Every week, or month, we head out to the store to buy groceries. Food and beverages to stock up our fridges and pantries with all we will need to eat until we next head to the store. However, spending money on groceries can rack up one hell of a bill, and living costs are just as important as any priority bills we have.
If you have debt or a limited income, you can be tempted to reduce food costs drastically, which is not always a good idea. Although it can be financially viable, it is not always health viable. Most people are aware that unhealthy foods tend to be on the cheaper side to healthy foods.
Even if you are a bit short on cash, you can still eat healthy, you can just be smart and learn ways to save on your groceries instead. This is what we will teach you today.
Table of Contents Hide
- Why save on groceries?
- How much do we spend on groceries?
- Super Saving Tips
- Supermarket loyalty programs
- Round up your grocery cost estimates
- Wholesale Club
- Stick with the grocery list
- Buy items on sale
- Avoid- pre-packaged items
- Compare prices between other supermarkets
- Bring your own shopping bag
- Know when sales are on
- Check unit prices
- Never shop on an empty stomach
- Check if your receipt is wrong
- Check out drug stores for deals on some items
- Grocery/ non grocery items can range from $1 to purchase store brands
- Other ways to save
- Summary: Start saving!
Why save on groceries?
It goes without saying that food shopping is one of the biggest costs that you will have to budget for. When we get our paychecks in, we usually think straight away about rent, mortgage, heating, gas and electric bills and so on. But, once those are out of the way, we realize that we have to think about food too.
While it is not so easy to find ways to save on your other bills, you can save on groceries. And when you look for ways to save here, you may find that increased food costs are a bit less of a burden.
Your living costs are just as important as any other bills
The cost of living includes everything from housing, water, and yes, food. We need food to survive, and while it is painful to see the cost of your shop slowly climbing as the supermarket clerk rings up your items, cutting your food shop drastically won’t do your health any good.
As much as our rent bills, and heating bills are important, food shopping bills are just as important. We need a roof over our heads, but we also need food to eat, and good food that is beneficial to us.
Your food bill is one of the biggest costs you have to budget for.
Food is also a source of expense. It is not cheap and if you are buying for a household of three or four for a week, it can certainly cost more than you would like. For a household with 3 people, eating three meals a day, bills can easily climb over $100 for just a week, averaging at around $400 per month. When we think of it like this, the costs of living become a dreaded burden, and we shudder at the sight of the receipt.
How much do we spend on groceries?
We do not like to think about just how much we spend, but knowing what we spend on average can help us to understand how to cut it down. You don’t need to cut back on what you eat, or start eating only rice and beans to cut the costs.
We need to think of cost, increases, and how much we waste, because the less we waste, the cheaper things actually are.
Americans spend an average of $5,174 on groceries
In America, we spend a lot on groceries, and it’s no wonder, with shelves stacked with gorgeous looking food. But an average of $5,174 a year is a lot. In 2019 the median personal income was around $35,977, if you spent the average on groceries, this leaves $30,781. Considering that in the US the average cost of rent is $1,124 meaning $13,488 per year, this leaves just over $17,000 for bills such as gas, electric, vehicle maintenance, insurance and so on.
While rent costs, and bills are non-negotiable, groceries can be made cheaper with smart buying.
Since Covid-19, food prices have increased
In 2020 Covid-19 struck, and already expensive foods became more expensive. Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs were especially affected by the shifting economy that the pandemic brought about. Import and export prices increased and decreased due to the pandemic, affecting the affordability of previously cheaper items, and also affecting the overall economy.
In fact, from March 2020 to June 2020, over the course of the first wave, the import price for meat, poultry and other animal products went up by 20.3%, and then it rippled to the consumers.
For consumers, costs for beef and veal went up by 20.4% from March 2020 to June 2020, and the cost for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs went up by 10.3%. Non-alcoholic beverages also had an increase of 3.6%, and cereals and bakery products also increased by 3.1% as well!
With the pandemic having so drastically influenced the affordability of our food and beverages, we have to be even smarter about how we buy.
Every day in America, one pound of food per person is wasted
Waste is another big problem in the US, with 1 lb of food being wasted per person every day. Not only does this have a drastic environmental impact, but waste is not something we can afford with prices skyrocketing since the global pandemic. 1 lb per person may not sound like a lot but when you consider that by September 2021 the US population was 333,357,810 people, that is also 333,357,810 lbs of food waste every day. How many meals could be made with that?
