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How to Save Money on Groceries – Top 20 Ways to Save

By Casey Slide

save on groceriesWhen I was in my twenties, I didn’t care how much I would spend at the grocery store. When the shelves of my refrigerator or pantry became bare, I would simply drive to the nearest store and put whatever items looked appetizing into my cart. I rarely prepared home-cooked meals, and would need to run to the store to get an ingredient or two if I did have an inkling to cook something.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got married and my husband and I began to manage our money as a married couple that I began to see the errors of my ways. As we formed a budget for our household, I realized that our grocery and food spending was out of control. I had no methodology to shop on a budget, nor did I know of any strategies to save money. Therefore, it became my personal mission to decrease our grocery spending.

There are numerous, simple ways that anyone can save money on groceries. Here are 20 tips that I have implemented to shave my grocery bill by 50% or more!

Save by Planning Ahead

Saving money on groceries begins before you step foot in the store. Take time prior to shopping to prepare for your trip – your time invested will really pay off!

1. Create a Menu
Although it may not sound fun, especially if you are the spontaneous type when it comes to dining, creating a menu for what you plan to eat between shopping trips is one of the best ways to save money on groceries. Making a menu ensures that you will have the proper ingredients to prepare a healthy meal at home every night instead of going out to eat or ordering pizza.

Additionally, creating a menu and forming a grocery list of necessary items will enable you to buy everything you need in one trip. This will keep you from forgetting to purchase crucial ingredients, which would cause you to waste time and gas money going back to the store.

2. Design a Standardized List
In addition to items needed to make dinner, you will likely need to purchase items for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and cleaning at the grocery store. Oftentimes, I find that I am so focused on getting what I need to cook meals that these items are forgotten. If I don’t leave them off my list completely, I buy far more than I need!

To avoid this problem, make a standardized list of what you buy on a recurring basis, such as several boxes of cereal, a loaf of bread, diapers, and laundry detergent. This is a great time-saver, as your grocery list will always be partially completed before you even start.

3. Check for Sales
The grocery stores put their weekly sales ad in the Wednesday edition of the local newspaper. They also post them online and leave a stack of ads sitting by the front door. Grab an ad when they come out and use it to put together your grocery list.

Every week I browse through the grocery store circulars before I make my menus, and I make mental notes of what is on sale. If chicken is on sale, I structure my meal plan around chicken dinner recipes. If it’s pork, then we eat pork. If nothing good seems to be on sale, I’ll focus my meals around rice and beans, which are an affordable alternative to meat.

By perusing the circulars, I also learn if there are any items I should stock up on while the price is low. Items generally go on sale in six- to eight-week cycles so if a certain item on sale this week, remember that it is not likely to be on sale again for another two months.

4. Purchase In-Season Produce
One way to stay healthy is by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, fresh produce can be expensive. To keep the costs down on your produce purchases, try to stick to fruits and vegetables that are in season.

For example, pears are in season during November and December and are less expensive during those months than they are throughout the rest of the year. Therefore, pears make great Thanksgiving and homemade Christmas decorations as well as delicious, affordable staples in your holiday meals.

purchase in-season produce
5. Utilize Coupons
Whether you are an extreme couponer or a causal coupon user, coupons are of immense value to any grocery shopper. Although the savings per coupon can be small, they do add up. For example, I was recently able to save $20 while grocery shopping, even though many of my coupons were for only 25 cents.

It is important, however, to exercise caution while using coupons. While they can save you money, they can also cause you to spend money on impulse purchases. Remember to make your grocery list prior to clipping your coupons. This will ensure that you are not buying items just because you have a coupon. Those extra purchases add up quickly, and can end up costing you more than you save.

6. Memorize Rock-Bottom Prices
If you are utilizing coupons and sales, your goal should be to always purchase every item at its rock-bottom price. To achieve this, you need to memorize the minimum price of an item after sales and coupons, not just the lowered price.

For example, with a store coupon utilized during a sale, you may be able to get toothpaste for 50 cents. However, this is just a lowered price for toothpaste – you may be able to get it for free by combining a sale, store coupon, and manufacturer’s coupon! This means that the rock-bottom price for toothpaste is actually zero.

It may take a while to figure out rock-bottom prices, so it is advisable to jot down what you end up paying for items until you commit it to memory. Once you realize which items you can acquire for free (or close to nothing), you will never want to pay more again.

