We’ve all been there. The moment you set foot in a grocery store or sit down to write your weekly shopping list, money comes to mind. Grocery shopping—even as one of our top priorities—can be a common trigger for financial anxiety. As necessary as it is, buying groceries really adds up, especially when you have a large family. So how can you remove the pressure of grocery shopping while cutting down your grocery bill?
Luckily, there are plenty of helpful ways to go about shopping and saving without hours of planning and coupon clipping. When you’re considering how to save money on groceries, strategy and creativity are key.
Here are some of our tried and true ways to trim your average grocery bill, before you enter the store, while you’re shopping and when you get home.
How to Save on Groceries By Planning Ahead
Set yourself on the right track by taking a look at your personal budget long before walking into the grocery store. How much money do you normally spend each week at the grocery store? Choose a goal based on the rest of your budget and trim it down to a number that works for you. Keeping that number in mind gets you in the habit of calculating costs before and during your shopping experience.
As you change your shopping habits, you will find a balance between budgeting and getting all the food you need for a well-planned week. Over time, estimating your bill will become second nature. Changing a few habits can help you reach your goal a bit faster.
Spread Out Your Grocery Shopping
Chances are, different stores in your area offer better options for each type of food. You may be able to get better deals on local produce at your farmer’s market while buying dry goods and home goods at a discount store. It’s okay to break up your grocery trips to align with your lifestyle and ultimately find food for less near you.
Build a schedule and weekly game plan to help you reach your grocery budget. In between shops, reassess what you need and check your budget to see how you’re meeting your goal that week. This helps you avoid accidentally over-purchasing on one big trip each week, especially if you feel rushed or tired.
Use Grocery Savings Apps
Technology is also reinventing the way you approach saving money on groceries. By simply snapping a picture of your receipt, Fetch helps you earn points toward valuable deals and rewards, like gift cards to your favorite stores and restaurants. You accumulate points whenever you buy items from any of the 250+ major brands that partner with Fetch. Fetch makes it easy to save on the products you need, and just might change your outlook on grocery budgets.
Consider Grocery Shopping Online
Certain staples, such as pet products, paper goods, and other easy-to-ship items, may be cheaper online. Buying products directly from the seller can cut down on extra costs, depending on the brand. Be a detective for finding the best deals online. If you find online discounts for your favorite brands, you can set these items to automatically order each month.
Online grocery services also rotate sales and specialty items. Some websites even pair up with local CSAs to offer produce boxes and other helpful ways to save and stay creative about your weekly list. Check in once a week to see if an order makes sense for your budget.
Try Warehouse Store Memberships
Long-term grocery savings from membership stores like BJs and Costco can make you a smarter shopper while cutting down trips to the store throughout the year. Whenever possible, buy staples and dry goods in bulk to cut down your overall monthly grocery bill. Your savings will be quite obvious the next several times you head to the grocery store and can skip those aisles.
The layout of bulk stores may also help elevate your overall grocery shopping experience. Especially on weekends, many warehouse and wholesale stores offer free samples and special displays to guide your purchases. This is a great way to lighten the experience of grocery shopping, and free samples are always appreciated!
Track Grocery Prices
When creating your grocery list, it can help to write down each item’s approximate price. Check out your store’s weekly flyer, website or coupon list to get a sense for pricing for items like meat and produce. Though it may take a little extra time, this exercise can cut down in-store anxiety and better prepare you for your grocery shop.
Getting to know smaller stores like Trader Joes can also give you a greater sense of the price of each item, allowing you to plan and trim before arriving at the store. If you arrive with a better sense of your budget, you’ll know when you can splurge on a special item, or when it is best to meal plan for something less expensive.
Implement Meatless Meals
Grocery lists that include a lot of meat are naturally more expensive. Get creative both in the kitchen and with your budget by planning a few meatless meals throughout your week. Other varieties of protein, such as beans, nuts, soy, and even mushrooms provide plenty of substance to a meal while incorporating a range of nutrients. Choose a day of the week to go meat-free or stick to meatless lunches.
Budgeting may introduce you to a new, exciting way of cooking while helping you learn to use what’s already in your kitchen in creative and flavorful ways.
Meal planning cuts down on overspending and food waste more than almost any other tactic. Knowing exactly what you need for your weekly meals eliminates the worry of what to make for dinner at the start of each evening. It also allows you to plan properly for eating leftovers or working them into a new dish.
You can approach meal planning from several directions:
- Base your meal plans around what’s on sale that week, noted in local flyers or online
- Choose your favorite recipes and plan your weekly meal plan around those
- Explore how other shoppers create grocery lists with overlapping items based on their meal plan
- Build your meal plan around your weekly schedule. If you’re home late one night, be sure to make extra leftovers earlier in the week to bridge through that evening. This keeps you from spending money dining out when you’re in a hurry.
- Invest in quality storage containers for carrying leftovers to work and freezing ingredients for later in the month.
Savings Tips for In-Store Shopping
Get in the mindset for successful shopping by following a few helpful tips before heading to the market. Sometimes, the most unsuspecting things affect how you shop and save.
