How to Save Money on Groceries
As a young mom, my husband traveled a whole lot for work. I had five kiddos under the age of eight. There were days when I struggled with the basics, like keeping everyone alive.
I didn’t know much about nutrition, either. So I fed my kiddos macaroni and cheese and hot dogs.
My fourth child’s first molars came in soft and grey at 18 months old. Our pediatric dentist wanted to give her general anesthesia and pulpotomies.
That didn’t sound right and it wasn’t okay with me! There had to be something going wrong in her little body. I immediately started researching nutrition and it’s effects on our teeth. The first book I read was ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ by Weston A. Price.
I read everything I could get my hands on and I worked to improve our health through better nutrition. Because I feel so strongly about it, I will never sacrifice nutrition for price. Nutrition is my first priority and price is my second.
Our diet consists of grass-fed meats, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It may not sound like the cheapest way of eating, but you’d be surprised at how much money the following tips can help you save on groceries!
In fact, as a family of ten with two teenage boys, I rarely spend over $300 a month on groceries. We’ve learned the following strategies for eating well without breaking the bank. I hope they’ll help you save money on groceries, too.
35 Simple Ways to Save Money on Groceries:
1. Shop as infrequently as possible to save money on groceries.
Grocery stores conduct extensive research into how to get people to buy things they don’t need. They play slow music because most people slow the pace of their walking to match the music’s tempo, without even thinking about it.
Grocery stores keep the least processed food, which generally brings in less profit but is cheaper and more nutritious, at the back of the store, making shoppers pass all of the enticing goodies on the way to find it. The most processed foods, which bring stores the highest profit, but are also the least nutritious, are always located near the checkout and on the endcaps — the most visible and easily accessible places in the store.
How often do you make it out with just the items on your list?
Every time you visit the grocery store you subject yourself to subconscious manipulation of your wallet and budget.
Instead of shopping weekly (or more) try to stretch your groceries two weeks or beyond. Yes, you’ll be buying more per trip, but in the end it will save you money.
2. Purchase staples instead of convenience foods.
Purchase staples, like dried legumes and grains, raw meats and fresh vegetables instead of prepared foods. They last longer, which will help you to be able to shop less frequently, and they are so much cheaper!
A 20 lb sack of potatoes will provide my family several meals (baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, au gratin potatoes, potato soup, hashbrowns and more) for about five dollars. Or I could spend the same amount on a couple of boxes of processed au gratin potatoes with 3.5 servings each. Either way, I still have to add butter and milk. And I guarantee the homemade will taste better.
A box of pancake mix will only going to make 2 breakfasts for my family, but a 25lb sack of flour, plus some leavening (you have to add eggs and milk whether you use mix or plain ingredients) will make several weeks of breakfasts for the same price.
3. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to save money on groceries.
Have you noticed that most of the processed foods are located in the interior aisles and near the checkout stands? That’s where you’ll find chips, cookies, candy, crackers, soda and highly processed breakfast cereals.
Fresh produce, raw meats, eggs, milk, butter and such are always located around the perimeter of the store. Grocery stores are strategicallly designed to place essential ingredients at opposite ends of the store, forcing shoppers to pass through all the aisles, tempting them with items they don’t need.
You’ll also find that, within individual aisles, the lowest priced items are placed above or below eye level. The items that bring stores the highest profit are always a little harder to find.
4. Find the clearance aisle.
It seems like the clearance aisle is always hidden somewhere in the back of the grocery store. But if you put in the work to find it, you’ll be rewarded with significant discounts.
Some stores separate out their clearance areas by department, so you’ll have a little clearance section in the meat department, one for day old bread in the bakery, etc… Clearance meat is usually close to the sell-by date and is sold frozen, which is no problem since I’ll be sticking it in the freezer at home anyway. Clearance bread is usually day old, but how often do you use bread the day you buy it anyway?
5. Bigger is not always better.
Sometimes a gallon of mayonnaise is cheaper (per ounce) than a quart. But if you can’t use an entire gallon before it goes bad, then it’s not a good deal, regardless. And sometimes, the bigger sizes aren’t even cheaper than the smaller ones.
Most stores post the price per ounce with the total cost of each item on the price tag on the shelf. But if they don’t, figure it out yourself. You might be surprised to find what actually is the best deal.
Ultimately, though, don’t buy more than you can use before it goes bad.
6. Give generic brands a chance.
I’ve read many times that factories will produce the exact same item for multiple brands, and just package them differently. Kirkland batteries are actually made by Duracell, but sell for much less.
