To save money on groceries, you need to first know how far you can stretch a dollar. Sometimes the ways to save money are obvious, sometimes they’re not. When you’re grocery shopping, the ways to save money are often not as obvious as you think. Here are a few ways to save money on groceries. May they help your as much as they have helped mine!
How to Save Money on Groceries:
1. Set a Budget – You won’t be able to save money if you’re not sure how much you’re spending in the first place. Make a spreadsheet for your usual buys. Find out how much you’re spending each month in groceries, and you’ll be able to set yourself a budget. Budgeting will also let you know when certain groceries go up in price. You could also track this in a ledger book that you can take with you.
2. Keep a Running Grocery List – In restaurants, the kitchen staff and restaurant managers keep a list of everything they use on a monthly basis. When they get low on something, they reorder it. You can do the same at home. Make that list, and put a check by things when you need more. The more well-stocked you keep your pantry, the better off you’ll be. Just remember: If it’s not on the list, you don’t need it!
3. Grow Your Own – If you’re into gardening, this is an easy step to take. If you’re not into gardening yet, you’ll get hooked fast! It’s great to plant your own seeds and watch those tiny little things produce pounds and pounds of food for your family. It’s a great feeling to eat the food you have grown yourself, especially when it’s saving you money in the long run.
4. Forage – Learn to identify edible plants in the wild and take advantage of that knowledge. If you’ve got acres and acres of land, it’s very easy to forage on your own land. If you live in an apartment or a subdivision, find a pace to go hiking and forage there (just make sure it’s ok to take plants from that area first). What better way to save money on groceries than finding them for free?
5. Try to Produce Your Own Staples – We eat lots of bread in our house. We’ve recently started freezing bread, but more importantly, we’re starting to bake our own bread, too. Figure out what foods your family eats a lot of, and make them yourself instead of buying them. The ingredients are most always cheaper than the finished product. Ice cream, yogurt, and even popcorn are good ideas of foods you can make yourself.
6. Cook – Obviously you can cook your food at home for cheaper than you can buy it in a restaurant. If you go out to eat on a regular basis, cut back on a few of these outings and eat at home instead.
7. Cook for a Week or a Month – Cook a few meals in advance and freeze them. It’s always easy to cook in large batches when you’re in the mood to cook. If you’re cooking spaghetti, for example, cook more marinara sauce than you will need and freeze it in zipper bags. You can buy foods like ground beef in bulk for cheaper, thus saving you money in the long run. When you have a freezer full of ready-made meals, even the biggest clutz can fix dinner for the family.
8. Recycle Old Meals (leftovers) – Monday’s pot roast can become Tuesday’s roast beef sandwiches and Wednesday’s beef stew with a few additions. If you have enough food from dinner left that would make one plate full, put it in a microwave safe plate and take it to work for lunch the next day. Too often people toss out the smallest portions of food thinking “that’s just not enough for even one person.” If you add all those tiny portions together, you just might have a great soup, stew or casserole.
9. Don’t Throw Food Away – How can you save money on groceries if you’re throwing food away? We save ham bones to add flavor when we’re cooking beans or greens, bacon grease to sautee veggies for soups, stews and casseroles, and chicken carcasses to make chicken stock. Did you know you can even make candles from bacon grease? There’s usually something you can do with the “remnants” from cooking.
10. Cut Your Own Food – Instead of buying pre-cut carrot sticks, celery and other veggies, buy the whole product and cut them yourself. It costs about 4 times as much to buy the pre-cut stuff. It may not be as convenient to cut your own, but this article is about saving money, not time. This goes for meats, as well. You can typically cut up a whole chicken cheaper than you can buy the parts. Just make sure you have a good set of knives that you keep sharp!
11. Volunteer – You can probably find a food pantry in your town or somewhere nearby. Go do some volunteer work there. On Fridays at closing time, there’s usually large quantities of food that didn’t get distributed that would otherwise be thrown out. The people who run the food pantry may let you take home such things as strawberries, bananas, and other produce items just to keep them from going to waste. Be sure to take eco-friendly shopping bags with you!
(On a side note, I have heard a lot of talk about how “tacky” people think this option is. To be honest, when I first wrote that section, it was meant more as a “don’t let perfectly good food go to waste” and not “volunteer just to get some free food” kind of thing. Let me clarify by saying that if you can afford your groceries, don’t volunteer just to get free food. I firmly believe that anyone who volunteers should do so out of the kindness of their hearts because they want to help the cause for which they are volunteering. That said, if you are struggling to make ends meet and need the assistance, volunteering in exchange for some food to help feed your family is a great thing to do if you can afford the time.)
