How to Save Money Grocery Shopping
Food spending is one of the highest household costs outside of mortgage payments. In the United States, a family of four spends close to $1,000 a month for groceries.
So how do we spend less and stretch budgets more? Try some creative ideas for grocery store prep, shopping and what to do after you’re done buying.
These tips can get anyone on track to cut spending and start saving at the grocery store in no time.
1. Abide by Your Budget
Creating a line item budget for any home is helpful, but when you are attempting to save cash in certain areas, this is a crucial step to savings.
Studies indicate that Americans overspend by an average of $7,000 per year when they don’t budget. Sit down and map out your income and your expenses and adjust accordingly.
Then, when you hit the grocery aisles, you will have a goal for which to aim.
2. Pay Cash
Once your family has their budget made, consider using cash. There is a mind trick that happens when we choose to use credit. It doesn’t feel like we are spending as much money.
However, when you have to physically feel the cash leaving your hand to pay for your food, most will spend less. Reports show that consumers who paid cash actually reduced their revolving credit by 2 percent in only six months.
So get out the green before you go to the grocery store.
3. Stick to Your List
Making a list of what your family needs from the store will likely result in less spending on impulse buys while you shop.
Create your list around the meals you plan to prepare during the week and what ingredients you will need. Nearly 70 percent of women shoppers report making a list before they go to the store in order to save on spending.
Make your list, and stick to it.
4. Shop Locally
Whenever possible, shop at stores that are locally owned and operated. Skipping the big chains and franchises can allow you to connect with real people in your community who are more likely to tip you off to big sales and savings as they come up.
Additionally, shopping at local farmers markets can provide big savings during specific times of the year. With nearly 9,000 farmers markets across the U.S., there are plenty of choices.
So get out your reusable bag, and shop locally.
5. Shop the Seasons
Nutritionists recommend "eating the rainbow," meaning choosing a variety of fruits and veggies in varying colors to get the most nutrients.
Likewise, shopping with the seasons will allow you the most savings on fresh produce whether they are found at the farmer’s market or your regular grocer’s aisle.
Using tools like this seasonal food guide can help you shop the finest and freshest while saving the most cash.
6. Look Low on the Shelves
Eye-level does not necessarily mean buy-level. Reports prove that the layout of your grocery chains are specifically designed to market more expensive products and impulse buys to their shoppers.
Products that are displayed at eye-level tend to be pricier versions of similar products that are found on lower shelves.
Crouch down, and you can save cash.
7. Have Meatless Mondays
Buying meat to feed your family can be pricey. Consider cutting out meat on one day a week to lower your overall food budget.
Studies show that reducing our meat consumption could save on our grocery budget and global spending as a whole.
Pump the brakes on beef to save a buck.
8. Shop Fresh Later in the Day
Looking for deep discounts from the deli and on other fresh items for the family? Try shopping late.
Most special locations such as bakeries or farmers markets are more likely to make a deal and even give items away free when it is the end of the day and merchants don’t want to have to take their items home.
So wait to load up and look to buy from smaller local spots to save the most on day-old bagels or bread for the whole family at deeply discounted prices.
9. Understand Your Discounts
Veteran couponers will tell you that there is a method to the marketing madness. Certain stores have rules about how and what they will discount. Know the rules, and you can stretch your budget.
You may be able to implement special savings such as double coupon days, using more than one coupon, or even pairing a store coupon or sale with another from the brand itself.
This yields the greatest savings, so break out the coupon binders and get serious on savings.
10. Utilize Store Rewards
Many grocers are struggling to compete with big-box stores selling items in bulk.
To keep themselves in the running, they are offering special store rewards that may look like savings at the gas pump or specialized savings sent straight to your door, such as free grocery pickup or even home delivery.
Sixty-two percent of Americans report belonging to a grocery store loyalty or rewards program. Put that reward card on your key ring and start saving.
11. Use Coupons
While reality TV displays the most extreme couponers as a little crazy, the average consumer uses coupons on a smaller scale with nearly 60 percent of women and over 40 percent of male shoppers saying they clip coupons regularly to cut spending on their grocery budgets.