However, food waste is not always just down to tossing leftovers in the trash, but it is also due to production and supply, and the tendency we have to over purchase. Not to mention that our aesthetic standards for our food are unrealistic and picky. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our belly, and we end up wasting way too much food.
Always think of what items are necessary to purchase
The main thing to focus on is what we really need. Consider meals, carbs, protein, and veg. Pick out the things you definitely need, and try to not buy something ‘just because’. Necessary items are key to any food shopping experience, bread, milk, eggs, cereal, pasta, potatoes, etc.
Get the necessary items before you think of the necessity items and always look at dates, the longer life and better preservation it has, the less waste you will experience.
Super Saving Tips
There are plenty of ways to save when shopping, of course, you can just cut back all together, but this is not always the best way to go about it. There are plenty of other ways that you can cut your costs, without having to drastically change how you shop.
Here are some of our top tips to help you save better when you go to the store.
Supermarket loyalty programs
Supermarket loyalty programs can be useful to find ways to save on your shop. They can give you discounts and special savings, and money off on certain products.
Though this does not apply to every store, some do have this, and being a loyal customer to a supermarket can bring benefits that cut the cost of your shop, especially around the holiday seasons when prices skyrocket, and you are preparing for big meals.
Once you have signed up for a supermarket loyalty program, you can often get clip coupons, these will give you additional discounts. Always keep an eye open for the circular in the mail and look through the pages to find the deals that will matter the most to you and your bank. Cut these coupons out and get yourself some well-earned cash off on your next shop.
You can also get digital options if your grocery store has an app. Just download the coupons onto your digital loyalty card and then when you check out the discounts will be applied! Nice and easy!
Round up your grocery cost estimates
There’s a neat little trick you can play on yourself when you seek to save money. Walk around the store with a calculator and round up each item’s price, so if an item is $2.67 then put it in as $3. Doing this for everything in your cart you will have a rough idea of what you are spending, doing this and keeping to a budget, you will be pleasantly surprised and very happy with your savings at the checkout.
This means you will be under your budget every time, and will go home with a smile on your face.
If you have a large family, hitting up the wholesale clubs like Costco can help you to rack up savings when you are buying in bulk. Buying in bulk is not for everyone as you have to spend more money upfront, although it is more cost-effective in the long term. It can be an option, depending on your cash flow.
Some of these clubs will have membership fees though, so if you are considering, be aware of this, and always read the small print before agreeing to any of these things. For example, the Costco membership is $60 for gold stars; it is $120 for gold star executives. It can be worth it if you are frequently stocking up on items, but if you are not a frequent shopper it can be more of a dent in your bank account than helpful.
Stick with the grocery list
When we walk into the grocery store, we look around and find ourselves enamored with the amount of glorious stuff we see. All the tasty foods, the unique things we have never tried before, it is temptation incarnate, but we have to have restraint. Going into a grocery store without a list is a bad idea, as you will easily grab things you do not need and end up making a bigger dent in your bank account than you wanted.
Try to avoid bringing the kids, or shopping on an empty stomach. So, next time, take a list and stick to it, do not get drawn in by the temptation of all the tasty snacks, it just is not worth it.
Buy items on sale
Do not forget to take full advantage of how supermarkets are always running promotions and sales. You can get promotions on anything from body care like shampoos and razors, to food like eggs, candy, and cookies. If something on your list is on sale, jump that ship and grab it. Sale items are typically displayed in prominent locations throughout the store, usually at the entrance or at the ends of aisles.
Just remember, do not go grabbing at sale items just because they are there. If an item on your list is on sale, go and grab it, but do not go grabbing them for the sake of it, a bargain is only a bargain if you use it/ eat it.
Avoid- pre-packaged items
Try to avoid pre-cut items. Pre-cut veggies, and pre-shredded cheese may save you time in the kitchen, but stores will typically charge you more for ease. It is best to go for the fresh or frozen options, or a block of cheese, as you will usually save money. Typically, a block of cheese will give you more than a pre-shredded bag will as well, and the dates are often better on items that are whole.
Cheaper and lasting longer is what you want, you waste less, and you do not spend as much. While the time in the kitchen is slightly extended, it is worth it in the long haul to saving cash.
