Depending on where you live, food may be one of the biggest expenses of your household.
Luckily, it’s also one of the expenses that’s easiest to cut down on. After all, it’s not like you can change gas prices or just decide to pay less rent.
So, here are 20 hacks for slashing your grocery budget!
Let’s start with what you should do before you even enter the grocery store:
Every week, most grocery stores send out ads saying what will be on sale. Take a look through the sales that are going on to get an idea of what you might want to buy and eat that week.
You knew coupons were going to be on the list, right? You can often find coupons in those same weekly ads, online, or through a variety of apps. You don’t have to get all Extreme Couponing about it; just do a quick Google search and see if there are any savings you can count on.
This is probably the No. 1 tip for spending less on your groceries. Whatever you do, do not just wander into a grocery store with an empty cart. When you do that, you end up grabbing a bunch of random stuff (and being left at the end of the week with oatmeal, popsicles, and a bag of flour).
Make a meal plan. And while you’re making that plan…
You can use lettuce for both tacos and for a salad — that’s two meals right there! Bread could be used for French toast and sandwiches. Make enchiladas one night, then use the tortillas for fajitas later in the week. You get the idea. The more ingredients that can pull double duty, the fewer things you have to buy.
It’s not impossible to find out-of-season fruits and veggies, but it’s gonna cost you. Get familiar with what’s available and at what times. Also, keep in mind that if there’s a drought or other extreme weather event where your produce is grown, it’ll also make things more expensive.
There’s only one more step to do before heading to the grocery store…
This is a must. Make a list of everything you’re going to buy, and then don’t buy anything else. Not even that awesome new kind of potato chip. If you’re serious about sticking to your budget, you’ll stick to your list.
(To make things extra convenient, try to write your list roughly in the order of how things are laid out in the store so you’re not wandering aimlessly.)
Look high, then look low. That’s where you want to be buying from. Stores purposefully put the more expensive items on the middle shelves, right at eye-level.
But you’re not gonna fall for that trick, are ya? Of course not.
In a similar vein, you also want to avoid going into the middle aisles as much as possible. For the most part, everything you need in the store will be located around the perimeter of the grocery store. If you find yourself venturing through the middle aisles, make sure it’s for a specific item (from your list!) and not just a way to find some snacks you didn’t budget for.
Sometimes it makes sense to buy things in bulk. like if you have a large family or are purchasing dry goods like beans, rice, pasta, and cereal. Stuff like paper towels and toilet paper can also be a smart bulk buy.
(Obviously, you’ll need to factor in whether you actually have space in your home to house 24 rolls of paper towel.)
But don’t assume just because you’re getting a lot of something that you’re getting a good deal. Are you going to be able to use the item up before it expires? If not, you’ll actually wind up wasting money (and food!).
For a lot of grocery items, the store brand is pretty much indistinguishable from the fancy name-brand stuff. Your mileage may vary depending on where you shop, but store-brand cereal is usually pretty dang good.
(Bonus tip: If you need seasonings, check in your store’s “ethnic” food aisle!)
Now, it’s time for some math…
Stores will often display the “price per ounce” right on the shelf, otherwise, it’s pretty easy math to do in your head (or on your phone).
When comparing two different boxes or bottles of the same food, divide the entire price by how many ounces are in the container. The one with the lower price per ounce is the better deal (but again, make sure you have space in your house if you’re going with the gallon jug of vegetable oil!).
Whether you write it down, put it in your phone, or keep it in your head, pay attention to how much you’re going to spend. Round up as you’re calculating to account for tax (assuming you’re shopping in the U.S.).
It can be easy to just put stuff in your cart and then be surprised when it comes time checkout. But not if you’re tallying it up as you go!
Some stores have a discount produce section offering food that isn’t pretty (but is just as usable and delicious). Now is not the time to be proud. Grab those ugly tomatoes and save yourself some cash!
(If your store doesn’t have a discount produce section, check out Imperfect Produce. They mail reject produce right to your door!)
You know that whole “price per ounce” thing we were talking about earlier? An ounce of block cheese is cheaper than an ounce of shredded cheese (and it tastes waaaaaay better, too). If you’re willing and able, buy the block of cheese and shred it yourself. You can even freeze it if you buy too much to use at once.
This also goes for onions, lettuce, carrots, or anything else you can buy pre-prepped.
OK, this one might be a bit of a challenge depending on your diet and daily habits.
If you’re really trying to cut down on your grocery budget, consider not buying any beverages and just drink water with every meal. You can always get a couple lemons or limes to add to the water if you want the extra flavor!
Produce may be cheaper at one store, while dried goods are cheaper at another. It might be worth it to you to make the trip to multiple stores to get the best saving all-around.
(Then again, it might not make any sense at all. Are you going to spend more on gas than you’re saving? Is the money you’re saving worth the time it takes to finish grocery shopping? If not, don’t do it!)
And speaking of multiple stores…
These are filled with bread items that are one day past their “expiration” date — “expiration” in quotation marks because usually, the bread is still totally fine. And it is cheap. Like, usually more-than-50-percent-off cheap. Pick up two loaves and freeze one of them if you’re not going to use it right away.
You can make a delicious loaf of No-Knead Bread for about 50 cents. Obviously, it takes some time, but baking bread is probably easier than you think. Especially if you go with a no-knead bread recipe. You literally just mix some stuff in a bowl, let it sit for 24 hours, then bake it in the oven.
You can also make your own pasta using nothing more than flour and eggs. If you have the time and desire to do so, it’s usually cheaper to cook your own ingredients rather than buying pre-made stuff.
Depending on where you live, there may be a grocery delivery service that will bring your food right to you for a small price. A lot of stores are also rolling out curbside pickup services where you order ahead, then pull your car up to the store to load your groceries in.
Services like these ones are not only great for people with kids, mobility issues, or who just don’t feel like spending time at the grocery store; they could also cut down on impulse purchases so you end up spending less on groceries (even though the service isn’t free). Take a look and see if there’s something that might work for you!
So many places have these. They’re almost always free (the only “cost” is that you’re probably on a list to receive ads in the mail). A lot of times, the sale prices in a grocery store are only available if you have the card, so you’re probably better off signing up for it.
Plus, some stores offer additional discounts on other stuff, like gasoline or car washes.
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