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It’s been awhile since I’ve talked specifically about grocery shopping here on Super Saving Tips. With inflation rearing its ugly head, it’s more important than ever to shop smart and save money. I know many of us relaxed our control over our budgets during the pandemic and it’s about time to get back to those better habits.
Why It Matters
On average, Americans spend over 10% of their income on groceries. Of course the amounts vary with your family size, but no matter how big or small your family is, that’s a lot of money. If you save even $20 a week, that turns into over $1,000 a year you could be saving!
Grocery Shopping Tips to Save Money
I’ve compiled my list of tips to save money at the supermarket. See if you’re doing all that you can to save on this category and put that money to use on your financial goals.
1. Make a budget
Without a food budget, you don’t know how much you can spend. Take a look at your overall income and expenses and based on your history, come up with a number that fairly represents what you can spend on groceries. Then track your spending to make sure you’re hitting the target, or spending even less.
2. Have a plan
Meal planning is one of best ways to save money on groceries. If you plan ahead, you can stretch the same ingredients to cover multiple meals and you can arrange your meals based on what’s on sale that week.
3. Shop your pantry first
Even before you start making a list, check out your pantry and freezer to see what you have on hand. The cheapest food is the food you’re already bought!
4. Make a list
Shop with a list every time. Start with the foods you’ve run out of. Then go through the store circular (in print or online) to see what sale items you want to buy and plan to have several meals around those ingredients. Stick to your list at the store: if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart.
5. Shop once a week
Stopping by the supermarket several days a week is not only a waste of time and gasoline, but it also means more impulse buys. Try to shop once a week (or less often).
6. Eat something before you shop
Going hungry will cause impulse buys. Have something to eat before you go. If it’s just unavoidable, many stores have deli areas with prepared foods, so stop and get a quick cup of soup before shopping.
7. Use coupons
Whether they’re digital/clipless coupons or those coupons that print out at the register (they’re called Catalinas), see if there are any discounts for what’s on your list. You can also use couponing apps like Ibotta. But avoid buying something you don’t use just because there’s a coupon.
8. Use loyalty/reward cards
Whatever your store calls their card, make sure you have one to access all the discounts including digital coupons and reward points.
9. Check unit prices
Make sure you check out the shelf tags to compare unit prices. This is how you can tell which item is actually less expensive.
10. Know your prices
Probably the most important tip in here is to know the prices of the items you usually buy. With rising prices, that’s not always easy to do. Make yourself a price book, either an actual notebook or take notes in your phone, and track the prices of common items you buy from week to week. That way you’ll know what a good sale price is and you can even predict the cycle of the sales to know when to stock up.
11. Buy on sale and stock up
As long as you have the space for storage, when an item is on sale at a good price, stock up for the future. Not only does this apply to non-perishables, but also to items you can freeze.
12. Buy the loss leaders
Every retail store has items that you will see advertised just to get you to come in to shop. Buying loss leaders, especially if it’s not way out of the way, can save you money. I try and tie in doing that with other errands that are nearby. Sometimes they’re in the most unexpected places like your neighborhood drug store chain!
13. Ask for a rain check
If the item on sale isn’t in stock, make sure to ask for a “rain check” so you can get the sale price when the item becomes available. I can’t tell you how often this happens and it’s frustrating.
14. Use a smaller cart
If you have the option, use a smaller cart. Having a larger cart will make you feel like you have to fill it. Be conscious of that and avoid the psychological trap.
15. Look for ways to save on meat
Check out this early post on ways to save on buying meat. You can also check with the butcher to find out when they mark down their meat and plan to be there. Cheap cuts of meat can be made tender using a crockpot or Instant Pot. Finally, consider going meatless at least for a few meals a week. It’s healthy and saves money.
16. Buy in-season produce
17. Supplement with frozen veggies
Frozen vegetables are way more convenient, already chopped to save you time and almost exactly the same in their nutritional value. But the best part is that they’re on sale constantly to make them a great value over totally fresh.
18. Skip organics
If you’re concerned about health and pesticides, research has yet to prove that organic produce is any healthier, and all produce sold meets government safety guidelines. Plus organic items like bananas, for example, are generally unnecessary because the peel (along with any pesticide residue) is discarded before eating. The price of organic bananas can be 20-40% higher.
19. Buy dried beans instead of canned
Save about 40-50% this way, and simply soak the beans before using, or boil and season. Not only do you save money, but you avoid the added salt.
20. Try generics
Brand loyalty is an expense. Generic brands and store brands are often just as tasty because they’re made in the very same factories as the brands are. Check out store cereals for a good example. Also, even professional chefs use generic items like salt, spices, and flour regularly in their meal prep.
21. Watch out for shrinking foods
Food package sizes have been shrinking for quite some time now. I dare you to find a half gallon of ice cream that’s actually still a half gallon! And when they shrink the package, they don’t shrink the price. So if you’ve stopped looking at unit prices for a particular item you always buy, now is the time to start looking again to make sure you get the best deal.
22. Don’t buy from the checkout lane
Yes, the final temptation of impulse buys! This is where the store places the magazines, candy bars, and single serve drinks that make a profit for them. If you need gum or a candy bar, buy it in an aisle where the unit costs are usually half for every item. Better yet, do a self-checkout to limit your waiting time and avoid the temptations.
23. Buy with cash, or with credit card
Ok, so which is it? Buying only with cash can ensure you stick with your budget if you only bring the amount you intend to spend. Use the calculator on your phone to keep a running total as you go. On the other hand, if you’re good with credit cards and pay off your balance every month, you can get as much as 5% cash back off your groceries.
24. Check your receipt…before you leave the store
I always check over my receipt carefully before walking out the door. If something didn’t ring up properly—an error in the system or a forgotten coupon—I head straight to customer service to get it taken care of. Once you get home, it’s unlikely you’ll go back to the store for just a dollar or two, but those amounts add up over time.
25. Try a new store to compare prices
It’s a fact that your store will be a price leader in something, like produce or bakery items. Another store may be much better on meat or dairy. Compare your prices and then if it’s worth it, split your shopping trips. Despite the extra time involved, you can save money.
Use these grocery shopping tips to save money every time you shop, and you may even be able to set that food budget target lower. And who wouldn’t like an extra $1,000 or more to spend somewhere else, or even to save!
What are your favorite money-saving grocery tips?