9 Minute Read
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the grocery store. We love eating all the delicious food but hate shopping for it. Maybe it’s the loss of personal space in the checkout lines. Or maybe it’s the awkward moment when we reach in front of a stranger to grab a can of baked beans. But most likely it’s because so much of our money goes into the food category of our budget.
We recommend spending 10–15% of your take-home pay on food, which includes groceries and dining out. But even if your food budget falls within this range, you still might like to see your grocery bill total come down a bit. Here are 15 easy ways to lower your grocery bill without clipping coupons.
15 Ways You Can Lower Your Grocery Bill
1. Redefine Dinner
If the word “dinner” makes you picture a big homemade meal with a nice cut of meat, two steaming sides of fresh veggies from the farmer’s market, a warm loaf of French bread, and a chocolate dessert—cut yourself some slack! You don’t have to feast all the time. This isn’t 1952, and suppers don’t have to be a big deal.
Your kids and spouse will survive on BLTs, omelets or a big salad several times a week. Don’t be afraid of serving simple meals. You can reduce your guilt and your budget by rethinking the most misunderstood meal of the day.
2. Go Meatless
While we’re on the subject of rethinking dinner, don’t be afraid to branch out and have a meatless meal once or twice a week. Buying large quantities of meat can make your grocery bill skyrocket (especially when the meat isn’t on sale). Instead, look up meatless recipes to whip up on Meatless Monday—or whatever day of the week you choose!
3. Waste Not, Want Not
Nothing is worse than discovering moldy vegetables and fruit floating through the abyss in the back of your fridge. And to make it worse, all those rotten cucumbers and moldy peaches are dollar signs you just wasted. Ouch!
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Try your best to actually use what you buy at the grocery store. Put a list on the front of your refrigerator if you think that will help jog your memory. Whatever you do, just don’t let those items go to waste.
4. Don’t Be Brand Loyal
You know generic pasta is cheaper, but you’re still not convinced it won’t ruin your great-grandmother’s lasagna recipe. Are generic-brands really as good as the name-brands?
A group of Consumer Reports “taste testers” found that most store brands measure up to the name brands in taste and quality—and they’re usually 15–30% lower in price!(1)
In other words, your less expensive lasagna will taste just as delicious as Grandma’s.
Still not sold? According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, when buying staples like salt, sugar and baking soda, chefs were more likely to buy generic than you and me.(2) And they’re the food experts! The study concluded that if more consumers purchased store brands, we could save roughly $44 billion.(3) With that kind of money on the line, it pays to be brand disloyal.
5. Think Before You Bulk Up
Buying in bulk is amazing . . . when it actually saves you money. Don’t assume that the big bulk buys at the discount stores are automatically the cheaper option. Be sure to stop and compare the price per unit or ounce for the item you’re buying.
As tempting as it is it to stock up, don’t buy more than you really need—especially when it comes to perishable items. Buying bulk cereal might be a great investment for a family of four, but if it’s just you and your spouse, that 40-count of Greek yogurt might not be the best buy.
6. Shop in Season
Make it a point to only buy fruits and veggies that are in season. Buying a pomegranate in mid-July will probably cost you an arm and a leg—and it might not even taste very good! Instead, stick to buying fresh produce when it’s actually in season throughout the year.
7. Eye Level = Expensive
Have you ever noticed that the most expensive items on the grocery shelves tend to be right at your eye level? That’s no coincidence.
Grocery stores are smart. They want you to go for the splurge items! Instead of falling for those marketing tricks, look up and down as you shop. The more affordable brands could be higher or lower on the shelves. Think of it as a treasure hunt for the best price!
8. Try Different Grocery Stores
Why did you pick your current grocery store? Is it the friendliest? The most convenient location? If we’re being honest, most of us probably shop where we do out of habit.
Don’t let a comfortable routine cost you money.
If you’re not sure which grocery stores are worth your time and money, ask around. People who are getting the best deals will gladly gush about their favorite spots.
Also, be sure to check the weekly ads in your area for what’s on sale at competing grocery stores. You might find that shopping at the store down the street is costing extra money in the long run. Figuring out a new shopping plan may be frustrating at first, but it’s worth it to keep some extra cash in your pocket.
9. Learn the Sales Cycles
Are you ready to do a little detective work? Start paying attention to when your favorite items go on sale and how much the price drops. You might even want to jot it all down in a small notebook or on your smartphone. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re keeping track of those sales so you can see if there’s a trend. Soon you’ll be able to anticipate them before they hit!
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Nope, it’s not what you think.
It’s time to bring your own bag to the grocery store! Lots of stores will give you a discount off your total grocery bill just for bringing in a reusable bag. Your savings will usually run somewhere between 5–10 cents per bag! Five bags could save you anywhere from 25–50 cents. Hey, savings are savings!
11. Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry
People do a lot of silly things when they’re hungry. They say things they don’t really mean, eat all of their roommate’s chips, and aimlessly stroll the grocery store aisles.
And while your best friend might not hold you responsible for what you said when you were “hangry,” your grocery bill won’t let you off the hook so easily. Step away from the 48-count of frozen waffles and put back that pineapple upside-down cake from the bakery.
Walk into the grocery store on a full stomach, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how much lower your grocery bill is!
12. Learn to Love a List
A list can make or break your budget. Once you decide what you’ll make for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next week, write out each ingredient needed for those meals—plus a few snacks, of course.
When you get to the store, stick to your list! That’s the key to staying on budget. And if you go shopping as a family, let your kids help plan the meals and then find the items. It’s much easier to stay on budget when you’re shopping with a plan and working as a team. . . and when you get comfortable saying no to candy.
13. Leave the Kids at Home
On the flip side, if you find that your kids are the culprits of adding all those “not on the list” items to your cart—you might want to leave them at home. Yes, we’re looking at you, little Jimmy with the box of cookies.
14. Use Apps on Your Smartphone
Don’t forget about all the rebate apps out there! Ibotta, Receipt Hog, Checkout51, and Walmart’s Savings Catcher are just a few of the great apps out there to help you save. These apps let you cash out your rebates. So, you won’t receive a discount upfront (like a traditional coupon) but you should see savings in the long run.
15. Pay With Cash
It’s like Dave always says: Cash is king! The best way to be sure you’ll end up with a lower grocery bill is to stick to the budget and pay with cash. When you go to the store with cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend. Because once the cash runs out, that’s it! Plus, it’ll help you stick to the meat-and-vegetables necessities rather than the ice cream-and-cookie impulse buys. Those little extras are okay if you plan for them!
If you still find you’re eating like royalty at the beginning of the month and then scraping by at the end, take out cash for groceries every week instead of once a month. That way, you’ll have a better picture of how much you can actually afford to spend each week.
Better Habits for a Better Grocery Bill
A few new savings habits can help you lower your monthly grocery bill, stick to your budget, and meet your money goals faster. That means more cash to pay down debts, invest for the future, or save for something fun—like a babysitter and a nice meal out where someone else cooks and cleans up.
Don’t let the word “budget” scare you away from making one! Budgeting is easy with our free online budget app EveryDollar. You can make your first budget in as little as 10 minutes!