22 ways to save money on groceries

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22 ways to save money on groceries
Image Credit: Dreamstime

Ever get that sinking feeling at the supermarket checkout as your weekly groceries are being rung up? Before you know it, the number on the register blows past your weekly budget — even though you have a ton of groceries still left on the conveyor belt.

Who hasn’t had that feeling, right?!?

But what if we told you it’s possible to cut what you spend at the supermarket in half? If you follow these ways to save on groceries, you can do it today!

Looking for ways to save at the grocery store? Start here

Fortunately, saving money on groceries can be easy. This grocery shopping guide will help you with ideas to save more, spend less and keep your grocery budget on track!

Best ways to save on groceries: Table of contents

  1. Change where you shop
  2. Buy store brands
  3. Make a shopping list and stick to it
  4. Plan your meals for the week based on what’s on sale
  5. Know the sales cycle and stock up when things are on sale
  6. Shop the loss leaders each week
  7. Check unit prices
  8. Find coupons before you go to the store
  9. Download some cash back apps
  10. Know how to save money on organic produce
  11. Buy in bulk when it makes sense
  12. Check your receipt for wrong prices
  13. Get a good cash back credit card on groceries
  14. Check the clearance rack
  15. Shop during senior discount days
  16. Break packages at the meat counter to save money
  17. Shop at salvage stores
  18. Be wary of sneaky product placement
  19. Check out drugstores for deals on certain items
  20. Use pickup to avoid impulse buys
  21. Buy previously owned supermarket gift cards at a discount
  22. Never shop on an empty stomach

1. Change where you shop

You can save between 30% and 50% on groceries right off the bat simply by changing your routine.

Warehouse clubs, dollar stores, hard discounters and big-box stores are all options for saving on groceries if you’re willing to shop outside of a traditional standalone supermarket.

2. Buy store brands

kirkland signature fish oil

If you’re not willing to change where you shop, try changing what goes into your shopping cart. It’s one of the easiest ways to save on groceries. Buying the store brand will typically allow you save up to 30% without clipping coupons.

“Try a store brand just once the next time you’re at the supermarket. If you like what you buy, you save money that time and every time going forward when you buy it again,” money expert Clark Howard says.

If you don’t like it, go back to the national brand. Just about every store will give you a refund or exchange the store brand for the national brand.

3. Make a shopping list and stick to it

Impulse buys are the enemy of your wallet when you’re grocery shopping. All those extra splurge items you grab on the way to checkout are like small leaks that can sink your financial ship.

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The remedy? Make a shopping list and stick to it.

You can always go the old-fashioned route and use a pen and paper. But if you prefer to go digital, there are a number of free apps that will get the job done like Out of Milk, Pantry Check (iOS only) and many more.

Robin H. tells us on the Clark Howard Facebook page that she likes to use the Pantry Check app at Trader Joe’s.

“I load my list electronically based on what I’m out of or I know we need. I scan everything before I put it into my cart and know my total before I get to checkout. If it’s creeping up, I start putting things back, but I mostly stick to my list. We have iPhones that sync so I can send my husband with the electronic list. We don’t end up at the store buying extra tomato sauce, etc. because I can’t remember if we have any or not.”

Another way to be sure you stick to your list and don’t buy anything extra that can blow your budget is to go to a cash-only envelope system.

Read our article on budgeting with cash and how to make the envelope method work.

4. Plan your meals for the week based on what’s on sale

When you’re looking for ways to save on groceries, starting with the weekly sales circular should be your first stop.

As Clark.com contributor Lauren Greutman notes, “If ground beef, bread crumbs, crushed tomatoes and cheese are on sale that week…Boom! You’ve got spaghetti and meatballs waiting to happen, probably a meatloaf, and most of the items you need to make homemade pizza.”

Using a recipe ingredient matching site like SuperCook.com is also a great strategy as you look for ways to save on groceries. These kinds of sites help you with meal ideas based on what you have at home and what items are on sale in a given week.

5. Know the sales cycle and stock up when things are on sale

Be sure you always know the regular prices of the 10 most common items you buy at the grocery store. That can help you identify sales cycles.

Facebook poster Kathy W. puts it short and sweet: “Know what prices typically are and know when to spot deals and when to stock up.”

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6. Shop the loss leaders each week

kroger loss leaders weekly ad

Loss leaders are the items advertised on the front of the supermarket sales circular. Typically, they’ll be meat or poultry along with some produce.

No matter what grocery store you’re shopping, the loss leaders change each week. But they all have one thing in common: They’re advertised and sold at a discount to get you in the door in the hopes you’ll buy other things at full price.

The really smart shoppers might only buy what’s on sale as a loss leader. With a little meal planning savvy and some Instant Pot expertise, this is a great way to save big money on your grocery shopping!

7. Check unit prices

Paying attention to unit pricing in the supermarket can be your ally at a time when food manufacturers are trying to sneak by reductions in the amount of product they’re selling you.

Not sure what unit pricing is? Take a look at this example:

Here’s a common scenario you might encounter in the supermarket: You’re buying the store brand of napkins and you’re confronted with the choice of either a 250-count package or a 500-count package. Which is a better value? Most people would think the larger package because you’re buying in bulk, right?

Not so fast. Look at the small unit price numbers, not the actual price.

The 500-count package (top illustration) has a unit price of 0.70¢ per napkin, while you the 250-count package below it has a unit price of 0.67¢. So the smaller package actually offers more value for your dollar.

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8. Find coupons before you go to the store

It used to be that you had to buy copies of the Sunday newspaper to get your grocery coupons. But now the Sunday coupon circulars routinely come free in your mailbox.

Just check those bulk mail circulars that you may be throwing away right now.

9. Download some cash back apps

Team Clark member Michael Timmermann has had great success with cash back apps, earning more than $2,000 since first downloading grocery rebate app Ibotta.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:

Of course, Ibotta isn’t the only grocery rebate app out there. You may also want to give these ones a try and use them along with Ibotta, your grocery store’s app and paper coupons:

RELATED: 7 best apps to save money on groceries

10. Know how to save money on organic produce

organic produce

If organic is important to you, it’s even more important to know what doesn’t have to be bought organic.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, a reliable scientific measure of the amount of pesticide residue left behind on conventionally grown produce.

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According to EWG research, it isn’t necessary to buy these fruits and veggies organic because they have very low levels of pesticide residue to begin with:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Sweet Peas (frozen)
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew Melons

Read more about the EWG’s findings here.

11. Buy in bulk when it makes sense

Warehouse clubs can be a great place to do your shopping because of the value they offer. And there are certain items you can buy at a warehouse club and store almost indefinitely for later use.

Products like honey, dried beans, maple syrup and rice are just a few things that are so shelf stable that they never really expire. So those are no-brainers to buy in bulk when they’re on sale and then use as needed.

Here’s our list of 9 foods that never really expire.

12. Check your receipt for wrong prices

receipt

You work hard for your money. Don’t let wrong prices at the register steal it from you!

If you notice an error, take your receipt and your purchase to the customer service desk and let them know. They’ll return your money if you were wrongfully overcharged.

Some grocery stores are really generous when it comes to fixing a pricing problem. For example, if you find something that rang up at the wrong price when you’re shopping at Publix, the grocery chain will give you that item for free!

“Our Publix Promise guarantees that if during checkout, the scanned price of an item (excluding alcohol and tobacco products) exceeds the shelf price or advertised price, we will give the customer one of that item free,” the company writes in its customer service FAQs.

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13. Get a good cash back credit card on groceries

Did you know you can put hundreds of dollars back in your wallet every year just by changing the plastic you use at the supermarket register?

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card offers 6% back on US supermarkets up to $6,000 each year, though there is a $95 annual fee. Any spending past the annual $6,000 threshold earns just 1% cash back on this card.

Of course, this tip is only for those who pay off their bill in full each month. If you don’t, you’ll pay more interest than you’ll get back in rewards.

RELATED: Best rewards credit cards: Team Clark’s picks

14. Check the clearance rack

big lots food clearance

Talk to your store’s manager and find out where they keep the clearance items. Many stores will have a dedicated rack or shelf. It’s also helpful to know when new stock is added to the clearance rack or aisle. If you’re first to find it, you can score some real deals!

15. Shop during senior discount days

Senior discounts are a dying breed of savings, but some grocery chains still offer them. Ask your local grocery stores if they give seniors a discount — typically 5% or 10% off the bill — for shopping on a certain day of the week.

TheSeniorList.com maintains an updated database of all the senior discounts they’re aware of and you only have to be 55 to get some of them!

But the best advice is this: Call ahead and confirm before showing up and expecting a discount.

16. Break packages at the meat counter to save money

deli worker with meat packages

Here’s how this works: Say you see a package of Italian sausages that contains six large links and is sold by the pound. But you’re a single person and maybe you only need two or three of those links.

Maybe you don’t want to buy too much because you’re a little tight on money this week. Just go to the window at the meat department and ask them to break the package for you.

That means they’ll open it up, take out the three links you want and repackage it for you on a new tray. Then they’ll shrink-wrap it, stick the new price tag on it and hand it back to you.

You’ll have a smaller package that you’ll pay less for versus the original package!

17. Shop at salvage stores

Salvage stores are a unique category of retail that sells canned food and other goods that are past expiration date.

That might sound gross, but many foods have longer lifespans than you’d think and they sell at a steep discount after the official expiration date printed on the package. Find the salvage store nearest you in this directory.

18. Be wary of sneaky product placement 

retail secrets shampoo

Retailers often put items with high profit margins front and center right at eye level on supermarket shelving. That’s because they know “eye level is buy level,” as the saying goes in the industry.

So if you really want to be a savvy shopper, you’ve got to look up, down and all around as you’re walking the aisles.

That’s sometimes where you’ll find the store brand or just second-tier brands that deliver acceptable quality for a lower price than the big name brands.

Want to dig really deep into the philosophy of product placement? Check out our article on a little-known retail secret that may trick right-handed shoppers into spending more money.

19. 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 alert you to sales that week, and you probably already receive the mailers that highlight various promotions — 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. Use pickup to avoid impulse buys 

Krogery Grocery Pickup parking

Another way to prevent impulse buys is to stay out of the store altogether!

Grocery pickup services — offered by mainstream retailers like Kroger, Target and Walmart, to name a few — allow you to order your groceries online and then have them brought out to you while you wait in your vehicle.

If something you order isn’t available, the store will make a substitution and tell you about it before you drive off.

21. Buy previously owned supermarket gift cards at a discount

Did you know you can get discounted gift cards for a variety of popular grocery stores online?

Sites like CardPool.com and GiftCardGranny.com are in the business of buying unwanted gift cards and reselling them at a discount from their face value. The sellers are people who have the gift cards but don’t want them.

At last check, here were some of the discounts being offered:

cardpool supermarket gift cards for sale

So, for example, you could get a $100 Trader Joe’s gift card for $95 online!

But these deals tend to sell out fast. Fortunately, you can set up alerts to know when a gift card for your grocery store becomes available.

22. Never shop on an empty stomach

We’ll give the final say in this article to a classic tip courtesy of Facebook poster Ann D.

“Never grocery shop on an empty stomach. Shop sales, use coupons for what you actually use…make a meal plan, shop during the week [and] look for the clearances.”

What are your favorite ways to save money on groceries? Share your tips below in the comments section and let us know!

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