7. Know Store Policies
I recently went to Kroger to buy some groceries, and brought with me a stack of Publix coupons to use. I usually do not shop at Kroger, but assumed that they would accept their competitor’s coupons. However, while my groceries were being rung up, my Publix coupons were declined and I was unable to save any money. Had I known Kroger’s store policy of not accepting competitor coupons, I could have gone elsewhere to use them.

Verifying whether your store accepts competitor coupons is only one aspect of knowing your store’s policies. It is also important to find out if a supermarket does rain checks, doubles or “stacks” coupons, and accepts expired coupons.

8. Shop Monthly
An alternative to combining sales and coupons is to shop the least number of times possible. The more you shop, the more you will succumb to impulse buys.

To keep yourself out of the grocery store and spend less, try to shop only once per month, and only shop at a maximum of two different stores. While it is more difficult to utilize sales and coupons, you can still take them into account. However, the primary focus of this method is to simply avoid the stores.

9. Choose a Budget-Friendly Store
If you feel pressed for time and can not afford to spend time clipping coupons and matching them up to sales, focus more on shopping at stores that will save you the money with their generally lower prices. Walmart, for example, offers prices that are 20% less than competitors. Aldi and Trader Joe’s are also known to offer everyday low prices. If this is your method for saving money on groceries, avoid costly stores, such as Whole Foods and The Fresh Market.

10. Don’t Forget the Dollar Stores
While many dollar stores do not carry a wide variety of foods, there are a number of items you should buy at the dollar store, and some great savings to be found. One of my favorite things to buy at dollar stores are spices. At supermarkets, spices generally cost several dollars, and I never seem to have coupons, so I simply head to the dollar store to get a stellar price.

However, there are many items at dollar stores that are more expensive by unit price (due to smaller package weight or volume) than a regular grocery store, so shop wisely.

11. Time Your Trip Wisely
First of all, you never want to shop for groceries on an empty stomach. Try to shop around 10 o’clock in the morning to avoid not only a rumbling stomach, but also the afternoon crowds. Additionally, ask your grocery’s deli and bakery if they discount meat and bread on a certain day of the week. One grocery store I frequent sells all its week-old baked goods for one cent on Wednesdays!

shop wisely

Save While at the Store

If you plan well for your grocery shopping trip, your battle is only half over. There are many ways to save at the supermarket, and many pitfalls that need to be avoided.

12. Only Buy What You Need
This may be the most important strategy to save money on groceries, as well as the most difficult to implement. You need self-control to resist the temptation to buy items that are not on your list.

On average, impulse buys increase your bill by 20% to 30%. Avoid browsing the aisles and lingering in the store. Instead, find exactly what you need, make your purchases, and leave the store as soon as possible to avoid being tempted. If this is an area in which you struggle, start off slowly by avoiding one impulse buy this week and trim additional ones from your purchases each subsequent week.

13. Consider Buying Generic Items
When it comes to store brand vs. name brand, I tend to buy generics when there is an item I need, but I do not possess a coupon for the brand name version. In many cases, there are very few differences between most brand name items and generic items, and to be honest, I have found some generic products that I prefer to the brand name, such as cookies, peanut butter, and even cola. Remember, some stores do not offer many generic alternatives to name brands. You may want to stick to stores that stock many store-brand products.

However, you really have to know when it’s worth choosing generic over name brand. Some products from the generic lines go head to head with name brands in terms of quality, while other products are sub par at best. If you buy poor quality products, you may end up tossing them out and wasting the money altogether.Here’s a rundown of what to buy, and what to avoid, when it comes to generic brand products:

What to Buy from Generic Brands:

  • Food Staples. Your basics like flour, sugar, cooking oil, and butter will always taste, and work, the same regardless of what the label says.
  • Canned Produce. Any basic canned fruit or vegetable will taste the same in a generic brand can. However, you may want to stick to the name brands when buying the fancy mixed fruit cocktails – the generic brands never give you enough cherries.
  • Frozen Produce. Name brand frozen produce typically costs twice as much as the generic version, and the store brand often gives you more per bag.

What to Buy from Name Brands:

  • Meat. I’ll skip my slimy chicken story and just tell you this: If you’re a stickler for the quality of your meat, you won’t be happy with the generic brand. This goes for everything from t-bone steaks to frozen chicken strips.
  • Paper Products. Generic brand paper towels and toilet paper do not hold up as well as the name brands. You end up using twice as much for the same effect, which does not save you any money in the long run.