None of the Great Value products (Walmart’s store brand) are actually produced by Walmart. They’re all manufactured at name brand food facilities, but packaged with the Great Value label and sold at deep discounts. So unless you have a really good reason for paying more for a national brand as opposed to a store brand, you’re probably just wasting money.
7. Plan your meals around sales.
Here in Utah, grocery stores mail out their weekly ads every Tuesday. Usually, the items on the front page or two of the mailer are the ones that are the most deeply discounted. Sometimes, they’re even sold at a loss to the grocery store for the sole purpose of bringing in shoppers, who tend to buy more than just the sale items (aka loss leaders).
One of my best shopping strategies is to sit down with all of the mailers and plan our menu based on the sale items. I can usually think up multiple meals for most of them. For example, when chicken breasts are on sale for $1.49 per pound or less, you can bet we’ll be eating chicken alfredo, chicken enchiladas, chicken stir fry, bbq chicken, and chicken pot pie.
That’s a weeks worth of meals right there. This strategy is an easy way to save a significant amount of money as compared to traditional meal planning, where you plan the menu then shop for ingredients.
8. Stock up on sale items to save money on groceries.
Meats and shredded cheese freeze well. So do berries and most fruits. I even stock up on bananas and freeze them in chunks to add to smoothies. Grains and legumes store practically indefinitely if you store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Canned and dried goods will last a year or more.
When things you use frequently are on sale, stock up as much as you can for the future. Just be careful to not buy things you won’t use, just because they’re on sale. Nothing does a grocery budget in like wasting food!
9. Don’t waste food.
When you throw food out, you might as well have just crumpled up your money and thrown it away.
I like to plan about two weeks of menus at a time (to keep me out of the grocery store) but I’m usually flexible about which days to serve them so that I can incorporate ‘leftover’ meals as we go. When there is extra pot roast after Sunday dinner, I’ll make stew. When there is leftover chili, we have taco salad. You get the point.
As you menu plan and shop and prepare meals, try to arrange the meals with the most perishable ingredients early in the week so your produce doesn’t go bad and have to be thrown out.
Also, the hubs likes to take leftovers to work for his lunch (which saves us upwards of $3k a year if you assume $10 a lunch, five days a week!) The rest of us frequently eat lefotvers for lunch at home, too. If you’re careful to use up your leftovers and reduce food waste, you can shave a whole ton off your food budget.
10. Eat leftovers for lunch.
I know I mentioned it in the last point, but doesn’t it deserve it’s own point? I mean, we’re talking about $3k savings per year for just the hubs’ lunches! That’s enough savings to pay for a beach house for a week!
The kids and I usually eat leftovers for lunch at home, too, since we homeschool. I figure if the kids ate school lunch for around $2.50 times eight kids, times 180 days in the school year, and that’s another $3600 of savings.
Land sakes! I’m all over eating leftovers for lunch every day when the savings will pay for an entire vacation!
11. Shop your pantry, fridge and freezer FIRST.
As you’re menu planning, check your kitchen. First check for leftovers and perishables. You don’t want to purchase ingredients that you already have but may have forgotten about. This will reduce your waste.
12. Get creative with the food you have on hand.
Create your meal plans around ingredients you already have on hand. Maybe you were planning to make beef stew for dinner one night, but you already have a big sack of potatoes in your pantry. You can make potato soup instead and save yourself the cost of the stew meat. This is also a great way to reduce waste.
While the hubs and I were in college (living off less than $10k a year as a family of four) this strategy saved our behinds! There was so little money for groceries that probably five nights a week I’d scrounge through our cupboards looking for something with which to create a meal.
I still do this regularly in order to cut the grocery bill so I can divert the saved funds toward traveling. A few cups of beans will make a soup. A few cups of flour and some oil will make pancakes.
13. Make a meal plan to save money on groceries.
How does meal planning save you money?
For the same reason budgeting saves you money. Spending intentionally and with a plan helps you to be more frugal.
When you know what you’ll be eating, you know what to buy (and what not to buy). When you only buy what you need, you waste less. You’ll probably eat better, too.
Use your meal plan to create a grocery list.
14. Use a list.
Going into the grocery store without a list is like going on a trip without GPS or a map or any planning — just driving in the general direction of where you want to go and hoping you’ll get there.
You’ll buy things you don’t need and you’ll forget the things you do need.
I keep a running list of things I’m out of on my phone so it’s always handy and to help me remember. It saves me from having to make extra trips to the grocery store for little things. We all know how hard it is to ONLY purchase the things on our list and how just staying out of the store (see tip #1) saves us money.
