If you’re trying to stick to a budget, it can be disheartening to watch so much of it disappear on groceries each week.
Food will always be one of our biggest expenses, alongside housing and transportation. According to the USDA, food prices rose by 12.4% between October 2021 and October 2022. This is a huge increase and has been felt by families across the nation.
Luckily, there are a few savvy shopping hacks that can help you reduce your total grocery bill by up to 20% depending on the size of your family and shopping list.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the best ways you can cut down on food costs (while still eating delicious dinners every night). Let’s get into it!
1. Create a Shopping List and Stick to It
Having a list and sticking to it is one of the best ways to decrease your food bill each month.
The first step of this process is taking full stock of your fridge, freezer, and pantry before going to the supermarket!
Make sure you don’t double up on any ingredients if you already have them at home; you’ll almost always have a couple of your required ingredients in stock already.
Additionally, creating a meal plan each week will give you more accuracy on what meals you actually need.
You should also consider how to use up what you already have without buying more.
Some sites, like AllRecipes and the Epicurious app, have extremely useful tools that allow you to input the ingredients you have at home and recommend suitable recipes.
This means you can minimize spending on new ingredients and use up things that may expire in the near future. It’s a win-win!
Once you have your grocery list, it’s time to head to the store.
Try not to get sidetracked by the alluring end caps and endless snacks. You don’t need to cut out treats entirely – just put them on your list and avoid impulsively purchasing them.
If you really struggle to avoid impulse buys when you’re shopping, you should consider ordering online for curbside pickup.
This lets you avoid all the temptation of walking through a store and saves you up to an hour per week in shopping for food. You can also use a promo code at Instacart to save on your first purchase.
Keep in mind that if you order delivery you’ll be paying a premium for the service! On the other hand, pickup is often free or only costs a small extra fee. It’s also a lot more convenient than walking around an entire store to find your items.
2. Use Coupons, Cashback & Join Rewards Programs
You should make full use of coupons, cashback, and other deals wherever you can. The discounts given by these are often small, but over time the money you save will add up to big amounts. Every little bit counts when you’re budgeting long-term.
Many stores have their own apps, including popular choices like Whole Foods, Aldi, and Sam’s Club. These apps can clue you into deals as they pop up, and will occasionally offer special discounts or rewards.
You can also get a credit card like a Citi Custom Cash, which gives a 5% cashback on groceries. This is a nice way to save money no matter what you get!
Make sure to research the credit card options available to you and find the best fit for your circumstances, and always make sure you can stay on top of your spending with them.
3. Buy Store Brand Products
Generic brand items will always be cheaper than name-brand ones.
Often, store-brand products are of the same (or even higher) quality! Many people even prefer generic brand items over their brand name equivalent. Wherever you can, avoid paying for name-brand items if there’s a generic alternative.
You should also keep an eye out for discounted items, which typically means they are going to expire soon.
You should double-check their best-before date prior to purchase and will need to use them up quickly. However, reduced items are excellent money-savers in general.
Finally, avoid foods with poor nutritional value where you can. These include items such as soda, popcorn, chips, and candy.
There’s no need to cut these out of your diet entirely; after all, everyone deserves a treat occasionally! However, they tend to be expensive without providing much nutritional value. They’re also the most common culprits when it comes to impulse buys as you head to the checkout.
If you can, leave the kids at home when you shop! It can be tempting to placate bored kids by putting treats in the cart while shopping. When you can cut down on these foods by just half, you’ll notice a significant difference in your monthly bottom line.
4. Reduce Food Waste
Over $408 billion worth of food is thrown out each year in the US. Whenever you throw rotten or expired food away, you’re throwing away the money spent on that item. If possible, avoid letting food expire (making a shopping list helps with this)!Make sure to store food properly, at the correct temperature, and ideally in sealed containers. Keep an eye on the items you have in stock and use things up quickly when they’re close to reaching their use-by.
To avoid things getting lost at the back of the fridge, you should place new food items behind old ones. This ensures you’re using the oldest items first.
