Updated February 8, 2014

How to Save Money on Groceries

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The money you spend on food makes up a large portion of your weekly budget, so every dollar you can save at the supermarket really counts. Here are some tips to help you spend less on groceries.

Save Money on Groceries at Home

Saving on groceries starts before you even leave the house.

  • Use what you have before buying more. You’ve already paid for everything in your cabinets, and if you’re not using it, you’re just throwing money away. Try to think of meals you can prepare using the ingredients you already have. Every extra meal you can squeeze out of these food items is one less you have to buy at the store.

  • Get the most out of the food you prepare. Leftovers can really save a family money in their food budget. It’s like getting two meals for the price of one! If you cook a very large meal, consider freezing it in single portion containers. It will last longer and you’ll probably appreciate the convenience factor of having a premade meal on hand when you don’t have time to prepare a fresh one.

  • Plan a menu. When it comes time to go food shopping, prepare a menu for the week before you leave, using your store’s flyer as a guide. This will help you take advantage of the week’s best values and minimize unnecessary purchases once you get to the store. You’ll probably also get your shopping done faster if you know exactly what you’re looking for before you even get there.

Get the Best Price

Once you know what you need, it’s important to get the best price possible.

  • Look for sales and coupons. You probably don’t have time to look for every coupon available or travel from store to store to save a few cents on single food items, so don’t go crazy here. Use coupons only for items you buy all the time, and don’t fall for a deal just because it sounds good. Oftentimes, one brand with a coupon is still more expensive than another, less popular brand that doesn’t come with a discount. You don’t want to spend money just to get a price break on an item you don’t need and are unlikely to use.

  • Get a store card. Most grocery stores have loyalty cards that you’ll need to take advantage of the sales. Also, consider scanning your own groceries if your store has the option or sign up for your store’s mobile app – supermarkets are increasingly offering exclusive discounts to customers who use scanners and smartphones.

  • Use a credit card that offers cash back rewards on groceries. You can earn extra money for your hard work at the grocery store when you use a cash back credit card that offers a higher reward rate on grocery purchases. As long as you pay off your cards every month, you might as well as take advantage of getting something back for your weekly shopping trip.

Ways to Save Money While Shopping in Grocery Stores

(Click Image to Enlarge)
Infographics: Grocery Shopping Plan
Infographics: Grocery Shopping Plan © CreditDonkey

Here are some tried and true tips and tricks that will save you money no matter where you shop.

  • Check unit prices. Many stores will list unit prices next to the price you’ll pay to purchase the item, but don’t be afraid to do the math if your store doesn’t provide this convenience. Bring a calculator if you need to. The goal is to pay the lowest unit price possible, so compare between brands and container sizes.

  • Buy generic. Store brands are just as good as name brands for most items, and they’re a lot cheaper. If the only reason you want the brand-name version is because of how it looks, try the generic alternative.

  • Look toward the top and bottom of shelves. Stores place the items they want you to purchase in the sections of the shelves that are easiest to reach. They want you to purchase these items because they have the highest markups, which means the store makes more money on them and you spend more money than you need to. Better buys are usually located on the higher and lower shelves in the aisle.

  • Minimize purchases of convenience foods. It’s pretty common knowledge that buying premade frozen meals and other pre-prepared foods will cost you more than buying and preparing the ingredients yourself. Seemingly simple conveniences can cost you as well, though. Pre-sliced foods, or foods that are pre-separated into portions probably cost more than the small added convenience is worth.

  • Avoid single serving items. Individual packages of snacks and other foods will cost more than they do in their aggregate form. Small, single serving bags of chips will cost more than the same amount of chips in one large bag, for example. Purchase the larger version and separate the portions at home.

  • Buy in-season fruit and vegetables. It’s very true that purchasing fresh, healthy foods at the grocery store is more expensive than purchasing processed foods with less nutritional value. Some of that cost can be offset by limiting your produce purchases to items that are in season. But when your favorite fruit and vegetables are not in season, consider buying frozen food. Picked when they’re at their peak, frozen produce tastes almost as good as in-season food and is easy to prepare.

Purchase Patterns to Avoid

Don’t be enticed to spend more than you need to on your weekly shopping trip.

  • Avoid impulse buys. These are the purchases that eat your budget, so try not to make unplanned purchases when grocery shopping. Kids tend to increase impulse buying, so if at all possible leave them home. Small items like candy, gum, and magazines that line checkout aisles are attempts by your local store to squeeze a few more dollars out of you. Don’t give in.

  • Eat before you shop. Shopping hungry will result not only in impulse buying, but probably also in over purchasing in the amount of food you’ll need for the week. Never shop on an empty stomach.

  • Only buy groceries. Don’t buy personal products like toothpaste or shampoo from a grocery store. You’ll get better prices from larger stores like Wal-Mart or Target, or even from your local dollar store. Cold cuts and other deli products are also better purchased at a deli than a grocery store. You’ll get better prices and possibly better quality as well.

  • Don’t buy small if you can buy in bulk. If you have a membership to a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s Club, make sure to take advantage of the savings it offers. Don’t purchase items in small quantities at the grocery store that you can purchase in bulk at lower unit costs using your membership card.

Follow the above tips, and you should be able to save a few dollars off your grocery bill each time you shop. It may not seem significant at the time, but every dollar counts! Most people grocery shop at least once a week, so you should notice a difference in your wallet after a few months.

(Graphic Writing by Kelly; Graphic Design by Tina)

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Leah Norris is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped families make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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