15. Stick to your list.
I don’t know about you, but the lindt chocolate just wants to jump into my cart. So I have to avoid that aisle completely. Sticking to your grocery list can seem like a monumental task.
But going off script is the surest way to ruin your budget. If your problem is your sweet tooth, be sure to add the ingredients for brownies to your list. If your weakness is salty, crispy foods, generic brand pretzels are pretty cheap. Just make sure they’re on your list.
16. Create a list of grocery price points.
A standard sale tactic is to put something ‘on sale’ at its regular price point.
If you know what you usually pay for things, you’ll know if a sale price is crazy good, like time-to-stock-up good. And you’ll know when the big SALE sign is just hokey.
I’ve been shopping for my huge family for the last twenty years, plus I’m a naturally frugal person and numbers are my thing. So I rarely have to refer to my list.
But I do have a spreadsheet of good, better and best prices for when I need it. I also include common sizes on my price list, so I know the standard price for a 9 oz bag of tortilla chips as opposed to a 13 oz bag.
Of course, my list doesn’t include every grocery item known to man. I’ve just listed the items I purchase most frequently. You could create your list in google sheets so you can check it online while you’re shopping.
Oh, and another tip is to check the price tag on the shelf. You know the small ones attached to the shelf below the goods. Often, the stores will place sale prices over the regular price, and you can just lift them up and check the regular price beneath to see whether it’s a good deal.
17. Leave the spenders at home.
If you’re married to someone who has an impulse control problem, or who just can’t resist the candy and cold drinks at the checkout, then do yourself a favor and grocery shop without them. My kids never ask for things, luckily, because I’ve trained them well.
I figure I save us several hundred dollars a year by keeping my husband out of the store, because he can’t manage to check out without a handful of treats for himself. I’m not saying he should never have treats. But he’ll spend $20 without realizing it and his drink and snacks will be gone before he pulls out of the parking lot.
18. But do involve your spouse.
We have a little problem in our household that involves me being WAY more frugal than the hubs. He wants the treats he wants, and since we have some wiggle room in our budget, he absolutely deserves them.
When I shop, I’m very price conscious and I put effort into finding the best deals. The hubs does not. It’s just not his thing. I know what he likes and I can always find his favorites on sale, for far less than he would pay.
If I don’t keep a stash of the treats he wants, he’ll buy them at any price (he doesn’t know or care about the prices). It’s in both of our best interests that I make sure the hubs’ treats are on my grocery list.
19. Never shop hungry.
Many people shop after work and before dinner, while hungry. It’s just convenient to stop on the way home. It’s a proven fact, though, that if you buy your groceries when hungry, you’ll purchase more than you need. And you’ll be more prone to impulse spending. Try to get the shopping out of the way at other times during the week, when you can shop on a full stomach.
20. Check for local grocery outlets and discount stores.
One of my favorite places to shop is a local scratch and dent store. They sell imperfect grocery items, like canned goods from wrecked semi’s. They also sell outdated and close-dated groceries, as well as overstock from local food factories.
That store is out of my way, and it never has everything on my list (because how often does the right combination of semi’s wreck all at once?) but it always has such great deals that I usually stock up on what they do have available.
We also have multiple bakery outlets that sell their own close-dated our overstock baked goods for less than half of the grocery store price. They usually have something on a fabulous sale, too, like 5 loaves of bread for $1 or a huge box of cookies for $1.
21. Try drugstores and the dollar store for certain items.
Several months ago I was shopping for Easter basket candy at Walmart. I was ticked to see the astronomical prices of mere chocolates. I bought the bare minimum, figuring I’d also make some homemade goodies for my children’s baskets.
Fortunately, I remembered that Dollar Tree also sells seasonal candy, and there just happened to be one on the way home. I found bags of candy that cost about half the price of the candy at Walmart. So I bought a bunch and saved myself the time of making the homemade candy.
The tricky thing about the dollar store and the drug store is that the sizes will vary, so you have to compare the price per ounce. When you shop for groceries at the dollar store or the drug store, be sure to take along your price list, so you know whether you’re actually getting a good deal.
22. Participate in store loyalty programs.
It used to be annoying to have to carry around loyalty cards for the various grocery stores. However, it seems like they’ve all made it easier lately, by using your phone number as your membership number. I just enter the last 4 digits of my phone number into the keypad and watch the discounts roll in.
Be sure to join their mailing lists, too, as they usually offer electronic coupons. Take advantage of their attempts to lure in shoppers, but do it strategically so it works to your benefit.