14. Check the Unit Prices
To ensure that you are getting the best available price on an item, check the unit price, which can be found on the item’s price tag. You need to not only compare different brands, but also different sizes. While buying a bigger package often costs less per unit, that is not always the case.

If you have a calculator – perhaps on your smart phone – use it to do quick calculations when you need to factor in sales and coupons. Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean the cost per unit is less than another brand or generic.

15. Look High and Low for Savings
Grocery stores use many marketing tactics to coerce consumers into selecting the most expensive items. For example, stores often stock the most expensive items and brands at eye level, and place the cheaper items and brands on the higher and lower shelves. As you are going through the store, remember to check all the shelves for potential savings.

16. Skip Prepared and Pre-cut Items
It can be a great time-saver at home to use prepackaged and prepared foods. Many grocery stores also offer pre-cut or pre-sliced items, such as chopped green peppers or cheese trays. While these types of items are certainly convenient, they are expensive compared to non-prepared items.

Whenever possible, make your food from the most basic ingredients, or even from scratch. I have a friend who makes most of her meals from scratch – she spends only $40 a week on groceries for a family of five without the use of coupons!

buy aged meats

17. Buy Aged Meats
Like wine, meat gets better with age. However, many meat departments sell the older meat at a discounted price. Even if a package has an expiration date that is quickly approaching, don’t be afraid to purchase the meat. In fact, you may agree that these clearance meats taste better than the newly stocked meats.

18. Leave the Young Kids at Home
This can be a challenge for me, as I would rather shop during the day and bring my son than go in the evening when I’d rather be relaxing. But the fact is that when I bring my son with me, I spend more money. As stern as I try to be, it’s easy to give in when he sees something he wants. Furthermore, I find myself rushing, and I end up quickly grabbing what I need instead of taking the time to compare unit prices and get the best deals.

19. Pay with Cash
When I go to the grocery store, I give myself a budget of $100 for the week. While having a goal is great, it means nothing if I can’t stick to it. Therefore, I bring cash with me when I go to the grocery store. Even though I always carry cash, I bring cash specifically designated for my groceries as part of my envelope budgeting system. If I only have $100 to spend on groceries, then I can’t possibly spend beyond my budget.

20. Watch Your Purchases Get Scanned
Items get mislabeled, and products don’t always ring up properly in the system. Sometimes coupons get incorrectly scanned, or cashiers type in the wrong codes. Notify the cashier if there are any problems, and if you are unable to watch the cashier scan your items, make sure you check your receipt before you leave the store to see if there are any mistakes.

Final Word

If you are not in the habit of keeping track of your grocery budget, now is a great time to investigate just how much money you are spending. The number may surprise you.

Like most people, you likely have a desire to save money on groceries. If you’re worried that it may be too time-consuming or too difficult to focus on your budget, just keep these 20 tips in mind – there are many easy ways to save!

What strategies do you use to save money on groceries?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • http://www.bargainbabe.com Yazmin

    I definitely shop more than once a month. I really don’t know how someone shops once a month when fresh produce doesn’t last that long. I shop as often as I need, but stick to my list. Following grocery coupon match ups is also helpful as someone else does the work of compiling the best coupons and deals!

    • Casey Slide

      That is one of my tips that I have not been able to do either. I am always forgetting things that I need or running out of something important. However, it is possible.

  • Olivia

    I maintain a pantry full of staples and draw down from them cyclically. I stock up on bargains. (Like tuna at 69 cents a can or peanut butter 99 cent for 18 oz.) Using the pantry up periodically allows me to use items before their expiration date and lets me stash the excess grocery cash away for other purposes. I also keep a pantry inventory. This allows me to know when things are getting low and purchase at the best price in that time frame.

    • Casey Slide

      A pantry inventory is a great idea! Thanks for sharing, Olivia!

  • http://blog.budgetpulse.com Craig

    I try to buy store brand goods or meats to help save a little money and always get the discounted price on them.

    • Casey Slide

      Some stores are really great for the store brand because they have a product for everything. Others do not have as many store brands. Thanks for sharing, Craig!

