It’s bad enough that you cringe every time you have to fill your gas tank. Nowadays, grocery costs are equally cringe-worthy. If you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably noticed your grocery bills climb to crazy heights.
Leaving the grocery store with only a few bags of groceries for $100 can be depressing.
Who hasn’t stocked up on fruits and vegetables, only to throw away half of that produce a couple weeks later? Maybe you bought chicken, pork chops and ground beef but had to throw some of it away because you couldn’t get to it before it expired.
While it’s natural to want to stock up, you can end up tossing many grocery items.
It helps to have a strategy to prevent food waste
Fortunately, you can take steps to lower your grocery bill and reduce food waste.
Have a grocery budget
When you have a set amount you can spend on weekly groceries, that can stop you from making impulse purchases or overspending. Decide ahead of time how much you want to spend and then make sure you stay within the budget. If you’re worried you’ll go over, use your phone’s calculator to keep track of the grocery tab while shopping.
TIP: Add some room for indulgences into your budget. If you plan to be as bare-bones as possible, you could get frustrated and give up more easily. Rewarding yourself is a responsible part of budgeting!
Estimated Time: 1 hour
Sign up for rewards
If you haven’t signed for grocery store loyalty card programs, you’re missing out on savings. When you enroll, you’ll generally receive significant discounts on eligible items. Many grocery store loyalty programs may also offer discounts per gallon on gas.
Follow your grocery store and favorite products on social media
Follow your local grocery stores on Facebook or other social media platforms. That way, you’ll stay on top of all kinds of grocery deals, including sales on meat and last-minute one-day sales.
If your grocery store serves hot meals from the deli or kitchen, you may also find out about dinners or lunch daily specials that include meat.
Give store brands a chance
You don’t have to stock your cupboards with all generic or store brands, but don’t dismiss all those brands simply out of grocery snobbery. Most grocery stores offer their own quality brands of milk, eggs, pasta, toilet paper, health and beauty products, and many other items for much lower prices than brand name products.
Don’t limit yourself to eye-level foods
Did you know that higher-priced items are typically placed on shelves at eye level? That’s because many customers never lower their gaze to the bottom shelves, which often contain store brand, generic or low-priced items. Always check out the lower shelves, too. You may find a lower-priced brand you like just as much as that pricey pasta sauce you’ve been eyeing.
Study grocery circulars
Instead of tossing those weekly grocery ads you get in the mail, sit down and read them. Last week, a nearby store offered several items priced at “10 for $10, including yogurt, sour cream, lettuce, celery, carrots, lunch meat, bread, frozen sausages, and two-liter bottles of brand-name sodas.”
I stocked up on sausage, froze the bread to thaw as needed, and threw together some salads with the lettuce, carrots, and celery. I passed on the majority of discounted items. The key is buying only things that you might have bought anyway and never buying something just because it’s on sale.
Shop discount grocery stores
If you haven’t shopped much at Aldi, Save-A-Lot or other discount grocery chains, don’t wrongly assume most of their products are low quality. In fact, the opposite is often true.
Make a grocery list and head to a discount grocery store next time. Before you go, check meat prices at regular grocery stores. That way, you’ll know if you’re getting a good deal at the discount grocer.
Constantly compare prices
Did you know that one grocery store might charge twice the amount you’d pay for the same item at a different store? At a grocery store near my home, I can get a cantaloupe for around $3. At discount grocer Aldi, I can get the same brand, usually on sale for $1. Other produce and dairy items cost around half of what I’d pay elsewhere.
Here’s another reason to pay attention. Most stores offer “sales” where you buy one and get one free or for half price. Sometimes, though, the regular price cited is much higher than the actual usual price. So, pay attention so you don’t get duped.
TIP: Look for stores near you and find out what they have on sale.
Estimated time: 1-2 hours
Clip coupons selectively
It’s tempting to go crazy, clipping coupons for every good deal. Don’t do that. Just clip coupons for stuff that you’ll actually use. Then wait for those items to go on sale so you save even more.