23. Know how your local stores work.
If any of your local stores price match or if they double coupons, make sure you know when these days are and take advantage of them. Know how to get the best sale prices at each store, how their loyalty programs work, and how they deal with day-old bakery items or other groceries near their expiration dates.
One of my local stores has amazing produce deals every Friday, so I make it a point to run errands on Friday mornings and I always stop by. It doesn’t matter what, specifically, is on sale, I make sure to buy as much as we can use.
One week we’ll have lots of apples, the next we’ll have lots of oranges or pears — no big deal. It always gets used and my family is happy to have variety from week to week rather than day to day.
24. Use coupons strategically.
Because we avoid prepackaged or otherwise unhealthy snacks, coupons have never been an option. Cash back apps like Ibotta frequently offer cash back on produce and staples, but the coupons you click from the newspaper never do.
So if you shop like me, coupons might not be a good money saving strategy for you. But if you buy name-brand, prepared products, they can save you a ton.
My sister has had shopping trips where she’s been able to use both manufacturer and store coupons, plus the store doubled her coupons, so she’s actually been paid to shop. She got all of her groceries for free, plus got a few cents back!
I can’t give you coupon-ing tips since I don’t use them, but I can tell you that they’re a powerful tool for those who do!
25. Keep an eye on the cashier.
When you go through the checkout line, pay attention as the cashier scans your items. Especially if you have a cart full of items, the cashier might scan something twice, or the price might ring up differently than the price advertised in the flyer or on the shelf.
It seems like cashiers are always happy to correct mistakes. But if you aren’t paying attention, you might end up paying for someone else’s mistake.
26. Give yourself enough time to shop.
This one is my hugest weakness. Just last week I convinced myself I could run to Walmart for groceries in the 20 minutes between a cello lesson and a dentist appointment. I also convinced myself ice cream (does everyone need ice cream after the dentist? Or is that just us?) would stay frozen if I sandwiched it in between bags of frozen fruits and vegetables.
So I bought more frozen blueberries than usual, plus two big bags of frozen mango chunks (yum!) to help keep that ice cream frozen. I’m an optimist!
A dumb optimist. We were late for our appointments, which kept us at the dental office longer. And in my hurry I forgot half of what I needed, even though the items were on my list. And I had to clean all the melted ice cream and fruit off the floor of my car when I got home, and throw them out.
What was I thinking?
I still had to run back to the grocery later for the rest of what I needed. I had to clean up a gigantic, sticky mess. I totally wasted the money I spent on the ice cream and fruit. And then there was all the added stress. Don’t be like me!
27. Save on gas when you purchase groceries.
One of my local grocery stores offers a discount on gas for purchasing groceries. Every $1 I spend in the store is 1 fuel point. I can redeem 100 fuel points for a 15 cent per gallon discount, 50 fuel points for a 10 cent per gallon discount, or 25 points for a 5 cent per gallon discount. That really adds up for me because I drive a Suburban with a 40 gallon tank, and I drive a lot of miles.
28. Don’t assume that warehouse stores or ‘discount’ stores always have the best deals.
I let our Costco and Sams Club memberships expire several years ago because I was spending more with the memberships than I had previously without them. My increased spending was due to a combination of buying more processed snack foods than I had previously (it was the whole bulk pricing strategy) and not watching prices carefully.
In the end, the only thing I regretted not having access to was the cheaper gas. Thing is, Costco is not on my way anywhere. I have to drive miles out of my way to fill up. So by the time I paid my membership dues I wasn’t really saving any money.
I actually compared Costco and Walmart just last month. I was in charge of a large girls camp, and I had kind of a small budget to work with, so I had to be careful about our food budget. Walmart had significantly cheaper (and comparable quality) produce and meat.
Granola bars and snack packs were the only items that were cheaper at Costco. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether the stores you like are actually saving you any money. This is where a price list (see tip #16) will help you.
29. Shop your local farmer’s market.
I know some farmer’s markets have crazy expensive prices. But my local farmer’s market always has produce and baked goods for far less than our local Walmart. And they’re fresher and higher quality!
This is yet another case of knowing what a good price is (see tip #16) so you don’t get burned. I also frequently see FREE produce advertised on my city’s facebook page. Homeowners with fruit trees just have more fruit than they can use would rather share it than clean it up after it drops on their lawns.
30. Eat at home.
I kid you not when I tell you that restaurant meals will cost you at least ten times what a home-cooked meal will cost you. Here’s an example:
It costs over $120 to take our family of ten to KFC, even when we just buy combo meals. I can make the same meal at home — crispy fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, tangy coleslaw and flaky biscuits; enough to amply serve 10 — for under $10. Check out this post, Fried Chicken with all the fixins: Under $1 per serving, for recipes and a detailed cost breakdown.
