Food is a major household expense. Although grocery shopping is less expensive than eating out, it still adds up. We are always looking for ways to save money on food.
Problem is, food prices are the same regardless of your income and financial obligations. How can you fit groceries into your own family budget and save as much money as possible?
31 Ways to Save Money on Food
First, you have to know how much you are spending. Write it all down for 1 month. Keep every food receipt. Then look at it. How much are you spending on junk? How much are you spending on processed foods? How many times did you go to the grocery store this month? Where is the money going?
Once you know where your money is going, take these steps to slash your food bill.
In no particular order, here are 31 Ways to Save Money on Food that we actually use. These tips are realistic and they work.
1. Buy Basic Veggies
Buy inexpensive vegetables like cabbage, carrots, celery, radishes, potatoes, etc. They are not only inexpensive than other vegetable varieties, they usually have a long fridge life. They are also very versatile. It is nice to have more expensive vegetables every now and then, keep your grocery bill in check by sticking with the basics.
Oh, and skip the pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables. You know, the little packages of "baby" carrots, shredded carrots, celery hearts, and bagged cabbage. The more that has been done to a food item, the more expensive it is. Save money, cut it yourself.
2. Avoid the Middle
Did you know that higher priced groceries are usually in the middle of the shelf, in the middle of the store? That's right! Grocery retailers usually place your essentials at either end of the store (bread on one side, eggs on the other, anyone?) This encourages you to spend more time in the store, and you end up in the middle aisles where all of the processed, packaged, boxed expensive foods are. Sometimes you have to go in there for certain items. Be strong, my friends, be strong.
Also, most grocery retailers place the most expensive or high profit items at eye level on the shelf. To save money, look high and look low for less expensive grocery items.
3. Get the Card
If your store offers a loyalty card (i.e. Kroger Plus, Food Lion MVP, etc), get it. It costs nothing to sign up, and the savings do add up. Most grocery retailers that offer loyalty programs also send you extra coupons. Sometimes you get FREE items. This month, I received coupons for free items from Kroger worth over $25!
BONUS: Many grocery loyalty cards give gas price incentives!
Don't get me wrong, the store deals aren't always the best deals, so be smart when you shop. But 9 times out of 10, that grocery store loyalty card will leave money in your pocket.
4. Buy Store Brands
This is usually a personal preference for some people, but don't get trapped into buying name brand foods for all of your groceries. Did you know that most store brands come from the same place with the same ingredients as the name brand spendier version? Yep. Marketing 101, people.
There are some differences, of course. And there are extreme discount brands that don't have the same flavor or quality as brand name items. For the most part, however, we have had great success with any Kroger or Great Value branded item. Just don't be afraid to try it.
For example, we really like high quality cheese. That is my splurge most of the time and we buy name brand. But for canned veggies, tomatoes, dried beans, rice...we opt for the store brand every time.
5. Choose Organic Wisely
For those of you who choose organic food products, choose wisely. Is it really organic? Is it really worth that extra money? We understand the reasoning behind eating organically to avoid chemicals, but do some research on the brand before you buy (with that handy little smart phone). There are more healthy organic options than ever, and that will make pricing more competitive. Yay for your pocket!
For those of you who aren't concerned about organic eating...look out. Some grocery stores have been placing the normal (less expensive) version of an item right next to the organic (more expensive) version of an item. We see this the most in the fruit and produce sections. The price difference can be extreme! So before you reach for that head of lettuce, make sure you are grabbing the one you want.
6. Buy it Dry
We are big advocates of buying dried beans and preparing them yourself. Dried beans and peas are one of the most economical and healthy options in the grocery store. They are easy to make yourself. Plus you control the sodium, fat, and flavor. Beans and peas really stretch out a meal. And talk about variety in the kitchen. So versatile, dried beans and peas can be used in so many recipes.
Nothing wrong with buying canned, but the savings do add up when you buy dry.
7. Waste Not
For one week, write down every bit of food that you throw out. That means what you scrape off of your plate, what you put in the fridge and never eat, the veggies in your fridge that have gone bad, the things in the freezer that have freezer burned. Write it all down. Embarrassing, isn't it?
