It doesn’t matter where you live, groceries will always take up a major chunk of your income. In fact, Americans spend about 33% of their household income on groceries per month, according to a report by the USDA.
Another report published by GoBankingRates found that men tend to spend less on groceries than women, $290 per month against $323 per month.
This is a huge expense which you can reduce with the help of proper planning.
If you’re like most families, you are having long discussions on how to save money on groceries. It’s obviously easier said than done.
We’ve all been there and most of us have failed, which is why you’re here.
I won’t lie. It wasn’t easier for me either. But now that I have been going grocery shopping for years, I know how to save money by using my own grocery shopping strategies.
In this article, I’ll talk about ways you can reduce your monthly grocery expenses.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to start using these grocery shopping strategies to save thousands a year on your food bill.
How To Save Money On Groceries
Know Your Grocery Expenses
It is important to know how much you’re spending on groceries so you can decide how much to save and if there’s a need to save.
If you’re already a smart shopper, then you may not need to do much to save money on groceries.
A good first option is to have a look at the USDA Food Cost reports. The report contains information on what food should cost families.
It is divided into four different plans:
- Moderate cost
- Low cost
The report can help you understand if you can save on groceries and if yes, give you a rough idea as to how much.
For example, you can see that for an adult male, age 19-50 years, the average monthly food cost is $185.40 a month on the thrifty plan.
It can even help you create a plan on how to save grocery money going forward.
Your first step is to calculate your grocery expenses so you know your expected grocery savings. It is quite easy to do. Just keep an eye on all your receipts.
By definition, groceries include all kinds of food items including fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, etc.
When we talk about knowing your grocery expenses, you need to answer questions such as:
- How much do I spend on groceries?
- Which items do I spend the most on?
- Which items do I spend the least on?
Having answers to these questions will help you a great deal. You can use a grocery calculator, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Low-Cost Food Plan, to help you understand where you are overspending compared to average.
Create A Grocery Budget
The next step is to create a budget. I once again suggest that you stick to the USDA Food Cost reports and try to move from one plan to another.
For example, if you’re on the low cost plan right now, you can move to thrifty or frugal shopping. The idea is to save as much as you can and wherever you can.
Understand that your overall grocery budget will depend on your lifestyle, tastes, location, and the number of family members in your household.
Moreover, family member ages also make a difference. For example, homes with infants will have different requirements when compared to homes with teenagers.
The most important thing is to understand how much you can afford to spend on groceries and then try to stick to the plan. You can choose any figure, from $150 a month to $1,500 a month.
However, I suggest that you stick to a figure closer to your current spending as reducing your groceries budget all of a sudden can cause issues. You should instead do it gradually.
I also suggest that you have a weekly budget instead of a monthly budget. It will help you plan easily and give you a chance to correct mistakes.
If doing all the work manually sounds too laborious then you can try apps like EveryDollar (free or $99 per year for bank syncing) or YNAB (free 34-day trial then $50 per year).
They’ll make the job of grocery budgeting easier.
Once you’ve decided how much to spend, it’s time to know where to spend. This includes creating a weekly meal plan and then making a shopping list.
How To Make A Meal Plan
Let’s talk about how to make an affordable meal plan as meal planning is one of the most important parts of budgeting.
Note that I am not talking about meal planning for special diets either.
Meal planning is a strategy that every person should be using to save money on groceries.
The process of creating a meal plan is simple.
#1. Write down the foods you like to eat.
#2. Gather up the grocery store sales fliers you get in the mail.
#3. Search through these fliers looking for what is on sale that you eat, and begin to make meals out of them.
For example, if chicken breasts are on sale this week, you can buy a couple of pounds so you have dinner once or twice this week.
Then if frozen vegetables are on sale, you can buy a few bags to compliment the chicken you are cooking.
Repeat this process until you have a full weeks worth of meals planned.
Just understand that you won’t be shopping at just one grocery store. Most times you will have to visit a couple different ones to get the sale price.
In order to know you are getting a good price, you need to do a little work. I suggest you create a spreadsheet and list the items you frequently buy in the first column and then the various stores in each of the next columns.
Then simply fill in the regular price of the item at each store.
For example, if you look at the image above, you will see that for butter, the cheapest regular price in my area is at Wegman’s. When I see a sale on butter, I know it is a good price if it is lower than $2.29.
Once you have this information, you can start to effectively create a money saving meal plan.
The next steps for smart meal planning are simple to follow, you just have to keep them in mind to help you save the most money.
Here are some of the key meal planning ideas to keep in mind:
- Only choose items that you really need. No need to stock items as many grocery items are perishable and may end up causing you to lose money. Also, sales rotate, so you will be able to buy again at a discount.