No need to dumpster dive for deep discounts. Just clip the savings from your weekly newspaper to save big and not look like a giant weirdo.
12. Email and Ask
As families eat more whole foods — or foods that aren't processed — grocery costs can rise dramatically. Many companies will respond if you simply reach out and ask.
Write a short email or handwritten letter explaining to a company how much you enjoy their products but how you are struggling to afford their greatness.
Most will respond with more than kindness. They'll provide coupons, discounts, or even free items simply for using and loving their brand.
13. Request a Raincheck
When shopping for sale items to save money on your grocery bills, it is not uncommon to find the sale shelves empty or lacking.
When this happens, don’t settle for leaving without your favorite discounted cereal or paying twice as much for a different kind. Ask for a raincheck at the customer service line or even your cashier.
This is still a common practice at most grocery chains, and it will allow them to restock and extend the sale price an average of 30 to 60 days.
14. Price Match
Nothing can be more frustrating than finding a better deal at another retailer that could’ve saved you cold, hard cash.
Some major chains offer price match guarantees and will honor the lowest price possible if you find it for less somewhere else.
So make sure you pay attention to sale ads or online shopping discounts to take advantage of the steepest sales.
15. Shop Different Stores
It may feel inconvenient, but shopping at different stores can equate to major savings.
Since not all stores offer to match sale prices from competitors, it can mean big savings to shop first at a discount grocer such as Save-a-Lot or Aldi before hitting up your main grocer where some items may be priced significantly higher.
Over 40 percent of shoppers go to more than one location to buy what they need. Dust off your walking shoes, brother and sister, because savings are in the long game.
16. Shop Specifically for Certain Items in Specific Stores
When we go to the grocery store and end up adding paper and beauty products to our cart, we end up paying more for the convenience of not having to stop somewhere else for what we need.
To save the most cash, plan to swing through your local drug store or pharmacy for cleaning supplies, paper products, and health and beauty items.
Pick up your prescriptions for the month while you’re there, and chalk it up to saving on gas, too!
17. Organize From Outside Aisles, In
With marketing in mind, grocers put the most affordable items in the interior aisles of the store to force shoppers to walk through everything else to get what they need from the center.
With produce, meat, bread, and dairy typically occupying the exterior of the store, shop those first to ensure you get the necessities while remaining on budget before heading to the inside aisles.
18. Buy in Bulk
Whether it is dry beans, rice, or trail mix, major savings come in those bulk bins at any major grocer or whole foods shop.
By bagging up bulk items you aren’t paying for packaging so the store can charge you less, which gives you more product and saves you the most cash.
With nearly 6 percent of a household's annual budget going toward groceries, buying in bulk could save you big time.
19. Go Generic
Following the recession in 2010, up to 93 percent of shoppers changed their spending habits, including what they bought at the pharmacy and grocery.
As an informed shopper, compare the label and read the ingredients. What many will find is that most name brands simply don’t mean that much anymore. You are getting the same amount and quality for what is usually a significantly lower price when you opt for generic or off label items.
Forget the name brand, friends, and keep that cart rolling with toasty O’s and honey circles to save cash.
20. Shop the Sales
The average American grocer cycles through sales every six to eight weeks. This means certain types of products tend to go on sale at certain times of the year.
The sales may coincide with holidays or seasons, such as baking items being more deeply discounted before Thanksgiving and Christmas, or it might be store patterns you’ll need to learn to stock up on savings.
Pick your favorite store and get to know their sales cycles until you are synchronized, and your budget will thank you.
21. Shop Solo
The regular grocery shopper in any home is more likely to overspend when they are shopping with their spouse or children.
It is then when they find themselves distracted from their list and planned sales, more likely to forget to use coupons, and less likely to resist an impulse buy.
Leave the shopping companions at home, and opt for shopping solo to save cash.
22. Compare Unit Costs
You don’t need to carry a calculator while you shop to know which items are the best deals because most stores do the work for you.
