By: Danielle Pietersen | January 12th 2021
Saving money on your groceries can seem like a daunting task, but with a little planning and some careful budgeting, you can start saving today.
How Much Can You Save?
According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans are spending around 10% of their take-home income on food. It’s easy to spend far more or substantially less on your grocery budget each month. How much you can save depends a lot on how much you’re currently spending and how many people you need to feed. If you’re eating out regularly and reaching for expensive convenience foods, then you will be able to make significant changes and save up to half of the amount you’re spending now.
Read on for a few simple tips to cut your grocery budget.
1. Meal Planning
Meal planning can help reduce your budget substantially. If you’re not planning your meals in advance, you’re going to find yourself reaching for convenient options that often end up being less healthy and more expensive.
Plan your meals carefully in advance and make a grocery list of all the items that you need to make the meals you have planned. Some people do a monthly meal plan, but if you’re new to meal planning, it’s probably a better idea to start with a weekly meal plan or even a 3-day meal plan while you ease into the new habit.
2. Change The Way You Eat
Saving money on your groceries doesn’t mean that you have to make unhealthy choices. With a little planning and some top tips, you can plan cheap meals that are full of healthy whole foods and fresh produce. Changing the way you eat might sound like a drastic step to take, but for most people, it is the key to making big savings on their grocery bills.
Fill Your Plate With the “Cheap” Foods
Generally, meat is the most expensive part of the meal, followed by dairy, then vegetables. Starches are usually the cheapest part of the meal. Obviously, there can be exceptions to this rule, but as a general principle, you want to be filling your plate with healthy starches and veggies and then using small amounts of meat and dairy.
Choose Low-cost Options With Big Flavours
Start putting together a list of cheaper meals that you can add to your meal plan. Simple soups and meals that are based around dried beans and legumes are great meals to make when you want to save money on groceries. Simple Mexican or Italian dishes are often healthy and make use of plenty of starches, beans, and fresh veggies without compromising on flavor. Just go easy on the cheeses to save your budget and your waistline.
3. Eat What’s in Your Fridge
When you plan your meals, plan them so that you don’t waste. Food that ends up going bad in your fridge is actually money that you’ve wasted. Are you using half a lettuce for dinner on Monday? Plan a meal on Tuesday or Wednesday that will use up the other half.
4. Eat Seasonal Foods and Buy Local
Veggies that are in season and grown in your area are cheaper than veggies which need to be imported or transported from other areas of the country (or other countries). The bonus is that they are usually far more delicious as well. A farmer’s market is a great place to get fresh, healthy fruit and veggies. You can support local farmers and save money on your grocery bill at the same time. Be sure you know your prices though and don’t assume farmer’s markets are always cheaper. Sometimes you need to shop around to find good deals.
Do The Cheap One’s Well
Start making a note of vegetables that are cheap in your area and what time of year they are available so that you can plan your meals around them. Look for recipes and learn to cook cheap vegetables well. Obviously, you can still splurge on more expensive vegetables, but make the cheap ones the staples on your plates. There are so many ways you can make one vegetable the star of many different shows.
Frozen Can Be Cheaper
Sometimes it works out cheaper to buy frozen vegetables, especially if you need something that isn’t in season. Compare prices and remember that frozen veggies are convenient and can help you from reaching for more expensive items when you’re low on time. Just because they’re frozen, it doesn’t mean they’re not as healthy!
5. Choose Where You Shop
You can save a lot of money by carefully choosing where you do your shopping. Choosing a low-cost grocery store over your most convenient local grocery store can help you save money on your weekly shop. Shop around and compare prices in your area and according to the types of foods that you buy. In general, though, stores like Costco, Aldi, Walmart, and even Amazon are retailers that offer good pricing and should stock most of the items on your shopping list.
6. Shop Online
Doing your groceries online can help you make careful and convenient choices while avoiding overspending and impulse purchases. Covid had forced many people to discover the joys of online shopping for the first time.
When you shop online you can check how much your grocery purchase will cost before you reach the checkout. This allows you to adjust what you are buying without needing to calculate your spending while you walk around the grocery store.
7. Use An App To Increase Your Savings
Swagbucks is a great website to check out if you want to save money on food online. They offer cashback and rewards when you shop online and they automatically find and apply coupons to your online purchases, which can add up to a big saving for almost no effort. If you prefer to stick to traditional couponing, they also have coupons that you can print out and take to your favorite stores.
8. Compare Prices
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s really important to check the prices of similar items and compare them before you buy. Remember to compare unit prices when you’re comparing items. Check the cost per pound, ounce, or gallon, not the total cost of the item. Store brand items are often cheaper per unit than name brands. Don’t be afraid to try a brand that is different from your usual brand. Stores usually place more expensive items at eye level and the cheaper items are often placed on the bottom shelf. A little extra effort can add up to a decent saving over a week or a month of groceries.
Remember to compare the prices of your fresh fruits and vegetables as well. Pre-cut produce is much more convenient, but also usually costs at least three times as much as buying unprocessed produce. It’s not a hard and fast rule and sometimes there are good deals to be had, so always compare.
9. Buy In Bulk, But Be Careful
It’s a great idea to stock up on items that are discounted, and in the long run, it can actually save you a fair amount on your grocery bills. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re buying in bulk though.
Only Buy Things That You Usually Use And Need
Stocking up on staples that you use regularly and which are usually a part of your grocery budget can help you make some grocery savings in the coming months. Buying a large amount of a luxury item that you don’t usually buy, or items which you’re not sure you’ll end up making meals with, could end up costing you more than you would have spent if you just didn’t buy them.
Don’t Use More Than You Usually Would
When you have a freezer full of cheese that you got at a bargain price, it’s tempting to start covering every meal in cheese. As you can imagine, that’s going to end up increasing the cost of each meal you serve instead of helping you save. If you buy in bulk, you need to be disciplined and not increase the size and cost of meals that you’re preparing. Just because you have a full cupboard and a bursting freezer, doesn’t mean you should get heavy-handed with ingredients. If you know the temptation will be too great, then you might be better off avoiding bulk purchases.
Use It Before It Goes Bad
One of the reasons that items are discounted is because they are nearing their sell-by date. Snapping up discounted items is a great way to save on your grocery shopping, just make sure you can be flexible enough in your meal planning to use up everything you buy before it (or the other items in your fridge) goes bad.
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