And KFC is pretty cheap! The difference is even more astonishing when you compare pricier restaurants to home cooking.
Fondue at the Melting Pot is about $100 for just my husband and me (I never take the whole family — too pricey), but I can make Easy Crockpot Swiss Fondue and Easy Crockpot Chocolate Fondue at home for my entire family, all ten of us, for less than $20.
The key for me is to stay ahead of the 5 pm dinner doldrums through menu planning and by preparing in advance. How often do you decide to go out to eat when you’ve been smelling the fragrant, spicy-sweet pulled pork you put in the crockpot that morning?
31. Trade labor for financial savings.
Would you rather pay $10 for one dozen chocolate chip cookies at the bakery, or make six dozen, tastier cookies for $5? My family goes through six dozen cookies in the blink of an eye. $60 or $5 for a full cookie jar?
I calculated that homemade bread saved us around $500 per year, and I’ll bet all the other baked products I make would save us twice that. Homemade jams cost you nothing more than the water to grow the fruit.
Purchase chicken in bulk when you find it on sale and you can save several hundred dollars a year (and save yourself a whole lot of time) by learning how to can chicken in your pressure cooker at home. I use my home-canned chicken in all of my recipes, from soups and salads to enchiladas, right out of the jar.
32. Learn new skills.
Grow your own food. Gardens are pretty time intensive, and there is a learning curve. But they sure will save you a lot of dough! Fruit trees produce year after year and require much less maintenance than a vegetable garden.
Not only will growing your own food save you money, but the taste is far superior. No tomato from the grocery store will ever taste like a vine-ripened tomato straight out of my garden. Even if you don’t have room for a huge garden, you can grow herbs in your windowsill.
Learn to process food. Meats and cheeses freeze well, and you can save a ton by purchasing them on sale. You can also learn how to can (or freeze) fruits and vegetables, especially if you grow them yourself and have an excess. My husband’s family used to hunt and turn wild game into venison jerky, for just the cost of a hunting license.
Learning and applying new skills can help you to save a whole lot of money on groceries.
33. Create a stash of easy meals for emergencies.
You are going to have days where you just can’t manage dinner. It’s inevitable.
On those days you can grab takeout on the way home or use a freezer meal from your stash. Creating a stash will take upfront time, but it will save you a ton of money in the long run because you can feed your family a nutritious, yummy meal without having to pay ten times more for it.
34. Use cash-back apps like Ibotta.
Install this free app on your phone to easily save money on groceries and more. It really couldn’t be easier — just choose which items you want cash back for inside the app, then scan your receipt, and start saving! The best part about this app is that it’s not always brand specific, like most coupons are. So you’ll be able to scan “any brand of bread” for 50 cents off, etc. If you do coupon – you can STILL use Ibotta and get a rebate.
Get a $10 bonus just for signing up with Ibotta through this link. You’ll see your first $10 bonus after your first purchase. Next time you go are running errands, open the app and tap the items you will be purchasing. Once you earn $20 or more, you can transfer the money to your bank account via PayPal or Venmo. It won’t take you long to get to $20 – I made $40 my first month!
35. Always track your expenses.
Last but not least, always track your expenses! The only way you’ll know how much you have left to spend is if you track what you’ve spent.
It would be a tragedy to work so hard to be frugal and save money on groceries and then blow your savings on fees or something dumb resulting from not tracking your spending. I track my spending in the notes app on my phone, so it hardly takes me any time and I always have it with me.
My final thoughts on how to save money on groceries
If you’re new to frugal living, a list of 35 tips might seem overwhelming. I get it! You could start with a few — pick the ones that feel the easiest or the most natural to you — and work up to using as many of the above tips as possible.
Even just a few of these tips will help you to save a significant amount of money on your groceries. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to keep more of your cash in your pocket. Shop smarter, not harder!
The best part of all these money savings is that you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition for cost. In fact, you get better nutrition while you save money on your groceries! This is totally a case of being able to have your cake (a healthy cake, though) and eat it, too.
Need some frugal meal ideas to help you save money on groceries?
Oh! In case you’re wondering how our story ended, we found a less invasive dentist who was okay with a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to my toddlers soft, grey molars. I worked on her nutrition and those teeth hardened right up. They lasted until her permanent teeth came in, years later.
How do you save money on groceries? We’d love to hear your tips and suggestions in the comments below!