how to save money on groceries
How to Save Money | Saving Money

How to Save Money on Groceries

It doesn’t matter whether you live alone or have a family of 12, every household shares food as a common expense. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $8,169 on food annually, or about 9.5% of adults’ disposable income.

With numbers like that, i’s easy to see how the cost of groceries is a budget concern for many families.

If you’re looking to cut back on monthly expenses, knowing how to save money on groceries is a great place to start. Even cutting the average grocery bill by just 10% could result in more than $800 in savings each year. All it takes is recognizing where cuts can be made and where your efforts will be most valuable.

Whether you just want to create some wiggle room in your budget or plan to use the savings to pay down debt, here are some practical ways you can begin trimming your household grocery bills today.

Set a budget

As with most financial goals, saving money on your food bills starts with creating a plan. And the best way to do this is by establishing a grocery budget for your family.

Spend some time looking at how much you have spent on food in the past six months. Determine (roughly) how much of that was spent on necessities, and what your grocery-related priorities are each month. 

You may choose to cut out specific purchases, like pricey, pre-packaged snacks. You could also try just setting a monthly spending limit for yourself — based on your average grocery bills over recent months — and dividing that up for each week. 

If you are spending too much on fast food or dining out, you can make a plan for that while you’re creating your grocery budget. For instance, you might decide that you’ll pack lunch for work four days a week, but can grab something at your favorite deli on Fridays. Or maybe you and your spouse set a recurring date night once a month, but cut back on ordering Postmates every time you don’t feel like cooking.

There’s no right or wrong answer for your grocery budget. Looking at what and how you spend today, though, can help you find places to trim the fat moving forward.

Plan ahead for what you need

Once you have your budget planned out, it’s time to plan your actual grocery purchases. Doing so can not only help you stay on-budget, but also cut back on spontaneous buys that you might not actually need.

For many, the best way to do this is by making a menu (or meal planning) for the week. This allows you to buy exactly the items that you need, and nothing more. 

Making a weekly menu all at once enables you to fully use whatever you bought for that week — sometimes, in more than one meal. For instance, if you are making mashed potatoes on Monday, it might make sense to just purchase a 5 pound bulk bag (which is cheaper per pound than buying individual spuds) and also make roasted potatoes on Thursday. 

Meal planning also helps you cuts back on food waste, in many cases. If you know exactly what you need and where you’ll have leftovers, you can plan to utilize them before they go bad. And if you have a meal plan plus a grocery list each time you step into the grocery store, you’ll spend less time grocery shopping and are less likely to make impulse purchases.

Compare prices before going to the grocery store

You probably already know what the best deals are at your favorite grocery store. But are those the best prices you could be getting for the items you buy most?

Comparing prices on your groceries before you even go to the store is a great way to cut back on the overall bill. Depending on what and how you buy, this could mean flipping through newspaper circulars to see weekly deals, or even utilizing price comparison apps, like Basket. 

With Basket, you can save your favorite groceries or add your weekly picks, and see what deals are available at local grocery stores. This way, you know where to shop and whether it’s worth heading to another grocery store.

Sign up for store programs

I used to automatically decline cashiers’ offers to sign me up for grocery store loyalty cards, thinking it would just turn into inbox spam. Now, I realize how many years’ worth of rewards I wasted by not taking advantage of these free programs. 

Some grocery store programs are better than others, so be sure to get info on what your grocery stores offer. Most loyalty cards, however, give you access to sale pricing, special deals, and rewards on your typical spending. Some of these rewards can come in the form of cash discounts on future purchases or even discounted gas at partner stations.

I do my shopping at three different grocery stores. In February, I earned $6 back from just one of those stores, on groceries I would have bought either way. Plus, I was able to access special member-only pricing on many of the things I purchased. 

Over the course of each year, these two benefits easily save me over $200, on average.

Coupons aren’t just for grandma

Growing up, my grandmother carried around two purses: one for her coupons and one for everything else. For her, couponing was a Sunday morning sport, and I don’t think she bought many groceries that weren’t accompanied by a neatly trimmed piece of glossy paper.

