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.
Sometimes it’s also a struggle not wasting what you bought. 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 make the most of your at-home food purchases.
Fortunately, you can take steps to lower your grocery bill and reduce food waste.
Table of Contents
Before you shop, plan
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!
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.
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.”
Stock up on sausage, freeze the bread to thaw as needed, and throw together some salads with the lettuce, carrots, and celery. The key is buying only things that you might have bought anyway and never buying something just because it’s on sale.
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 the grocery store near your home, you might get a cantaloupe for around $3. At discount grocer Aldi, you can get the same brand, usually on sale for $1. Other produce and dairy items cost around half of what you’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. Pay attention so you don’t get duped.
TIP: Look for stores near you and find out what they have on sale.
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.
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, you should browse a few additional aisles just for the heck of it. That’s how you can learn that your paying $12 for a drugstore brand of over-the-counter allergy pills when you 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.
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.
Don’t shop when hungry
There’s nothing like a rumbling stomach 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.
While you are shopping
Shop at more than one place
At one store, limit yourself to sale items and a few other things on your list, trying to stay under $20. Then hit the discount grocer for staples like butter, milk, cereal, produce and frozen chicken. Occasionally, Set aside $10 to $15 to treat yourself at Trader Joe’s, where you can get a frozen lasagna and a couple of salads for under $15. This way, you still get a few luxury items so you don’t feel deprived.
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.
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.
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.
Check out anything marked “clearance”
Keep an eye out for end caps and grocery carts filled with clearance items. 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 can often become available at a deep discount.
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.
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.
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.
Prepare groceries when you get home
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.
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 and still tastes delicious, especially if you heat it in a toaster or oven.
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.
Tips for gluten-free shopping
Grocery shopping is pricey enough without mixing in an allergy or intolerance to gluten – an element of wheat, barley and rye that gives bread, pasta, cookies and so much more that yummy texture.
A gluten-free diet can cost 242 percent more than the standard fare, according to the National Institutes of Health.
That number may seem impossible until you consider a common 24 oz. loaf of whole wheat bread goes for about $3.59, while a loaf of gluten-free bread is typically half that size and goes for at least $2 more, sometimes $3. And the goodies? Pricier still.
The good news is demand continues to drive big-name companies to find less costly alternatives.
But who can wait around? Here are tips to tame that bill.
Go to the source
Contact the maker of your favorite bread or cake mix by phone, their websites, Facebook or Twitter to find a bargain. Some of the best coupons come directly from the manufacturers. Best example, both Udi’s,  and Rudi’s  offer $1 off coupons online.
Hint: Check your Sunday fliers and in-store promotions too.
When you find that buy-one-get-one-free box of your favorite crackers or a deeply discounted loaf of bread, buy as many as your pantry and freezer can handle. Prices on some items, such as cereal, cycle to their low point every six weeks, other goods may drop only once a year.
Hint: The freezer comes in particularly handy when you’re stockpiling gluten-free bread, many of which spoil faster than their standard counterparts. Freezing extends that life. Thawing them a couple of pieces at a time in the microwave ensures not only that they last, but also gives these sometimes dry bread a better texture.
Skip on gluten-free breadcrumbs
Those crumbs can take chunks out of your wallet and often can be replaced by standard grocery fare that doesn’t come with the gluten-free price tag.
Hint: Crushed cereal or potato chips can deliver that same crunch to a chicken breast or atop a slab of salmon.
Consider ditching sandwiches, too
Let’s face it, one of the most expensive gluten-free items is a loaf of bread. And what you get for your money slice-wise is invariably puny, so go with plan B. That can mean grilled cheese quesadilla-style on a corn tortilla or it means a rolled-up slice of turkey or ham with all the sandwich fillings on the inside.
Hint: These gluten-free corn tortillas can be found in the bread aisle or in the regional foods aisle and are not expensive.
Stop eating gluten-free junk
Just because the label says “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In the case of cookies, cakes, and other snack foods it probably means it’s got even more sugar than the regular stuff. At prices sometimes double or triple their gluten-filled counterparts, this is a real money pit.
If you need a sugar buzz, go for a brand and flavor ice cream that is gluten-free or a gluten-free candy or chocolate.
Buy whole foods that are gluten free naturally
Eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. The bonus here is that many of those gluten-free alternatives to bread and pasta also have less fiber, so eating more fruits and veggies is a blessing to your digestive tract and overall health.
Shop international food markets, small organic grocers
While the average grocery is becoming better stocked with gluten-free products, sometimes you might have to hunt for a very particular item, say a gluten-free baguette-style bread. This is when you may have to hit your weekend green market, an international food market or small organic grocer.
Save money at the farmers market
There’s no better place to find delicious produce than at local farmer’s markets. For one thing, you get to shop outside in the fresh air, which can be healthier than crowded grocery store produce aisles. You’re also supporting small local or regional businesses, which need a boost in a troubled economy. Plus, fresh homegrown produce just tastes better.
Don’t peel out of your driveway to be first in line at the farmer’s market just yet, though. First, check out these six tips on how to save money while still coming home with a great harvest…
Don’t ask the first vendor you see at the farmer’s market to start bagging up tomatoes and rolling out melons. Browse the market instead, scoping out booths and farmers, finding out what each offers at what prices. Then you can narrow your choices.
Never base your produce booth picks on price alone. Look at additional factors such as whether the area is clean and orderly or a dirty mess, which can show a lack of concern with details that affect produce quality and sanitation standards.
Go at off-peak times
If you shop the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, you’re probably not going to have much bargaining power when crowds of people are eager to stock up on produce and willing to pay the asking price. So be smart and go when the market isn’t as busy, late in the afternoon, for example.
Maybe there’s a produce stand in your neighborhood that’s open during the week. Some farmer’s markets may also offer a smaller but decent market on one or two weekdays, especially in downtown areas.
Stick with a vendor you like
When you hop from farmer to farmer every week to get the best price on certain items, you never get a chance to develop a relationship with the vendor, which can pay off over the course of the summer. For example, it’s not uncommon for a vendor to throw in an extra cucumber or reduce the price of a cantaloupe if they see you as a loyal customer.
Take a genuine interest in the farmer’s work and produce farm. If you’re loyal, friendly, and treat the vendor with respect, you’ll get plenty of good deals down the road.
There’s a fine line between negotiating and being an annoying cheapskate. Yes, you want a good deal, but be reasonable. Many farmers may not break even some seasons, so don’t try to get the best of a hardworking person trying to make a living.
Rather than trying to buy an item for less than it’s worth, purchase enough produce to allow some wiggle room in the overall price. Then make a reasonable offer.
Ask about imperfect produce
Many vendors have a small section containing produce that buyers typically overlook such as tomatoes with small spots or bruises or misshaped veggies that still taste great.
Ask if the farmer has “scratch ‘n dent” tomatoes, avocadoes or similar items that you can use for soups, sauces, salads and other dishes that don’t require produce perfection.
Don’t restrict purchases to only organic
If you prefer buying organic fruits and vegetables, you’ll typically pay more than for non-organic produce. Paying higher prices for organic is worth the cost to many people. However, you don’t always have to buy organic to lower exposure to pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” guide to pesticides in produce.
If you want to save money, consider purchasing some non-organic produce from the “Clean Fifteen,” which are fruits and vegetables less likely to contain residue from pesticides. The list includes avocados, sweet corn, cabbage, onions, asparagus, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli.
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 and up, 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.
Article last modified on December 5, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC