With grocery prices rising due to inflation, it's getting harder and harder to make a trip to the supermarket without getting frustrated — or feeling like you need to barter your worldly possessions just to buy fresh produce. You're dreaming of cooking up a Chef's Table-inspired week's worth of dishes, but your bank account and those rising prices say more instant noodles and less delicious aged cheese, organic veggies, and grass-fed beef. Still, everyone deserves to eat well, and the key to doing so right now could be learning how to save money on groceries.
But how do we curb spending our whole paycheck at the supermarket, grocery store, or on online grocery delivery services? If you've walked down any produce aisle lately, you know the sticker shock is no joke. While figuring out how to save money on food comes with a bit of a learning curve, it can be done. It goes without saying, of course, that this is a systemic problem — in addition to rising prices brought on by labor and supply shortages, price hikes reflect companies padding prices to protect their profit margins. Addressing food price inflation (and food insecurity) will take large-scale reform.
You still have to get groceries in the meantime, though. So, Scary Mommy asked financial experts to weigh in with some proven tips and tricks for saving money on food.
1. Have a Budget
Including your grocery shopping into your weekly or monthly budget is crucial. To figure out your grocery shopping budget, track your current spending. Then consider using a grocery shopping calculator to determine how much of your income you should set aside for grocery shopping.
2. Shop on a Full Stomach
It's an oldie but a goodie of a rule. When you're starving, you're going to stock up on, well, anything. "Never go into the store hungry (the cardinal sin of grocery shopping)," says Kari Lorz, certified financial education instructor and founder of Money For the Mamas. "Always keep a granola bar in your car (or purse) and eat it 15 minutes before setting foot into the store. I sit in my car and scroll through the store's weekly ad looking for good deals while eating my snack and having some water."
Even if you live in a city where you take public transportation to the grocery store, you can still abide by this. Bring your granola bar on the train or bus and use that time to check the current sales and coupons. Hopefully, this will help you buy fewer snacks and take-out food, which tend to be pricey. Also, try to shop when you're not feeling tired and stressed. You'll be more likely to make better choices when you're satiated and feeling calm.
3. Make a Grocery List and Stick to It
Even if making a grocery list feels like a pain, it'll help you keep your spending in check. "One of the easiest ways to overspend at the grocery store is to shop without a plan," says Seth Connell, financial coach. "Grocery stores are experts in product placement. The staples are almost always toward the back of the store, forcing you to pass by all the other items on the way. This makes it more likely that customers will add other items to their cart, even if they came in only for a few things at the outset."
If you're looking to save money for vacation and planning on buying groceries there, make the shopping list ahead of time and estimate the cost to help you budget.
4. Plan Your Meals a Week Ahead
How do you make an effective grocery list? By meal prepping and planning. Plan your meals for the week before you shop, and then buy strictly what's on the menu. But rather than just make a plan based on what you want to eat, plan around sales and seasonality of produce. "One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to grocery shopping is that they make their meal plan and then go to the store and buy the ingredients," says financial coach Annie Hanson, owner of Mindfully Money. "Instead, look at the weekly grocery store ad, find out what is on sale that week, and build your meal plan around what is on sale. That way, you aren't buying ingredients when they are most expensive."
5. Save Money With Grocery Apps
There are several grocery apps out there that can help you save significant money on your shopping. No more clipping coupons! Just click on these frugal-friendly and time-saving apps. Some top favorites include Flipp, MealBoard, and GroceryPal. You can also try cashback apps while you shop. These include ibotta, Receipt Pal, and Receipt Hog.
"I save up all my points and rewards during the year and use this money to buy our Thanksgiving dinner items and holiday baking supplies, as those costs can be considerable (and wreak havoc on a monthly budget)," Lorz says. You just have to be mindful that you aren't over-shopping simply to get the rewards and cash back. Think of this as a fun supplement to your regular shopping.
6. Be Careful With In-Store Sales and Coupons
While you certainly want to be aware of in-store sales and coupons, you also don't want to buy something just because it's on sale. For example, maybe your grocery store is selling mustard for 50 percent off. What good is that if you don't really eat mustard? If the food item isn't on your grocery list, your best bet is to skip it. The same goes for those "2-4-1" deals. It's only a good deal if you'll actually use two.
7. Shop With a Calculator
As you shop, add up your grocery bill to help you stay on your grocery shopping budget. Have kids? Make them a part of it, and they might even like going grocery shopping with you.
8. Buy in Bulk
You might want to consider buying in bulk for staples that you use regularly. Pantry mainstays like grains, beans, rice, tofu, lentils, seeds, and flour tend to be cheaper in bulk. They're also filling, healthy, and are easy additions to any meal. Before you get carried away with this method, though, make sure you're comparing the bulk price to the regular package price to ensure you're getting a better deal. Sometimes prices get confusing when you're looking at it per ounce or per pound, rather than per unit.
9. Buy Fewer Pre-Packaged Meals and More Fruits and Veggies
Pre-packaged foods, like a bag of pre-cut broccoli and grated cheese, tend to be more expensive than buying a whole head of broccoli and a block of cheese. Adding more fruits and veggies is a great idea and keeps your eating habits healthier. You can even shop smart when it comes to produce to get more for your money. "For produce, the clerks put the ripest items on the top of the pile," Lorz says. "So if your kiddo loves mango, then grab one from the top of the pile and one (carefully) from the bottom of the pile."
Also, make sure you optimize your shopping trip by buying produce smartly, especially if it's on sale. Lorz suggests buying what you need and just enough extra to use later. She advises keeping an eye on when your fruit is about to turn, chopping it up, and popping it in the freezer. You can pull it out later to make it into smoothies.
10. Buy Store or No-Name Brands
Not only are many made by the brand name companies, just with a different label, but they also taste basically the same and cost less!
11. Compare Prices Accurately
You're probably already comparing prices while you shop, but make sure you look at the numbers closely. You can easily be tricked by simply comparing one product to another, but did you factor in the package size? Comparing unit prices will give you a more accurate look at what you're paying. "When comparing prices, make sure you're comparing apples to apples," says Rachael Burns, certified financial planner and founder of True Worth. "Look at the price on a per-unit basis. For example, if you're comparing the cost of a dozen eggs with a carton of 18 eggs, compare the price per egg. If you're comparing two different sized bottles of juice, look at the per ounce price."
12. Change Where You Shop
Look, Whole Foods is a great store for grocery shopping, but it's no secret that it's on the pricey side. Instead of buying everything there, save a place like that for specialty items you can't find elsewhere and buy everything else at more budget-friendly spots. "With the spread of stores like Aldi and Lidl, there are increasingly more choices in where you can shop," Connell says. "Use this to your advantage, and compare prices for the things you usually buy each time you shop. Sometimes even your favorite brands are at these stores, and the price is much better. Expand your shopping horizons and see what more economical options you have at your disposal."
13. Freeze Most of Your Food
Your refrigerator is meant to keep your food from spoiling, but you can extend your food's shelf life by using your freezer. Instead of keeping your stews, soups, bread, cheese, and rice in the fridge, freeze them. Just remember to keep your water-based produce in the refrigerator, like celery or apples.
14. Don't buy pre-chopped produce.
Although pre-chopped food makes cooking easier, they aren't so easy on your pockets. Unfortunately, these purchases spoil way faster than regular fruits and veggies. This happens because pre-chopped produce is already cut, so the food's decaying process has already started. So a fresh apple picked from a tree will last a little longer than apple slices from the store.
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