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How much do you spend on groceries a month? If you want to slash your food budget in half, keep reading.
Spending money on groceries is a necessity, but what isn’t is spending an arm and a leg for food.
If you want to keep your wallet and your stomach happy, follow these expert tips to reduce your grocery store costs.
Read also: Download these top apps to save money
How to save money at the grocery store
- Take advantage of grocery store rewards programs
Shop at a grocery store that rewards you. Some stores may have sales, but others have both sales and a rewards program. Join their loyalty program to get members-only discounts and accrue points that you can redeem for store gift cards.
Ralphs for example gives low prices for members and sends you bonus coupons in the mail. Sometimes it’s a coupon for a free pack of eggs, free orange juice or a $5 off certificate to be used on your next trip.
- Stop buying bottled water
Help the environment and your wallet by not buying plastic water bottles.
Instead, purchase a water filter and do the filtration at home.
- Shop at warehouse stores
Invest in a club membership card at Costco or Sams’ Club. Your first few visits will pay for the card.
Some of them even have gas stations where you can save over 20 cents per gallon compared to other stations.
- Make a list and stick to it
This scenario plays out every day: You need to buy just a couple of things at the grocery store and before you know it you’re at the checkout lane with a cart full of goods.
This happens because of a lack of careful planning. Before you go shopping, plan your meals, make a shopping list and stick to it.
- Don’t shop hungry
One of the biggest mistakes many of us make is going to the store hungry.
When you need a bite to eat, everything in the store looks good.
It’s always good to go shopping right after eating a meal or a light snack. The chances of you overspending should dramatically decrease.
- Skip organic
Buying organic foods is great, but only if it fits into your budget.
Produce with a thick skin (such as avocados and bananas) aren’t too susceptible to pesticides, so you can skip the organic versions of those items.
- Watch the register
A final yet crucial tip on saving money on groceries is to always check the register during checkout.
If you’re not keeping a keen eye on the display, you’ll find some items will be scanned twice or will ring up at a higher price.
This is typical for sale items where the price change has yet to be changed in the system. But isn’t it interesting that the errors are never in your favor.
- Bring cash
You can’t overspend if you physically limit yourself. On the other hand, if you bring a credit card, then the amount of money you can spend is practically limitless.
Even though you get rewards points with your credit card, it’s not worth it compared to the amount you can overspend.
- Use a basket, not a cart
When you carry a basket, you think twice about what you have to put in there.
The sheer weight of it will make you want to get what you need and leave, before your arm falls off.
- Only buy what you need
Extra food becomes wasted food. Don’t be fooled into the “buy two get one free” game. If you only need one, only buy one.
What ends up happening is you end up throwing away food because you couldn’t eat it before it expired.
Reduce your food waste
Wasting food is like throwing your hard earned money right into the trash. Here are some ways you can minimize your food waste and save money in the process.
- Eat imperfect fruits and vegetables
If a piece of a veggie or a fruit has an ugly scar you don’t want to eat, just cut that part off. It’s much better than throwing the whole thing out.
We’re all different too, with our bruises and scars. Imagine if we were thrown out just for an imperfection?
Many items we all throw away every day are salvageable. The only exception here is a serious mold issue.
Extend this further to your grocery store shopping habits. If you see a sad tomato that you need for your dinner today, reduce food waste and save that tomato from the landfill! A little wrinkly skin or dent never hurt anyone.
- Organize your refrigerator
When you are putting items away in your refrigerator, don’t just put the new items in front and shove the older ones backward. If you do, the older ones are destined to become food waste.
- Be careful taking your food home
When loading items to you car, be careful not to squish sensitive items like cookies or soft fruit. If you do, your picky housemates might not want to eat those afterward.
- Put your items away as soon as you get home
Your milk and eggs have been in your shopping cart for half an hour and the hot car for another half hour. Don’t let these items sit out any longer than they have to.
- Put other non-fridge items in the fridge
Items like tortillas, bread, tomatoes and avocados won’t spoil as quick when placed in the refrigerator. You can extend their shelf life by weeks by placing them in the fridge.
- Place items in sealed plastic containers
Some food items, like fruits and veggies that are cut in half, also tend to keep better when placed in airtight containers.
- Plan your meals
When you have no meal plan for the week, you are bound to throw food away. If you are serious about wanting to reduce food waste in your household, you need to have a meal plan.
The food that is the most perishable needs to be used first before the longer lasting food does.
Food items that rarely spoil, such as beans, rice and pasta, should be eaten once all of your perishable items have already been consumed.
If the other members in your household don’t cooperate, be the fridge-nazi and just rearrange items in the fridge (and the pantry) so that the most perishable items are in the front.
