5 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

By Kate Luther on 5 August 2008 (Updated 30 June 2009) 23 comments

If you're like me, a trip to the store for a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk can easily run $30 to $40 bucks. Has inflation just really gone up in my neck of the woods? No... I just always seem to find other things I need.

But now that we've moved to the country - and I mean, really out in the country - running to the store is more than just a quick jaunt around the corner. In fact, going to the grocery store means "going into town" and that's somewhat of an event all by itself.

So, to save on gas and to avoid multiple trips to the store, I decided to rethink the way I shopped. Here's five easy ways to cut your grocery bill and get the most from your shopping trip:

1. Make a list. Okay, you've probably heard this one before but I'm going to expand on this idea a bit. Before you start listing items, sit down and plan your meals for the upcoming week, even if you're just planning to have sandwiches one night. Now go through your fridge and cabinets and determine what items you need to make those meals. Next, you'll want to add any staples that you're out of - i.e., flour, sugar, bread, milk, etc. - and anything else you want to include. While you don't have to be obsessively organized to make this work, it does make the process easier if your cabinets have some sort of order to them.

2. Know what you can spend. Before you place one thing in your shopping cart, you should know exactly what you plan to spend. And as you put an item in the cart, write down its price beside the item on your list (it's easier if you round up). When you're through shopping, add it up and see how you did. You'll be surprised at how much you spent, especially if you didn't implement Rule #4 (see below).

3. Not on the list? Don't buy. There are two ways you can work this one: either you agree that you won't buy anything if it's not on your list or you allow yourself, say, three extra items in case you forgot to add something. You can also note the item so you can add it to your list next time, although you'll often find that by your next shopping trip, you don't want the item as badly.

4. Eat before you go. There's nothing worse than shopping on an empty stomach, especially when so many grocery stores now include gourmet delis with delicious aromas wafting through the air. Make sure you only shop on a full stomach to avoid spending more because you're hungry.

5. And last but not least...pay attention. This is perhaps the most important tip you can use to save on your grocery bill. Because believe it or not, grocery stores have a motive for every aisle, every endcap and even the overall design of the store.

For example, the deli, the produce aisle, and the flowers and gifts are typically placed near the front of the store so that you have to pass them to get to the rest of the aisles. These placements are there for three reasons: 1) if the fruit and vegetables look good, then we can assume the rest of the store must be the same high quality, right?; 2) regardless of what we really plan to eat, the majority of us have intentions of eating "better". So, if we buy some apples or bananas that weren't on our list, it's okay because we're doing something good for our bodies; and 3) If you're in a hurry, you're less likely to buy extra goodies. Providing a tempting deli and some eye-catching, colorful produce is an easy way to slow you down and get you into a "shopping mood".

You'll also find that endcaps often feature sale items but also include similar or related items that aren't on sale. Charcoal, for example, might be the heart of the sale but then that makes you think of hamburgers, hot dogs and oooh... how about some steaks?!

Front store displays entice you to buy things you might not have looked at otherwise, including everything from a gigantic bag of Cheetos to a cheap t-shirt with a fish and "Kiss My Bass" on the front.

Checkout aisles have magazines, candy, batteries and a whole slew of other random things in one last attempt to get you to fork over more cash. And if you're not buying, you can bet that the candy and big bag of balloons catches the attention of your kids.

The bottom line?

Even the best budgeter often finds that groceries fall into a gray area and that's because we have such a hard time tracking and estimating what we'll spend from month to month. But with a little planning and a little willpower, you can get everything you need at the store without spending a penny more than you planned.

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Guest's picture
Mary

Something I tried today that seemed to work quite well was keeping a list of all the items I put in my basket, along with their prices and a running total of everything I was buying. (I rounded to the nearest 10 cents, which made the adding really easy). It was great knowing about how much I should be paying once I got to the register, and I was able to double-check all my prices to make sure they were all what I expect them to be. I was lucky, all the prices came out correct.

Kate Luther's picture

I do the same and I really like knowing what to expect when i get to the register. It also helps me when money is a little tight because I don't have to worry about thinking "oh, that's about $80 bucks worth" and then the register reads $150!

Thanks for the comment :)

Guest's picture
Guest

The other thing I have learned to do is to always check that the store's computers have given me the advertised price, credited coupons properly, tabulated buy-one-get-one-free offers correctly, etc.
I am shocked at how many times the receipt shows a mistake.
Some grocery stores will give you the item free if you point out the mistake.
Check it out!

