21 ways to spend less money at the grocery store

|
21 ways to spend less money at the grocery store
Image Credit: Dreamstime
Team Clark is adamant that we will never write content influenced by or paid for by an advertiser. To support our work, we do make money from some links to companies and deals on our site. Learn more about our guarantee here.
Advertisement

The average American family spends somewhere between $300 and nearly $700 per month on groceries — typically the fourth biggest budget priority behind housing, transportation and insurance.

That’s a lot of money! And the thing is, your grocery bills don’t have to cost you that much! Whether it’s just you or you’re feeding a big family, with a little bit of effort, you can save a lot of money on the cost of food.

When you head out for your next grocery trip, try applying these strategies to your shopping routine — you may find that you can cut your spending by as much as 50% — or even more!

21 tips to spend less at the grocery store

1. Change where you shop 

You can save more than 30% on groceries simply by changing your routine. Check out non-traditional grocery stores like warehouse clubs, dollar stores, Aldi and Walmart for big savings on food and other items you frequently buy at the grocery store (at a higher price).

  • Grocery staples: Check out Aldi and Walmart
  • Organic: Try Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Foods
  • Bulk items: Warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s

Read more: Here’s a cost comparison of items at Aldi, Walmart & Kroger

2. Save money with store brands

Buying store brands instead of name brands can save you an average of 25%!

There are some items at stores like Trader Joe’s that are actually brand-name products repackaged for half the price — no coupon needed!

When it comes to the general debate of store brands vs. name brands, depending on the store, the store brand can be just as good — or even better — than the more expensive name brand. You might have to test a few to figure out which store brand items you like the best.

There are some store brands that actually outrank name-brand products when it comes to overall quality and price.

For example, a Walmart exclusive brand of toilet paper called White Cloud Ultra Soft and Thick was named as the best roll in America by Consumer Reports.

On top of that, Consumer Reports’ most recent look at sunscreens found Walmart was a big winner with its Equate store brand. Both the lotion and the spray were named as ‘best buys.’

So don’t knock store brands until you try them!

3. Compare prices at different stores

Figure out which store has the best prices on the items you’re looking for — stopping at two, or more, stores can save end up saving you a lot of cash.

And if you don’t want to make multiple stops all the time, stock up the things that will last, so you can skip that store on your next trip.

Read more: Costco vs. Aldi: Who’s cheaper?

4. Compare unit prices at the store

There are a lot of sneaky tactics manufacturers and stores use to get you to spend more money — and one of them is the way products are packaged.

Just because it’s in a bigger container, that doesn’t always mean there’s more inside. Just because something is on sale, it doesn’t make it a better deal than the regular priced equivalent.

So if you want to get the best deal, you have to look at the actual unit pricing, not the price tag. Unit pricing tells you how much you’re paying per basic unit of whatever it is you’re buying. So for paper towels, it’s the price per square foot. For toilet paper, it might be the price per sheet. For canned goods, it might be the price per ounce.

So even if a smaller package is on sale, the bigger package that’s not on sale may be a better value — if the bigger package has a cheaper unit price.

Check out the video below for more on unit pricing and this article breaks down the concept and what the laws require in your state (which is important to know, because if a state requires unit prices on packaging and you don’t see it, that’s a problem).

5. Use a cash-back credit card

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card offers 6% back on groceries, up to a max of $6,000 annually. Also, make sure to check out the rewards your current card has to offer.

And don’t forget to check on your rewards every so often so you can take advantage of them!

tips to save on groceries reduce spending

6. Use apps that find the best prices

  • Ibotta: Provides rebates on a number of retail items, but you’ll find the most savings opportunities at national and regional grocery stores.
  • Checkout 51: Features a new list of about 20 offers every Thursday morning. They include rebates on items you don’t normally find coupons for, such as tomatoes, strawberries, and bananas.

  • ShopmiumLike Checkout 51, the rebate offers on Shopmium can be redeemed at any store where the products are sold. 

  • Cellfire.com: Sends coupons directly to your loyalty cards. 

  • Coupons.com: Add grocery and drugstore coupons to your store loyalty cards and automatically save when you use them at the register.

  • Favado.com: Aggregates sales data for your local grocery, drug, and big box stores. Compare and save up to 70% on everyday items.

  • GroceryIQ.com: Create and organize grocery lists quickly and easily.

