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How to save money on groceries

There are a few things that everyone needs to spend money on, like housing, electricity, and food.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 the average single American spent $3,008 on food prepared at home. That’s about $250 per month — definitely not a cheap grocery bill.

The good news is there are tons of ways to save money on groceries. No matter how much you’re spending right now, there are always ways you can lower your grocery bill so you have more money to do things like pay off debt or save for a trip to Maui.

How to Save Money on Groceries by Planning Ahead

Believe it or not, some of the best things you can do to save money on groceries start before you even set foot in the store.

Use Grocery Cash Back Apps

Grocery cash back apps are a great way to save money on food. One of the most popular cash back apps, or “rebate apps” as they’re sometimes known, is Ibotta. Here’s how the app works:

  • Find rebates or cash back offers for specific products, such as Heinz ketchup or Hormel pork loins
  • Buy those products (read the fine print for details about quantity and size)
  • Scan your receipt
  • Add the rebate offers
  • Submit the receipt for cash back

To use apps like Ibotta effectively, you need to open them up before leaving for the store so you know which items to buy. The downside is that many of the products are more expensive brand-name items, although Ibotta often offers rebates for generic items.

Plan Your Meals

If you’ve ever had the experience of standing hungry in front of an open fridge with a random assortment of ingredients on a weeknight, then you’ll love meal planning.

Before you go grocery shopping, take 15 minutes to sit down and look at your grocery store’s ads. You can find most grocery ads and discounts online. Plan out your meals for the week so you know exactly what ingredients to get ahead of time.

This way, you’ll never have that frustrating fridge experience again. You also won’t waste any more food as it goes bad, and you’ll save money by avoiding take-out when you run out of options.

Make a List

If you’ve already planned out your meals, the next part is easy — make a list. Having a list in hand keeps you on track when you go to the grocery store and prevents you from forgetting your ingredients.

Even if you only need a small handful of items, it’s still a good idea to make a list. You can make a list on an old-fashioned piece of paper or use the dozens of list apps available on smartphones.

Pick the Right Time

You’ve probably heard people say you shouldn’t go grocery shopping while hungry because you’re more likely to spend money. But did you know going grocery shopping while sleepy can also prompt you to spend more money?

Try going shopping after you’ve had a full meal and a good night of sleep.

woman searching phone in grocery story for how to save money on food

How to Save Money on Groceries at the Store

Once you get to the store, there are plenty of ways to do your grocery shopping on a budget.

Have Your Groceries Delivered

This might not be a money-saving tip for everyone, but in some cases, it can be a lifesaver. If you’re easily tempted to throw treats and snacks into your cart, opting for grocery delivery will remove that bait.

Similarly, if you always forget to plan out your meals and make a list before you go grocery shopping, having your groceries delivered might force you to do these things. Otherwise, how will you know which groceries to get?

You can use meal delivery services that your own grocery store offers, or services such as Instacart. Many stores even offer grocery pickup services, such as Kroger’s ClickList, where someone picks out your order and you pick it up. That may be a cheaper alternative to having groceries delivered.

Pay with Cash

It’s been proven — paying with a credit card makes you likely to spend more, whereas paying in cash has the opposite effect. Researchers theorize this is because paying with credit cards distances you from the reality of paying with cold, hard cash.

So the next time you shop, consider stopping by the ATM beforehand.

Join the Store Loyalty Program

Most store loyalty programs are free and easy to sign up for.  In return, you’ll get discounted prices on a range of items with no work on your part aside from scanning your loyalty card or entering your phone number. Some grocery store loyalty programs even offer discounts on fuel at the co-branded gas station.

Shop the Sales

Every week, grocery stores have sales on specific items. These are often in-season items that can be especially fresh and tasty. You can use grocery store sales to vary your weekly menu by planning your meals around discounted items. You can also use it as a challenge to try new ingredients and recipes.

Buy Generic Food Items

Like with prescription drugs, generic food items are often much, much cheaper. While you may be loyal to a certain brand, you’ll often be surprised by how good the generic version is.

It’s at least worth trying a few times to see if you can wean yourself over to the cheaper product. If you do like the generic version, you’ll save money each time you buy it — especially for routine staples like pasta, spices, and cereal.

Don’t Forget About Coupons

Coupons are one of the oldest and best-known ways to save money on groceries. There are tons of places to find coupons.

Lots of people just stuff coupons randomly on doorway entry tables or in their cars, forgetting them when they actually need them. But if you actually learn how to coupon and create solid couponing strategy, not only will you be more likely to remember your coupons, you’ll be more likely to use them to the maximum advantage. Pair up a coupon with a sale on the same item for twice the savings.

Ask for a Rain Check

One of the core tenets of budget grocery shopping is buying food that’s on sale. But what happens if they run out? That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. In fact, you can ask for a “rain check.” You’ll usually get a slip of paper that lets you buy the item later, when it’s back in stock, at the sale price.

How to Save Money on Food at Home

The savings don’t stop once you’ve bought your groceries and left the store. There are a lot of things you can do at home to stretch the value of what you’ve already purchased.

Batch and Freeze Meals

If you hate cooking or don’t have time to make a full-course gourmet dinner each night, batching and freezing your meals might be just the thing for you.

The best way to maximize your savings in this area is to plan your meals around what’s on sale. That way, you can enjoy the fruits of your savings over and over again, well past when the sale has ended.

Shop Your Freezer and Pantry

Even though it can be frustrating to find nothing but two bags of pasta, a can of peanut butter, and three taco shells in your pantry, you can choose to view it as a challenge.

What can you concoct out of your kitchen based on only the ingredients you already have available, Top Chef-style? Make it a fun date with your spouse or challenge your kids.

Avoid Pre-Cooked Meals

It’s easy to buy pre-cooked meals and ready-made deli items. But you can save money by buying the raw ingredients instead. The taste of home-cooked food always beats out pre-cooked food, and you’ll be learning a new skill as well.

Learning to cook can be fun. There are many free knife skills classes available online, like this one. That’s the first step towards learning to cook at home. You can also take cooking classes online or in-person.

Look for kitchen supply stores in your area if there aren’t any cooking schools nearby. Pinterest is a great place to find new recipes when you’re ready to start experimenting.

Make Grocery Shopping on a Budget Fun

Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be a drag. You don’t have to consign yourself to a life of cheap ramen and processed cheese.

Here are some ways you can make it more fun:

  • Track how much money you’re saving
  • Have meal-planning competitions with your spouse to see who can save more (while still planning a tasty menu)
  • Have your kids help with planning, shopping, and cooking

No matter which way you slice it, finding ways to save on your groceries will help your bottom line and leave more money for your other financial goals and the things you really care about.

Author

Lindsay is a personal finance expert and writer based in Washington state. After graduating with two degrees in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, Lindsay found herself underemployed and $100,000 in debt. She has since learned how to manage money wisely and uses her experience to help others make smart financial decisions. Today, her work appears on sites like Credit Karma, Magnify Money, Wisebread, Centsai, Discover, and Chime Bank. In her spare time, Lindsay enjoys hiking, reading, homebrewing, travel hacking, and sharing her personal experience on her own blog, GoScienceFinance.com.

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