31 Foolproof Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill


Americans are spending more on food now than they have over the past decade, according to the Food Institute. That doesn't mean buying groceries has to break your budget. Here are over 30 ways to cut costs at the supermarket.

1. Use the best credit card

One often overlooked but simple way to cut costs is by using the right credit card for your groceries. Imagine getting 6 percent of your purchases back as cash back, without a single coupon. (See also: Use These Credit Cards at the Supermarket)

2. Set a budget

Take a look at all of your grocery expenses over the past few months — or even the past year, if you have the records — and figure out how those expenses mesh with your other financial goals. Could you cut back and make more room for other items in your budget, including savings? Come up with a target grocery budget and then track (and adjust) your spending to make sure that you stick to that budget each week.

3. Shop at home first

Purchasing items that you already have at home can be a waste of both time and money. Be sure to quickly inventory your pantry and refrigerator before you hit the supermarket so you haven't forgotten about purchases you've already made.

4. Plan your meals

Once you've taken stock of the ingredients you have at home, come up with a few meals that make use of them with the addition of as few ingredients as possible. Then you can pick up only the items that you need, and reduce weekday stress of figuring out what's for dinner.

5. Shop the circular

Look through the weekly deal list put out by most supermarkets (you can typically find them online) to see what's on sale and plan your meals around those items. Typically the items on the front page of the circular are "loss leaders," or merchandise that's offered at an extra discount in order to lure customers into the store.

6. Make a list

Once you've got a meal plan, it's easy to make a list of exactly what you need for the week. Shopping from a list also reduces impulse purchases and insures that you won't forget items, which could require another trip to the store and present another opportunity to overspend.

7. Play the coupon game

Whether you're clipping them from newspapers or downloading them online, coupons are an easy way to find savings on items that you're purchasing anyway. Keep an eye on expiration dates, and look for stores that will double coupons for extra savings. But don't get tempted to buy things you don't need, just because you've got a coupon. It's not a bargain if it's unnecessary.

8. Switch up stores

Different grocery stores offer better discounts on different categories of purchases. Over time you may have come to know where to get the best deals on different items. But make sure you keep an eye on changing prices and sales. Once you've planned your list, look through the various circulars to figure out which store is offering the most compelling deals for you this week and shop there. Next week, you may find it worth trying your luck somewhere else. (See also: 10 Affordable Alternatives to the Grocery Store)

9. But show some loyalty to all of them

Join the loyalty programs of the various supermarkets where you shop to get additional discounts and coupons at the register. Follow them on social media, too, for notice of special sales or discounts.

10. Stock up on deals

Pay close attention to the prices of nonperishable items you purchase often. Then, when you see a good deal, purchase as many as you have room for.

11. Ask for a rain check

If you see a great deal advertised in the circular or the store but the item is sold out, you can still get that sale price. Most stores will give you a "rain check," or a voucher to purchase the item at the sale price at a later date.

12. Cut back on meat

Meat is one of the most expensive items that you put in your grocery cart each week. If going completely vegetarian won't work for your family, consider adopting Meatless Mondays or making meat the side dish instead of the main course for some meals.

13. Stay in season

Fresh produce costs less when it's in season, so try to time your purchases accordingly. You'll get the best prices on berries, for example, in the summer, while oranges are cheapest in the winter months. Planning your meals around what's in season ensures you'll get the best flavors, too.

14. Put your freezer to work

If you have a hankering for off season fruits or vegetables, see whether they're available in the frozen aisle. Frozen produce is typically picked at its ripest and immediately frozen, locking in many of its nutrients. You can use your freezer to reduce other grocery costs as well, freezing meat purchased at a discount or extra portions of meals you've cooked before they go to waste.

15. Call in the subs

Swap out high-cost ingredients in recipes for lower-cost substitutes that can reduce the overall cost of the meal without sacrificing taste. Try turmeric rather than saffron, for example, or cream cheese in place of goat cheese.

