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The Best Ways to Save Money on Groceries

Published December 18, 2020

6 minute read

Cora Walker

By Cora Walker

Grocery stores are our go-to retailers for things like food, personal care items, cleaning products, and other consumables that keep our households going. However, it’s also possible (and even likely) that you’re paying too much for these necessities. Economists have even noted that the price of groceries has outpaced inflation. That means people are paying a larger percentage of their income towards must-haves like food, while the amount they make at their jobs hasn’t changed much.

This results in people across the board feeling the pinch when they stop at their local grocery, drug store, or supermarket. Fortunately, we have a few simple habit-forming tips that can help you save money on your next supply run.

Stock Up On Staples

This is going to come up again but planning ahead is key. Identifying your personal diet staples, buying bulk, and looking for sales on those items will save you time and money even if you don’t follow any of the other tips on this list.

Though this can vary depending on our diets, most North American meals are built on a foundation of potatoes, wheat, rice, beans, or another starch. It’s easy to see why—they are usually cheap, plentiful, and versatile enough to compliment whatever else is on the plate or soak up favorite flavor palettes. They also tend to last. Uncooked potatoes can last in the fridge for 2-3 months, while dried rice lasts 1-2 years (sometimes longer).

At Walmart right now, you can get a 5lb bag of russet potatoes for $1.77. Likewise, Walmart is also selling a 5lb bag of jasmine rice for $5.48. These are both pretty good prices for something that can form the foundation of many meals for weeks to come.

Spend A Little More to Save Per Unit

When given the choice between a small quantity of an item at a lower price and a larger quantity at a higher price, it can be tempting to go with the option that looks cheaper. However, this isn’t always as budget friendly as it appears.

For items that you use all the time, it can be helpful to do a little on-the-go math in the store to figure out the item’s price per unit (PPU). Let’s look at a hypothetical example of two packages of frozen personal pizzas. Say you can get a package of 2 for $4, but a package of 5 for $9. The price of the pizzas in the package of 2 is $2, while the price of each pizza in the pack of 5 is $1.50. There are other things to keep in mind like storage space—or if you’ll really use everything in the box—but it’s one simple trick to making sure your money goes just a little bit further.

Buy Products Marketed to Men

If you already buy products marketed to men, then you can skip this step!

It’s frustrating but true. The “Pink Tax” is real. Products marketed to women can cost anywhere from 6%-to-48% more than functionally similar products targeting men. When you’re trying to save every penny you possibly can at the grocery store, even small price differences can be noticeable over time.

While this isn’t always avoidable for some hygiene products, looking at the men’s side of the aisle for personal care essentials like razors, shampoos, deodorant, and body wash is one way to save money on items that you need to buy again and again.

Don’t Go to the Store Hungry

This may be a familiar scenario: you’ve just gotten off work and the store is right on the way home. You need to stock up, so you decide to do your shopping before you have dinner and then make food at home. It sounds simple, responsible. Unfortunately, after you’ve been pushing your cart for a bit, you find that everything starts looking, well, good. The frozen aisle is a veritable smorgasbord, you realize you haven’t had your favorite sugary soda in a while, and it feels humanly possible to go to town on an entire loaf of bread right in sight of the bakery.

We’ve likely all done this and felt the impact of our resulting impulse purchases on our grocery budget. Shopping when you’re hungry can cause a well-planned and financially savvy grocery list to go out the window. Our advice? Have a healthy snack or if you can, hit up the store after dinner and a quick refresher at home.

Learn to Cook Your Favorite Meals (And Sweets)

While most of us haven’t done a lot of eating in restaurants in 2020, it’s worth keeping in mind exactly what you’re paying for when you eat out. Whether you only go to your favorite establishment for special occasions or they know your name, it’s natural to just want to kick back at the end of a long day and have exactly the dinner you want, exactly the way you want it.

However, at the end of the day, you are paying for service and convenience provided by skilled professionals. That comes at a premium, and it can give you less flexibility when you’re trying to save money on something that you need every single day like food. You don’t need to become a master chef, but learning how to make a few simple meals that you are happy with and you can prepare at home—and maybe splurging on supplies or effort for a favorite meal—saves you from a lot of additional costs. While this won’t directly save you money at checkout, it does give you more to spend the next time you go shopping.

This goes doubly for sweets. Pastries are often sold at a premium, so getting your own flour, sugar, and butter and learning how to bake will be another major money saver.

Reach for the Back of the Shelf

Time is money, and that’s especially true when it comes to an expiration date. No one wants food waste. The longer something lasts, the less of a chance there is of it spoiling before you ever get a chance to use it. Though items at the very front of the shelf or refrigerator catch our eye and can look enticing, it can be worth it to reach back a little further to find the package with the expiration date that’s furthest out. Future You will appreciate the effort.

Be Okay With a Little Repetition

This goes back to our first point about buying in bulk, and our later note about learning to cook a few simple meals that you like. The truth of the matter is that saving money on groceries is sometimes kind of…boring. Making a meal plan for the next two weeks allows you to buy essentials in bulk, but it also means you might be eating the same thing for a minute. Be sure to work variety into your meal plan so you don’t get bored halfway through.

f you really can’t have another bite of that lasagna you made, throwing it in the freezer before it goes bad can leave you with a food-related windfall the next time you have a craving.

Buy Frozen Over Fresh or Canned

Here’s one last tip: frozen fruits and vegetables get a bad rap.

They’re actually great.

Not only are they a lot cheaper than buying fresh, they’re easy to cook with and last a long time when stored at the proper temperatures. Frozen options are also typically more nutritious than canned or jarred foods, which need to be cooked or pickled as part of the canning process. Buying frozen also helps cut down on food waste, as fruits and vegetables might spoil on the counter while you’re waiting to use them. This is about the same as tossing money directly into an open flame (note: we do not advise you to toss money into an open flame).

It’s true that it’s not quite the same as buying fresh, but their practicality is unmatched. Go ahead and try it: throw some frozen mixed veggies into a stir fry with your sauce of choice. You probably won’t notice the difference, but your wallet absolutely will.

Woman Paying for Groceries at Checkout

Shutterstock

Cora Walker

Contributor

Cora is a Northwest-based writer and editor who wants to make information as accessible as possible in the internet age. Video games are this writer’s primary vice. With a degree from the University of Washington as well as 5+ years of experience in web writing and publishing, Cora is here to share financial tips from experts and talk about good habits.

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