Do you frequently find yourself spending way too much at the grocery store? Would you like to save money on groceries without wasting your time shopping at multiple stores or clipping unnecessary coupons?
We’ve all heard about coupon “queens”, and most of us realize their methods won’t work for us. After all, who wants to spend hours clipping coupons and bouncing between 20 different stores just to “score” 10 boxes of fruit snacks? Not me.
You don’t have to give in to overspending at the grocery store. Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be a full-time job. I’ll show you 10 simple ways to save money on groceries that are quick, easy and painless.
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10 Simple Ways to Save Money on Groceries
- Plan your meals and shop with a list. This is by far the most important thing you can do in order to save money on groceries. If you don’t go into the store with a plan, you will overspend. Period. I’m not saying you have to have a detailed menu planned for the week (unless you prefer to). I usually use a master list of meals which I can choose from once I get to the store and see what’s on sale. Also, make sure you have a list of any food items you are running low on or are out of.
Stalk (stock) the store.
- Shop on the store’s re-stocking days. Grocery stores operate on a schedule. Most grocery stores re-stock merchandise twice per week. While independent vendors will come into the store to stock their goods throughout the week, there are two days per week when the store will receive a large shipment of items to stock. Find out what days your store’s truck comes in and shop on one of those days. Why? Because, the night before or the morning of a shipment, the store must make way for new items. Which means, they will mark down multiple items in order to open up shelf space. Usually, they will place the marked-down items in the same location of the store each week.
- Price match. The larger chains of grocery stores will almost always match the prices of their competitors. The only thing you need to do is show the cashier or customer service clerk the other store’s ad. If you don’t have the paper ad with you, they will almost always accept a digital version.
Don’t be afraid of “expired” meat.
- Pay attention to the sell-by dates on meats. For the majority of people (except vegetarians), meat is the costliest item in our grocery budget. To make matters worse, coupons aren’t readily available for unprocessed meat. However, it is still possible to find good deals on meat at your grocery store. Don’t be afraid to purchase meat that has been marked down. Always check the sell-by dates when you are grocery shopping. I’ve been known to hold off on buying meat when I see a bunch with the same sell-by date. I will come back on that date and stock up. When meat is not sold by the sell-by date, the store will mark it down. In fact, they usually mark it down a lot because they want to sell it that very day (since they are not legally allowed to sell it past its sell-by date). Also, I never buy meat on the weekend. Most of the time, the grocery store will put out loads of meat on Friday (especially during the grilling season). Any meat remaining on Monday morning is marked down. You don’t have to actually cook the meat by the sell-by date. If you freeze it, it will be perfectly safe to eat as long as you thaw it and cook it within the recommended time frame.
Everything has its season.
- Learn the sales cycles. Sales cycles, just like grocery stores operate on a schedule. Check out this post from Your Own Home Store for a printable list of grocery store sales cycles broken down by month.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season. Unless you live in a tropical climate where fruits and vegetables are grown year-round (and if you do, I envy you), you will pay more if you decide to buy a watermelon in the middle of December. If you are trying to save money on groceries, purchase your fruit and vegetables when they are the cheapest. Here’s a handy seasonal produce guide.
Write your own “book”.
- Create a price book (or use an app). Would you like your own personal price guide so you can be sure you are getting your groceries at the lowest possible prices? If you are unsure of the sales cycles in your area, you can determine them on your own by creating a price book. There are two ways to create a price book. The first method is to use an app such as ValueTracker (on ios) or Sharky Shopping (for Android). These apps are quite handy and will do most of the work for you.
The second option is to create your own price book. First, grab a spiral notebook. Using one page per item you would like to track, make a column for each of the following categories: product, store, brand, size/price and unit price. I recommend you start out by tracking the top ten items you most frequently purchase. Any more, and you’re likely to become frustrated. As you shop for the item, or once you get home with the receipt, fill out the information in your price book.
Here’s an example: you purchase a 40 oz. jar of Skippy peanut butter for $4.80 at Publix Supermarket. In the first column of your price book, you will write “peanut butter”. In the second column, you will note the store you bought it at (eg. Publix). The third row will contain the brand name, which is Skippy. In the fourth row, you will write down the size of the item (40 oz.) as well as the price you paid ($4.80). The final column will require math to complete but don’t worry, it’s easy and most of the time the store does it for you. You will need to calculate the price per unit of the peanut butter. Usually, the store will have a sticker on the front of the shelf with this information. If they don’t, or if you are filling out your price book at home with only a receipt to go by, you will need to do the math.
To calculate a product’s price per unit, you simply divide the cost of the item by the number of units. In our example, the price per unit of a 40 oz. jar of peanut butter purchased for $4.80 comes to $0.12 per ounce. Because 4.80 divided by 40, equals .12.
Celebrate “National Peanut Month”.
Once you have gathered data in your price book over a period of 1-2 months, you will start to see a pattern. You may discover you paid more the second week you purchased peanut butter and much less 4 weeks later. Congratulations! You have discovered the sales cycle for peanut butter. Try to purchase enough peanut butter in week six to last you for the next six weeks. Then, you will always be paying the lowest price possible for peanut butter. On a side note, you may want to wait until March and purchase enough peanut butter for the whole year. Why? Because March is “National Peanut Month”, therefore, peanut butter is likely to be super cheap!
Stock Pile (sort of)
- When you come across a good deal, stock up. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to stock up when you find a really good sale. If you are using a price book (or app), you will learn to anticipate these sales. Regularly set aside money in your grocery budget to be used for these deals. Pretty soon, you will be on your way to a well-stocked pantry.
- Shop weekly or biweekly. Because my husband gets paid once per month, I used to think I should grocery shop once per month as well. What I discovered, however, is that by shopping once per month, I was overspending on groceries. I would head to the big box membership store, stock up on everything I thought my family might need for the month, and head out after forking over all of my cash. The problem with this method was that I would almost always under or over-buy for the month. Which, in turn, meant weekly stops to our local grocery store to purchase items we ran out of (more money), or not having the cash available to fund other expenses because I had already spent it on stuff we didn’t need.
For this reason, to save money on groceries, I recommend shopping weekly or biweekly. When you run out of an item midweek and you know you will be grocery shopping again soon, you will be able to make-do until your scheduled shopping trip. This will keep you from making unnecessary (and costly) extra trips to the grocery store.
Also, by choosing to grocery shop once per week or once every two weeks, you will be able to track and shop the sales, which will save you money.
- Use coupons and money saving apps after you make your list. After you’ve made your grocery list (in step one), clip or print coupons for the items you need. Notice I did not say to sort through your coupons and shop accordingly. I got myself into a lot of trouble when I used to follow this method. My thought process looked like this, “Oh look, I have a coupon! I should buy this.” Nevermind the fact that the items either weren’t on my grocery list or were things I would not have purchased if I didn’t see the coupon in the first place. This applies to coupon apps as well. Wait until after you’ve made your list to see what’s available on the app.
Coupons.com and Ibotta are both wonderful resources to help you save money on groceries.
Now it’s up to you. Go shopping and start saving!
*If you need help with your budget, Rosemarie of busybudgeter.com has an awesome, jam-packed 90-Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook which goes along with her (free) 90-Day Budget Bootcamp program. This workbook has helped thousands of people change their spending habits, get out of debt, and save money. Get yours today!