Guest's picture

I've read a lot of posts like this lately, and none seem to mention that we tend to eat too much meat, and reducing how much we buy will make an immediate and profound impact on the bottom line of our grocery bills. Not to mention it will help make a significant positive environmental impact.

Guest's picture

#6 Don't forget to compare store brands to the normal brands you buy. Those types of savings can also make a big difference.

Guest's picture
Raen

I make menus and lists and stick to them. The last is important and if I only buy what's on my list, I reward myself with a candy bar. Hey it works!

However, as an aside. When I was much much younger, I could estimate the cost pretty accurately of a basket of groceries by multiplying everything by 25 cents (yes, i'm old), then it went to 50 cents, then $1, now it's about $2.50. This system actually works pretty well unless you're buying a 12 pack bale of paper towels; they are outliers and mess the system up.

Guest's picture

it's important to make a meal plan, but another good idea is to pull out your grocery flyer and see what's on sale. if it's chicken, buy a few extra to put in the freezer.

also, i have a grocery list that i print from my computer and hang on the frig. it's a list of the things we normally buy and it's ordered by aisle. this keeps me from backtracking during the trip.

finally, i recommend thegrocerygame.com as a way to save money. you need to be prepared to put in some time planning and cutting coupons, but when you can match coupons to really good sales you can buy name brands for less than store brands.

Guest's picture
Robin

If our grocery store has a good sale on something we use a lot, I definitley buy loads and freeze it. This really saves money, but does make our grocery bills erratic, as some months will show $200 and others $40.

I do meal planning for the week on Saturday morning, and reorganize the fridge beforehand. That way I can see if we have any perishable that needs to be incorporated into the next week. I keep the cupboards and freezer well stocked, but I really work to keep them reasonably organized and now we rarely waste food (last year, I spent about $60 on tons of glass canisters, and use them to store everything, now I can jut glance in the cupboard and fridge and see exactly what we've got, it was a great investment).

The fridge I only allow to be half full, so I can keep track. The freezer gets filled up about 4 times a year with homemade individual portion dinners that I make in big batches. This saves time and money and is great during busy times, when we would end up eating out. Every season, we use up every last thing in the freezer, to make sure it doesn't spoil.

I try to plan meals around a central perishable item, like fresh herbs. So I will buy fresh basil, and then make a thai curry, a pasta, etc, in the same week, because otherwise you can never use up all the basil and it's a waste. And we incorporate small amounts of meat or bacon with bean or lentil dishes: tastier, cheaper, healthier.

Finally, I subscribe to a cooking magazine. It's about $19 a year, but it keeps me motivated to cook and is also a good reminder of what's in season.

Having said all that, our grocery bill is better, but it is still higher than I wih it was! But we eat really well now.

Guest's picture
Alli

The easiest thing I've done to save at the grocery is to withdraw cash at the ATM instead of using the debit card.

My husband and I have agreed to a budget of $100 a week - rather generous, I know, but it includes our eating out money as well. On Fridays when I shop, I take that money out and I know that it is the only money I am allowed to spend at the grocery store. I don't buy cleaners or paper products with this money...I usually go somewhere like Walmart or the Dollar Tree to get those cheaper.

I make a dinner menu for the week and put those ingredients on the shopping list, as well as anything for breakfast or lunch that we need. When I pick it up at the store, I note the price (usually round up to the nearest 50 cents) as I put it in the cart and subtract it from $100. When I start approaching zero, I have a look and see what items I have put in that aren't on my list. I usually end up spending somewhere in the vicinity of $60, which leaves about $40 for a nice dinner out on the weekend or a couple of cheaper meals and an extra gallon of milk if we happen to run out.

This is the single best tool I've used for watching our grocery budget.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am not sure if this is in all areas yet, but some grocery stores in my area have hand-held scanners that you use throughout the store, and you bag your items as you go along. At first this may seem like the store putting you to work, however there are many advantages.

The scanner keeps track of your grocery saver card and loads items that you usually buy on to the scanners. It will then offer you extra savings that you can add on top of coupons and in store sales. For example, I purchase a lot of cranberry juice, and I usually go for the store brand that is always priced at 2/4$ a gallon, sometimes I may even have a coupon for this product. My scanner keeps this history, and then offers me an extra $0.75 on top of the in store sales and coupons so I end up paying around $1 for the juice while other people are paying double that!

