Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten to the grocery store checkout line only to have your jaw drop at the insane amount you owe. ($7.30 for blueberries? What?!) No more, so long as you use these 17 genius tips for how to save money on groceries.
1. Plan, plan, plan
We can’t stress this one enough. Plan recipes for the entire week, making sure that they use some of the same ingredients. (Say, stuffed peppers on Monday and stir-fry with peppers on Wednesday.) Next, make a list. Knowing exactly what you need ensures that you won’t spend money on ingredients you won’t use.
2. Shop alone
When you shop with kids or significant others, you’re way more likely to be coaxed into buying stuff you don’t actually need. Go it alone and stick to buying what you know you need without peer pressure.
3. Stock up on sales
When things you buy regularly go on sale, take advantage. Just be aware of the item’s shelf life, lest you spend money on stuff that will go bad before you’re able to use it.
4. Write a reverse shopping list
Back to that shopping list: Have you ever accidentally bought something at the grocery store only to realize you already had said item gathering dust in a dark corner of your pantry? (Here, curry powder, I brought you home a friend!) Avoid this scenario by writing a reverse shopping list. The process here, which begins with a comprehensive list of everything you keep in your kitchen, is front-loaded—but once you have your spreadsheet set up, all you need to do is take a quick inventory by crossing off everything you don’t need before you head to the store.
5. Skip the prepared foods aisle
Obviously, it’s way easier to grab a big container of quinoa salad, but the cost ($8) is significantly more than that of making it yourself (about $4).
6. Know where to look
Name-brand items, which are usually the most expensive, are typically placed at eye level. As you walk through the aisles, look up or down, where the cheaper, generic brand versions are located.
7. Prep your own produce
Chopping fruits and veggies can be a pain, but you pay a big price for the convenience of having the grocery store do it for you. If you skip the pre-cut cantaloupe and container of neatly julienned carrot sticks and DIY instead, you’ll save a significant amount of money. Plus, pre-cut fruits are a major culprit in listeria outbreaks, so you’ll potentially be sparing yourself a tango with a nasty pathogen, too.
8. Shop in season
When fruits and vegetables are out of season, the store charges a lot more for them (say, $7 blueberries) since they’re not as readily available. Plan your meals around what’s in season to save money—and get better produce to boot.
9. Try meatless Mondays
Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. By making filling, delicious vegetarian dishes, you’ll save money. (Psst: If you really can’t go totally meatless, relegate chicken, steak and fish to side dishes, so you’ll need less of them.)
10. Buy in bulk
If you have multiple mouths to feed at home, we don’t need to tell you the benefits of springing for the ‘family size’ option whenever possible. Still, even if you don’t have a big brood, bulk buys save big money, especially on items that don’t spoil. A can of beans, for example, costs $1.29 and gives you only about 3 servings, while a bag of dried beans runs $1.49 for 10 servings. (Hint: This also applies to the bulk section for dried fruits, nuts and pasta—so cut out the costly packaging and bag your own.)
11. Don’t buy serving size portions
Similar to the point above, you can save yourself some serious dough by buying your favorite items in a larger size. Yes, those small yogurt cups are convenient, but perfectly portioned products cost more to package. Instead, invest in a good set of Tupperware, buy the regular sized packages and divvy it up yourself.
12. Buy frozen when you can
Contrary to popular belief, frozen food isn’t inherently less healthy than its fresh counterpart. In fact, fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak—so they’re a great alternative to pricey produce that’s out of season. Plus, they’re cheaper and last longer. Win, win!
13. Partner up
If you’ve got a roommate, family member or friend who lives nearby, consider going halfsies on items you need to have on hand, but often waste. This arrangement can be especially helpful for fresh herbs and other items that are sold in large quantities relative to what any given recipe calls for. This also works for budget-friendly bulk buys—you know, so you can enjoy the savings from that family pack of salmon filets without sacrificing all your freezer real estate.
14. Earn rewards
We get it: By the time you’ve filled your cart and arrived at the checkout aisle, it feels like you’ve just run a marathon and you’re ready to get out fast. As such, it’s tempting to bail on the two-minute process of sharing your email address and phone number to sign up for a rewards program—but please just bite the bullet and do it, ‘cause these loyalty clubs really do earn you significant savings over time.
15. Buy rotisserie chicken
You know how we said to skip the prepared food section? Well, rotisserie chickens are one major exception. In fact, a whole, roasted chicken is one of the very few meals that often costs more to make at home. The reason for this is that most grocery stores minimize food waste and save money by cooking up raw chickens from the butcher counter when there’s a surplus that just isn’t going to sell; then, significant savings get passed onto you, both in terms of cold hard cash and the time it would otherwise take you to roast your own. Bottom line: Rotisserie chickens are a genuine steal—and anyone who has wolfed down one of these birds while it’s still warm and juicy will tell you that they’re downright delicious, too.
16. Play the long game in the produce section
People love to squeeze and grope fruit in the produce section in search of the ripest and readiest piece. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, per se, provided you plan to make short work of whatever you buy. But you could save yourself some serious cash by buying underripe fruit instead, so you can stretch out your stash and avoid wasting food.
17. Switch up your grocery store
If you’ve diligently followed all these tips and still feel like you’re spending an inordinate amount of money at the store, it might be time to bring your business elsewhere. Take a break from your regular stomping grounds and head to a nearby competitor to see what the damage is—you might discover you’ve been getting fleeced all along.