  • KeyringApp.com: Digitizes all your loyalty cards and stores them on a smartphone so you never have to fumble for the physical cards again.

  • RedLaser.com (Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft) :  Barcode and QR code scanner helps you comparison shop millions of purchases.

  • SavingStar.com: Get grocery and food coupons, which convert into store savings or actual cash back.

7. Salvage stores offer cheap food  

This may be a little more extreme, but these stores sell dented cans and food that is near or past expiration date (and many foods are fine to eat well past the expiration date). 

8. Stock up when items are on sale

You can save a lot over time by stocking up on the items you buy regularly when they are on sale.

If something you buy all the time is on sale for a great price — and it will last a while (or you can freeze it) — then buy a few! Or buy a lot! And this applies to both grocery and non-grocery items. If you family goes through a lot of toilet paper, stock up on your run to Costco instead of getting stuck having to pay more for it at the grocery store around the corner.

If Kroger has a sale on cranberry juice and you drink a lot of cranberry juice, stock up while the price is down!

Another great strategy is to tweak your meal plans around what’s on sale. By working your weekly menu plan around what’s on sale, you can easily cut grocery spending by 30% or more.

Read more: 12 secret money-saving hacks at Costco, Sam’s Club & BJ’s Wholesale

9. Make a list

And stick to it! If you have a list, you’re much more likely to avoid spending extra money. And these apps make it easy for you.

I always take a list with me and then I buy whatever brand is on sale — it’s like a competition (with myself… but I know I’m not the only person who does it!).

10. Find coupons before you head to the store

There are some super easy ways to use coupons without having to dig for them.

There’s one grocery store that I love, but frankly, it’s overpriced. So I downloaded the app and every few days I scroll through the sales and click the ones I may use. Then when I go to check out, I just enter my phone number and voila — savings.

And to be perfectly honest, I do actually have a folder of coupons — ones that comes in the mail or that I just grab along my way. My husband, however, refuses to go to the store with a folder of coupons. So any time he goes to Kroger, I make sure to go online and stock up on pretty much every coupon available so all he has to do is enter his phone number or scan an app at checkout. I just text him directions of what to do at checkout.

And in fact, there are tons of apps that make it super easy for you to save (without being that person with the binder). Check out this list from Consumer Reports of the best coupon apps for grocery store shopping.

11. Use cash

If you bring a certain amount of cash to the grocery store, then that’s all you’ll be able to spend — avoiding the last-minute, unnecessary purchases. So make a list and budget for it before you go — then only bring enough money to cover it.

12. Price match

Many stores in today’s world have implemented a price matching policy in order to gain more of your business.  Research the different price matching programs at grocery stores in your area, and take full advantage of them in order to pay the least amount of money possible for the groceries you need.

Read more: These apps find you the best prices

13. Don’t buy prepared foods

Yes, it’s convenient, but it’s also more expensive. These convenience items could be marked up as much as 40%. So if you want to save, avoid the packaged/pre-cut/prepared sandwiches, salads and produce. Instead, buy the ingredients (which will last you longer) separately and cut your fruits and veggies yourself at home.

14. AARP membership

If you’re 50 or older, the annual $16 AARP membership is totally worth it for the savings you get throughout the year. Most AARP members know about the available savings on travel and other big expenses, but an AARP membership can also save you big bucks on everyday expenses like groceries. Here’s a list of discounts available to all AARP members.

15. Save on meat products

Buying meat in bulk is a great way to help reduce your monthly spending. If your family eats a lot of meat, buy bigger quantities — which will cost you less per pound — and freeze what you don’t eat immediately for later.

You can also ask the person working in the meat department to reduce the size of a certain package you want — if it’s too big or too expensive!

16. Consider alternatives

If you’re planning to cook something that doesn’t really require the most expensive meat or other ingredients, consider buying a cheaper alternative. Different types of meats, and different types of each type of meat, can drastically vary in cost.

So take a look at a few of your old grocery receipts and highlight the most expensive items. Then you can start to look for cheaper alternatives!

17. Look up, down and around

Have you ever thought about how grocery store aisles are organized? So of course by category, but next time you’re at the store, look at the prices on each shelf.

