Buying food is a necessity, but we might as well save a ton of money while we shop, right?
As someone who’s learned to save big on groceries, I share my tips and tricks for cutting costs without sacrificing quality. From tracking prices to buying store brands, discover how YOU can save with this ultimate guide to saving money on groceries.
When I shop, my goal is to get out of there as fast as possible while spending as little as possible. Since I have been doing this for years and <ahem> years, let me share with you my strategy for saving money on groceries.
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Before you even leave the house…
Check the store flyer or website
Before you even head out the door, check the website or flyer from your favorite store, and see what is on sale. But how do you know if what they are advertising is a good price?
Keep a price book or a spreadsheet
The best way is to keep track of prices of what you buy frequently in a price book. This idea is something that Amy Dacyczyn wrote about in The Tightwad Gazette – a newsletter that I used to get back in the…..well, let’s just say it was a long time ago. (All her tips and tricks have been compiled into three books – The Complete Tightwad Gazette, The Tightwad Gazette, and The Tightwad Gazette II.)
Rather than keep a paper notebook with all the prices, my price “book” is a spreadsheet. You can use Excel or Google Sheets to make your own. In mine, the columns are:
- quantity I have in stock
- size of container or weight
- location (full size freezer in the basement, upstairs freezer in the side-by-side, pantry, fridge, etc.)
- best by date
- the remaining columns are for the date/price/store, which I keep all in one column. As I unload the bags of groceries at home, I add a column for the current purchase.
After a while of buying the same things over and over again, you’ll just know when it’s a deal and when to pass. Keeping track of prices is the key to saving money on groceries!
So check the store’s website and/or flyer, and see what they have going on this week. And be sure to sign up for the store’s
A lot of the major grocery chains have rewards cards, where you only get the sale price if you have their card. Since there is no cost to you to get one, you should get the cards for all the stores in your area.
Do an inventory check
See what you already have in stock! That means checking your freezer(s), fridge and pantry. When I am running low on an item, I highlight the row in yellow in my price spreadsheet. Just before I go to the store, I re-check my spreadsheet to make sure everything is on the shopping list.
Any major items missing? Or do you have an abundance of something that could be used – or needs to be used up? Stuff that needs maybe one more ingredient to make a complete meal? At this point, it’s a good time to
Come up with a basic meal plan
Especially if you have a busy schedule, a family, or both! Having some idea of what you are going to prepare – and on what day it will be served – can be both a time AND money saver.
My meal plans are based on what I know is on sale and/or what I have in stock that needs to be used.
With a basic meal plan, you will only buy exactly what you need. And nothing more – unless it’s a deal that you can’t pass up.
Ok, so now you have an idea of what is on sale, what you have in stock to make up some meals, and a plan for what you are going to serve and on what days. Now it’s time to
Make a Shopping List
I keep a running list on my iPhone, and use Microsoft’s To Do app. When I use the last of something (or close to it), I make a note on my phone.
Another great and fool-proof method is good old paper and pen! Just don’t forget your list as you run out of the house.
What day is it?
Does your store have a discount day for senior citizens? If you qualify, this is another way for saving money on groceries. Some stores offer as much as 10% off your total purchase, so it’s worth checking into.
And around holidays can be either a really good time, or a time to avoid shopping altogether. This is where your price book will come in handy, as some stuff will be on sale – and other stuff at a premium. Some things like butter tend to go on sale just before Christmas, so that is a good time to stock up.
Another tactic is to only go grocery shopping once a month. You can pick up milk at places like the chain pharmacy if you have to – providing it’s not overpriced. Sometimes though, paying the extra dollar for a gallon can save you from going on a $60+ binge at the grocery store.
One more thing before you leave the house
Eat something! Yes, it’s true. Don’t shop when you are hungry, because everything looks good when you are hungry!
Ok. Now you can go to the store
You ate, checked what you already have at home, made your list, and have your price book. Now we can walk into the store with this plan:
Shop the perimeter first
This is the first section that I hit. At one of the stores I go to, there is a well-hidden baker’s cart in the far corner of the store that has reduced vegetables and fruit.
