Clever strategies to save money at the grocery store

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It’s no surprise grocery shopping costs more now than it ever has, and groceries have become a larger part of the overall consumer budget as incomes have generally not risen as quickly to keep up. Thankfully, there are smart changes you can make to save money at the grocery store.

A woman in a white top checks out groceries with a cashier in a red apron at a supermarket.
Learn easy strategies to help ease the impact of inflation on your grocery budget and really save you money. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Many of these strategies don’t require huge changes in how or what you eat, which is the biggest sticking point for many. While swapping one or two more meals a week for meatless meals can significantly reduce your grocery budget, many people are not ready or willing to make that change. The same holds true for eating mostly whole foods, where you cook meals from scratch rather than purchasing as many processed foods. It simply isn’t sustainable long term for many people.

Instead, focus on strategies that allow you to spend less on the foods you want to eat. These may take a little more time and a little more effort on your part, but the savings more than pay for themselves. Once you get used to shopping this way, it becomes second nature.

You also don’t have to use every strategy immediately or even every time you shop. Pick and choose what works best for you and experiment to see which strategies you prefer. The more strategies you layer on, the more money you can save, but even following one or two of these strategies can make a difference and help you save money at the grocery store.

According to the U.S. Labor Department Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the annual inflation rate for groceries in 2023 decreased to 5.1% from the 10.8% increase in 2022, incomes have not risen fast enough to keep pace. The cost of eating food outside the home increased at an even faster rate, which makes finding ways to save at the grocery store even more important.

Meal plan before you shop and stick to your list

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to save money at the grocery store is to plan your meals in advance. Take inventory of what you already have at home, make a list of what you need, and stick to it. Impulse buys can quickly derail your budget.

As you start your meal plan, look at the weekly flyers from your favorite grocery stores. Are chicken thighs on sale? Plan your dinners around that. Is your favorite frozen pizza on sale or maybe fresh broccoli or green beans? Choose your meals based on that week’s possible savings.

Be sure to think about how much you’ll actually eat. The last thing you want to do is buy a bunch of tomatoes on a great deal and then have them go bad because you forgot to factor in meals you might be eating out or leftovers you’ll get from other meals. Throwing away food is the worst thing you can do when you want to reduce your grocery store spending.

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Grocery shop across multiple stores

Don’t limit yourself to just one grocery store. Different stores often have varying prices on the same items, so consider shopping around to find the best deals. Just be sure to factor in any additional travel costs.

The good news is that grocery stores tend to be clustered in a specific area, so it doesn’t take too much time to shop at additional grocery stores. If you do curbside pickup and spend enough that your purchase has no additional fees, you can minimize the time you spend grocery shopping.

Most stores have their current prices for items on their websites or in their apps. Whether you use online methods or browse the flyers, note which store has which item cheapest that week. When you create your list, have subsections for each store so that you can easily remember which items you plan to purchase from each of the stores.

Use pricing apps

Harness the power of technology to find the best deals quickly. Apps like Ibotta, Flipp and Basket allow you to compare prices across multiple stores. This lets you make your multi-store shopping list even easier.

In addition to comparing prices, you can use these apps to check price history and set price drop alerts so you know when your favorite products go on sale and where. There are multiple apps with these features, so test them out and see which one you like best and stick with that rather than trying to manage multiple apps. Be sure that your favorite retailers are included in the app, as not all apps have the same level of coverage.

Use cashback apps

While you have likely heard of Ibotta, which offers cash back on items you purchase, there are a number of other apps that will also offer rebates and cash back when you upload your receipts. The good news is that you can generally double-dip and scan your receipt into multiple apps for the benefits.

Fetch provides points based on the items you purchase that you can redeem for gift cards. Checkout 51 and Receipt Hog provide cash rewards when you purchase specific products. Dosh, Swagbucks and Shopkick also offer similar benefits, and there are many more out there.

Generally, the effort required to share your receipts and purchases is minimal. The trick is remembering to upload them because you have a limited time after you shop to do so.

Shop private-label brands instead of brand-name foods

Once upon a time, store brands were second-rate products, but this has changed significantly over the years. Store brands often provide comparable quality to name brands at a fraction of the cost.

Some of the best categories to shop for private label brands are pantry staples like flour, sugar, canned vegetables and soups. In most categories, the difference is negligible, making the savings absolutely worth it.

Stock up during big sales

If there is a product you use regularly that goes on a massive sale, stock up with a few caveats. Be sure that you will use all of the items before they expire or go bad, and always be sure you have the storage space for it.

If you find black beans at a ridiculous price, stock up. If hamburger is at a deep discount, buy what you know you’ll use. Just be sure to divide perishable items into portion size servings and freeze them properly so they will remain good to eat when you are ready to enjoy them later.

You can use the same strategy for in-season produce that you can safely store. Peel and freeze bananas when you find them at extra low prices. Purchase blueberries, peaches or strawberries at their lowest price, then freeze them to use in the off season.

Don’t stock up on items you use rarely or on something you’re trying for the first time. If you end up not eating it, this is not saving you money at the grocery store at all.

Check out the reduced items section

Many grocery stores have small sections with items that are nearing their expiration date and need to be sold before they have to throw them away, so they discount them significantly. You may find produce, meat or canned goods, depending on your store.

Add the meat to your meal plan for the day you shop, or freeze it once you repackage it. Produce may not be the prettiest, but generally, it still tastes just as good. Cut off any bad parts or use it to make a fruit crisp or other recipes where the produce doesn’t need to be as visually appealing.

Bonus tips

Don’t shop when you’re hungry – you’re more likely to impulse buy. Purchase whole fruits and veggies rather than the store-cut ones that may save time but cost much more. Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative with leftovers. They can be transformed into delicious new meals, saving you money and reducing food waste.

With a little planning and these savvy strategies, you can keep your grocery bill under control without sacrificing quality or taste. Just like dieting, the most successful changes don’t happen all at once but are small changes made over time that are sustainable and work for you.

Michelle Price is a food and travel writer at Honest and Truly who almost has an empty nest. She loves to provide both the inspiration and the confidence you need to help get you into the kitchen and on the road to enjoy new flavors and experiences.

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