1. Be flexible. Make the most of unexpected sales available when you show up at the store. Maybe you weren’t planning on getting a certain product that day, but if there’s a great sale and it’s a product you use regularly, pick it up – this can save you a lot of money in the long run. You can also save a lot of money by having a general idea of what you want but not being too specific. For example, if you head to the store intending on picking up an “appetizer”, you can wind up getting any of a number of products that meets your needs and saves money. If you head to the store intending on getting Wheat Thins and extra sharp cheddar cheese, your opportunities for saving money are significantly reduced. I try as much as possible to have an objective and general idea of what I need, and then fill in with what’s available that combines quality and frugality.
2. Plan as many $5 or less meals as you can! And yes, that IS possible. You probably can’t make $5 or less meals every day, but making them several times a month can help reduce your grocery budget significantly.
3. Decrease the amount of meat you buy. Many people are used to having meat every day, even several times a day. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re trying to pinch pennies and reduce your grocery budget, an easy way to do it is to reduce the amount of meat you buy, because meat is usually pretty expensive. There are two ways to do this:
- Serve meat less frequently. Instead of having it twice a day for lunch and dinner, include meat in the meal only once a day. Or cut back even more and serve it two or three times a week. It isn’t necessary to have meat as often as many of us do. Just make sure that if you do cut back, you increase other, more budget friendly, sources of protein, like eggs, beans and lentils.
- Use smaller portions for meat. If you serve meat as the main course of the meal, you’ll probably need two or more pounds of meat even if you have a small family. If you make dishes that include meat, but lots of other substantial ingredients as well (stews, pot pies, meat and rice dishes, etc.), you can use less meat when you cook; you might only need a pound to make a dish that serves a full family. And of course, using a few pounds of meat per week instead of a lot more can save you a significant amount of money.
4. Use Coupons. Yes, they’re old fashioned. Yes, they’re inconvenient to cut out or print and take with you. BUT, they really do help save money too. Usually coupon savings seem to be pretty insignificant. Fifty cents here, fifty cents there. But at the same time, there are lots of coupons available, and fifty cents off on multiple products adds up pretty quickly. Use 10 coupons and you’ve saved around $5, sometimes more.
- Go to Coupons.com to search through available coupons for deals that will help you out. Coupon.com fortunately has many coupons for $1 or above, as well as other savings (like buy three, get one free), in addition to 40, 50 or 60 cent coupons. I also like Coupons.com because they have coupons for common products like diapers, laundry detergent and shampoo.
- Grocery Coupon Network is another online source of coupons you can search through for a wide range of products.
5. Buy off brands. Put the Oreos back on the shelf and get the store brand instead. It won’t be that bad. Some off brands aren’t great, but there are plenty of competitor brands nowadays that are pretty good. I’ve had some off brand cookies that, in a blind taste test, I would have thought were the real thing. Try a few different brands until you find ones that you’re happy with.
6. Go to wholesale food stores. My personal favorite is Costco. Maybe part of it is because my parents had a membership there when I was growing up, so I have fond memories of monthly shopping trips to Costco, complete with a slice of pizza on the way out. But I also genuinely do think that, across the board, Costco has pretty good prices for pretty good quality. Sam’s Club and BJs are other similar wholesale food stores that might be in your area.
7. Go to discount food stores. Like Aldi’s. These stores have your regular grocery selection at a significantly cheaper price, both because they use off brands and because they keep overhead costs down, by not providing bags for the groceries for example (you bring your own), and by not using as elaborate of a shelving system as other grocery stores.
8. Stick to the basics. Go through your regular eating habits and see if there’s anything unnecessary that you could cut out. You might, for example, do away with the exotic teas or coffees and get the simpler ones, or reduce the amount of specialty foods you purchase. Do you regularly get fancy cheeses, wines, chocolates or baked goods? Cut expensive items like these out of your regular diet, and your grocery budget will decrease drastically. You don’t need to go without foods you enjoy – simply replace them with more budget friendly varieties of the same thing, or get individual ingredients, roll up your sleeves and try making some of your favorite foods (candies and cheeses included!) from scratch. Then, when you have a little extra cash to splurge with, throw one or two of your favorite comfort foods back as a special treat.
9. Make your shopping list in advance. Then, use the time it takes to go from one grocery store to another to compare prices. It might be annoying, but in the long run, it will help you find the grocery store that really gives you the best value. Ultimately, if you’re a real bargain shopper, you’ll know which items are cheapest at which stores and can hop around to get the best deals each time you shop. Otherwise, if you prefer to be a one-stop-shopper, you can still save money on your grocery bill by determining which store ends up with the lowest total for your full list. On a different note, preparing your list in advance can help you save money by keeping you focused as well. If you’re an impulsive shopper and don’t have a list to guide you, it can be easy to keep adding more and more great looking items to your shopping cart without realizing how much it’s increasing your bill with things you don’t really need.
10. Start a garden. This has nothing to do with shopping per se, but it can have a lot to do with cutting back your grocery bill. Fruits and vegetables tend to be expensive to buy, but cheap to grow, if you don’t mind putting in the time and effort. Do a little research to find out what grows easily in your soil and what to plant when. Some plants are pretty picky and only grow well in certain environments, but a lot of produce items, including tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are pretty hardy and can grow in lots of places. If you have kids, growing a garden can also be a wonderful learning experience, teaching them about science and the life-cycle, and also showing them the value and rewards of hard work.