Tip: If you hang out on Sunday mornings at a coffee shop, you’ll always be able to nab coupons from customers’ discarded Sunday papers.
Don’t focus only on food
Sometimes, I browse a few additional aisles just for the heck of it. That’s how I learned that I was paying $12 for a drugstore brand of over-the-counter allergy pills when I could buy the same product in a grocery store brand for $5.
Other pharmacy items you may find cheaper at the grocery store: vitamins and supplements; cold medicine; throat lozenges; pain relievers; lotion.
Plan a weekly menu
The best way to make sure food doesn’t go to waste is to plan meals in advance around your grocery stash.
For example, if you buy a rotisserie chicken, use all of the bird by eating as a meal, then use the rest for sandwiches or salads and whipping up a batch of chicken salad.
Write up a menu for the week with perishable foods such as meats and fish in mind. Spread veggies around by serving with more than one meal.
Prepare smaller portions
If you’ve got a family to feed, go ahead and make that big salad. However, if you live alone or with just one other person, half will probably go to waste.
Make a small salad and use excess lettuce for sandwiches or tacos. Cut recipe portions in half if you can’t freeze the leftovers. Keep in mind that mayonnaise-based recipes, fried foods, sour cream, and a good portion of fresh or cooked produce don’t freeze well.
Make a list
Don’t run to the grocery store to pick up a few items only to leave with an overflowing shopping cart. Even if you’re planning to stockpile groceries, going in “open to anything” will run up a huge bill fast. It’s just too easy to grab jars of pricey olives, nuts, dips, snacks and meats when you have no plan.
To avoid willy-nilly shopping and the gargantuan grocery bill that comes with not having a strategy, create a list before shopping. Check out what you already have on hand in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry and plan meals around ingredients you already have on hand.
TIP: A great way to shop and save is to invest in frozen and canned foods. They last much longer and are very versatile ingredients, not to mention they’re usually cheaper.
Estimated time: 25 minutes
Don’t shop when hungry
There’s nothing like mixing a rumbling stomach with pandemic panic to run up your grocery bill fast. When you delay dinner to shop, you can be sure you’ll return home with at least one bag of snacks, frozen dinners and baked goods you would have never considered.
To prevent overspending, consume a meal or at least a snack before heading to the grocery store.
Shop at more than one place
At one store, I’ll limit myself to sale items and a few other things on my list, trying to stay under $20. Then I hit the discount grocer for staples like butter, milk, cereal, produce and frozen chicken. Occasionally, I set aside $10 to $15 to treat myself at Trader Joe’s, where I can get a frozen lasagna and a couple of salads for under $15. This way, I still get a few luxury items so I don’t feel deprived.
Check out anything marked “clearance”
Keep an eye out for end caps and grocery carts filled with clearance items. I’ve scored boxes of Triscuits crackers and cans of name-brand soup for $1 each, deeply discounted hand soap and bottles of pricey beer for a buck apiece.
Keep an inventory
Posting an inventory of produce and meat items on the refrigerator so you don’t forget what’s inside may seem silly. But you know what’s sillier? Throwing away $50 worth of food because you forgot to eat it.
Make a list of fruits and vegetables on hand so you don’t forget to add that cucumber to a salad or use those avocados before they turn brown. Add meats to the list with expiration dates noted.
Clean out and organize your refrigerator and pantry
The last thing you want to do is pull moldy broccoli, sour cream and liquefied green things from a produce drawer crammed with the take from previous shopping expeditions. But cleaning out the old to make room for the new is essential to preventing food waste.
That’s because you need to know what’s in the fridge. If food items are thrown in there haphazardly, you may forget all about that smoked salmon or bag of salad until it’s too late. Organize like items in sections so it’s easy to keep an inventory of produce on hand.
Buy in bulk
Don’t pile your cart high just because something is a fantastic deal. However, if you love canned green beans so much that you can conquer a case in two weeks, go for it. With meat, purchase a large package on sale and freeze some for later.
Some of the best bulk-buying deals are on paper goods such as toilet paper and paper towels, so buy in bulk to save. Want to save even more? Throw in a coupon from the manufacturer’s site, the Sunday paper or another savings source.