Walk down the cereal aisle and you’ll probably notice that the shelf placed around eye level of a small child is full of sugary, fun, colorful, name-brand cereal boxes. The shelves right in the middle, where most adults would look, are also full of more expensive, name-brand products.

Then look at the very bottom and the very top — that’s likely where you’ll find generic brands and cheaper prices.

Read more: 7 cheapest grocery stores

18. Plan meals based on what you already have

It might not be the exact recipe you’re used to, but see what you can pull together from what you already have. This is an easy way to avoid letting any food go to waste and it can teach you some new cooking methods!

We recently had leftover sausage from spaghetti, and chips and dip already in the pantry, so I just grabbed some $1 generic hot dog buns and dinner was served.

19. Don’t buy non-grocery items at the grocery store

This is when shopping at more than one store can really save you big bucks. It may take a little more planning, but buying non-grocery items where they’re cheaper is worth it for the savings over time!

Things like health and beauty products, light bulbs, toilet paper, greeting cards, party supplies — don’t buy them at the grocery store! Check out discount retailers like Walmart and the dollar stores, as well as warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club for things you can buy in bulk.

Read more: 9 secret perks that make a Costco membership totally worth it

20. Check out drugstores for deals on certain items

Drugstores are great for their sales — offering big discounts on both grocery and non-grocery items — ranging from $1 to a few bucks off what you’d pay for the same items at the grocery store.

But the deal is, you have to wait for the sales!

Most stores offer an email newsletter that will give you a heads up about sales that week, and you probably already receive the mailers that highlight various sales and discounts — so look through it before you throw it in the trash!

Here are some items you can often find on sale at various drugstores:

  • Cereal
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Makeup
  • Personal care items
  • Store-brand garbage bags
  • Drugstore-brand diapers
  • Hair color

You should also sign up for each store’s rewards program and always add in a manufacturer’s coupon to save even more!

20. Buy in bulk when it makes sense

Buying meat in bulk is a great way to help reduce your monthly spending. If your family eats a lot of meat, buy bigger quantities — which will cost you less per pound — and then freeze what you don’t eat immediately for later.

You can also ask the person working in the meat department to reduce the size of a certain package you want — if it’s too big or too expensive!

Here’s a list of 9 foods you should consider buying in bulk

21. Know what NOT to buy in bulk (or what not to buy at a warehouse club)

It’s no secret that we’re fans of Costco — and warehouse clubs in general. The savings can easily cover the cost of an annual membership fee, especially if you’re a smart shopper and know how to spot the best deals.

Even if you aren’t providing for a large family, the savings on things like luggage, gas, tires, non-perishables (just to name a few) — on top of the many other perks like discounted movie tickets, gift cards and more — when you do the math, a membership is totally worth it.

But while the warehouse clubs are known for a lot of great deals, especially on items you buy in bulk, they also sell products that you can find cheaper somewhere else. And when it comes to buying in bulk, if you aren’t buying for a large family or group – buying the large quantity isn’t worth it if it’s something that can go bad before you use it.

Here are a few things you skip at the warehouse clubs:

  • Books and DVDs: Look online at sites like Half.com and Amazon to find great deals on new and used books and DVDs. If you’re an e-book person, check out sites that aggregate free and cheap e-book deals like eReaderIQ.Here’s a list of ways to find super cheap and free ebooks.
  • Printer paper: If you’re buying printer paper for your home, many office supply retailers offer customers who sign up for their emails a cash-back rebate on printer paper a few times a year — which makes the cost free to you! Also check out Walmart.com, which now offers free two-day shipping with no minimum required.
  • Produce: Unless you plan to eat a lot of produce before it goes bad, buying it in bulk isn’t the best idea. Plus, prices on produce at warehouse clubs don’t change much throughout the year. If you want to find produce at the lowest cost, check out Aldi and Walmart, and look out for sales at your local grocery story on items that are in season, which is typically when prices drop the most.

See the full list of items to avoid buying at warehouse clubs.

These fees are a total waste of your money!

Advertisement
Alex Thomas Sadler About the author:
Alex Thomas Sadler is the Managing Editor of Clark.com and Clark Howard Digital Products. Alex is also the host of Common Cents, a new Clark.com series that makes money simple, so you can better understand and take control of your own financial life. Alex graduated from the University of Georgia with bachelor's degrees in ...Read more
View More Articles
  • Show Comments Hide Comments