Food is one of the things we shop for the most often and spend the most money on. Since the grocery budget is probably one of the largest expenses a family has, being able to save money in this area is crucial. Below are a number of tips for saving money at the grocery store. Some are common sense, and some I picked up from other money-savvy parents.
- Meal plan!
Decide ahead of time what you are going to eat for the week, including all meals and snacks. However, this is more than just making a decision about what recipes to make—it’s also being smart about what you choose. First, shop your own pantry and refrigerator—maybe you have everything you need for lasagna except cheese, or you just need a vegetable to go with a dish you have all of the other the ingredients for. Check the sales ad for the week; if there’s a great sale on chicken breasts or bell peppers, plan your meals around those. Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal, so trying to plan a meatless meal once a week or so is a good way to save money.
- Make a list—and stick to it!
Once you know what you are serving, you will know what you need to buy. Don’t buy things that aren’t on the list! Check your grocery ads for the week to see if there’s a great deal on anything else you use regularly so you can add it to the list. Many people now use an online grocery shopping service, such as Kroger ClickList or Walmart Pickup, because this way the shoppers are not tempted to buy items they don’t need. Many say that even if they have to pay for the service (Kroger charges $5, for instance), it still ends up saving them money for this very reason. Also, only going to the grocery store once a week is a good way to save money, since you don’t have the opportunity to spend if you’re not in the store. If you don’t get something on your weekly shopping trip, you’ll just have to make do without it until the next week!
- Have a budget—and try to beat it!
It’s important to decide how much you are going to spend on groceries for the month or week, however you decide to break it down. You can come up with the number based on your income and number/ages of people you are feeding, or you can look at receipts/bank statements from previous months to see how much you have spent in the past. If you think the number is too high, challenge yourself to lower it in increments of $100, $50, or $20 (whatever you deem attainable) each cycle until you think it’s appropriate. It also helps to use cash when you shop for your groceries, because you can’t spend what you don’t have! At the beginning of each month, I take out the cash for the month’s groceries and put it in an envelope. That money has to last the whole month, so it really makes me think twice about what I’m buying and whether we really need certain items (especially junk food!). As you shop, keep a tally of everything you put in your cart—for example, an item that costs $1.69 gets 2 tally marks, and an item that is $.59 gets 1. This way, when you check out, you aren’t surprised by the total, and you usually come in under the amount you think you will see on the register. One mom enters everything into the online shopping cart at her grocery store, gets her total, then prints it out and goes to the store to purchase. This way she not only knows her expected total, but she has a printed list.
- Be smart about what goes in your cart!
Buying things in season when they are cheapest is the smartest way to go. If something is not in season, you can often buy it in the frozen section fairly inexpensively as well. You can also buy in bulk and freeze for later, especially when it comes to fruits, veggies, and meats. I almost never buy pre-packaged/snack-packed foods, like individual cups of applesauce or snack sized portions of crackers. Instead, I just buy a jar of applesauce or a box of snack crackers, and put portions into reusable plastic containers for my kids’ lunches. Also, buying generic is almost always cheaper than the name-brand products, and there is usually not much difference in taste or quality, if any at all.
- Always have a plan B!
Keep certain staples on hand, like pasta, peanut butter, lunch meats, pizza dough, sauces, cheese, eggs, and pancake mix, so you can always whip up a meal if you need to. It’s also a great idea to make double batches of casseroles or stews and freeze them, so you can pull them out in a pinch and have a meal ready to go. And of course, don’t forget about leftovers! Planning to make more than you’ll eat can cause the meal to stretch to lunch the next day or dinner later in the week when you’re in a pinch.
- Shop around and use coupons!
Just because the grocery store you usually go to is familiar and convenient doesn’t mean it has the best prices. Check out other stores and see if you can save money going elsewhere. Many families also like club memberships like Sam’s or BJ’s (coming soon!) for reducing costs by buying in bulk. The cost of a membership can even be shared among friends. Of course, using coupons is great money saver, too. Some stores, like Aldi, do not take coupons. Others, like Kroger, will send you coupons in the mail based on things you’ve bought in the past, if you use the store loyalty card. Kroger also has online coupons you can load onto your loyalty card, and they will be applied automatically when you purchase those items. There are always paper coupons from your weekly newspaper inserts, as well. Just make sure that when you use a coupon, you also use the product, or you’re not really saving money at all! After you shop, make sure to take advantage of apps that can save you money. Walmart has Savings Catcher, and there are apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 that pay you rebates on certain items when you scan a grocery receipt containing those products.
- Don’t forget!
– Never shop on an empty stomach!
– Shop the outer perimeter of the store. There, you’ll find fewer processed foods—they will keep you feeling fuller longer, and help growing bodies stay healthy.
– Don’t buy more than you need or can use before it goes bad. In most cases, just because something is 10 for $10 doesn’t mean you have to buy that many to get the deal.
– Don’t forget about farmers’ markets and produce stands. They’re a great place to get fresh, local fruits and veggies for a great price! Some folks also buy a farm share or a part/whole cow and freeze. It’s a heavy investment up front, but usually well worth it in the long run.
– If you need certain foods to be nut- or gluten-free, especially snacks, sometimes the most cost-effective way to buy them is on Amazon.
– Don’t bring the money pit(s)! In my family, that is my husband. He always wants to buy this and that, and then it sits around and often doesn’t get eaten. Sometimes it’s the children who beg for things not on the list. Just say no, or leave them at home!
Since watching my grocery budget, I’ve found that I enjoy grocery shopping much more. Instead of a trip to the grocery store, it’s become the grocery game. Can I make it this week with only X dollars left? How many meals can I make out of what I still have at home? By following many of the tips above, I’ve found I can stretch it every time and keep my family on budget. Game on!