Buy part of a pig or cow from the butcher
Want to pay more upfront for big savings over time? Call a local butcher that sells half a hog or one-quarter of a cow to find out the price. Then freeze the meat — 70 to 80 pounds final weight for a half hog and around 100 pounds for one-quarter of a cow — to last for months.
Cost varies, depending on where you live, but the price range for a half hog generally starts at around $3 to $6 a pound. One-quarter cow prices start at around $5 per pound but can be much higher in certain areas of the country. The final weight is typically about 60 percent less than the “hanging weight” before processing.
If you pay $4 per pound for half a pig at 70 pounds, the cost would be $280. If you pay $6 per pound for a quarter cow, the cost would be around $1,100. But keep in mind that you’ll get far more variety on cuts of meat that could potentially save hundreds of dollars later.
Compare prices at local butchers to find out how much you can save. The upfront cost may outweigh what you’d spend over several months. Meanwhile, you can cut expensive meat costs from your weekly grocery budget.
Did you know that if you wrap celery in aluminum foil, it stays crisp longer? Chop or slice onions, celery and carrots and freeze those veggie bags or containers to easily add to soup recipes later.
While you’re at it, organize your kitchen cabinets so you actually know what’s in there. Make a habit of clearing old food and condiments from your refrigerator regularly.
Estimated Time: 5-10 minutes
Utilize your freezer
Your freezer is your best friend when it comes to saving money on groceries. Not only can you stock up on sale and other items to freeze until you need them, you can freeze leftover portions of sauces, soups and certain vegetables to use later instead of buying more at the grocery store.
Freeze fruits and vegetables
Most of us know that we can freeze beef, pork and poultry, but did you know that you can also freeze many fresh fruits and vegetables?
You can freeze some vegetables raw, but others – corn on the cob, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus, bell peppers, brussels sprouts and green beans, for example – require blanching (boiling for a few minutes) before freezing to retain freshness. You can freeze tomatoes without blanching for adding to soups and sauces.
Fruits you can freeze without blanching include blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, and strawberries.
Make the most of your loaf
Especially if you live alone, there’s a good chance you’ve thrown away many stale remainders of loaves of bread. You can easily avoid wasting bread, though, by freezing the loaf and thawing one or two slices at a time.
Bread thaws quickly in ten or 15 minutes and still tastes delicious, especially if you heat it in a toaster or oven.
Don’t buy more than you can eat
It’s easy to get swept up in the produce aisle, especially when you’re trying to boost your immune system. So, you grab a bag of oranges here, a dozen apples there and a generous selection of avocados, tomatoes, salads and other produce, most of which will begin to fade within the week.
Buying fresh produce, only to waste much of it, won’t do your immune system – or your grocery budget – much good at all. Instead, make a list of which fruits and vegetables you can eat before they go bad and then include produce items with meals or snacks as much as possible.
Mind delivery fees
If you’re playing it safe with a grocery delivery service such as Instacart, Shipt, Amazon Fresh or Peapod, make sure you understand all fees added to your order. For example, Instacart delivery fees are higher during busy times and range from $3.99 to $7.99, while Instacart Express members receive free delivery on orders of more than $35.
Amazon Fresh offers attended or unattended (drop-off when you’re not home) delivery to Amazon Prime members if your order exceeds the local free shipping threshold before tax. Otherwise, Amazon Fresh fees vary, depending on the total amount and which delivery option you choose.
Set a limit and pay cash
Plan several meals, make a list and decide an amount that you won’t go over for that week’s groceries. Leave your credit card at home, since spending is more painful when you actually have to hand over cash.
The point of all this is that you don’t need to completely deprive yourself to save money. Instead, you can use the money left over in your budget for other things like paying down debt or going out to dinner or a movie, activities you otherwise couldn’t afford.
So, after you shop, figure out how much you saved on groceries and stash that amount in a coffee can to save for something fun or put toward paying down debt. Your little reserve fund will motivate you to save even more next time.
Article last modified on February 2, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC