As the price of basic food staples continues to increase, you might be looking for new ways to stretch your grocery budget. The good news is that you can save money at the grocery store without sacrificing quality or quantity. The bad news is that it takes a little more work.
The amount you spend on groceries depends on where you shop, what you buy, and how many people you need to feed. By carefully playing with these variables, and doing a little extra planning, you can start to see savings really adding up.
Do the Math
Those of us who are math-averse won’t love this method, but it is really important to pay attention to how much the meals you prepare actually cost. To “cost out” a meal, calculate the cost of each ingredient in the recipe. For example, if the recipe calls for one carrot (we’re looking at you, spaghetti sauce), and you paid $3.25 for a 10-carrot bag, you would calculate that $3.25/10 = $0.33 per carrot. To get an idea of which meals are pricier than others, perform this calculation for each and every ingredient in a meal, which gives the total cost of the recipe, and then divide it by the number of servings. Doing this can help you decide which meals to eat more regularly than others.
Another cost-cutting method that might require a calculator is to figure out the price-per-unit of various goods. Most grocery stores helpfully list the price-per-unit on the pricing display near the product. Some stores sell identical products in different sizes, and you might be surprised which size is more cost-effective.
By “meal plan,” we don’t mean the intensive prep of fitness aficionados, who make one big meal and parcel it out over the week. (Let’s face it: no one wants to eat the same thing every night.) When we say “meal plan,” we mean that it’s important to map out the meals you want to prepare in such a way that reduces waste and makes the most of each ingredient you purchase. For example, if you’re using one carrot for spaghetti sauce, what are you using the rest of the bag for? Instead of letting them sit in your vegetable drawer until they liquify — don’t judge us; we know we’re not alone — try to plan more meals that use up that produce. If you can’t find a good way to use them up, try freezing them for the next time you might need a single carrot.
It’s also a good idea to plan your meals according to what is on sale or in season. Take advantage of post-holiday sales on turkey, for example, or buy the steak that is marked down because it needs to sell. Produce prices can fluctuate dramatically whether they’re in season or not, so take advantage of seasonal price reductions if possible. (And definitely avoid the convenience fee of buying pre-cut or store-packaged produce.)
Perform a Regular Inventory
Before you go shopping, peruse your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have on hand. Doing this prevents unnecessary duplicates, and enables you to plan for meals that will use up items you already have.
Make a List and Stick to It
It is so easy to buy items that you don’t need when you’re wandering the aisles, so try to get in the habit of only buying the things you’ve written down. If you know you’re bad about doing this (I certainly am), the trick is to really make sure that you’ve put effort into making your list as complete as possible. Then, put on blinders and only get those specific items.
Some people swear that ordering groceries online for pick-up saves them money, because it prevents them from impulse purchases. This is a good strategy for the most part, but can have a downside — more on that in a bit.
Sign up for Loyalty Programs
Almost every grocery store offers a free loyalty program these days, and they’re worth the hassle of signing up. You usually need to fill out a form and then either enter your phone number at checkout or carry a little tag around on your keys. Being a member at every store you frequent ensures you can benefit from every sale and discount they offer without necessarily having to cut coupons. (Unfortunately, cutting coupons is another good way to save money. If you have the patience.)
Similarly, it’s a good idea to take advantage of credit cards that offer rewards on groceries. If you pay with a credit card that offers cash back, you could get a few hundred dollars back at the end of the year that you wouldn’t get if you’d paid with a debit card.
Go Online to Comparison Shop
Try to pay attention to the differences between stores and what they offer. Wholesale clubs like CostCo are great for saving money, but only if you’re careful to only buy what you need and can use. If you live somewhere that has several different grocery stores, go online and do price comparisons. You might find that one store is better for cheaper produce, and another is better for purchasing meat. If you go generic you can save even more — Trader Joe’s and Aldi offer high-quality products for lower prices because they don’t sell brand names.
Finally, while you’re online look into whether shopping online and then picking up your groceries would actually save you money. Sometimes what they offer online is different from what’s in the store, which could force you to buy a less cost-effective size or brand.
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