- But you can stock up for amazing sales. If the sale is great, and you are buying shelf stable foods, then stocking up can be a huge savings. There are a few times a year when one store near me offers great deals on most of the items I buy. I regularly use this sale to stock up. Many times I spend $30 on items that would normally cost me $70.
- Keep an updated price list. It is important to know what the non-sale prices are. This will help you to know what is a good deal.
- Make a weekly plan. As you follow this plan, keep an eye for improvement and implement those in the next week’s plan. For example, maybe you discovered a new dish you can add into your rotation of meals.
- Play around with the plan. You don’t have to have the same plan for every week.
- Don’t think you need meat. One way we save a great deal is to have meatless dinners once or twice a week. This means eating pasta, soup, or having breakfast for dinner. Both eggs and pasta are inexpensive and can stretch your dollars farther.
- Cook at home. There are many meals you can make at home in very little time. In other words, don’t spend the money on ready-to-eat meals at the grocery store. Many of these are loaded with massive amounts of salt and on a cost per serving basis, are a rip off. If you are stretched for time, consider cooking using a crock pot or an instant pot. Both make cooking fast and simple.
- Make extra. When making dinner, make a little extra so that you have leftovers. This will save you money by eating the same meal the next day for lunch or even for dinner again later in the week.
Taking the last point one step further, my wife and I make it a point to spend a few hours on the weekend cooking meals.
The benefits of this are enormous. First, by cooking on the weekend, we don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner during the week.
All we have to do is heat up the food we already made.
This is huge because we all know how we get stuck at the office, or one of the kids has an event, etc. and we resort to eating fast food and wasting money.
The second benefit is lunches. We rarely buy lunch at work because we have so much food ready at home. We just pack up some of it, take it to work and reheat it.
You can create a compelling meal plan by following these meal planning tips. I suggest that you listen to other family members as well so everyone can enjoy their favorite meal.
Know Where To Shop
Now that your meal plan is ready, it is time to know where to shop. Above I mentioned that you will be shopping at various grocery stores. By shopping at various stores, you will save money grocery shopping.
Here are some tips to save money by knowing where to shop.
- Try online shopping. Online shopping can help you save a lot of money. Almost everything can be bought online now, from fruits to vegetables to dairy products. You only need to choose the right online shopping store. Pick one that offers free shipping, fresh products, and low rates so that you have no issues. This is one of the best ways to perform grocery shopping on a tight budget.
- Choose different stores. Do not make the mistake of going to one store only. You may get in the habit of going to one store because it’s nearby, but this is a mistake since another store may have the same products at a cheaper price. It’s always a good idea to shop around a bit.
- The farmer’s market may be helpful. Call it frugal shopping, but the farmer’s market can be the place to grocery shop. You don’t only get fresh produce under one roof, but you also get it at a lower price.
Know When To Shop
To save the most money, you need to know when to shop. A study performed by Ibotta shows that the weekend can be an expensive time to shop groceries.
The reason is simple. The store is crowded, so people tend to make bad choices just to get out of the commotion quickly.
On top of this, since most people grocery shop on the weekends, stores have free samples for you to try.
This gets you to buy things that aren’t on your list and you end up spending a lot more money than you planned.
Because of this, shopping during the week is a better option to save but your total savings will largely vary depending on where and what you buy.
For example, wine is about 4% cheaper on Tuesdays than the rest of the week. Similarly, bread is about 2% cheaper on Wednesdays and beer will help you save 1% if you buy it on Wednesdays.
Wednesday can be a good day to buy produce as well. You can save about 3%. But the right day changes from products to products. Ice cream, for example, is the cheapest on Fridays.
Finally, buying in season makes a big difference too when buying fruits and vegetables. For example, during the summer months, strawberries and blueberries are always on sale.
But during the winter, they are always full price.
Because of this, it may make sense to buy extra during the summer and freeze them so you have your favorite fruit during the winter.
By making it a point to shop at the right time, you will save as much money as possible.
Use Technology To Your Advantage
If you ever wondered about how to save money on groceries with coupons then this is your answer.
You have a few options to saving money on groceries using coupons.
- Use traditional coupons found in newspapers
- Go online and print out coupons
- Follow you favorite brands on social media for coupons and promotions
All of these options are great, but if you really want to save money on groceries, there is more you can do. And thanks to technology, it is easier than ever to go grocery shopping on a budget.
Your first stop is to download the apps of your favorite grocery stores. Most nowadays have a section for digital coupons. They work by having you “clip” the coupon on the app by tapping it.
The digital coupon is then added to your virtual wallet and is linked with your frequent shopper card.
When you go shopping and scan your card, the digitial coupon is redeemed and you save money. I’ve done this multiple times and every time the coupon that I clipped is applied to my purchase.
Ibotta is an amazing app to help you save money whenever you go shopping. To use it, simply choose the store you want to shop at and see the various offers available. When you see one you want, you clip it and then go shopping.
