SAVE MONEY WHILE EATING WELL
From clipping coupons to using cash-back apps to knowing which items to avoid, shoppers employ many tactics to reduce grocery bills. With an ever-growing array of tempting foods to impulsively add to your shopping cart, learning tips and tricks to streamline your shopping experience is essential to maintaining a healthy budget. These 50 practices will help keep the cost of groceries in check.
Related: 10 Pantry and Freezer Staples Worth Buying in Bulk
PLAN WEEKLY MENUS AROUND SALE ADS
Most grocery stores have weekly circulars that advertise the items currently on sale. Reduce the cost of each shopping trip by using the ads to plan menus and build a shopping list around low-cost items.
Related: 55 Big-Batch Meals to Eat All Week
VISIT SUPERMARKET WEBSITES
Some supermarket websites offer deals and coupons that don't appear in the weekly circulars. Visiting the website takes only a few minutes and can result in deeper discounts from places you already shop.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE MANAGER
When advertised sale items are out of stock or unavailable, store managers can authorize discounts on comparable products, so it pays to get to know them. Friendly store managers can also help steer shoppers to the best deals.
USE FROZEN FOODS
Frozen foods last longer and are generally cheaper than fresh foods. Confine fresh foods to uncooked dishes like salads, and look to their frozen counterparts when the ingredients will be cooked in dishes such as soups, lasagna, and pies.
STOCK UP WHEN STAPLES ARE ON SALE
Each week, go through supermarket ads with a fine-tooth comb in search of items you use regularly and load up on those staples while they're on sale. In addition to shelf-stable foods and household goods, stock up on discounted produce and meats that can be canned or frozen for later.
BUY LARGER CONTAINERS
Buying items in bulk typically reduces the unit price and the need for additional trips to the store. Buying one large container, instead of several smaller ones over time, also cuts down on garbage.
Related: 11 Ways to Spice Up Leftovers
BUY STORE BRANDS
Chains stores frequently carry their own versions of popular packaged foods, including cookies, cereal, dairy, and more. In many cases, store-brand products contain the same ingredients and offer the same quality for as little as a third of the price. Consumers who opt for store brands save an estimated $44 billion a year, according to a study by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research.
KNOW WHAT TO BUY WHERE
Every store has its specialty. One market may carry quality fruit and vegetables at bargain prices, while another offers good deals on meat. Tracking your spending for a month or two may help reveal which stores have the lowest prices on frequently used items.
DO THE MATH
Stores rarely make it easy to compare prices from product to product, listing the cost per pound for one item and the price per ounce on another. Using a calculator — most phones have one — can make it easier to figure out which product is the best value.
MAKE A LIST AND STICK TO IT
Shopping without a list can be chaotic and may result in a lot of impulse purchases. Sticking to a detailed list saves time spent cruising the aisles and money at the register.
LOOK UP AND DOWN
Grocery stores often strategically place the highest priced items at eye level. Take a look up or down to spot better deals on similar products.
AVOID JUNK-FOOD AISLES
Steer clear of aisles packed with tempting foods that aren't on the shopping list, to ensure they don't end up in the cart. Avoid the bakery and deli counter, too, if necessary.
USE A BASKET
If the cart looks empty, it's easy to assume you're forgetting something, or might not have enough food for the week. To keep from buying extra items that weren't on the shopping list, use a basket or smaller cart to focus attention on just the essentials.
DON'T SHOP HUNGRY
On an empty stomach, everything in the store seems appetizing, especially high-priced prepared foods and snacks. Eating just before going shopping can help you make smart and economical choices without being distracted by hunger pangs.
LEAVE KIDS AT HOME
While it's nice to get the entire family involved in meal preparation, shopping trips can be tedious with one or more kids begging for expensive and unhealthy items. If they do come along, stick to a rule of only one extra item per shopping trip to set realistic expectations and not overspend.
In many stores it's now mandatory to bring your own bags, or else incur a fee per plastic or paper bag. Other stores offer a discount of a few cents for shoppers who bring bags. This money-saving habit is also good for the environment.
BRING BULK CONTAINERS
Many stores offer inexpensive bulk goods, from dried beans and grains to shampoo. Bringing your own container eliminates any fees associated with store-provided containers, especially for liquid items like hair products and laundry detergent.
USE CASH-BACK APPS
Smartphone apps such as Receipt Hog and Checkout 51 offer cash back and redeemable points on regular shopping trips. Simply shop and upload a photo of the receipt.
USE STORE APPS
Large chains such as Giant Food and Safeway have apps that can help shoppers find discounts and sale items on the go without having to rely on a printed version of the weekly circular.
BUY DRIED BEANS
A lower price is just one of the many benefits of buying dried beans instead of pre-cooked canned beans. Dried beans last longer on the shelf than canned beans while taking up less space. They yield a better texture when cooked and come free of additives like salt and chemical preservatives.
Does your state require deposits on plastic and glass bottles? Instead of tossing them into the recycle bin, collect them in a reusable shopping bag and return them for a refund on the next trip to the store.
