If you’ve noticed higher prices at the grocery store, you’re not alone. Production shortages and transportation backlogs are causing food prices to creep up. In September 2021, the Consumer Price Index1 reported a 4.5% increase in food prices over the past 12 months, and most economists expect that upward trend to continue.
We all still need to eat, though, so here are 12 things you can do now to save at the grocery store.
12 Ways to save money on groceries
1. Plan meals in advance
While you don’t need to have Taco Tuesday every week (although that wouldn’t be a terrible thing, right?), meal planning allows you to take advantage of what you already have on hand and what’s on sale. Plus, it helps you mix up your menu. Rather than serving meat and vegetables for every meal, consider breakfast for dinner or meatless Mondays. Meat can be the most expensive item on your list, but things like beans and lentils pack plenty of plant-based protein for far less money.
Meal planning also helps you get multiple meals from just a few ingredients. Many grocery stores and wholesale clubs offer low-cost rotisserie chicken to draw you in, so take advantage. Combine chopped chicken with veggies to make an entrée salad one day, then use the remaining chicken for a hearty soup the next. Planning also helps you remember to pull that meat out of the freezer before you need it, avoiding the need for last-minute drive-through dinners.
2. Make a shopping list and stick to it
Impulse buys can be real budget busters. Check your fridge and pantry before you head out to make sure you take advantage of what’s already on hand. Avoid those tempting items near the check-outs. If the item isn’t on your list, leave it on the shelf. That said, if you see a non-perishable item you use regularly on sale, take advantage of the discount.
3. Budget and estimate your total cost
Avoid surprises at check-out; set a budget goal and track your costs as you shop. Your store may have scanners for this; you can also use shopping apps with barcode scanners like Pantry Check to keep a running tally. Or use store websites and apps to see weekly ads and promotions, then build your shopping list and add items to a virtual cart before you head to the market.
4. Leave your loved one(s) at home
It’s much easier to stick to your list if you leave kids at home. You’ll not only save money, but time and sanity as well. Consider asking someone to watch the kids for your weekly trip to the grocery store. And, if either you or your partner make frequent impulse purchases, you may want to let the saver handle the grocery shopping alone.
5. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store
Grocery store layout is almost universally standard. The center aisles contain canned goods along with single serving and pre-packaged foods. Fresh items like produce, dairy, meats and seafoods are typically located along the outside walls. You’ll find that shopping the perimeter of the grocery store can not only help save money, it may also lead to a healthier diet.
6. Avoid single serving and pre-packaged items
Convenience will cost you. Compare the cost per ounce of the single-serving yogurt cups to the larger containers or weigh the cost of a head of lettuce against the prepackaged salad, and you’ll see what we mean. Pre-cut produce can cost two to three times as much as whole.
But, you only save money when you avoid tossing spoiled food. If you don’t need that whole head of cabbage, use your menu planning skills to find ways to use the rest another night.
7. Buy generic or store brand
Nearly every grocery chain has a lower-priced store brand, particularly for things like canned and frozen items. Compare unit prices, shown on the shelf stickers, to see which brand or size offers the best deal. Also, avoid getting lured into the old retail industry adage, “Eye level is Buy level.” As you cruise the store, check the upper and lower sections of the shelves, where you’ll find cheaper versions of the same product.
8. Buy in bulk where it makes sense
Consider joining a wholesale club, which may make sense if you have a large pantry or freezer. But be careful—buying in bulk does not automatically mean you’re saving money. Be especially cautious when buying perishable items. That box of peaches may look like a good deal until you end up tossing half of them. Also consider the annual membership fee, and make sure that your savings offset the price you paid to join.
9. Use paper and digital coupons
BOGO (buy-one-get-one) and other coupons can offer significant discounts—if they’re used to buy the items you need. Use your menu planning skills and turn to Sunday paper and mail circulars for savings opportunities, as well as store websites and apps such as Coupons.com.
10. Sign up for grocery store loyalty programs and shop the sales
Take advantage of all savings opportunities your grocer offers. It’s free to join a store’s loyalty program. In fact, at many stores, the posted sales price is only available if you’re part of “the Club.” Sometimes, those reward points you earn can even save you money at the gas pump.
11. Download a cash back app
If you really want to take your grocery shopping to the next level, consider a cash back app such as Ibotta, Checkout 51, or Fetch Rewards. All offer savings and unique benefits with a smartphone and a little effort on your part.
12. Never shop when you’re hungry
Those impulse purchases are even harder to avoid if your tummy is rumbling. Treat yourself to a granola bar or an apple before you shop to take the edge off.
Extra savings tips
- Buy what’s in season. You can bet that in November, strawberries will be more expensive than apples, and asparagus will cost more than squash. Things like bananas, carrots, yellow onions, and potatoes are usually a good value all year. Farmer’s markets can be a good place to save and get fresh, local produce.
- Many states have now implemented a fee for grocery bags. While that $0.05 might not seem like much, little things add up. Remember to bring your own bag.
- Remember the casseroles your grandma used to make? These can be a great way to creatively use leftovers. Combine that leftover burger with carrots, tomatoes, onion, and pasta for an Italian-inspired Bolognese-style dish. Or combine bits of leftover vegetables to make a hearty soup.
- Costs of things like soda and bottled water can add up quickly. Consider using a water bottle and drink from the tap. If you like, add bubbles using a SodaStream then add fresh lemon or lime slices. You’ll not only save money, but you’ll also help save the environment, with fewer bottles and cans in the trash.
- Organic produce costs more. If you like to buy organic, learn which items provide more value in terms of protection from pesticides. Since you don’t eat the outside peel, many experts say it’s okay to skip the extra cost of organic for things like bananas, melons, onions, and avocados.