After you complete your purchase, you scan your receipt in the app and your savings are credited to your account. To make it easier, many times you can connect your frequent shopper card so you don’t have to scan the receipt.
What I really like about Ibotta is they offer savings on “any item” purchases. Instead of having to buy a certain brand of milk, I can earn $0.25 just for buying milk.
They also run bonuses every month too.
If I buy 10 items in a given time period, I can earn up to an additional $10. As of this writing, I am averaging $20 a month in savings just by using Ibotta.
New users can click here and earn a bonus $5 after you scan your first receipt.
Instacart won’t save you money on groceries, but it allows you to make money while grocery shopping.
Many people don’t have the time or desire to grocery shop, so they use a service to do it for them. These services need people to complete the shopping lists and deliver the groceries to their customers.
This is where you come in. You work for Instacart as a shopper and complete the shopping lists for other people.
Then you prepare the groceries for delivery and you are done.
While you are grocery shopping for your items, you can make money by doing the grocery shopping for others too.
There are two levels of workers Instacart is looking for, shoppers and shoppers/deliverers.
A shopper simply buys the groceries and prepares them for delivery. The shopper/deliverer does the same thing but also delivers the groceries to the customer as well.
If you want to get paid to grocery shop for others, click here to get started!
Receipt Hog is a free app that allows you to earn cash or gift cards for scanning your receipts. While you won’t be saving money on the things you buy, you can make some money by scanning your receipts.
After you shop, you scan your receipt and based on the amount of money you spent, you earn coins. Collect enough coins and you can redeem them for cash or Amazon or Visa gift cards.
I routinely make $25 every couple of months using Receipt Hog. Just know you aren’t going to get rich quick with this app.
But it only takes 30 seconds and for me, this makes it worth it.
CoinOut is similar to Receipt Hog. The main difference is instead of getting credited coins for scanning your receipts, you get credited with cash. The amount you are credited is random and is not based on the amount of money you spent.
Most receipts earn me between $0.01 and $0.05 per scan. Again, not a lot of money, but it only takes me 30 seconds to do. And if you think of all the receipts you get, the money does add up faster than you think.
One trick I do is use both CoinOut and Receipt Hog. I take a minute and scan the same receipt in both apps and earn money both times.
Click here to get started with CoinOut!
Shopkick is a different type of app. You earn “kicks” for walking into stores, scanning bar codes and buying select items. You can even earn kicks for spending money at some retailers.
Once you earn enough kicks, you can redeem them for gift cards.
The thing I like best about this app is you don’t have to buy things to earn kicks. I simply use the walk in feature, where I get 50 kicks for walking into a store and the scan feature.
The scan feature has me scanning the bar codes of various items to earn kicks.
I’ve never spent any money to earn kicks and have earned a couple $25 gift cards in the process.
If you want to try out Shopkick, click here. New users get 250 bonus kicks after your first walk in or scan.
This app is simply a shopping list app. Nothing sexy here, but it does sync with other users. This is great for families. My wife and I create lists for stores we shop at and then as we need items, we add them to the list.
When one of us is out grocery shopping, we have an up to the minute list of what we need to buy.
There is a free and paid version of the app. To be honest, I don’t know what the paid version adds to the experience. If you are simply looking for a shopping list that syncs, the free version is perfect.
As great as the above options are, there is still another way you can save money on groceries. It is by using the right credit card.
For example, I use my Blue Cash Preferred from American Express. It offers me 6% cash back on groceries, up to $6,000 a year. I regularly earn a few hundred dollars in cash back every year just by using this card.
And I even use another trick to boost my cash back. I buy gift cards at grocery stores since I earn 6% cash back on these purchases too. Doing this helped me to score a great deal on a new TV.
Not only was it on sale, but I essentially got another 6% off by buying gift cards to that store from the grocery store.
Another credit card option is the It Card from Discover. This card offers 5% cash back in rotating categories every quarter. So for 3 months a year, you can earn 5% cash back on your groceries.
Other than this, invest in a credit card that offers cash back and discounts. Some cards double as loyalty cards and give you rewards when you purchase from certain stores.
Take Advantage Of Store Brands
A great way to to go grocery shopping on a budget is to stay away from brands and go generic. You save a lot of money by buying generic brands, which are also known as private label brands.
In fact, some studies showed Americans could reduce their spending by $44 billion just by buying generic items instead of brands.
This can be a bit difficult in the beginning, especially due to a lack of trust some of us have in generic products. This however, should not be a problem as a quick look at the ingredients list will show you that it is very similar to name brand products.
You can even do a store brands vs name brands comparison to evaluate the difference between the two. This is what I did a few years ago.
When I bought my first house, I overextended myself and money was beyond tight. In order to make ends meet, I started to buy store brands.