Part of our grocery expense problem isn't the price of food, it is the cost of waste.
Most families are guilty of this, but lay down the law with your family. If you buy it, you eat it. If you start it, you finish it (now or later). If there are leftovers, that's lunch. There are TONS of online resources on how to repurpose your leftovers into new meals.
Oh, and for those of you that have a family member that says "I don't like eating leftovers!" I have one answer: Too bad. Wasting food is like setting your money on fire. Save money, waste less.
8. Visit the Freezer Section
I'm not talking about frozen pizzas and burritos. Load up on frozen vegetables to save money. Most grocery stores run specials all the time (like 10 for $10). This is usually the most affordable way to purchase healthy produce. You don't have to worry about using it before it goes bad, either. Stir fry, peas and carrots, California blends, and just plain corn, beans, and peas.
This is a guaranteed way to always have a perfect side for your meals, and they make excellent additions to soups, casseroles and stir fry.
9. Eat Less
Did you know that the size of the dinner plate in America has changed from 9 inches a few decades ago to 12 inches today?
Guess what? That means we are eating more food, therefore buying more food, therefore SPENDING MORE MONEY ON GROCERIES. Don't get mad at the retailers for high grocery prices. Have a heart to heart with yourself. If you eat less, you will spend less.
Change your plates. These might be hard to find and you might have to buy them individually. Want to know what we did? We visited local flea markets and vintage stores, and purchased mix and match dinner plates in white. Now we have a complete set of old school, smaller plates. Inexpensive and cute!
BONUS: This also helps you control portions and manage your weight. Just don't go for seconds.
10. Skip the 4 C's
What are the 4 C's? Chips, Cakes, Cookies, and Crap!
Unhealthy snacks do not have to be on your shopping list. They just don't. Every now and then, get a bag or two of chips or your favorite snack. If you are spending too much time in that snack section, then your grocery bill is bigger than it has to be.
A bag of chips is around $2.50 (some less, some more). For $2.50 you can buy a bag of white potatoes. Which do you think is going to last longer and go further in your meal plan?
Sweets should be a treat. With a well stocked pantry, you can whip up a great dessert for a fraction of the price of store-bought prepackaged items. Most of the time, homemade equals money saved. (You can quote me on that.)
According to this article by WebMD, "Eating healthier foods can actually save you money..." And...you may even lose a little weight by cuttong out the "extras" like sodas and chips.
11. Beware of Trendy Foods
We love trying new foods.
There is nothing wrong with splurging on a new or exotic ingredient every now and then. Resist the urge to load your shopping cart with those high-dollar items. Be choosy, try one or two at a time. Don't over do it-these items will bust your budget for sure.
12. Prep Your Own Poultry
The more things they do to a chicken, the more they charge you for it. Consider buying your chicken whole, and butchering it yourself.
Don't think you can handle it? You can still save money by purchasing chicken parts with the skin on and bone in. Take the skin off yourself and cut it off of the bone. (Or cook it with the bone in, it usually results in a juicier chicken.)
Skip the cutlets and pre-cut strips. Do the cutting yourself and save a lot of money on your groceries.
13. Plan Around Your Pantry
This is one of the best ways to see the biggest impact to your bottom line.
This article by The Penny Hoarder recommends to plan your meals for the week. This lets you to only shop for the ingredients you will use that week.
Sit down in your kitchen and write down EVERYTHING in your pantry, your fridge and freezer. Every single thing. Flip through cook books, online recipes, and your own memory to come up with as many things that you can make with what you have.
This will lead to a grocery list. For example, you found a pack of ground beef in your freezer and some noodles in your pantry. You may need some tomatoes and an onion to make a nice meal from that. Repeat this process and add items to your grocery list that allow you to use the food you have now, instead of buying more.
Don't have a thing and not sure where to start? See our list of Pantry Essentials to get you started.
