Saving money isn’t just using a coupon or shopping the flyer. It’s more than that. Here’s how to spend less on groceries.
Back when I was a full time freelance writer with a busy career writing about food and parenting, I grocery shopped just about every day. It was part of my routine — and how I organized my day. I’d plan what I needed to work on, buy the ingredients, drop the kids off at preschool and get working (or some variation of that). It worked for me then.
It doesn’t work for me now. These days, I have a full time job as an editor, I teach at a university and I still write about food on the side. I don’t have time for daily jaunts to the grocery store. And, importantly, I want to spend less on groceries so I have more money for saving, having fun and other things.
That’s where this strategy comes into play. These are the seven things I do to save money on the food we eat at home. Some you can do today. Some are a bit more long-term strategy. But all will help you trim that grocery budget.
Plan First, Shop Second
When you shop with a plan, you shop more efficiently. That’s why meal planning is so effective. Even in times like now, when nothing is normal, planning ahead is a wise choice if you want to spend less on groceries and waste less.
In my house, planning is a group activity. While I plan our dinners, my kids have to think ahead to their lunches — and then request the items they need. My daughter takes it a step further by also planning cooking projects for the week (she’s just made a raspberry simple syrup and put plain seltzer on our list to make flavored water, for instance).
From paper towels to boneless chicken, buying in bulk will save you bucks. When you are on a budget, it can be hard to wrap your head around buying the $15 package of chicken instead of the $7 package. However, this is a smart money move. At my local grocery store, bulk packages of chicken are sold for $1 or more less per pound. When you’re buying 3 or more pounds at a time, that’s real money savings. Likewise, granola bars, paper goods, cereal and more get less expensive with the more you buy.
So how do you budget for this? Plan ahead. Buy the big package, but separate it into meal-sized portions when you get home. Freeze it all. Try to alternate what you’re stocking up on each shopping trip so you are spreading out the bigger expense between trips.
If you, like me, are primarily picking up grocery store orders, then you have an opportunity: You can comparison shop. I’ve found that while my local grocery store is great for pasta, meats, juices and other needs, I save money when I order our snacks from the local Target instead.
How I typically I create the full grocery order on the grocery store app. Then I spot check things that I know I can order from the Target app for pickup. This week, for instance, I saved about $10 when I bought a sauce, orange juice, cookies, popcorn, crackers and nuts from Target.
Between my grocery store app, the Target app, Ibotta and Fetch Rewards, I save $20-$40 per month on our grocery runs. Some of that is coupons via the store apps. Some is money back via Ibotta and Fetch Rewards (they reward points, actually, which can be turned in for gift cards). And other monies come in the form of bonuses for taking advantage of a certain number of offers.
I’ll admit, this used to result in me buying things I wouldn’t normally. But these days, I am pretty choosy about the deals we take advantage of. Plus, sometimes those offers for new-to-me products result in me finding a new favorite.
Stock Up When You Can
If you think of grocery shopping as a long game, you can spend less on groceries all year. It starts by learning when the best time to buy certain foods is. Manufacturers are pretty predictable in when they offer discounts to grocery stores that are then passed along to consumers.
For instance, pastas at our local grocery store are $0.89 per pound at the moment. I bought 10 to stock up on this grocery run. As long as they remain that price, I will continue to do the same. While we don’t need 10 pastas for the next two weeks, I know we will use all of the pasta in the coming months. Having a backstock of it will save me money in the long run.
I’m also keeping an eye on ingredients that I know will be on sale soon. Chocolate chips, butter and other pantry supplies will be on sale soon, as they are every November/December. Crackers too. And those ingredients can last for months.
Shop in Season
In terms of produce, it’s always best to shop in season. That means berries in the summer, apples in the autumn and winter squashes in the winter. But more than that, it means paying attention to what is fresh when. Not only will you be eating produce at its peak freshness (so much more flavorful!) but you’ll spend less on groceries as well.
For instance, a quart of strawberries is about $4 at the moment. In June though, they were $2 per quart — and they were red on the inside, signaling a better flavor.
Save Those Leftovers
And this, this is the hardest one for a lot of people. You should be saving all your leftovers and eating them. But that doesn’t mean reheating last night’s dinner necessarily. Instead, think of ways you can transform leftovers into something new and exciting.
Leftover taco meat can be used in a cheddar taco omelet. Leftover roasted potatoes can become morning hashbrowns. Mashed potatoes can top a casserole. When you get creative with the leftovers, no one will mind eating them. I often will use leftover cooked veggies on salads and they are divine.