Check the aisle’s price tag and look beyond the large number of what each item costs. Instead, look at the item’s unit price in the upper corner.
That will tell you the breakdown of how much the item costs per ounce or pound or serving to ensure you are getting the best deal.
23. Buy From Farmers Whenever Possible
Over 25 percent of shoppers have an intentional desire to shop locally. So buying direct from the farmer or — the natural next step in the chain — a farmers market, co-op, or local butcher shop, can save you money.
Instead of paying for what has taken time and money to process, clean, pack, and ship from the freezer aisle, opt for shopping as directly as possible to save the most change.
24. Inventory What You Have at Home
On average, eating outside the home costs three to four times the price of prepping your meals at home.
However, that is what most of us tend to do when we’ve gone shopping and forgotten items or become frustrated when we realize we’ve bought items we already had because we failed to check our pantry first. This is when we are likely to weaken and order out.
Instead, vow to check your pantry and fridge before leaving to shop to ensure your list is up-to-date with only the items you need.
25. Grow Your Groceries
With fresh produce costs skyrocketing over the last decade, many are opting to grow their own at home.
On average, $100-plus is saved per season on just basic fruits and veggies per household, even after the cost of soil and seed. This number can be much larger if a family tends to consume more fresh produce.
So it may be time to trade in the grocery basket for the trowel and get our hands in the dirt to save because money doesn’t grow on trees, after all.
26. Apply Your Apps
Many well-known grocers and department stores have their own apps that allow for both online savings as well as digital coupons, which can usually be applied to store sales and paper savings.
In addition to your store’s individual savings app, check out these apps that help to earn you cash back or rebates on your grocery spending.
You might not need a calculator to save at the grocery, but don’t leave that phone at home.
27. Plan Ahead
If you are looking to get the most bang for your buck in the grocery aisles, planning ahead of time will save you the most cash.
Make a list after surveying what you still have lining the shelves of your pantry and fridge, and then only buy what ingredients are needed to make the meals you have planned for the upcoming week (or two).
If you have extra chicken and rice but are tired of the same old dishes, check out easy recipes like these to make use of what you already and purchase as few extra items as possible, saving you some dough.
28. Fill Up When You’re Already Full
It seems like common sense, but many of us hit the grocery on our way home when we’ve worked a full day and have empty stomachs and feel rushed to get home to make dinner.
A study by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management showed that up to 70 percent more is spent/consumed when grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
So grab a handful of nuts or even hit the drive-through for a $1 fry before shopping for the week to save yourself the most cash.
29. Cook the Seasons
Not only is in-season fresh produce more affordable during its peak months, but many stores run their sales cycles surrounding certain seasons or holidays.
When the leaves are turning and a chill is in the air, look to buy foods that make great crockpot meals like beans, soups and rice. When winter is on the horizon, look to the baking aisles to stock up and save.
Spring and summer host sales in the condiment aisles, hot dogs, juices, and soda and chips to save on barbeques.
30. Pass on Paying for Water
The average consumer spends nearly $400 on the same amount of water that would cost under $1 from the tap, according to Business Insider.
Paying for the packaging and shipping of similar water in a plastic bottle not only adds to our already overflowing landfills, but also costs consumers over 2,000 times the cost of water from home.
So skip the bottled water at the grocery to save major cash, and get your flow from the tap at home, even by adding an at-home water filtration system.
31. Don’t Pay for Prepackaged Food
When we make a decision to buy anything, part of what we are paying for is packaging and convenience unless it is a food we’ve grown and/or prepped ourselves at home.
Sometimes, the convenience is worth it, like when we are buying 40 boxes of juice for our child’s sports team to save on time and to make things more sanitary.
In the case of something like bagged salad at the grocery, studies show that we pay nearly $3.00 more for a bag of prepackaged salad versus buying the lettuce and chopping it ourselves. This means we triple the cost of our health food to have someone else wash and cut our spring mix.
So save some green by ditching the packaging and washing and chopping your own.