The other great features about these scanners, is that it keeps a tally of your costs and gives you the amount you have spent so far in the store! No more estimating! If you realize that you have gone over budget you can always remove items from your list.

And then there is always the added bonus of not having to go through the long grocery lines and waiting for your stuff to be bagged. My grocery store even pays you for reusing bags. They give you $.05 per bag, per visit (I know that is not alot, but it adds up and over time the bags will pay for themselves!). We are also given gas discounts for shopping, I have gotten up to $.60 off per gallon at one point!

We have three grocery stores in my town, and even with all of these great features, it is the cheapest of them all!

Sorry for the long post!

Guest's picture

Lists are a double edge sword if you don't follow tip three. I have read that people with lists at a store spend more than non listers, because the buy everything on the list and more while non-listers overlook stuff.

Also buy ingredients non pre packaged can save you a ton, and I also agree with justelise, meat is quite the expense.

Andrea Karim's picture

Agree with The Happy Rock - if you make a list and stick to it strictly, you might find yourself spending more than if you allowed yourself to buy similar ingredients that are cheaper.

Guest's picture
Mare

I totally agree with eat before you go! Every time I go hungry I end up spending double - YIKES!

Guest's picture
Robin

I think I must be the only person who expereinces this (because I always see the eat before you shop advice) but if I grocery shop when I am full, I end up buying less than we need, because none of the food seems very appealing. So, my grocery bill would be much lower, but I would end up eating out or buying more groceries at the corner store (more expensive) later in the week.

Shopping when I'm starving often causes me to buy cookies ^_^ but otherwise doesn't affect my budget, except for the under-buying phenomenon. Maybe I'm the only one?

Guest's picture
Beverly

I agree with Robin.
If I had a menu for the week already figured out, it might help, but how can I figure out what to have for dinner when I'm standing in the grocery store already full? No motivation!
But if you MUST bring your kids with you, then said kids tagging along should be full.
I think this could be number 6. Don't bring the kids because you'll spend more!
Also, if you have prices of commonly purchased items either memorized or written down, then you'll know a real deal when you see one and can stock up.

Guest's picture
Sally

How about just not buying stuff! The grocery store is full of food that has no nutrition in it! What a waste of money! You do not NEED sweets and snacks, and the value of your dollar is greatly increased if you buy high nutrition (produce, bulk) rather than processed or packaged. I'm more and more worried about inflation each day, too. I'm retired, and on a fixed income and am pretty freaked out. Aside from this blog, I enjoy: http://blog.investtalk.com

Kate Luther's picture

And I thought I took my grocery shopping seriously :) These are some great ideas - that's what I love about sharing with Wisebread readers!

Guest's picture
Dave

I forget what blog I found this on, but it has changed my wife and my lives. We don't just make a list, we plan out our meals for four days out, so that we never buy anything that's going to rot because we don't eat it. We do buy a few snack items, but they're fruit leathers or cereal that we like to eat dry. In other words, things that won't go bad if we don't snack as often as we think we will.

We've shaved off about $50 a week from our grocery bill by planning our meals instead of restocking the fridge.

Guest's picture

HALOWWWWWWWWWWW...!!!!!!!!1

HMM NI TIPS

I WILL TRY IT

MAYBE I CAN DO BETTER

I HAVE NICE TIPS TOO

IN WWW.E-MARKETINGADVERTISING.BLOGSPOT.COM

Guest's picture
Suz

I've said it before. TheGroceryGame.com has saved me tons of time and money by doing my coupon organizing for me! I've teamed up with some local friends as well to do 'team shopping and stockpiling' so that we always have what we need but we don't have to pay full price. It works well.

-Suz

Guest's picture
Steve

Good things! Really will be very helpful to save some money atleast from the stores!

Guest's picture
Livy

Great ideas! I've found them very useful...I've also found that loyalty programs have helped me save tons of money on grocery shopping. I just took a survey on this topic (loyalty programs), perhaps you're interested:

http://www.loyaltyleaders.org/consumer-survey.php

Guest's picture
Christina

As an addendum to "pay attention" I think keeping a running tally of what's in your cart is hands-down the best money-saving trick I've ever used. Every item I put in gets added to the running total in my head. I'm not especially gifted at arithmetic so I just round everything up to the closest dollar amount before adding, this tends to compensate for taxes well and sometimes results in an over-estimation of my spending so that when I get to the register I'm actually under-budget.