At first, I was nervous, thinking I was going to be eating lower quality food and not enjoy the taste.
But to my surprise, I never noticed a difference in taste. And the ingredients were virtually the same.
In fact, there is only one instance where the private label brand item tastes differently than the name brand. Now I buy most items generic since it is such a cost savings.
Some products you should never buy name brands of include:
- Frozen Vegetables
- Vegetable Oil
This is just a short list of items you should buy private label. My suggestion for you is to start slow and pick things that you know are virtually the same.
This includes things like frozen vegetables and canned goods and pasta.
Once you see there is no difference other than a fatter wallet, then you can take the next step and start buying more private label items.
How To Save Money On Groceries Without Coupons
This post covered a lot of information on how to save money on groceries. Many people walk away thinking that the only viable way to save is to use coupons.
But as we’ve shown, there are plenty of way to save money on groceries without coupons.
Here is a quick recap so you can start saving the most money possible.
- Plan meals properly and use leftovers
- Take your own shopping bags and return bottles to get back your deposits
- Stick to your plan and never “over shop”
- Never shop when hungry
- Do not buy snacks, make your own instead
- Reduce the number of trips, especially if you go by car, to save on gas
- Count on sales and promotional offers such as “buy one get one free” to increase your savings
- Always compare prices before you make a decision to purchase
Lastly, I wanted to talk a little more about various sales that you will see at the grocery store.
While sales are a good way to help you save money on groceries, the stores do some tricky things to get you to overspend.
Here are a few sales to pay attention to so you can save the most money possible.
#1. Buy One, Get One Free
Many supermarkets will use the buy one, get one free sale, or BOGO. This sale requires you to buy 2 of an item. You will pay full price for the first item and get the second one for free.
A variation of this sale is buy one, get two free. This sale is not a common as buy one, get one free.
When it comes to this grocery deal, make sure you run your numbers. Most times, you will be coming out ahead.
But if another store has lower prices, you might be better off skipping the sale and paying full price at the other store.
For example, I got tricked by this deal. One store had english muffins on sale, buy 1 get 1 free. I jumped on this deal and bought 2 so I could get 2 free.
But I didn’t check prices first. If I did, I would have saw they were selling packs of muffins for $4.49 each. Other stores were selling them for $2.09 not on sale.
I ended up paying more than if I just paid full price at another store.
#2. 10 For $10 Sales
This sale is tricky because people think they have to buy 10 items to get each one for $1. But most times this isn’t the case.
Usually, there is no requirement for a certain number of items to be purchased. Northeast chain Shop-Rite also calls this a Can-Can sale, because canned goods are the most common sale item for this type of sale.
These sales can have different dollar values as well. Maybe 10 for $5 or 10 for $15. 2 for $3 is another common one.
While 10 for $10 sales don’t require that you buy identical items, usually they are similar, like canned vegetables, or soup.
When it comes to this type of sale, make sure you are only buying the amount you need. Remember, you typically don’t need to buy 10 to get the sale price.
Just buy what you need and no more.
#3. Cartbuster Events
Cartbuster events are also known as mix-and-match sales. Several different brands will be available for sale and any combination of them can be used.
As food conglomerates have gotten larger, they have been able to create cross-brand sales that leave a substantial portion of the store on sale. Kraft is especially big on cartbuster events.
Typically, these sales work by requiring a certain number of items to be purchased to get the sale price. A common cartbuster sale will require you to buy 10 items to save $5, or $0.50 each.
The downside is that you have to buy 10, or else everything is full price. Food companies use this tactic to get you to buy more, or to buy their brand over another.
Because of this, I tend to avoid these sales. There is too much work you need to put in and there are too many ways you mess up and end up paying a lot more than you planned.
#4. Sale Price After Spending Limit
This grocery deal is shady if you ask me. You will see a great sales price, but in order to get it, you need to spend a certain amount of money on other items that total up to a certain dollar amount, usually $10 or $25.
For example, you might see frozen vegetables on sale for $0.25. But you need to spend $25 in order to get the frozen vegetables for $0.25 per pack.
This doesn’t mean you can buy $25 worth of frozen vegetables.
It means you need to spend $25 on other items, like bread, milk, produce, etc. Once you hit this dollar amount, then the frozen vegetables in your cart will ring up for $0.25 each.
With this sale, you have to pay attention to the fine print. I’ve gotten burnt a couple times by not paying attention and ended up paying full price for something I thought was on sale.
As with the cartbuster sales, I tend to avoid these now because of the increased chances of blowing my grocery budget.
Now that you know how to save money on groceries and eat healthy, we’re sure you will have no problem saving money.
At the end of the day, it all comes to down to making a plan and doing a little prep work before you go shopping.
If you can do this, you will see your grocery bills slashed and will have more money in your pocket.