16. Hit up a warehouse store

Warehouse stores often have lower per-unit prices than grocery stores on items like paper goods, cleaning products, and toiletries. They may also have good deals on food items, but make sure that you're not buying so much food that it could go bad before your family eats it all. (See also: Best Credit Cards to Use at Costco)

17. Bring your own bag

Some grocery stores offer a discount to shoppers who bring their own reusable shopping bags. Bonus: You'll be helping the environment while you shop.

18. DIY

Some of the most expensive items in grocery stores are prepared foods or those where some of the prep work has been done for you. If you can take the time to chop your own fruits and vegetables, grate your own cheese, marinate your own fish, or boil you own eggs, you can pay significantly less.

19. Don't go all in with organics

In general, produce that has a thicker skin (things like avocado, mangoes, and grapefruit) have lower levels of pesticides than those without (such as strawberries, spinach, nectarines, and apples). Consider spending extra only for those foods that have higher pesticide levels.

20. Drink (tap) water

In addition to being expensive, drinks like soda and juice are full of sugar, so eliminating them is better for both your budget and your body. Bottled water is healthier, but it's also an unnecessary expense when you can drink water from your faucets for free. If water quality is an issue, a low-cost filter can help. Cutting down on bottles reduces hassling with heavy items and reduces your environmental impact as well.

21. Don't wander

Rather than walking through every aisle in the grocery store, don't even turn down those without items on your list. That will save you time and prevent unnecessary impulse purchases.

22. Become a gardener

Vegetable seeds are relatively inexpensive, and just a few plants can yield dozens of fresh veggies that you won't have to purchase later at the supermarket. If you're not up for a full vegetable garden, consider starting with an herb garden. That will allow you to pick and use herbs as needed, rather than being forced to purchase more than you need for a particular recipe at the grocery store.

23. Take it back

Didn't notice the mold on those strawberries in the store? Rather than throwing the whole container away, return it to the store. Most grocery stores have relatively generous return policies and will be happy to exchange your item for a fresh one.

24. Divide and conquer snacks

Single-serve snack portions cost a lot more than those purchased in a single large box or bag. Instead, purchase the larger size, and divide it into smaller portions at home.

25. Crunch the numbers

Check the price tag to see if it includes unit pricing (price per ounce, for example). If not, use your cellphone calculator to figure out the unit price and then compare that to other sizes and other brands to make sure you're buying the one that offers the most value.

26. Use apps

Your calculator isn't the only feature on your smartphone that could save you money at the grocery story. Try Ibotta, which will give you cash back on featured products if you submit a photo of your receipt; and ShopKick, which sends you rewards and discounts when you walk into a store and buy certain items. (See also: 8 Apps That Actually Pay You to Shop)

27. Try out the store brand

Many name-brand and generic products are literally the same thing with different packaging, and considerably different price tags. Compare ingredients lists to see if there are any noticeable differences. If not, go with the store brand.

28. Ignore checkout displays

Keep your eye on the register, your shopping partner, or your phone at checkout, rather than on the candy or other items on display. There's a reason the checkout line is filled with easy-to-grab items. A shopping list can help lower "decision fatigue," but you'll still need to be on guard to get through that final gauntlet of temptations.

29. Eat (a healthy snack) before you shop

Shopping on an empty stomach can lower your resistance to impulse purchases and make you end up spending more. But it matters how you fill that empty stomach. Researchers at Cornell University have found that consuming a healthy snack before grocery shopping can increase the likelihood that you'll make healthy food choices while at the store.

30. Check sell-by dates

Look for items with the furthest-out sell-by date (often in the back of a display). That will give you more time to consume the product at home and reduce the chances that it will go to waste.

31. Consider subscription services

A local CSA may offer a monthly box of fruits and vegetables that cost less than it would at the supermarket. Other services like Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect may offer discounted items that save you money, even after their monthly fee. Check out the options in your area and you may be surprised to find that these services can save you both time and money. (See also: 6 Ways Having Your Groceries Delivered Can Save You Money)

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