Clipping coupons is not the only way. Try these small changes to how you shop, and you’ll spend less on groceries while still eating well.
Around the world, the cost of feeding a family has skyrocketed in the past two years. And once again, wages aren’t keeping up with those soaring costs. That’s left many of us searching for frugal tips to spend less money on groceries.
1. Take Stock Before You Shop
Before you go to the store, take a few minutes to check what you’ve already got in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. When you’re in shopping mode, it can be easy to forget whether you’ve got eggs or milk at home. Then you wind up buying more that you don’t need.
2. Use Sales Flyers Strategically
Shopping the sales is one of the easiest ways to spend less on groceries. Most stores have websites that allow you to browse their weekly flyer and click items to add them to your shopping list. When planning your family’s weekly menu, combine these discounted foods with things you already have on hand, and you’ll quickly find yourself spending less.
3. Make and Use a List
Making a list helps protect your wallet from impulse purchases and whims. Sticking to your list keeps you from falling for “sales” like those items on end caps that aren’t actually discounted. Using a grocery list also helps you save time if you organize it based on the store’s layout. (Or at least this week’s layout.)
If you prefer to order and pick up your groceries, most store apps let you create unlimited reusable lists. Try making different lists for your family’s favorite meals, plus one for basic household necessities. Then all you have to do is add to your online cart via the saved list.
4. Know When to Buy Store Brand
Store-brand foods are often identical to name-brand products, minus the flashy packaging and advertising. Before trying a new store brand product, compare ingredients. If they’re substantially the same as the name-brand product, rest easy. The more their ingredients differ, the more risk you’re taking. That’s not always bad; in many cases, store brands use fewer artificial ingredients and fillers, so shoppers often prefer their taste.
5. Opt for Cheaper Cuts of Meat and Cook Slowly
The key to using cheaper cuts of beef is cooking them properly. USDA Select beef is significantly less expensive per pound than Choice or Prime, but it is also leaner. Cooking inexpensive beef in a crockpot or pressure cooker leaves it as tender and flavorful as the pricier cuts.
6. Don’t be a Brand Loyalist
Brands train us to choose them automatically, but that habit also costs us money. Try adding items, not brands, to your shopping list. Write down toothpaste, not “Crest” for example, or cereal not “Cheerios.” Then compare every brand, including the store label, to find the best deal.
7. Avoid Eye-Level Products
National brands pay for eye-level placement. Store managers choose where everything else goes, placing the highest profit items in the most convenient spots. In other words, you’ll spend less on food picked from the lower shelves. But there is one exception: in the breakfast aisle, the most expensive cereal is on purpose at a child’s eye level.
8. Don’t Pay the Store to Do the Work
Bagged salad mixes, pre-chopped vegetables, skinless chicken breasts (or, really, anything but a whole chicken), and grated cheese are all convenient — but you pay extra for their ease of use. Spending 5 minutes breaking down a whole bird or 20 minutes washing and chopping vegetables and grating cheese can translate into saving $20 on your grocery bill.
9. Shop Without Kids If You Can
Shopping alone makes it easier to focus on finding the best deals. If that’s not possible, do your shopping when the store is least busy. (Google the store name to find out when that is.) Then get your family involved in finding the lowest-priced items or the steepest discounts to make saving money fun.
10. Make Your Own for Major Savings
From cottage cheese to Mrs. Dash or Ranch dressing, it’s cheaper to make your mixes, sauces, and dressings. If you don’t have any good recipes for homemade mixes, check out mine. Or follow my “Make Your Own” Pinterest board for ideas.
11. Know the average price and stock up on sales
Spend a month tracking food prices of things you use the most, and you’ll know to stock up when the price drops significantly. Freeze perishable items and store dry goods properly, and you’ll spend less on future grocery trips.
12. Buy in Bulk, Shop Less Often
Every trip to the store costs gas money and leads to impulse purchases. Buy things in bulk at discount stores, or when their price dips, so you don’t need to shop as often. Then look up ways to substitute the missing ingredients with things you have on hand.
13. Don’t Be Fooled by False Sales
Brands sell similar products in different sizes. So one box of pasta may be priced 25 cents less than another, but it’s only a good deal if they contain the same amount. They often don’t, so compare the per unit cost to find the true value. And be prepared to do some math to help you spend less money: stores often use different unit measurements for the same type of food.
14. Buy Personal Care Items Elsewhere
One-stop shopping for groceries and toiletries is convenient, but convenience always costs you more. Purchase personal care items like shampoo, conditioner, soap, razors, and feminine products at the Dollar Store or warehouse club. They’re usually the same product, but you’ll spend far less money on them.
15. Buy Frozen Fish, Not Fresh
Almost all “fresh” fish in grocery stores has been previously frozen, even if you live in a coastal area. Modern large-scale fishing vessels and farms flash-freeze fish as soon as it’s caught, so it even tastes fresher once defrosted at home. Please don’t pay for the convenience of having the store defrost it for you.
16. Shop Seasonally
Fruits and vegetables are cheaper in season for your area because they don’t have to be imported from across the country or overseas. If it’s not in season, buy the frozen version — they’re often more nutritious and almost always cost less.
17. Know Your Store’s Markdown Days
A quick phone call to your store can get you the dates and times they mark down bakery, dairy, and meat items. But also ask where your store puts marked-down things since they sometimes move the markdowns to one area. When you get to the store, shop those areas first to spend less on groceries you already planned to buy.
18. Preserve, Dehydrate, and Freeze
The average household in the US wastes hundreds of dollars of food each year, mostly produce going to waste. Learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables without canning so you can stop throwing money away. Get into the habit of freezing and using kitchen scraps, too.
19. Listen to Your Own Music
Stores use their background music to make you buy more food. There is science involved in it, but basically, nostalgic or sad songs will make you shop more slowly and seek out comfort foods. And that means you’ll make impulse purchases, including comfort foods and candy, to cheer yourself up. If you want to spend less money on groceries, listen to podcasts or playlists on your phone as you shop.
20. Never, Ever Shop Hungry
Shopping when you’re hungry makes everything sound good, not just food. If you can’t pause to have a meal before you head to the store, at least pop a mint or piece of gum into your mouth. You’ll satisfy your brain’s need for new sensations and probably make healthier food choices.