You may not have time for that level of couponing, but you can still save plenty on your groceries with both store and manufacturer coupons. Most coupons are available on brand-name items, which you can find by:

  • sifting through area mailers,
  • skimming your grocery store’s circular as you walk in,
  • signing up for grocery store loyalty programs (which often mail out enviable coupons and savings),
  • browsing your favorite brands’ websites for printable coupons, or
  • using a coupon app, such as Coupons.com or Coupon Sherpa.

Coupons are free and only cost you your time, but can save you dollars each time you shop. Using a coupon is particularly helpful when buying things like toiletries, makeup and beauty supplies, and household goods. 

Shop on a certain day of the week

Some grocery chains will offer special savings on specific days of the week, especially if you’re a loyalty program customer. These shopping day offers will vary, but could include doubling coupons, special discounts on produce or meats, two-for-one deals, price matching with other grocery store chains, and the like.

Be sure to ask if your local grocery store has extra discounts on a specific day of the week and, if so, what you need to do in order to take advantage of these savings.

Buy in bulk

There’s a reason folks flock to bulk stores like Costco each weekend, and it isn’t (only) the free samples. Buying in bulk, either in-store or online, can be a great way to save money on groceries and other things that you buy often, especially if you have the space to store them.

Things you may want to consider buying in bulk include:

  • Meat
  • Dried food (beans, rice, oats, flour, sugar, etc.)
  • Household goods (toilet paper, paper towels, soap)
  • Pantry items (honey, syrup, vinegar, condiments)

Depending on the items, you may want to portion them out before storing. For example, you could buy bulk ground beef and vacuum seal it in individual portions before freezing. 

And while buying in bulk can save you money on things you would buy anyway, it can also break your budget if you’re buying large quantities of things you wouldn’t buy anyway. If you wouldn’t ever eat fourteen pounds of dried mangos, it doesn’t matter how great the price is.

Shop in-season

When it comes to fresh fruits and veggies, the most nutritious — and affordable — options are generally those that are currently in season. By planning meals around in-season produce, you can help trim grocery costs and ensure the freshest foods for your family.

Here are some examples of seasonal produce:

  • Winter — beets, pumpkin, pears, potatoes, oranges, grapefruit, squash, brussels sprouts, lemons, kiwi
  • Spring — peas, spinach, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, mangoes, strawberries, apricots, swiss chard, rhubarb
  • Summer — cucumber, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, bell pepper, corn, avocado, berries, cherries, cantaloupe, honeydew, peaches, plums
  • Fall — cauliflower, kale, parsnips, rutabaga, pumpkin, beets, apples, cranberries, grapes, pears, sweet potatoes

If you want to still cook with these foods out of season, buying frozen is often another way to save over buying fresh.

Convenience isn’t always worth the cost

There’s something to be said for a pantry or fridge full of grab-and-go snacks, or meals that can be prepped in just a few minutes’ time. But if you’re looking to trim your grocery budget, convenience often means added cost.

Consider buying groceries that might mean a little more work on your end, but equate to savings. For instance, buy dried beans over canned and bulk rice over microwavable packets. Chop and wash your own fruits and vegetables instead of buying ready-to-eat, bagged produce. And if you’re really feeling adventurous, combine your own mix of dried nuts and fruits to make a trail mix, rather than paying a hefty premium for the pre-packaged stuff.

There’s nothing wrong with quick and easy foods. If the difference in cost comes down to rinsing and chopping your own veggies, though, consider how much you could save with just a few extra minutes of your time.

Buy generic when you can

There are a few things my family would never allow me to buy generic: shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste, and toilet paper are pretty high on my family’s brand-name-preferred list. 

But things like green beans? Honey? Baking soda? We honestly can’t tell a difference between the generic stuff and the big name brands… except, of course, when it comes to price.

One way to save money on groceries is to choose generic whenever you’re willing. Yes, for many of us, there are certain items that can’t be compromised. For everything else, though, the little savings here and there on these cheaper items will definitely start to add up!