- Make a soup
If some veggies are going limp, add them in a soup.
- Make compost
Your food scraps can also be composted and turned into rich soil for your plants. Even better if you have a small garden where you grow your own food.
- Feed some to the dog
Trust me they’re not as picky as you are. Just be sure to do a quick Google search on whether it’s safe to feed to your pet.
- Dig a hole in the garden
If you don’t want your food waste to end up in the landfill. Let mother nature (including worms) take care of your food waste for you. Dig a hole and throw your food scraps in there.
Buy generic and save money on groceries
In many cases, generic products are just as good as a brand name. This is especially true when it comes to over the counter medication and food items.
Here are generic products you should consider purchasing over brand-name products.
- Over the counter medication
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration demands that both brand-name and generic medications follow strict safety standards and that they have indistinguishable ingredients.
Don’t think so? Go to a drug store and do a little comparison. What you’ll see is that both Ibuprofen and Advil have the same active ingredient.
This applies to countless other over the counter meds like allergy or flu products.
Freshness matters when you purchase spices and herbs. However, just because a seasoning is a brand name does not mean it’s fresh.
Consider the store’s generics to come to your own conclusion. If you want, purchase in bulk from a food cooperative and spice shop, but only what you need.
This goes for salt, baking powder, soda and other condiments such as mustard and ketchup.
Generic versions of cereal are just as good and tend cost about $1 less than a name brand cereal.
Store brands and even off-brands will typically have the same taste and look of name brand cereals. The difference between them often times is just the advertising costs.
Store brand water is often cheaper and just as good as brand name water.
Better yet, buy a filter and get your water filtered straight from the tap.
Buy in bulk when possible
There are three main questions that you need to ask when you go shopping in bulk.
- 1. Will I use all of it?
- 2. Is the price per unit really good?
- 3. Do I have room for all this?
If you answered yes to those questions, then you should consider buying that item in bulk.
Here are several key items you should consider buying in bulk.
- Vitamins and medication
Another good item to stock up on next time you’re at a warehouse club store are vitamins and pain relief medication.
Just one big bottle can last you months if not years. These products typically don’t expire for a few years so buying in bulk here is a safe bet.
You can choose to save even more by not buying name-brand pills. Just look at the ingredients to ensure the cheaper replacement product you buy is exactly the same.
- Toilet paper
Everyone uses toilet paper, napkins and other paper products. Buying toilet paper in bulk is very practical as you know you’re going to use it.?
If you’re lucky to have the room it’s always a good idea to stock up on TP.
If you have children you know they eat a lot of cereal. Buying at the local grocery store can get expensive when you buy box after box.
Buying it in bulk is an excellent way to remedy that situation. You can save up to 50% by buying corn flakes in bulk.
Keep in mind, it’s easy to go crazy with this one. Make sure you don’t buy too many boxes, as children’s tastes tend to change from time to time.
- Beans, pasta and grains
If your meal planning involves such items as beans, pasta and grains, buying those items in bulk makes a lot of sense. They are easy to store and they last a long time.
You can use them up a little at a time throughout the year and it’s good to know they’re always there in case of an emergency.
- Paper towels
These take up a lot of room, but if you have extra space in your garage, go for it.
An item that lasts forever and you will always need is the perfect candidate to buy in bulk. So next time there’s a deal, pounce on it.
Dine out on the cheap
Going to a restaurant can be a real budget-buster, but it doesn’t have to be. If you know how to search for good deals and choose the right menu options, you can save a pretty penny while dining out.
Here are ways to enjoy great restaurants and dine out on the cheap.
- Use coupons
Most restaurants have coupons available on their website. Often times you just need to sign up to their mailing list to get an instant coupon via email.
- Join reward programs
Some restaurants only give coupons to members of their loyalty programs. You can get a free rewards card and accrue points that can later be redeemed for free food.
Members of these loyalty programs also get emailed members-only coupons like free entrée with the purchase of another entrée.
- Share your plate
The portion sizes at some restaurants are ridiculously large. They’re so big they can feed two people.
Consider sharing a plate with your partner and cut your dining costs in half.
- Skip the drinks
The mark-up on beverages at restaurants is huge. You might buy a soda can for $0.25 if you buy a 12 pack for example. But for the same amount of soda they’ll charge you $3.00.
A lot of their profit comes from drinks. They’ll always advertise the low cost of their food, but they fail to mention the high price of their beverages.
You go to the restaurant for the food, not the soda. Choose instead to drink the free water offered instead. It’s better for you anyway.
- Skip the appetizer
Restaurants have trained us into thinking that you must first order drinks, then an appetizer, then an entrée followed lastly by dessert.