If you can help it, avoid throwing out leftovers after a meal. Instead, freeze them! They make for great quick dinners or lunches even if you won’t be able to eat them in the next few days.
If your leftovers aren’t enough for a full meal, you could bulk them out with rice, potatoes or pasta, or whip up a salad to go alongside.
5. Meal Prep
Eating out or buying lunch at cafes can add up over time. These small expenses quickly add up to a monumental amount compared to cooking food at home.
By spending a few hours over the weekend, you can make one to two big meals and portion them out into bags or containers, you can have healthy food for the entire week at a fraction of the cost of eating out
Now, when you suddenly don’t have any ingredients or are just too exhausted to cook after work, you’ll have a super convenient, delicious meal ready in minutes. It’s a great backup plan to have at your disposal and removes the need to cook every weeknight.
6. Make Coffee at Home
In the US, the average woman spends $2,327 a year on coffee, while the average man spends $1,934.
Coffee is a hugely popular drink worldwide, with many people drinking one every morning.
However, a lot of those daily coffee drinkers regularly pick up their caffeine fix somewhere like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or McDonalds. Getting a coffee from one of these places is much more expensive than making it at home.
Y could save almost $750 a year by making your drink at home vs going to Stabucks or a similar coffee shop every morning. This includes the cost of the necessary equipment.
7. Avoid Convenience Stores
When all you need is a jug of milk or a couple of ingredients for dinner, it can be tempting to stop at a convenience store like 7-11, Casey’s, or QuikTrip.
However, the groceries at convenience stores are far more expensive than in grocery stores (oftentimes marked up over 50%). When you shop here, you’re paying for the convenience in addition to the product. If you can, avoid shopping at convenience and drugstores whenever possible – it’s just not worth the huge increase in price!
8. Try Meatless Meals
Don’t worry, carnivores! We’re not suggesting you become a vegetarian. However, cutting down on meat consumption just a little bit can make a huge difference to your budget. Meat is expensive. Where you can, you should buy meat in bulk when it’s on sale and store it in your freezer for later. This helps cut down on your expenses compared to buying each item as you need it.
You should also consider cutting meat from your diet for one or two days a week.
Protein-rich items like eggs, buckwheat, tofu, peanut butter, lentils, and beans can provide almost all the nutritional benefits of meat at far lower costs.
With thousands of incredible vegetarian recipes out there, you won’t miss the taste of meat at all (at least for a few nights).
9. Buy in Bulk
When you purchase in bulk, you almost always get a better deal than buying smaller amounts. If you bulk buy items on sale – even better!
However, you should make sure only to buy bulk if you know you can use the items before they go off. Bulk buying non-perishables like rice, pasta, canned goods, and toiletries is best. Otherwise, you should only buy what you’ll actually use.
You should also calculate the unit price of bulk items before buying to ensure you get a good deal.
You can do this by dividing the price by the number of items you receive. For example, if a box of 12 cans of beans costs $24, then the unit price (price of one can) is $2.
10. Pay With Cash
When you use a credit card, you have to pay credit card fees, which can add up over time.
However, using cash has another benefit. When you bring cash to the store, you know exactly how much you can spend, and have no leeway to spend more. This can be great if you struggle to stay under budget each month.
At the start of the month, take out your monthly food budget in cash. Divide this into four envelopes. When you go shopping, grab one envelope to pay. This limits you to exactly your budget and forces you to consider each item you grab seriously.
11. Try Out Farmer’s Markets
Farmer’s markets aren’t always cheaper than buying from the store, but if you visit near the end of the market, you can get some amazing deals.
Farmers don’t want to throw out the produce no one bought. So, they’re often willing to mark down their products or negotiate with you for a cheaper price at the end of the day.
Farmers' markets are also a great place to find in-season vegetables and fruit. Always buy in-season when you can! Food bought out of season will always be more expensive due to export costs (and often tastes worse to boot).