Compare prices between other supermarkets
If you have a few different grocery stores nearby, consider trying out each of them once and comparing the prices, keep the receipts and look back at them to find the one that offered you the cheapest shop. You should also look at the sales that they run, too, to figure out which will give you what you need for less.
Another good option, if it is not too much of a hassle for you, is to consider shopping at two stores to optimize your savings. While one store may do cheaper meat and snacks, another may offer cheaper fruit, veg, and frozen produce. Get the best of both by shopping at both.
Bring your own shopping bag
Bringing your own reusable shopping bag can be a handy way to salvage a few pennies on your shop. In some stores, you can receive a discount on your order when you bring your own reusable bags. Stores such as Whole Foods Market can actually give you a 10 cent discount for every bag that you bring. While this may not seem like a lot. If you bring two bags with you to every shop you do, and you go shopping once a week then you are saving $10.40 each year just by bringing your own bags.
Know when sales are on
Knowing when to shop is a talent in itself. Timing is key with getting the best deals. Some would say that it is cheaper to do your food shopping on Wednesdays, because grocery stores restock their shelves midweek and mark down what wasn’t sold from the week before. However, because they’re in the process of changing discounts, they will still often honor the price cuts from the week before.
If you cannot go on a Wednesday, simply try to avoid weekends, many will shop on weekends and this means bigger crowds, and bigger crowds means fewer deals. Evening shopping is also good, especially for fresh goods such as breads and baked goods, these often need to be off the shelves by the end of the day, so after a certain time they will get marked down, and if you go in the evening, you can usually snag yourself a great deal on a tasty loaf.
Check unit prices
Unit prices are the prices per quantity. Think of when you go to pick up a pack of minced beef, or a steak, and you see the price difference between a 250g pack and a 500g pack. Well, this is that, and it requires a bit of math.
Say you were in the supermarket, and you wanted a pack of napkins. You can either buy a 250 count pack, or a 500 count pack. Most people would go large, however if the 500 count pack has a unit price of $0.080 per napkin, but the 250 count pack has a unit price of $0.074 per napkin, then the 250 pack is actually cheaper. This is something that often happens in the paper aisle and is not uncommon with condiments. With this, it is often cheaper to buy less, as two packs of 250 will be cheaper than one pack of 500.
Never shop on an empty stomach
Shopping on an empty stomach is always a bad idea. We do stupid things when we are hungry, we get hangry, we say things we do not mean, eat something totally gross just to fill the void, and aimlessly stumble through the grocery store aisles in search of something that will satiate our hunger, like a tired yet ravenous zombie.
While your partner might understand the things you said when you were hangry, your grocery bill won’t be so forgiving. You will probably buy things you will never eat, and you will be thinking with your stomach, not your saving senses.
When you go grocery shopping, go on a full stomach, you will be surprised how much less you will spend. It will really be the opposite.
Check if your receipt is wrong
While some of us hate making a scene, if you notice something is wrong on your receipt after you have checked out, go to the customer service desk and tell them. They will return your money if you were overcharged.
Some stores can be really generous when you are overcharges, a good example of this is Publix, if they find they have rung up the wrong price for an item, they will usually give you that item for free as an apology.
Take advantage of these situations and do not feel shy to bring up when something has been charged to you incorrectly, do not pay the wrong price for something and just accept it to avoid making a scene. Customer service deals with these issues all the time, and it is better for you to save money by telling them you have been overcharged than to accept your financial losses.
Check out drug stores for deals on some items
While we don’t typically associate drug stores with groceries, they can be fantastic for getting big discounts on both grocery items and non grocery items. You can save by shopping at drug stores, sometimes from $1 to a few bucks in comparison to what you might pay for at a supermarket or grocery store.
However, remember, you need to wait for these sales. A majority of these stores will offer an email newsletter that will inform you of their sales in the upcoming week. You may already be receiving these mailers that they send that highlight their various promotions. While we often consider this stuff to be junk mail, do not so idly toss it aside, it might just be worth your while to take a look through it before you toss it into the trash.
Drug stores are infamous for often having deals on products such as; cereal, dairy, eggs, toothpaste and toothbrushes, makeup, personal care products, garbage bags, diapers, and hair care/ dyes.
It can be worth signing up to drug store rewards programs too and add a manufacturers’ coupon to save extra as well.