32. Check the Cashier
Cashiers are human, and human error is inevitable. Additionally, sometimes computer systems make mistakes that either cost the consumer or could work to their favor, whether it be with coupons or discounts or missed items during checkout.
Reports indicate that cashier mistakes in the U.S. alone total over $180,000 a year. This should be a reminder to the super-savvy shopper that we should keep an eye on the register when items are being rung up in order to ensure that you are getting the deals you planned for before shopping.
33. Bag It Up
In an effort to reduce waste and focus on a decreased environmental footprint, many grocery and department stores are rewarding their shoppers for bringing in their own reusable bags.
Stores like Target give as much as $0.05 per reusable bag because that translates to savings on their end as well.
So remember to bring those bags into the store with you when you shop, and start racking up the savings.
34. Redefine Meal Expectations
For generations, we’ve come to expect that breakfast, lunch, and dinner each contain certain aspects of a meal — a few sides, typically veggies and starch, surrounding the main meat entree. But taking a step back from the expected may save your grocery budget major bucks.
In fact, studies show that 90 percent of Americans enjoy breakfast for dinner, and 53 percent of those opt for the morning meal in the evening at least 1-2 times per month. This allows for breakfast leftovers the next morning, as well as more affordable meals such as pancakes as the focus instead of a more expensive meat.
So drop the expected, and save cash with a more frequent morning menu.
35. Learn to Love Leftovers
Leftovers could serve as entire meals for consecutive days for more people should they choose to eat what is left after a meal. However, reports indicate that only 18 percent of Americans eat leftovers to save money, while another study shows that because of the decrease in leftover consumption, Americans are throwing out 3.5 pounds of garbage a day with 2.5 pounds of that still edible.
So stop throwing out what could be tomorrow’s lunch and start saving on your overall grocery budget by stretching your food intake.
36. Go Dairy Free
Are you or someone in your household lactose intolerant and feeding their needs sends your grocery bill skyrocketing?
Instead of spending top dollar for processed dairy-imitation items, start checking into recipes like this list of 150 dairy-free and easy-prep meals that focus on whole grains, fresh veggies, and some meat.
They are not only quick and easy, but also more affordable and healthy for the dairy-free eater in your life.
37. Go Dye Free
Trying to remove dyes from your kids’ foods but coming up with frustrated children and a higher grocery bill? Check out these kid-approved, dye-free options for everything from breakfast to dinner and snacks included.
Food dyes are in an untold amount of foods at your grocery store, so be sure to read labels. But shopping smart, knowing what natural ingredients can be used in place of dyes (e.g., turmeric instead of yellow 5) can help your kids get on board with yummy treats that go easier on your wallet.
38. Think Gluten Free
When you or your child is adjusting to a gluten-free diet, two things are certain: They will hate some foods, and it will cost more.
To counteract these cons, start with articles like this that list over 400 affordable and easy gluten-free treats and recipes. You can search for items you already have at home and only substitute ingredients containing gluten.
So don’t toss out all the flour before you’ve done your research and checked into what meals will work for both your budget and your lifestyle.
39. Vegetarian Lifestyle Is Cheaper Than Meat-Eater Budgets
Cutting out meat is a choice millions make for a myriad of reasons, but even if money is your only motivation, it is one that can be proven.
Studies show that eating a plant-based diet is actually cheaper than a typical omnivore’s budget, which tends to be over 20 percent higher because it includes meat.
Start passing on the butcher shop, and get rid of the high price of meat that is gobbling up your grocery bill.
40. Stick to Regular Grocery Stores for Veganism
With most vegans eating a diet heavy in starches and legumes, their primary grocery bill is focused on buying beans and rice or similar items that cost significantly less than the average ingredients to an omnivore’s meal.
Reports indicate that veganism can actually cost less when grocery shopping if people stick to regular grocery stores instead of opting for large chains such as Whole Foods, whose mark-ups are higher.
Skipping the meat and animal products could save you cash on your shopping trips.
41. Benefits of a Keto Diet
A keto diet focuses on protein and lean meats while eliminating or strictly reducing the number of carbs and sugars consumed. So it would seem that keto eating could really rack up a ridiculous grocery bill.