12. Keep a Spending Journal
A spending journal is a daily notebook that helps you keep track of expenses and transactions.
This lets you see an overview of each month of your spending and understand which areas are costing you the most on average. If you’re struggling to budget, this can be really useful, all you have to do is save your recepit.
This helps you stay aware of how much you’ve spent and will make you more cautious when grabbing unnecessary items. It also lets you know if you have some wiggle room for treats.
Whenever you check out, you should double-check your receipt and items. Cashiers are human too, and sometimes make mistakes. Ensure that you haven’t been double charged and that all your discounts and coupons have been applied.
13. Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry
When we shop on an empty stomach we purchase far more on average. According to research, this includes both food and non-food items.
It can be hard to resist all the tasty things around you when you’re hungry. So, make sure you eat before you shop! If you get into this habit, you might be surprised at how much easier it gets to avoid impulse buying.
How Much Do Families Normally Spend on Groceries?
The cost of groceries depends heavily on where you live, your dietary preferences and needs, and how many people are in your household. It also depends on your spending habits and income.
Generally, people who earn more spend more on food each week.
The US Department of Agriculture has created estimates of how much a family should spend on food each month, with a range of 4 budget types. These can be a great benchmark for setting your own food budget.
According to the USDA report, a family with two adults and two children should spend the following each month:
- Thrifty Budget: $973.10
- Low-cost Budget: $1,051.20
- Moderate-cost Budget: $1,306.20
- Liberal Budget: $1,577.40
To reiterate, these are guidelines. Your budget will vary depending on your situation and needs.
Unfortunately, if someone in your family has special dietary requirements, such as gluten- or dairy-free, your groceries will be more expensive.
Which Stores are the Cheapest for Buying Groceries?
There are plenty of options if you’re an American looking for an affordable grocery store. Some of the best include Aldi, WinCo, Lidl, Costco and Walmart.
Aldi has some of the cheapest groceries around. It’s also one of the most popular grocery stores in the US, despite its German origins.
They do everything they can to keep costs low, eliminating unnecessary costs to offer you the best prices possible. They also have a constantly changing rotation of specials that are definitely worth keeping an eye on.
With 138 locations across the West Coast of the US, WinCo stores are a lot like Costco and Sam’s Club but without the expensive membership fees. They provide bulk-purchasing of goods with minimal costs, thanks mostly to their simplistic structure. Their goods are in transport crates on undecorated shelves, with no baggers or advertising to be seen.
They also don’t accept credit cards, avoiding credit card fees entirely. All of this means they can provide great prices without the membership fee required by similar competitors like Costco.
Another German company, Lidl offers a wide variety of affordable groceries.
They’ve been operating since the 70’s, and now stretch across most of the East Coast. Their stores have a huge variety of products available for great prices.
Beyond groceries, they also offer things like kitchen appliances, gardening tools, and other miscellaneous items. They also have a great range of spices for much cheaper than most other places.
These shops are known for their uncomplicated decor, efficient methods, and endless bulk purchasing options. They’ve got pretty much every grocery item you can think of in huge, bulk packages.
The biggest danger when shopping at Costco is that it’s incredibly easy to visit for a pack of toilet paper and emerge with seven bulk boxes of jam you didn’t really need. If you struggle with impulse buys, it may not be a great option!
However, if you don’t, Costco is a great place for cheap, bulk foods that won’t expire for a while.
Additionally, their home brand Kirklands has some excellent products that easily match or exceed the usual brand names.
Walmart is one of America’s favorite stores. They stretch across the country and carry pretty much everything, including clothes, kitchen appliances, gardening tools, makeup, toiletries, gifts, and food.
Much like Costco, there is a high risk of impulse buying here. However, if you can resist the temptation, Walmart is a great general grocery store for cheap items, especially if you use a verified Walmart promo code. They have all the usual staples and some decent store-brand items.
For anyone dealing with dietary restrictions Walmart also has a pretty good range of keto, gluten-free, and organic items.