  • Kate

    Great tips! I find that I spend a lot of money at the grocery and end up throwing some food away. I am getting better at it and plan my meat portions accordingly while I freeze the rest. It is the fresh veggies that are killing me. I guess I should only buy for one week at a time and make sure that is what I eat!

    • Desiree

      If you’re already eating seasonally, consider saving more by shopping for fresh fruits and veggies at a Farmer’s Market. They are very fresh, therefore lasting longer in the fridge while you figure out what to do with them, and you’re supporting the farmer directly. If you’re already freezing extra portions of meat, it’s really simple to freeze the extra portions of fruits/veggies too. You can find information about how to properly prepare them for long-term freezer storage here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html

      Once you get used to “putting up” a few extra fruits and veggies, consider buying them in larger quantities directly from the farmer. You can almost always get a better deal on the price if you buy in quantity too.

      Of course, this all depends on how much freezer space you have available to devote to fruits and veggies. Maybe a chest or upright energy-star compliant freezer is on your future?

      • Casey Slide

        That is great advice, Desiree. I love going to the Farmers’ Market!

  • Winston C

    Great tips. I am one of those random people wandering aimless up and down the aisles because most of the time, I don’t really know what specific food that I want to buy that day. Oftentimes, I will come across the same few aisles multiple times because I can’t decide. And for the generic brands tip, I have tried them before. I can say this for sure, at least for me, brand products taste better. But to save money, I have to buy store and generic brands.

    • Casey Slide

      You could always splurge on the brand names for the products where it really matters and go for the store brands when it doesn’t. Good luck, Winston!

    • sarabee1321

      There are times when the generic brand isn’t as good. For me canned tomatoes have to be brand name. On the other hand, Publix potato chips are the BEST potato chips on the market. After much testing and tasting I can say that generics are as good as brand name for so many things it is worth it to try. Don’t give up because you found some generics to be wanting.

      • Casey Slide

        Oh yeah, I love Publix brand chips!! Especially their restaurant style tortilla chips! They are better than any brand name!

      • Maria

        Velveeta is the only decent block cheese in my opinion as well lol

  • Audrey H.

    I’ve found mistakes regularly and it’s when I don’t check my receipts that I get home & want to kick myself for missing a charge that didn’t include the sale price, etc.

    • Casey Slide

      I am really surprised at how often it happens. And if you are putting your groceries on the belt, getting your coupons, or dealing with a little one, it can be hard to watch items being scanned. It might be worth spending a minute or two once you get in your car to look over your receipt so you don’t have to make a second trip to the store to correct the issue.

    • Maria M

      I only ask that you remember that usually it is not the cashiers fault. They do not know the price of every item in the store and prices are always changing. Being a former cashier of a grocery store, a lot of times people get mad at the cashier and yell at them over the mistakes. There are to many items and prices are ALWAYS changing.

  • Mac

    Good tips. Whenever we find ourselves at a Sam’s, we end up leaving without buying a thing. The prices are good, but we don’t have room to buy in bulk and it’s too much food for our family of 3.

    I too have run into many issues with incorrect prices…it’s the worst when I arrive at home and realize that my $5 coupon wasn’t scanned!

    • Casey Slide

      Yeah, that’s the worst. It might be worth spending a minute or two once you get in your car to look over your receipt so you don’t have to make a second trip to the store to correct the issue. Many stores are great about fixing the issue.

  • RB Boren

    So you’re saying that with generic cans of fruit cocktail, I will never hit the (three cherries) jackpot?

    I’ve never seen generic meat, unless you’re referring to the prepackaged ‘chubs’ of ground beef many supermarkets carry. When I read this I had unsettling thoughts of generic meat in stark containers labeled simply MEAT.

    I prefer meat packaged in-store, some supermarkets are known to have high quality meat and they have never failed me.

    • Angela Colley

      RB, Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hit the cherry jackpot in a single one of the 10 fruit cocktail cans I bought with the store brand. What can I say? I’m a kid at heart, I love those maraschino cherries.

      Where I live, we have a few stores that do sell containers labeled “beef” or “chicken.” It makes you wonder, but I’m with you- I stick to the packages the butcher did in the store.

      • Casey Slide

        It might depend on the store. For example, at my store, there is Jennie-O brand ground turkey, and there is the store brand.

  • Amy Saves

    So true about generic paper products being cheap. I always get Bounty, because the generic ones are so flimsy. I end up going through the roll super fast!