However, there are dozens of keto-aligned meal ideas that are not only affordable but also super easy. You can take a family-favorite recipe such as chicken parm and sub out the pasta for zucchini when it is in season, and it will actually cost you less.
Keto also can increase your muscle mass while reducing your grocery spending (if you are savvy). Which is an added bonus.
42. Whole 30 Plan Might Not Be as Expensive as You Think
A trendy diet since 2017, people eating the Whole 30 plan follow a strict regimen of only eating whole foods for 30 days.
Based on many social media updates, it is easy to think the plan is wildly expensive, but some people report that they fed themselves all meals and snacks for 30 days and followed the plan for around $5.88 per meal. This is more affordable than what most Americans spend on an average fast-food meal.
So trade the McDonalds for avocado toast and still save cash.
43. Diabetics Should Plan Ahead
The unfortunate part of many diabetics is that their medical costs can be very high. This means their grocery budget may need to be shoestring. However, some meals come in around $3 per serving, and they are easy to make.
Instead of opting for processed foods labeled "sugar-free" but which are typically ladened with artificial sweeteners, these meals focus on natural foods rich in protein and nutrients that a diabetic’s body can process naturally.
Plan ahead to incorporate whole foods that are better for your body and your budget.
44. Prep for Picky Eaters
Parents everywhere unite in the song of endless macaroni and nuggets. Most households have at least one that refuses to eat anything else.
Try switching things up for your picky eater with recipes that are quick-and-easy American staples. They also are picky-eater approved and cost less than a happy meal.
Don’t worry, moms and dads, there are ways to trade in nuggets for noodles and still make everyone happy. Including your wallet.
45. Sneak in the Undesirables
Most moms know that being sneaky is the only way to get some members of the household — even husbands — to eat vegetables.
Sneaking healthy items into favorite meals or even desserts is a solid way to fill their bellies with the good stuff without having to deal with the fussing.
Try these black bean brownies that are an all-around crowd pleaser and cost the same as buying a boxed mix with a much healthier outcome.
46. Sauce Up the Veggies
Know anyone who hates vegetables? Have a sensory sensitive little one who won’t eat any kind of chunky sauce or salsa? No worries!
Start to blend your vegetables before adding to a jar of sauce you know they like so the texture is hidden but the nutrients are still there.
This keeps everyone healthy, along with your budget.
47. Mimic the Favorites
Lots of people fear trying new things, especially foods that they call favorites. Instead of always sticking to basics like boxed macaroni, try new tactics.
This homemade mac and cheese recipe makes magic of cauliflower, squash, and carrots into a delectable cheesy goodness that even the pickiest eaters will devour.
It is also incorporating affordable veggies, basic elbow pasta, and shredded and creamy cheeses that are not only affordable but can even be found at discount grocers to save you more cash.
48. Make it a Shake
Many kids refuse certain meals, especially breakfast. In order to get in the needed nutrients and save money while you're at it, opt for healthy smoothies that are kid-approved recipes.
Many can even be frozen and made into ice pops for hot summer days as a trade for the sugar and dye-ladened counterparts.
These can pull double duty for fast, healthy, affordable meal replacements on a minimal budget.
49. Hide Veggies Under Cheese
Few kids like vegetables, but lots love cheese.
To sneak in the lesser-loved veggies on a tight budget, opt for baking pasta dishes like this veggie baked ziti, whose focus is a cheap and basic pasta, jarred tomato sauce, and in-season veggies to save you dough. Throw shredded cheese on top and the veggies are hidden.
It makes a great meal with leftovers to serve later, and it's all easy on your grocery bill.
50. Go Bare Buns
An easy way to save both cash and carbs for your summer barbeque is to simply sub out the buns for lettuce leaves.
Whether the leafy food is grown in your home garden or bought at your local grocer, most sell for around $1 per head in the spring and summer, and they remove all of the carbs in your burger.
Try these summertime bunless burgers that are a crowd pleaser and will save you cash.