During one trip, I picked up: two bags with 2 grapefruit per bag; a bag with 10 clementines; two bags with 10 apples each; and a bag with about 8 oranges. For 99 cents a bag! I did see bags with 2 large eggplant per bag, but I already have a few containers of eggplant Parmesan in the freezer. The best part is that there is pretty much nothing wrong with the reduced stuff! One of the apples was a little soft, and one orange had seen better days. That’s it.
One day, I overheard the produce manager taking to one of the staff about how they determine what gets reduced. For that store, it’s based on what was available in the regular bins and how many customers they thought would be in the store that day. I’m guessing that as new stock comes in, they try to move out the older stuff by marking it down.
As I look over what is available on the reduced racks, I determine what I will be cooking right away – for eating that week, and for stocking up the freezer.
So for instance, if there are bags of green peppers, I’ll make a ton of stuffed peppers (NOT at $3.99/pound!) – keeping a few out for dinner to serve with garlic mashed potatoes, and packing the rest in containers for the freezer.
And when I get fruit, I make a bowl of fruit cocktail to have in the morning with my homemade yogurt, and then make some apple turnovers.
If items that are on my list aren’t in the reduced rack, I’ll choose carefully from the regularly priced bins; skip the not-so-urgent items, and/or stop at the farmer’s market.
I look for the huge, family-size packages and what’s on sale. Even though I am only cooking for myself, I buy meat (and just about everything else) in quantity when the price is right. The ALDI that I go to usually has packages discounted anywhere from $1 to $5, so I grab what I can to stock the freezer.
Split the costs
When I had a tiny apartment and just the small freezer part of the fridge, I used to buddy up with a friend and we would split the large packages between us. Now I have a full-sized freezer in the basement, in addition to the one in the side-by-side fridge. [Side note – if you have the space, get a full-size freezer! It will pay for itself – especially if you buy a “scratch & dent” one like I did.]
For cuts of meat, my staple items are chicken thighs (super cheap!) and 85/15 ground beef. Other cuts if they are on sale are; boneless pork chops; eye of beef for roasts; skirt steak for fajitas; stew beef for stroganoff, stew or chili; wild-caught salmon; whole chicken; ham steaks and andouille sausage for jambalaya.
Like meat, I buy shredded cheese and American cheese in huge packages too. Shredded cheese freezes really well, and I always have cheddar and mozzerella in stock.
Eggs keep for a long time, so I buy up to 3 dozen at a time. And a gallon of milk will last me 2 – 3 weeks. (Note: always check the dates on stuff. Sometimes, you have to move gallons around to find the jugs with the best dates.)
Avoid the Aisles of Temptation
Now that we have shopped the perimeter of the store, go up and down only the aisles where the stuff on your list is. I swear, this is where the stores try to suck you into buying more than what you really need. If you don’t have cereal on your list, don’t go down that aisle. Period. Avoid the temptation to more stuff in your cart! The candy aisle is one that you should never go down.
Look up. Look down.
Another tip is to look at the very top shelves, and the ones close to the floor. Stores like to put their more expensive items right at eye level, to make it easier for it to jump into your cart.
Seriously. They are usually made by the Big Name companies – without the costs for advertising, fancy labels and packaging. A friend of mine did accounting work for one of those Big Name places that made bagels, and said the local supermarket chain bagels were the same exact ones.
Now if members of your family are going to give you the stink-eye and not want to eat the store brand stuff, try this: for example, slip the inner package of store brand oat cereal into an empty Cheerios box. They will never know the difference. (and don’t ask me how I know that.)
Now some store brands do taste a little different, but you won’t know unless you try it, right? After one taste of the store brand, I found out that Campbell’s tomato soup is the ONLY tomato soup for me. And just this week, I discovered that one store brand puff pastry sheets were difficult to work with, because they weren’t packaged as well as the ones from Pepperidge Farm.
