20 Easy Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Dollars


A job loss, a big audacious savings goal, or a shiny new set of braces. Whatever the cause, most of us have had to sit down and figure out how to feed our families for less money at one point or another. (See also: How to Grocery Shop for Five on $100 a Week)

Here are 20 strategies for stretching your grocery budget without skimping on nutrition or enjoyment

1. Eat Less

Sixty percent of Americans admit to eating more than is good for them. When you're watching your pennies, one of the easiest ways to spend less on groceries is to buy less and eat less. Start by cutting way back on snacks, the culprit behind most overeating and among the most expensive grocery items.

2. Focus on Value Foods

It's fun to cook with a wide variety of ingredients, but sticking to the foods with the most nutrition per dollar can get you through a lean patch. Need more options? These 50 healthy foods can be had for under a buck a pound.

3. Buy in Bulk

Whether it's dividing up large Costco meat packages or hauling 50-pound bags of grain from a feed store, there are lots of ways to save by bulk buying. The important thing is to safeguard against waste by making sure you have a safe place to store it and that you will use the entire purchase before it goes bad.

4. Do the Work

You can make your own bread for half the price of a low-end store-bought loaf, and end up with a more delicious and nutritious product. Pre-chopped and washed veggies cost a premium and don't stay fresh as long. Roll up your sleeves and do your own prep work to save.

5. Substitute

The recipe may call for pine nuts, but pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are way cheaper. Learn about more low-cost ingredient substitution ideas.

6. Stop Throwing Food Away

Since 40% of all food produced in the United States is thrown away, eliminating waste is low-hanging fruit. At our house, we avoid waste by serving the kids small portions and seconds (or thirds) as needed, using tiny containers to save every last leftover, and incorporating those leftovers into other dishes. There are plenty more ways to cut food waste.

7. Drink Water

You know by now that soda is bad for you, but you don't need juice either. If you don't like plain water, flavor it with a splash of juice instead of pouring whole glasses of juice. Not only does this save money, but it cuts calories too.

8. Try Batch Cooking

Assembly line cooking, once-a-month cooking, whatever you want to call it, prepping food ahead and freezing it saves money by accommodating bulk purchases and helping you avoid high-priced instant meals when you're short of time.

9. Rinse Out the Container — Into the Pot

Whenever I empty a jar of tomatoes or a Tupperware of soup into a cooking pot, I put a little water in the container, shake, and empty it into the cooking pot, to make sure I'm not throwing away even a gram of food. The extra water cooks off.

10. Learn to Make Cheap Meat Delicious

Meat lovers don't have to buy T-bones to enjoy a hearty meal. Osso buco, carnitas and hanger steak are all delicious when done right.

11. Dilute It

Adding beans or rice really does make a stew go farther.

12. Make Your Own

Prepared foods are among the highest-margin items in the supermarket. If you've never tried it, you might be surprised how easy it is to make your own guacamole, hummus, or even peanut butter.

13. Make Your Own Instant Mixes

Another high-cost item is "instant" anything. Make single-serve oatmeal packets, pancake mix, or practically anything you use a mix for, and save.

14. Consider Markdowns

I kind of wish Safeway would rename its "Clearance" meat section, because it feels as if I'm buying used pot roast. Still, taking home items that are about to expire can save you 50% or more if you are able to use or freeze them right away.

15. Grow a Garden

Even if you only have a balcony, you can grow enough food to reduce your spending. To realize savings, it's important to pay attention to how much you spend on a garden. Focus on plants that produce expensive items to save the most.

16. If You're Getting a Pet, Get a Small One

It may seem crass to put a pound limit on love, but the fact is that feeding pets can strain a tight grocery budget. According to the ASPCA, a large dog costs about $235 a year to feed; a little yapper only about $55. Better yet, get a fish, which you can feed for $20 a year or less.

17. Use a Full Discount Arsenal

Coupons, online deals, in-store offers, rebates — these tactics really work and can easily cut your grocery spending by 20% or more.

18. Switch Stores

Where you shop can make a big difference in what you spend for the same groceries. Changing from Safeway to Walmart could save a family more than $1,600 a year. Explore your neighborhood — you may have a fresh produce market or a weekly farmer's market with even better prices than big box stores.

19. Return It

Your berries got moldy the day after you bought them? You picked up the wrong item and paid full price instead of the sale item you thought you were getting? Don't be afraid to stop by customer service the next time you visit; managers at good stores are happy to process the occasional refund.

20. Eat Your Garbage

My grandmother, born during the Depression, has a great anecdote. One garbage day, her husband looked out the window and asked why the other houses all had two trash bags out front, but they only had one.

Grandma's answer: "We eat our garbage!"

Grandma was stretching her husband's Navy paycheck as far as it would go, and one way she did that was by never letting a leftover go to waste. Every Thursday night, she'd throw every bit of this and that from the fridge into the crockpot for a weekly "garbage stew." It was usually delicious, but even if she wanted to, she could never duplicate it. (See also: Thursday Night Soup: Delicious Soup From Leftovers)

Another way of eating your garbage: Learn to prepare the vegetable trimmings you've been throwing away.

Any other ideas for saving on groceries? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

My wife price matches and is amazing at it. Saves hundreds a year. She isn't in to the big time couponing that you see on TV because it doesn't target most of the food we eat. We also hit case lot sales and buy a lot in bulk. We make big meals and love leftovers. Groceries and gas are a constant so we always look for ways to be wiser.

Guest's picture

When I do laundry, I cut my dryer sheets in half. I don't like my laundry so smelly from the scent that I can't breathe, nor do I like my towels so very soft that they won't dry. And I know that the fabric softener manufacturers are in business to sell as many as they can. Yes, I'm saving money by using only what I feel is needed- a half sheet.