Grocery/ non grocery items can range from $1 to purchase store brands
We all know that the name brands will be a bit more costly, usually because of their reputation. You will typically find these name brand items at eye-level on supermarket shelves, which can make you more tempted to spend more on these more costly items.
However, let your eyes drop or rise to the top or the bottom shelves, and you will find generic brands, or store own brands. These are usually significantly cheaper but taste just as good, they just don’t have the fancy label and marketing that the name brands do.
Try out some supermarket own brands in your next shop, and you will find that your bill is much lower. Some products of course won’t be great, Walmart’s own trash bags have a reputation for ripping through in comparison to name brands. However, not everything that has its own brand will be as flimsy as Walmart’s trash bags, and sometimes you might find that own brand products actually taste nicer.
Some name brand products will have many additives in them, whereas own brand products are cheaper and typically do not have so many additives, something name brand might taste too salty or too sugary, whereas an own brand product may taste more genuine. It is up to you to decide, however, own brand products can be good for your taste buds and good for your wallet too.
Other ways to save
There are even more ways you can save, however. It does not need to start with how you stop, it can start with how you live, the way you eat, how you plan, and what you use. So, as well as these tips on how to save when you are shopping, take a look at ways you can save before you even get to the store.
Plan your weekly meals
Planning your weekly meals will help you to understand what you need to buy, giving you an ideal list of what you should pick up from the store, getting rid of the temptation to buy anything and everything you see that looks tasty. It also gives you order and provides you with organization for the week ahead.
However, you do not necessarily need to plan your meals for the week, put it into a list and shop based off of that. An alternative is to plan your meals based on sales.
Go into the store on a full stomach and look around at what is on sale, grab those sale items and see what you can make from them, as a sort of creative cooking style. If you found that crushed tomatoes, cheese, breadcrumbs, and ground beef are all on sale, you have most of the ingredients for a spaghetti and meatballs on the cheap.
You can use recipe ingredient matching sites to help you look for ways to save on groceries. These sites give you help with meal ideas based on what items you have at home, and what items are on sale when you go shopping.
Try going meatless, once a week
No, we aren’t trying to convert you to become vegetarian. Some people just love having meat in their diet, and who can blame them. However, meat is one of the most expensive food groups out there. Poultry and meat can be so expensive, and so, just one meatless day per week can have a significant impact on how much you are spending at your weekly shop. If you bought a whole chicken, and it lasts two days, some ground beef for one, some fish for another, some pork chops and some burgers, then have a meatless day, you could be saving yourself $5 to $10 per week, or more, by avoiding buying even more meat. There are plenty of meatless dishes out there that are full of flavor.
It is another way that creative cooking can save you cash.
Check your pantry
Before you head out to the store, have a gander through your pantry and fridge, see what you can make with the ingredients you already have. Who says that you need to stock up on even more when there are some perfectly good chicken thighs crammed in the back of your freezer, some unopened cans of beans and a microwave jacket potato just sitting there.
You may need to buy a few items, perhaps some seasoning, or extras, but you can save a lot of money by just using the food you already have tucked away.
So many of us will have fridges, freezers, and pantries crammed with forgotten treats at the back, use them up before you go to the store again.
Define the word ‘dinner’
For many people the word ‘dinner’ makes you picture a large homemade deal with a big cut of meat, some steaming veggies, some tasty bread and a mouth watering dessert. Dinner doesn’t need to be a feast.
You can survive on a BLT, an omelet, or even a large salad a few times a week. We do not need to gorge ourselves full at every dinner time. If you are struggling to get your groceries to stretch, get inventive. Got some eggs, cheese, butter, milk, flour, and breadcrumbs? Easy souffle right there.
Kids won’t mind pancakes for dinner. Whip up a Quiché, a stir-fry with leftover veg and pasta. Imagine you are back in college, striving to make the food last as long as you can. You’ll make up some masterpieces, and it doesn’t need to be a feast fit for a king.
Summary: Start saving!
We can all be a little guilty of going overboard on our grocery shopping and then wondering where our money went. It doesn’t need to be this way, we can find ways to save, and as you can see there are many ways that you can save on your grocery shopping. But, it all starts with you, in your home. Be sure to make use of what you already have, and plan your meals out.
And, remember, not every meal needs to look like it belongs on the kings’ dining table in a palace.