14. Compare Price per Ounce
You probably do this already, and grocery stores have come a long way in listing the price per ounce (or unit) on their product shelves. Look at the total price of an item, and divide it by the total ounces for the price per ounce.
"Keep a calculator handy." says Consumer Reports in this article. "Unit price shelf stickers under each product can help you compare. But if the store doesn't have the stickers--only nine states require them--use your smartphone's calculator. Divide the price by the number of units..."
Sometimes, the good deal really isn't a good deal. This is most common in comparing one brand to another brand...but watch out. Do this when comparing prices within the same brand. Most of the time, buying a larger size does give you the lowest price per ounce....but not always.
(A word of caution on this one...if you buy for the bigger size to get the best price per ounce, make sure it is something you will use. Don't buy more just because it is cheaper. If you waste it, then you saved nothing.)
15. Find Common Ingredients
Look for recipes that use a lot of the same ingredients. This does not mean that you have to eat the same thing every night. Do a little digging through your recipe books, and try to find 3 or more meals that use at least 1 of the same main ingredient. (Salt, pepper, and seasonings don't count!). This method is easier than you think.
It will save you money, simplifies your list and your life, and saves you time. Here ideas from our Recipe Box:
Main Ingredient : Black Beans
Main Ingredient : Ground Beef
Main Ingredient : Chicken
16. Eat First
We forget this one sometimes, but always shop on a full stomach. If not, you will likely stray from your list and overspend.
17. Teach the Kids or Leave Them at Home
Most of the time, I would rather grocery shop alone.
Why? Kids want everything, and if you are anything like me, you have a hard time saying no. Not only that, but children can be distracting. If you get frustrated in the store, you are likely to go off track and grab whatever you can to get out of the store.
If you take your children, we totally understand. When you take the kids, turn it into a fun lesson. Let them hold the list and mark the items off. Tell them why you are using a list, and why you are pick certain items over another.
Explain why you are trying to save money. This will help them learn good choices for the future.
18. Clip Coupons
Whether you are a coupon pro or never use them, you should start. You don't have to be a master. Just look for coupons that will save you money on the things on your list.
Making a casserole, dig through the coupons to find a deal on pasta, soup, and veggies.
Don't buy something just because you have a coupon for it. And just because you have a coupon for it doesn't make it a better deal than another brand. Shop smart.
19. Ask for a Rain Check
If your grocery store is running a special, and they run out before you get there, ask for a Rain Check.
Most grocers will give you a rain check to get the item at the same special price when it is back in stock. It is a little extra trouble, but is worth the savings. (Especially when buying meat and poultry.)
20. Watch the Cashier
People make mistakes. So do machines. Make sure that your item rings up at the correct price, sale price, or coupon price. Ensure that your loyalty card deducts your savings. Look over your receipt for duplicate charges.
Do this while you are in the store. Yep, the people behind you might get annoyed or mad, but you know what? They aren't buying your groceries. Just push your cart aside out of the way as much as possible.
If there is a problem or error, be kind. Politely (and quietly) ask the cashier or management to look at it with you. You don't have to be rude. Say please and thank you.
21. Cruise Through Clearance
Every store has a clearance section. Sometimes it is one little section, or a buggy full, or a rack back in the corner. Find that section, or ask where it is.
It doesn't always have great items, but sometimes...JACKPOT. Many times the items are almost expired, or maybe weren't good sellers, or items that have been closed out. Canned and jarred items are usually your best bet for bargains, but sometimes you will find great deals on bakery items and more.
When you find some good items, think of how you can use them with your menu plan. (Or grab it for the next time you meal plan.) If the item is questionable or just doesn't look like something you would eat, skip it.
22. Cash In on Cash Back
There are many smart phone apps out there that will give you cash back just for sharing your grocery receipts with them. Ibotta and Checkout 51 are some suggestions. It sometimes takes a while to earn a pay out, but in return for information about your shopping habits, they will give you money back.
We are a big fan of paying for our groceries with cash. However, explore your checking account and credit card options. Many offer cash back programs for groceries or purchases in general. The trick? Pay it off IMMEDIATELY before it accrues interest or charges, or else you have wasted money.