Grocery Shop Alone
Though shopping with the kids may sometimes be inevitable, it’s best to shop alone for larger grocery trips. If you need to bring your children with you, make sure you have a specific grocery list. This helps to avoid impulse buys, rushing through your shopping or missing good grocery deals.
Don’t Shop Hungry
Research has shown that shopping on an empty stomach leads to grabbing unplanned items, enticing goodies and breaking your food budget. Even if you’re shopping for dry goods like paper towels or cleaning products, shopping while hungry can lead to larger purchases. Head to the store on a full stomach for smarter choices.
Convenience Area Finds
Unexpected grocery deals can hide out in the convenience section up at the counter. Small things, especially highlighted sale snacks and drinks may be placed at the front of the store to catch shoppers’ attention during a special.
Track Your Bill As You Shop
Keep a running tally of your grocery bill as you shop. You can use an online grocery calculator, the calculator on your smartphone, or a pen and paper to do this, but keep in mind that it’s always safer to round up. This tactic helps you to avoid any surprises at the checkout counter, and if you round up, your final bill may be a pleasant surprise.
New grocery store technology allows customers in certain locations to check out items as they shop. As this option develops in your area, take advantage of the chance to tally your grocery bill as you move throughout the store, saving splurge items for the end.
Be Cautious With Discounts
Just because something is on sale or because you have a coupon, doesn’t mean the item will work within your meal plan. Sales are meant to grab your attention, but buying in bulk or buying items you don’t normally use does not always mean you save money in the long run. Only purchase large amounts of items if you’re certain you’d buy them separately and consume them within their expiration date.
Have A Flexible Protein Plan
Meat is a fairly flexible grocery item. When shopping for meat, start at the butcher or deli counter and inquire about sales and special deals running that week. Consider shifting your meal plan to incorporate whatever protein is discounted. Many recipes are flexible with different proteins, especially when it comes to things like soups, stews, and casseroles.
Avoid Junk Food
This may seem like a given, but cutting back on processed sweet or salty snacks immediately lowers your average grocery bill. But, there’s no need to immediately eliminate packaged snacks altogether. Choose one favorite item each week to purchase as a special treat. If you’re passionate about baked goods, look into baking sweet treats yourself and storing them in individual portions for the week.
At the Checkout Counter
If you’re concerned about your final total, hold specialty items to the side as your checkout helper scans each item. Add these items in at the end if you have room in your budget. Also, keep your eyes peeled for items that get accidentally double-swiped or rung up without the discounted price.
Snap Your Receipt
Take a picture of your receipt after you’re done shopping and keep it so you can check in with your budget at the end of the month. Saving and storing paper receipts can be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, Fetch makes this process quick and simple. Snap a picture of your grocery receipt on the Fetch app, and the app will organize and store your receipts for you. You can return to them later in the month when you’re looking at your budget totals. The Fetch app will also break down your monthly grocery spending for you, and show you which stores cost you the most.
For even more savings ideas, check out our full list of tips for shopping on a budget.
How You Can Save Money on Groceries at Home
Once you’ve arrived home after a successful grocery shop, follow a few helpful guidelines to keep you from having to head back to the store midweek.
Follow Your Meal Plan
As mentioned above, nothing will keep your grocery bill and food waste lower than meal planning. At the end of a week, you may even surprise yourself by realizing you don’t have to toss any forgotten items because everything was incorporated into your meal plan.
Break your grocery list down by day, including any notes about after-school or work outings that could alter your schedule. If things change, or you simply do not feel like eating the planned meal for that night, switch things up by borrowing a meal plan from another evening. Try to avoid changing recipes altogether.
Get Creative with Leftovers
Even if you’re only shopping for one or two people, make a larger batch of dinners to stretch your meals into leftovers throughout the week. Some recipes can even transform into new meals, such as turning beef stews into savory casseroles or fresh fish into pasta dishes.
Freeze Bulk Items
When you do find a great bulk item or want to make sure meat makes it to the following week, check out some tips for properly freezing food. For example:
- Separate large batches of meat—like ribs or chicken breasts—into separate, air-tight containers so you can take them out one at a time for different meals.
- Trim herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays to be melted into soups and stews.
- For vegetables, follow an online guide for freezing each veggie the right way—many respond uniquely to defrosting.
- If you have a large haul of tomatoes or cucumbers at the end of the summer, consider learning about canning to save them into the winter.
Be Your Own Chef
Although pre-made and frozen items may seem like a bargain, cooking your own recipes is more cost effective. In the long run, the ingredients stretch farther, serve more people and cut down on your grocery bill. Quite often, homemade recipes are fresher as well, meaning you’re getting higher-quality meals for your money.
Try Store Rewards Programs
Especially around the holidays, many grocery store chains offer points programs for earning discounts, and sales on specialty items like Thanksgiving turkeys. Other stores may offer credit cards just for their business, providing special sale items for your loyalty. When a store is part of your usual routine, these programs can help cut down your average grocery bill.
Grocery shopping is a great time to reset and think about the week ahead of you. Set yourself up for success by keeping your grocery budget in mind before, during, and after your weekly shopping trip. Most importantly, find what works for you. With a little strategy, saving money on groceries can become a fun challenge.