Food | Money Saver
Grocery Shopping Hacks: How to Save Money on Groceries
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If you sat back and analyzed your grocery expenses for a month, you’ll notice that you’re spending big bucks at supermarkets. For most American households, food is a huge expense. In fact, an average family spends more than 10% of their income on food; $372 spent on food consumed at home and $228 at restaurants, food trucks, takeouts, deliveries, and vending machines. That’s a lot of your paycheck when you consider the yearly expenditure.
Eating nutritious, tasty food doesn’t need to come at a price though. Grocery shopping, if done smartly, can save you a considerable amount. It doesn’t mean that you need to change your lifestyle or penny-pinch; it just means that you need to take care of some things before you go to grocery stores, while you’re shopping, and when you’re back. These money-saving tricks will cut down your grocery bills without compromising the quality of meals at home.
If you’re smart about your grocery runs, you will not get tempted by things you don’t need. If that means not bringing the kids to the store, then do it. Bring your own bag, too, because some stores give you discounts for that.
List, List, List
The first step is to raid your fridge and pantry. List out on a notepad or your phone everything that you’re running out of and things you’d need for the next week or two. Also, plan your meals: what will you need to use the potatoes you already have? Check recipes for ingredients and add them to your shopping list. If you figure out your meals before the next run, you’ll have a much better idea of what you need and how much.
Set a Budget
Once you’ve figured what you need, do an estimate (look up prices online) and set a budget. This will leave less room for impulse buys. You can treat yourself with chips or ice cream, so keep that margin, but try not to exceed this limit. Stick to what you need and budget accordingly.
Understand Best Before & Expiration Dates
We end up wasting a lot of food once it has passed its ‘Best Before’ date. But ‘Best Before’ is an indication of quality; the product may still be safe to consume and not lose its flavor or quality. You can use the FoodKeeper app by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to confirm how long something will last depending on how it’s stored, from baked goods to meat.
Is anything in your pantry or fridge getting close to its expiration date? Plan your meals around the date and consume your food, rather than chucking it in the bin.
Know the Sale Days
There are many offers during holiday seasons (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving) when food items like candy get cheaper. But, your local grocery store may also have sale days during the week. Keep an eye on different brand websites and apps to check when there’s a price drop on products and shop on that day. You can also use flyers from your local grocery store, or ask the sales clerk when different sales will be scheduled. Just remember to shop on those days!
Compare Prices on Apps/Websites
Which brand offers the most competitive prices? Does it make sense to drive five minutes extra if you can save more dollars at another grocery store? Compare product prices online on websites and apps, and schedule your grocery runs based on who’s offering better deals. You can also sign up for their newsletters or follow them on social media—you’ll get notifications if you download their app, too.
Shop Online but Pick up Yourself
Delivery charges can be an added expense, but there’s another option with brands like Walmart. You can buy online, go to the store and pick up your shopping bags yourself. Not only does it save you delivery money, but it’s a great way to stick to a list and budget without getting distracted by various products displayed under the bright lights in the aisles. With the Walmart app, you can even notify when you’re heading to the store and share your parking spot number, so your bags are delivered to your car faster.
Get Coupon Savvy
Your local newspaper will have coupons in the Sunday edition and it’s a great place to find deals. With technology, it has become increasingly simple to get coupons of your favorite brands online. Check out the top deals on Savings.com to save on your food buys.
There are tons of apps, too. Flipp app lets you browse sales at your local grocery stores—a 21st century take on flyers. You can even add things to the shopping list and the app will let you know about offers on any products. Then there’s also Groupon that allows you to get discounted vouchers for brands and Ibotta that offers paybacks on money spent on groceries when you upload the receipt.
Don’t Shop Hungry
It may seem like silly advice, but you may splurge more when you’re hungry. So, have a nice meal before you get to the store and you won’t pick up that bag of chips.
Best Money-Saving Grocery Shopping Practices
This is the real challenge. You have to navigate a supermarket without losing track of what you’re there for. Once you get used to the idea of shopping on a budget with beam-like focus, these hacks will become second nature.
Pick a Smaller Cart
When you walk in, go for a cart that suits the size of what you need, so you don’t try to fill it up with junk food.
Calculate as You Go
Have your list ready to pick up items, but also keep the calculator on your phone open. As you keep stacking products in the cart, keep adding. Once you see you have reached your budget, you’ll realize if you have picked more than what you needed. Store discounts helped you save some dollars? Go ahead, treat yourself.
Check Price Per Unit
Price per package is different from price per unit/ounce. Let’s say, an eight ounce bottle of vinegar from a brand costs $3 and a 17-ounce bottle from another brand costs $5, then the price per ounce is better for the second brand. You can make these calculations yourself (hence a calculator is very important), or use an app such as Unit Price Compare to help you out.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Stores keep expensive items at eye level, while some affordable brands may be up on the shelf or down below. Hunt them down. Make sure you also check expiration dates—the ones that are fresher may be at the back of the shelf (happens a lot with bread).
Buy Staples in Bulk
Another reason why sale days are important: you can buy staples in bulk to last until the next sale. Stores often have great deals for bulk buys, too. Kitchen towels, pasta, rice, and potato may be okay, but veggies and sauces may not be the best idea. Keep in mind that not everything can be bought in huge quantities and you might not even have space for it. So, show restraint here.
Don’t Get Tempted by Discounts
Grocery stores may have deals going on on mayo, but do you really need five big bottles? Or two dozen eggs? Again, you have to decide if you can use them before they go bad and whether or not you have space to store them. It will be money wasted if you have to dump them. Even if something is selling at a steal, it’s better to stick to the list to avoid impulsive buys.
