Fire Up Your Savings Game:
Saving Money at the Grocery Store
With prices rapidly rising on everyday items, perhaps your savings plan has gone by the wayside. These tips will help you find more money in your budget – starting with saving at the grocery store.
# 1 – Plan before you shop to save on groceries
Know what you have to spend: Set a budget or a dollar limit for each trip to the store or each order, and keep a running tally as you shop so you come in on budget.
- Make your grocery list: One of the most important parts of grocery shopping is pre-shopping planning. Before you go to the store, take inventory of what you already have, and make a list of what you need. If possible, plan meals you will prepare and check to see if you have all the necessary ingredients. Choose meals that use items that are affordable and ingredients that can be used in multiple ways – often if you can buy in quantity, you can save money overall. Plan for leftovers to take for lunch, or to eat later in the week.
- Make your list complete. A complete list is easier to stick to when you’re in the store. Plan for meals, snacks, and needs that will carry you through until the next time you intend to shop. (If you shop every week, or every two weeks, buy what you need to make it that long.) Remember to also check on things like cleaning supplies, personal toiletries, or other household items you might need.
- Cross-reference your list with deals and sales: Making your list first sets you up to stick to it – stay strong and resist the temptation to buy something that’s not on your list, even if it seems like a good deal. But still take the time to compare your list with sales, coupons, and specials to see if you can win a few extra savings points!
- Eat before you shop! Shopping while hungry (or in the company of hungry and grumpy children) tempts you to stray from your list. Plus, it’s not very fun!
#2 – Shop around – compare prices from different stores
You have tons of grocery shopping options. Looking closely at them and finding the mix that works for you can help you balance your personal preferences, the kinds of things you need, and the price you are willing to pay. You may find out that splitting your grocery list up between several options gets you the best deals.
- Compare apples-to-apples by using the unit price as your comparison number: calculate the price per pound, ounce, or use: Price divided by pounds, ounces, uses (i.e., loads of laundry, sheets of toilet paper), etc.
- Remember to include the delivery or shipping costs for online orders versus transportation or fuel costs if you’re shopping in person.
- Check dollar stores for deals on household items.
- Traditional supermarkets and superstores are familiar and convenient choices where you can compare pricing between different brands and accomplish a lot in one store.
- Bulk retailers or wholesale clubs, like Costco or Sam’s Club might be a good way to stock up on quantity for a lower, per-use cost.
- Buying directly from farmers through farm markets might get you a lower price per pound for high-quality, fresh produce.
#3 – Stick to your list!
Sticking to your list is probably the most important thing you can do to save money on groceries and hit your grocery budget. Your list is your plan. When you buy something else, you are spending your money on something you didn’t plan for.
#4 – Beat your budget: find the best deals on the things you need
You know what you need to buy because you made an awesome list. But how can you get the best deal on each of those items? Balance your total budget (how much you have overall to spend at the grocery store), with the best per-unit cost for each item. For example, if you only have $25 to spend, a years’ worth of toilet paper for $50 is not that helpful. But, if you can get a weeks’ worth of toilet paper for $1 less than normal, you just found $1.
- Know what things cost. Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. If you know that bananas cost 59 cents/pound, a $1 banana “sale” is not a good deal.
- Shop the sales for what you need. Watch for unadvertised specials that might get you a better price. Wait for something to go on sale to buy it.
- Buy things in quantity when it makes sense. The larger bottle of mustard is probably a lower price per ounce than the tiny bottle. Calculate the cost per ounce and compare.
- Save money by prepping things yourself. For example, a whole chicken might be less expensive per pound than a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Pre-packaged items often are more costly.
- Give the generic or store brand a try. Often they are lower in price and if you don’t like it, many stores will refund your money.
- When you check out, make sure you are being charged what you expected. If you think you are being overcharged, speak up. It never hurts to ask.
#5 – Stick to your plan at home, too: use all of what you buy
Stretch those dollars even further by reducing or eliminating waste, so you can buy less often. And maximize your grocery purchases for the foods and supplies that meet your needs, and make your life easier, happier, and healthier. Keep going!
- Process and store food to maximize shelf life. Store things in their ideal conditions to make them last if you need them to. If it’s something you won’t prepare for a week, freeze it to keep it fresh.
- Organize your storage so you can easily find things. Label and date things and/or store them in containers that you can easily identify, so you don’t forget about them. When you take inventory before your next shopping trip, check the corners, drawers, and hidden places.
- Stick with your menu plan! Make the recipes you planned to and use the fresh ingredients you bought with your hard-earned money when they are at their peak flavor and quality.
What to do if your grocery bill is putting you underwater
If you find yourself paying for groceries on your credit card without the resources to pay that balance off because your bank account is empty, or if you are skipping meals or going hungry so your kids can eat, that is a different thing altogether.
Looking at your whole financial picture, learning about your different options, and making a plan for your finances can relieve a huge amount of stress and anxiety – and help you figure out how to get where you want to be.
We've partnered with GreenPath Financial Wellness. GreenPath’s NFCC-certified counselors will work with you to assess your specific situation to create a personalized plan to achieve your goals. As a trusted national nonprofit, GreenPath works with thousands of people each week to pay off debt, improve credit and lead a financially healthy life.