Other than those two items, in all my life of grocery shopping those were the only two things that didn’t work for me. And I am pretty picky about flavor.
Now that I shop almost exclusively at ALDI, I can assure you that their foods match the taste and quality of the name brands almost 100%.
When it comes to price, you will see a huge difference from the manufacturer’s pricing. The canned vegetables in the photo above were on sale for 39 cents a can. WOW! (Oh. The cans in the far back were bought at the discount grocery store – they only have manufacturer brands, but at store brand prices.) Which brings me to my next tip..
When I saw the canned veggies for 39 cents, I bought enough to fill the shelves in my pantry – enough to get me through most of the winter.
Bonus – no having to run to the store before/during/after a snowstorm!!!
I also pick up items like in the above photo at Ocean State Job Lot – the discount store nearby. Their prices are usually far below those of the grocery store, but the selection varies from week to week.
When I see stuff I use a lot of, or fancy stuff like the pear infused vinegar, I grab it for the pantry. They aren’t really a grocery store, but more of a close-outs store with a section for non-perishable food items.
Stuff like spices are $1.00 and twice I have found jars of name brand caviar for $2.00 – the same jars that sell for $8.99 in the grocery store. They have a great selection of olive oil, vinegars, along with jams and nut butters, so that is where I get those items when they have them in stock.
TIP – check expiration and best by dates on EVERYTHING – no matter where you shop. Stores are sneaky and like to put the soon to expire (or horrors – expired) goods at the front of the shelf. Reach to the back and read those dates, since they will normally have a longer shelf life.
Wear your glasses
And another tip – don’t be like me and not put on your reading glasses in the store. That’s how pumpkin pie “filling” ended up in my house, and not the pumpkin puree that I use. Yuck. Labels have a funny way of looking alike when they are blurry. Now I put my glasses on as soon as I enter the store. Problem solved.
Limit – or better yet – don’t buy packaged foods
Yeah, I know. This one may be a little tough for some people, but cooking from scratch will save you a boatload of cash! I make just about everything from scratch, and have always done so – even while working full time (8+ hours/day, plus 3 hours of commuting).
I do most of my cooking and prep all in one day. Once you use this method, you will be amazed at not only how much money you save, but how much time you free up during the week! Imagine coming home from work, and all you have to do is grab a plate and microwave for 3 minutes!!!
How much is a loaf of bread these days? I haven’t bought a loaf in…ummmm…years.
TIP – buy a bread machine. I bake bread about once a month, and it costs less than $1.00/loaf – whole wheat or light rye are my faves. The bread machine I use is the Sunbeam bread machine, which is not widely available any longer, and it’s the second one I have had in about 20 years. (Here is an alternative bread machine.) I use it not only for bread, but to make dough for sweet breads and pizza dough. It’s paid for itself many times over, and who can resist the smell of freshly baking bread?
Stuff to skip buying:
Bottled water. Unless you have water purity issues, or are stocking up for a disaster or SHTF prepping, etc.
Never buy toiletries at the grocery store. It’s not worth the convenience, and the chain pharmacy or local discount store has it much cheaper.
Sometimes, online is cheaper
If you make a price book, you will find that sometimes, you can get a much better deal by buying in bulk online. For instance, I’m on a special diet and use Sweet ‘N Low. It’s expensive at the grocery store, and even the store brand is in such small boxes, that it makes more sense to buy in bulk from Amazon.
Note regarding coupons – I never clip, use or hunt down manufacturer’s coupons. I tried that years ago, and it seemed to be a huge investment of time with little savings. Your mileage may vary!
One more tip….Grow your own food!
In conclusion, saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. By using these strategies, you can significantly reduce your grocery bills without sacrificing quality or variety. Remember to shop with a list, keep track of prices, and take advantage of sales whenever possible. With a little bit of planning and effort, you can become a frugal grocery shopper and keep more money in your wallet each week.