Try the Store/Generic Brand
For some products, you’d need your trusted, loyal brands. But for other things, generic brands work just as well and they’re much cheaper. So, for things like pasta or sugar and salt, you can go with the store or generic brand and you won’t notice any difference.
Buy ‘Ugly’ Produce
If your local grocery stores offer bruised apples or bananas at a lower price, go for it. A few years ago, grocery stores started selling imperfect fruits and veggies at a discounted rate to avoid food wastage—though there’s a lot of debate on whether or not it really helps the industry and the environment. Nonetheless, these products are safe for consumption (we’re not talking about rotting veggies but fresh produce that’s a little wonky-looking) if available at your local store.
In fact, you can also check out services like Misfit Markets and Imperfect Produce that deliver veggies and fruits to you for a subscription. You can also plan your dinners with bakery products in the supermarkets that sell for a discounted price before the day ends—safe to consume but probably on that same night.
Pick Seasonal Produce
Buying an out-of-season fruit is going to cost you more because there are additional costs attached to it (sometimes it’s also imported). Buying seasonal fruits and vegetables is a great way to enjoy local produce and save on grocery costs. Not to forget, it adds variety to your meals. Time to learn the cycles, eh?
Frozen is Good, Too
You may think that frozen foods are not as nutritious as fresh produce, but frozen produce has great nutritional values, sometimes more than fresh produce because fruits and vegetables lose Vitamin C content due to exposure to heat and sunlight. To meet your daily requirement of vegetables, it makes sense to stock up on frozen vegetables and fruits, which will also save you money and come in handy when it’s off-season. Peas, broccoli, corn, and cauliflower are good options if you want to cook them in casseroles or make stir-fry. Just make sure not to buy frozen products that are salted or sauced because that’s a lot of sodium you don’t want.
Diversify your diet and get fresh produce but in quantities that you’ll be able to eat quickly. Raw dishes (like salads) taste best with fresh fruits and veggies.
Enroll in a Loyalty Program
Being loyal to a brand pays off in multiple ways. At Walmart, for example, you can get same-day delivery for free (at minimum purchase of $35). Walmart projects your savings from free deliveries of your groceries per year to be $816 (based on two deliveries per week). The Walmart+ membership costs $98/year or $12.95/month and there are other benefits like free shipping, quicker checkout, and discounted fuel prices.
Some loyalty programs also let you earn points on every purchase that you can redeem once accumulated. You don’t need to stick to just one brand. Pick two and alternate between them based on prices and your requirements—this will also help you snag the best deals.
Don’t Pay for Convenience
Can you wash, peel, and cut your own veggies? Can you grate your own block of cheese? These conveniences are saviors for people who need extra help, but if you’re okay doing it at home yourself, you’ll be cutting down on your grocery bills. Freshly grated cheese is better than the store-bought grated bag anyway.
Use the Right Cards
Do you always shop at Walmart? Then apply for the Capital One Walmart Rewards Card with $0 annual fee. It gives you points that you can redeem and up to 5% cashback. If you spend $500 every month on walmart.com, you can earn 30,000 points in a year, which is equal to $300 cash value.
There are other options, too. American Express’ Blue Cash Preferred Card has 6% cashback at supermarkets, $0 annual fee for the first year ($95 after), and cashback on streaming subscriptions and fuel stations. According to CNBC’s calculations, an average American can get $310 in cash back every year from shopping at eligible supermarkets with this card.
Look for Offers on Meat
A meat-eater knows how expensive steaks are, but you can enjoy your diet without breaking the bank. The hack: know when the meat is going on sale (ask the sales staff or keep an eye on the prices) and buy in bulk because family packs are often cheaper than single packs. You can easily freeze meat at home. You can even buy meat cuts that are cheaper (chicken thighs instead of breast) and look for recipes to experiment.
Once you’re home, you can take a smarter approach to storing and using your groceries in a way that nothing goes to waste.
Storage is Important
Check how ingredients and produce need to be stored for it to stay consumable for longer—in the pantry or in the fridge. Creating extra storage all around will be better for your annual grocery budget, but make sure it’s not out of sight and out of mind. If you’re planning on freezing meats, meals, and veggies (along with ice and ice creams), then maybe investing in a standalone freezer for your family will make sense. A pantry for all your staples is also a good idea, but even if you don’t have one, start looking for ideas on how to expand minimal spaces at home.
Freeze What You Can
Cooking meals in advance and freezing a portion for lunch the next day is a good option for those who can’t cook every day or buy a sandwich for lunch at work. You can easily freeze veggies such as cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots after blanching, but nothing with high water content like cucumber. Like mentioned earlier, you can also freeze meats at zero degree Fahrenheit or lower. Use this Good House Keeping chart to know how long different meats can last in the freezer. Just make sure you have freezer bags to vacuum seal everything and thaw everything properly before use.
Stick to Your Meal Plan
You will be tempted, many times in the week, to order in a pizza or pick a hot meal at a food truck. Resist. If you have planned meals for the week, it will mean you’re not using something in the fridge which will go bad, and you’re spending more above and beyond what you’ve already spent on groceries. Instead, schedule takeouts and dine-outs in your plan for the week, so when you’re shopping, these are already accounted for.
Dedicate one day of the week to leftover days. Can the pasta from last night or rice from two days ago be repurposed? Look for recipes with whatever you have in the fridge; apps like SuperCook and AllRecipes can help you use ingredients you already have and reduce food waste.
Make Less Frequent Trips
Is it possible to reduce your shopping trips from once a week to maybe once in a fortnight? It will require planning on your part and buying in bulk will come in handy, but it’s a great way to reduce unnecessary purchases and last-minute trips to the store that cost you money, fuel, and energy.