Utilize rebate apps

There are a few great rebate apps that offer you cash back on the items you’re already buying at your favorite grocery store. In some cases, you may even be able to try new items and products for free (essentially), by earning full purchase price rebates. 

One of these platforms is Ibotta, which has been around since 2012. This app works at a variety of retail and grocery stores, including beauty and even hardware stores. Rather than printing coupons, Ibotta makes it easy to simply upload a photo of your receipt. Then, you’ll get cash back in your account, which you can withdraw via Paypal or even as a gift card. 

Other apps to check out include Shopkick and Checkout51, among others.

Order curbside pickup to eliminate impulse buys

If you’re like me, you might wander the grocery store aisles to see what piques your interest. And while a new cereal or yogurt brand probably won’t break the bank, those impulse buys can impact your budget over time. 

One way to combat impulsive grocery shopping (and save your budget) is to order your groceries curbside. This is a complimentary service at many grocery store chains, with more stores than ever offering curbside pickup since the onset of COVID-19. 

With curbside, you can choose your items online or through a store’s mobile app, and set a designated pickup window. Then, you just pull up, pop your trunk, and your groceries will be brought out to you. You’ll save time and, more importantly, prevent unnecessary purchases.

Go grocery shopping on a full stomach

If curbside pickup isn’t your thing — but you still want to avoid filling your cart with off-list items — consider grocery shopping right after you’ve had a good meal. 

We’ve all heard that it’s a bad idea to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach; everything looks good when you’re hungry! And it turns out that this is some pretty sage advice: researchers at the University of Minnesota found that hungry shoppers spent 64% more on food than their satiated counterparts. In a separate but related study, this same group of researchers found that hungry shoppers were more likely to buy excess non-food items, too, such as office supplies!

If you can’t go grocery shopping after a good meal, at least have yourself a little snack in the parking lot before you walk in.

Host a freezer clean-out

If your freezer looks anything like mine, it’s packed to the hilt with a variety of frozen goods. Some of them get rotated out pretty regularly, but others get stuffed to the back where I will eventually find them, freezer-burned and outdated, and toss them out.

Instead of continuing this cycle, I’ve recently introduced a quarterly “freezer clean-out day” in my home. On this day, my kids and I will go through the freezer to see what’s been shoved to the back and forgotten. We will then build a day’s worth of meals and snacks from what we find (often adding fresh produce and pantry items to complete the plate).

It’s kind of a fun experiment; last month, we had a dinner that consisted of tamales, twice-baked potatoes, and stir-fry veggies. Unconventional? Sure. But we also gained some space in our freezer, saved ourselves the cost of dinner that day, and prevented those foods from eventually going to waste. Wins all around in my book!

Use the right credit card

Lastly, one of my favorite suggestions for how to save money on groceries is to simply use the right credit card to buy them.

Many credit cards offer rewards at grocery stores, either on a rotating quarterly basis or even year-round. One card, for example, offers 6% cash back on all grocery store purchases up to $6,000. That’s $360 back each year, simply for paying for your groceries with this card.

Other cards might offer cash back at groceries stores during a specific quarter of the year. This means that for three months, you can snag up to 10% back just for buying food for your household (just keep in mind that the categories change quarterly and you usually need to opt-in first). 

Of course, using credit cards for rewards only makes sense if you follow certain rules: always pay your bill in full and on-time, to avoid late fees and finance charges. Make sure that if your card requires you to opt-in for quarterly rewards categories, you do so before the deadline. And if the card charges an annual fee, ensure that you’ll earn enough rewards in a year to cover that cost (and then some!).

Final thoughts

Buying groceries is an expense that nearly every household shares. Considering how much Americans spend on food each year, it’s no wonder that saving money on groceries is a goal for many families. 

There are many ways to trim your grocery budget, whether through something as simple as making a meal plan and a grocery list or as involved as buying in bulk and clipping coupons. Whatever your level of dedication — and savings goals — these 14 tips can help you keep more money in your pocket, while still keeping the foods you love on your table.