12. Pack a Lunch – Planning a trip? Taking the kids to the park? Pack your own food to take with you instead of eating out while you’re away from home. This not only saves you money, but your food quality will most likely be much better, too.
13. Eat First, Then Shop – “Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.” If you do it just once, you’ll know why. You end up buying what looks appealing to you right then rather than sticking to your budget and grocery list. Don’t go if you’re tired, either. You won’t add things up as well, which will cost you extra at the register.
14. Take a Calculator – Some grocery stores have calculators built into the shopping cart handle, and most stores have already calculated the unit prices of every item in the store. There are still some that don’t offer either. It might take you longer to shop, but if you calculate the unit prices, you’ll know what’s the best buy to help you save money on groceries in the end. Besides, if you have a cell phone, you already have a calculator with you… and if you don’t, take a calculator with you. Check out this cool one I found that was meant for grocery shopping!
15. Use Discount Grocery Stores – There are some great stores that buy surplus merchandise from the larger grocery chains. They have these items discounted for you, and they’re the same exact thing you would be buying from the bigger stores. You can save a ton buying from the smaller discount stores without sacrificing quality.
16. Buy in Bulk – My mom told me once after I moved out that I needed to move back home. She said they were spending more for food just buying for her and dad than they were when I lived there. Of course she meant they were paying more per unit. The more of something you buy, the less the unit price usually ends up being. Again, you can prepare meals and freeze them, or you can split the uncooked food up, vacuum seal it in bags and freeze it. Just thaw it a day in advance, and it’s ready to cook the next night.
17. Avoid Impulse Purchases – Every grocery store has gum, candy and other items at the register, stuff hanging on strips in an aisle, and the dreaded “bargain bins” at the front of the store. These will blow your budget out of the water. If you didn’t plan to buy it, and it isn’t on the list, just don’t buy it! If you REALLY need that item, budget it in for next week’s shopping trip.
18. Make Fewer Shopping Trips – The more often you go shopping, the more you are likely to spend. Some people go to the store three to four times a week. Some only go once a week. Try to cut your frequency in half, for a few months, then in half again. This will focus you more on buying large quantities and staying closer to your list.
19. Investigate & Ask Questions – What’s the price difference between the bag of dried beans that sells for $.89 and the can of beans that sells for $.99? Just a dime? No. The bag yields 7 cups of cooked beans, $.13 per cup. The can yields 1-1/2 cups of cooked beans, $.66 per cup. The canned beans – as inexpensive as they are – are five times more expensive than dried beans. Apply this logic to everything you buy and you’ll definitely save money on groceries! You can make marinara sauce and boil pasta for much, much cheaper per serving than that can of spaghetti rings on the shelf (and it’s healthier, too).
20. Food Only Please – Paper goods, cleaning supplies and cosmetics are probably going to be less expensive at big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart. This also helps you to track your grocery costs separately from other living expenses. You can always make your cleaning products and use linens instead of paper products.
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21. Avoid Processed Food – The more ingredients you see on the label, the more the food is processed and the less nutritional value it has. Not only will you be healthier for buying whole foods (like potatoes, bananas, and apples), but it’s actually cheaper, too. You’ll be avoiding tons of chemicals and preservatives and saving money at the same time! Your health and your wallet will sing praises unto your name!
22. Don’t Buy Water – No matter how cheap you find it, bottled water is expensive compared to tap water (and it’s usually no better than tap water, either). If you have a well, you’re probably even better off! If you’re not sure about your water at home, invest in a decent water-filtering pitcher or a home water filtration system. Any way you go, you’ll be saving money over time.
23. Don’t Buy Disguised Water, Either – Pretty much anything you buy nowadays has added water – bottled juices, canned broth, applesauce, popsicles… all the major ingredients are water. Why buy these when you can make your own? Again, you save money and have healthier ingredients in the same whack.
24. Don’t Buy “Designer Salt” – Seasoned salts (including garlic salt and Lowery’s seasoned salt) are all basically salt with added spices. Why not make your own and fill your shakers with something you made yourself? You can actually make a lot of your own spice mixes (like taco seasonings) and control the amount of salt in them, too.
25. Use Coupons – This one’s a given, right? If you have a coupon to save money on something you normally buy, use it! What you should NOT do, however, is buy something just because you have a coupon. You can’t save money on groceries when you’re buying things you don’t need, no matter how good the discount on the coupon is (unless you’re one of those extreme couponers that get 500 of them for free). Be sure to organize your coupons so you save a little time while you save a lot of money!
