on busy future nights and money on the ingredients. Some freezer-friendly recipes to consider include chili, vegetable curry, lasagna, stuffed peppers, and homemade chicken or vegetable broth. 

Keep Your Grocery Budget Trimmed

By adopting a plan, sticking to your list, using coupons, and choosing the other strategies discussed here you can help keep a lid on runaway grocery costs. While we can’t do much individually about supply chain disruptions and inflation, it’s definitely possible to trim expenses here and there. Every little bit adds up, and making smarter choices can help you protect your financial resources. 

John Boitnott

John Boitnott

John Boitnott graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Masters Degree in Education. He worked for 14 years as a broadcast news writer for ABC, NBC, and CBS News where he covered finance, business and real estate. He covered financial news for SAP for four years. Boitnott is now working as a columnist for The Motley Fool where he covers personal financial and investing strategies.

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