23. Make it a Game
Money and family finances are no laughing matter. But try to make your grocery shopping a game. Look at it as a challenge.
If you have $100, make it a goal to get as many groceries as possible for that amount or less. Be brutal with your list, scratch off everything but the essentials. Be ruthless.
Keep up with how much you are spending as you go, and try to guess how much your total will be. If you ring up less than your goal, pat yourself on the back.
Heck, I even tell the cashier. (Guess what? A lot of them play this game in their head.) One time I filled almost two buggies for less than $200. The cashier said "How did you do that?" By using these tips!!
24. Spice it Up
Spices are essential to tasty home-cooked meals. But don't go overboard. Spices are CRAZY expensive.
Keep a few versatile basics on hand (chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, etc.) and add to your collection slowly. If you are trying something new, buy it in the smallest quantity available before you invest in a large size. If you are a Spice King and use a lot of spices to make rubs and seasonings, consider buying in bulk online. Amazon has a great selection.
Your spice expense will easily eat up your food budget if you aren't careful.
25. Drink Tap Water
Unless you have poor quality water, do not buy bottled water.
If you are concerned about drinking from the tap, invest in a filter, like Brita or PUR. But keep in mind that people have been drinking tap water for many, many years. We survived to tell the tale.
26. Grow Your Own Herbs
Love fresh basil? Crazy about fresh cilantro? Hate how much fresh herbs cost at the grocery store for how little you get?
Use that money, stop by the nursery (or even at your own grocery store). Buy the herb plant and a little bag of potting soil. Find a pot or planter, or even an old can with holes. Plant, water, and light = your own herbs.
Not sure where to start? Many places offer herb starter kits that contains basic kitchen favorites.
27. Shred Your Own Cheese
Do not buy pre-shredded cheese. It is more expensive, it has additives, and it does not taste as good as shredding your own. Buy cheese in 1 lb or larger blocks. Shred what you need, and refrigerate or freeze what you don't need. Around our house, cheese is always in demand, so it never goes bad.
If you aren't a big dairy eater, buy the small blocks.
BONUS: Shredding your own cheese is an arm workout.
28. Shop Around
First, let me say that I am not a fan of driving to three different grocery stores to chase prices. It isn't worth it to me most of the time.
However, visiting your discount grocery store like Save-a-Lot can save you so much money on staples. (And ramen noodles. Sorry, we have a family of ramen eaters.) Stock up on canned veggies, pasta, even some spices. Frozen fruits and veggies are also a great buy.
There are some products that I personally will not buy at discount grocers, but that is totally my preference. You will find that a trip to a discount store once a month is a good thing.
29. Shop In Season
Fresh produce is a must have in our home, and we hope it is in yours, too. Don't overpay. Pick items that are in season for the best possible quality and price.
In other words, skip that December watermelon and go for oranges instead. Cherries in November? Bad move. But cranberries, great bargain. Same goes for produce. Fresh corn in February? Too spendy for my blood. Grab asparagus instead.
Do some research on when produce is in season, or check out our Seasonal Produce Guide. (Peak season may vary based on your geographical area.)
30. Start a Garden
You don't have to have a lot of space to grow your own produce. For just a little money and some of your time, you can save big on your monthly food budget.
This is also a great way for children to learn about where food comes from.
BONUS: fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are included!
31. Stick to the List
The most obvious, but sometimes the hardest, way to save money on groceries is to stick to your shopping list.
Grocery retailers have one job - make more money. How do they do that? By selling you more food. Don't be angry at the store. We love food, and are grateful for the modern conveniences and options that today's grocery stores offer.
But if you are making a sincere effort to save money, you have to learn a little self-control. Love the list, stick to the list, obey the list.
Our 31 Ways to Save Money on Food will help you save money, and inspire you to be smarter with your meal planning. Do you have great money-saving advice to share when it comes to groceries? We would love to hear them. Email all suggestions to [email protected] All submissions will be featured in an upcoming addition to this list.
Stay tuned to our blog for more hints, ideas, and recipes.