26. Get a Loyalty Card – Store loyalty cards let you get added discounts on your groceries on top of clipping coupons. Lately, you can go online and add coupons to your loyalty card, too! No matter how many or few times you visit a store, if you can get a free loyalty card, get it. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll save.
27. Buy Store Brands – Most of the time, store brands are just as good as the brand name foods. Sometimes they’re the very same thing. Experiment and find out what’s good for you, and buy the store brand as often as you can. You’ll be paying a lot less money for the same product.
28. Shop Several Stores – Get familiar with all the stores in your area. You’ll soon learn that one store always has the best prices on the better quality meats, while another may have better prices on frozen and canned foods. Make your list, figure out what you need from each store on each trip, and plan your driving route accordingly. You’ll save money on gas this way, too.
29. Don’t Buy Anything in Individual Wrapping – Just like #10’s “Cut Your Own Food” and #16’s “Buy in Bulk,” this one will save you so much money it’s unreal. Whether it’s something frozen or otherwise, anything that is individually wrapped can most likely be bought in bulk for much cheaper and wrapped at home in individual wrappers. Stop paying for the excess packaging (and labor it takes to package it).
30. Know a Good Deal When You See One – If you’re keeping track of what you buy like I mentioned in #1 and #2, you’ll likely have a good idea what most of your shopping list costs individually. When you see something at a lower price, get it while it’s on sale and store it until you need it.
31. Always Use the Produce Scale – Don’t try to guess how much a pound of mushrooms weighs. If your goal is to save money on groceries, you have to be exact in your weights. Be sure you weigh everything before you put it in your cart.
32. Avoid Lavish Displays – Cheese is usually less expensive in the deli than it is in the delicious-looking display of hors d’ourves in mid-aisle. Don’t let the store sucker you with their marketing strategies.
33. Buy Cold Cuts in the Deli – Believe it or not, plastic packaged cold cuts are typically more expensive (and more laden with chemicals) than what you find in the deli. You can have the deli cut your meat for you, or you can do that yourself at home with a deli slicer.
34. Watch the Cash Register – Approximately $2.5 billion each year is made in scanning errors. Either through scanning errors made by the cashier, or through the store’s own fault for not changing the pricing on sale items in their system, these stores are making a killing off our lack of attention. We trust them to charge us the right amounts, but we need to be checking them to make sure they’re not making mistakes. Their mistakes don’t cost them, they cost us.
35. Leave Your Kids at Home – For that matter, leave your spouse at home, too. Other people with you at the market are usually more of a distraction than a help. Whether they’re asking you “can we get this, too?” or wandering off, they mean no harm, but they’re costing you more money than you may realize. If you must take them with you, give them something to do while you shop… like counting the lines on the UPC codes of the foods you’re buying.
36. Go to Local Farmer’s Markets – Buying directly from growers is not only a great way to learn about new foods you wouldn’t normally buy in the grocery store, but it typically means lower prices. The people who grow these foods and sell them have almost always eaten them, too. Ask them about that new fruit you’ve never tried.
37. Stock Up After the Holidays – November and December are the best months of the year to save money on groceries. There are more coupons issued in these two months than at any other time during the year. The day after Thanksgiving, stores practically give turkeys away – if they have any left. This is when an extra freezer or fridge comes in handy. You’ll find some great bargains after the holidays. It’s a great time to stock up on bargains.
38. Own a Freezer and/or Extra Fridge – While you may not be able to afford one right away, after you start saving money with these tips, you’ll eventually be able to buy yourself an extra freezer or fridge. Then you can save even MORE money on groceries! You don’t even need a brand new one. Find one on the internet or in local yard sales or used appliance shops. You’ll thank yourself later when you have tons of fresh foods stored in bags and frozen for later use.
39. Buy Frozen – Fresh produce is appealing, but items such as broccoli, green peppers and strawberries are considerably cheaper when purchased from the frozen aisle. Most frozen items still carry the same health benefits as their fresh counterparts, and you don’t have to worry about learning the proper way to freeze these items. If you can’t get it at a farmer’s market, you’re better off getting many items frozen.
40. Know Your Enemy – Modern supermarkets (and all other stores, too) are designed from front to back and top to bottom to make you want to spend money. Staple items like milk tend to be at the back of the store, causing you to have to walk through the entire store just to get what you need. Expect tinted lights above meat and produce, automatic sprinklers and mouth-watering displays. Remember that the basic foodstuffs are usually located along the outside walls and more processed foods are on the inner aisles. This knowledge will not only save you money, but your health, too!
What ideas do you have for saving money on groceries?