?It’s designed this way to extract as much money from your as possible.
When going to dinner, stick to eating dinner
- Go during happy hour
Eat at the bar during happy hour and cash in on half priced drinks and appetizers. You won’t have to sit in an uncomfortable stool in front of televisions.
Most restaurants have an area next to it with booths you can sit at. Best of all, there’s no wait time if you can find a seat.
- Take the leftovers home
If you bit off more than you could chew, don’t stuff yourself and don’t throw that food away.?
Ask for a box and you can eat that meal tomorrow. While you won’t save on your current meal, you’ll save money and time by not having to buy something or cook the next day.
5 ways to not blow up your grocery store budget
They say that the majority of your income should go to two categories: food and shelter. And why not? Are these not the most basic tenants of survival? Do these categories not sustain our lives in a very elemental way?
It is easy to say that food expenses should be made without guilt, but it’s another thing to be standing at the cash register at the grocery store and see those numbers racking up exponentially.
So sure, make sure the food you are buying is quality, as it is feeding and nourishing your body, but also pay attention enough to make smart decisions to save where you can.
Below are some tips for saving money the next time you’re at the grocery store:
- Plan ahead
If there is one tip that will save you the most money at the grocery store, it’s to plan ahead and make a list.
Food waste is a real money waster, and you could argue it’s even kind of immoral. Do not go to the grocery store without an idea of what you will be cooking for the next few days.
Spend 10 minutes before you go by making a shopping list on your phone of what you need.
Be sure to eat before going to the grocery store or else everything will look good. If you don’t plan ahead, before you know it you’ll end up with a shopping cart full of things you don’t truly need.
Keeping a list and eating beforehand will help stop you from making impulse purchases.
- Stick to fresh ingredients
It can be very tempting to stay towards the center of the grocery store where all the packaged food is. Grocery stores create this design on purpose.
They expect you to wander up and down the aisles, grabbing colorful and eye-catching boxes without thinking. These packaged foods are easy, but they come at a price—literally.
Sticking to the fresh ingredients around the perimeter of the store (produce, breads, milks, etc.), you will be doing great things for your health and your pocketbook.
- Skip the meat every now and then?
Developing a taste for vegetarian food will save you tons of money in the long run. If you simply replace two meat-focused dinners with two vegetarian dinners each week you will have saved a significant amount of money.
Vegetarian does not have to mean boring, and it certainly doesn’t have to mean salad.
Get online and look at the plethora of vegetarian meal inspiration and recipes to find a tasty option your whole family will like.
- Pay attention to price per weight
Most grocery store shelf tags have a second, little number in the corner.
This price is the price per lb. or oz. or whatever weight the item is sold by. Pay attention to this number when making your product selections.
It may look like one brand is cheaper than the other, but when you look at the price per oz. the “more expensive” item is actually less per oz. It pays to pay attention.
- Ignore sales (most of the time)
At the grocery store, sales are usually done on products that aren’t selling well. Naturally the big sale signs entice you, but don’t fall of this trap. It is not smart to buy something just because it is on sale.
Only buy items that you would buy regardless of whether or not it is on sale. If you buy something just because it’s on sale, you have essentially purchased something extra and spent money.
Stay focused on your list from tip number one, and just rejoice if one of your list items happens to be on sale.
Best grocery store apps to save money
Acorns helps by investing your pocket change in low cost EFT, or exchange-traded funds.
When you make purchases (at the grocery store or otherwise), the price is rounded to the nearest dollar, and the difference between the rounded cost and the total cost is invested.
Rakuten (formerly Ebates) is a cashback app, but it also has a price comparison tool that’s helpful to grocery store shoppers.
- Target app
If you shop at Target you need this app. The Target app (formerly Cartwheel) lets you add discounts and coupons.
During checkout, scan the app to get your discounts applied to your order.
Be sure to sign up for a Target card too to get 5% off your total every time. You can join and link your card to your bank so it works as a debit card, not a credit card.
SnipSnap operates like a coupon binder. You can search for coupons right on the app and “clip them” for later use.
When you get to checkout, scan the coupons from your phone and you’ll cash in on the savings.
If you use in-store savings cards at the grocery store, SavingStar can let you load coupons right onto those cards.
SavingStar is a coupon app that works specifically with grocery stores, letting you clip and save coupons from within the app.
iOS app | Google Play store
Here’s how to use (and make money) with the Checkout51 app.
- 1. Browse grocery offers
- 2. Buy groceries and other products from any store.
- 3. Take a photo of your receipt to redeem your offer.
- 4. Earn your cash back reward.