PERUSE BLEMISHED PRODUCE
Stores often have a section where bruised and overripe produce is sold at clearance prices. These fruits and vegetables work just fine in sauces, pie fillings, stews, and smoothies.
DON'T BE DETERRED BY EXPIRATION DATES
There are no federal laws governing the sale of expired food (except baby formula), but no store wants to sell food past its recommended date. Shoppers can get discounts even on shelf-stable goods like pasta, dried soup mixes, and canned sauces with looming expiration dates. These are often fine to use weeks or even months after the date on the package has passed.
JOIN A WAREHOUSE CLUB
An annual membership to a warehouse club such as Costco, Sam's Club, or BJ's costs $55 or less but offers wholesale pricing on many staples. If used regularly for household items like paper products, grains, and cooking oil, membership can bring big savings.
Related: 15 Things to Splurge on at Costco and Sam's Club
USE A REWARDS CARD
Many credit cards have rewards programs that award extra points or cash back for grocery purchases. Use one every time you're at the supermarket to make the most of the dollars spent.
You can become an AARP member at any age for $16 a year. Along with many other benefits and savings opportunities, the organization offers coupons and discounts on grocery items.
CHOOSE WHOLE FOODS
Foods with less processing, such as whole fruits and vegetables, offer a lot of nutrition per serving and cost less than their chopped and packaged counterparts. Even when using organic produce, a whole-food diet can be less costly than relying on processed foods.
AVOID PREPARED FOODS
The prices of ready-to-eat salads and sandwiches, and even frozen pizzas, reflect the labor that went into their preparation. The same dish made from the same quality ingredients costs less to prepare yourself.
After checking out, be sure to review the receipt for any mistakes, such as an incorrect price or being charged twice for the same item, that may have added extra dollars to the grocery bill.
AVOID NON-GROCERY ITEMS
Although grocery stores carry household products like shampoo, lotion, and over-the-counter medicine, those items are often less expensive elsewhere. When shopping at the supermarket, stick to food for the best prices.
DO THE PREP YOURSELF
Buying pre-cut veggies, pre-washed greens, or ears of corn that already have the husks removed may save a few minutes in the kitchen, but that convenience will cost you. Slice and dice produce yourself instead of reaching for ready-to-go packages.
NO LOYALTY CARD? NO PROBLEM
Many stores have free loyalty programs that offer members extra savings. When out of town or shopping at a unfamiliar chain, ask the cashier to swipe a store card to apply any available discounts. Many checkers are happy to comply with such requests.
MAKE FEWER RUNS TO THE STORE
Every trip to the grocery store is an opportunity to purchase unneeded items. Instead, focus on using what's on hand and getting the most out of every item. This saves gas, too.
LOOK FOR THE LATEST EXPIRATION DATE
Checking for the expiration date that's furthest away will help reduce waste, especially when buying in bulk. Don't be afraid to reach to the back of the shelf to find products with a later date.
RETURN SPOILED FOOD
Sometimes a packet of cheese or a bag of lettuce is past its prime, even though it is within the expiration date. Don't hesitate to take it back to the store and exchange it for a product in good condition or get a refund.
Most stores still have scales in the produce section that allow customers to weigh fruits and vegetables. Checking the weight before checking out can take the guesswork out of the cost and help keep you on budget.
BUY COLD CUTS FROM THE DELI
The deli counter usually offers the lowest prices on cold cuts because the store buys the meat in bulk, passing on the savings to customers. Prepackaged cold cuts come with the added price of the packaging, plus the labor that goes into the packaging.
BUY LARGER CUTS OF MEAT AND WHOLE POULTRY
AVOID END-OF-AISLE DISPLAYS
Large and colorful displays are designed to attract buyers to something they might not otherwise buy. Sometimes the items are on sale, but typically the displays market brand-name products best avoided when trying to save.
BUY BAGGED POTATOES AND ONIONS
Buying pre-bagged potatoes and onions is often a better value than buying the same varieties loose.
BUY BLENDED OILS FOR COOKING
Shoppers can save by reserving pricier virgin oils for dipping, dressings, or recipes that call for them — where flavor matters. For sautéing, frying, and baking, use less expensive blended oils.
AVOID INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED PORTIONS
Even when buying in bulk, items that come individually wrapped typically cost more, in part because of the extra packaging. Rather than purchasing 100 individually wrapped cookie packs, use snack-size bags to package cookies from a larger bag or box.
CLAIM MAIL-IN REBATES
Take advantage of rebate offers, which typically require mailing in a proof of purchase to receive money back. Companies offer attractive discounts to encourage people to buy and count on most not following through on the rebate. Those who do reap the benefit.
SHOP SEASONALLY AND LOCALLY
Out-of-season produce has to travel from far away, and the shipping costs get passed on to the consumer. Many fruits and vegetables have a short season during which they are inexpensive and readily available. While the supply is plentiful, stores lower prices to move their inventory of perishable products.
BUY PLANTS INSTEAD OF FRESH HERBS
Herb plants such as basil rarely cost more than twice their one-use, prepackaged counterparts. This renewable source of herbs pays for itself in no time, especially when considering that fresh herbs are some of the most expensive items pound for pound.