    Hhahaa.. gotta love the tricky stores for placing pricey items at eye level.

    great post!

    • Angela Colley

      Amy, the funny thing about eye level marketing is, if you’re short (like me!) your eye level is the store brands and bulk items.

      But I agree with you on those Bounty paper towels. I bought a roll of very, very cheap paper towels. They tore up so bad on my counters that I had to go buy a roll of decent paper towels just to clean the mess up.

      • Casey Slide

        Yeah, there are some pretty bad paper towels out there! It’s amazing that they are still sold.

  • Slatsg

    Sound advice. I do however have an issue with number 19 (Always pay with cash). I would change that to “Always have a grocery budget, do not excede it, and use a dedicated credit card with rewards to pay it in full every month”. I currently have a college saving reward credti card with no fees associated with it. The rewards have varied from 1-3% trhough the years. I have stashed away over $1700 in my son’s college 529 plan by just grocery shopping. The credit card provider got their cut from the store and $0 from me.

    • Casey Slide

      Wow, that’s a great tip and a great way to save some money! However, for those who have a hard time sticking to a budget, paying with cash will force them to stay on budget. It’s not a tip for everyone if you have found a better way, but for those who tend to make sudden, unplanned purchases, paying with cash is the way to go.

  • sarabee1321

    When you are buying anything that will go into your body, if it is deeply discounted, check the /best by/expiration/ date. Sometimes what looks like a really good deal isn’t because you won’t consume whatever it is before the /best by/expiration/ date.

    • Casey Slide

      That’s a great point! I am definitely guilty of this one. Thanks for sharing!

  • sarabee1321

    When you are buying anything that will go into your body, if it is deeply discounted, check the /best by/expiration/ date. Sometimes what looks like a really good deal isn’t because you won’t consume whatever it is before the /best by/expiration/ date.

  • guest

    I always ask the person checking me out to wait to start to ring my items up until I have my cart emptied so I can watch how things ring up!

  • Elizabeth

    Try using the IBOTTA app. Sign up today for free app using code ogxerdh. You will get free money for bonuses etc.

  • Mya P.

    I love this advice. I have some more below. While not grocery-saving advice, it’s still money saved!

    1) drop the smart phone and get a “dumb” one. Save about $50 per month. Get a low-priced tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire) or use your old iPhone as a wi-fi only device. Wi-fi is available everywhere; you really don’t need to pay for cell-based data plans
    2) call your car and home insurance company and tell them you want to go through all your coverage because you found another carrier that is cheaper. They’ll probably help you “find” 10% off or more.
    3) speaking of car insurance – An expensive policy from GEICO, Progressive, etc. is not needed. You can find one usually for less than $25/month from a place like 4AutoInsuranceQuote. If you spend too much on car insurance from one of those big companies, chances are you are simply funding their expensive TV ads with cute animals.
    4) compare what your house is really worth to your assessment. Many assessments have never been properly adjusted down to reflect the market over the last 4 years. We cut our property taxes by about 20%.
    5) re-fi your 30-year mortgage to a 15. The interest rate will drop by at least 50-75 bps, more depending on your current rate. The payment may go up slightly, but it is because you are paying off your loan faster. If it’s possible, get the mortgage paid off before the kids go to college. At a minimum, have it paid off before you retire.
    6) review your credit card bills for all the things you are paying $10-20 per month for that you no longer need. I bet everybody has at least a couple
    7) drop all magazine (paper and on-line) subscriptions. If you look around, you can find comparable content for free.
    8) review your investment portfolio for ways to replace higher fee mutual funds or ETFs with lower fee ones. S&P500 funds/ETFs shouldn’t charge more than 0.10% in fees. Fees may be higher for specialty funds, but they are all coming down fast. If your company 401K uses high-fee funds, talk to the folks in charge. A difference of 25 bps in fees will mean a difference of about 5% in your portfolio value after 25 or 30 years.
    9) and of course the most impactful — never carry a balance on a credit card. If you can’t resist, cut up the cards.

  • LizDH

    Once a week I sit down to jot down the menu’s for the week to come (and stick to it!). Then I go online to order the groceries needed and let them be delivered, which cost be about $7.
    Ever since I started managing our household this way, it saved us about $200 a month. We used to rhrow away lots of food (didn’t feel like cooking after all), bought groceries on impulse and often unnecessary items.

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