How to Save Money on Groceries for Cooks on a Budget
Coupons aren't the only way to cut costs.
The average American spent $4,464 per year ($372 per month) on groceries in 2018, according to a Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a 2.3 percent increase from 2017. As grocery store spending continues to rise, consumers are looking for new ways to save.
How much should you really be spending on groceries anyways? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks it up into four "food plans," each of which represents a nutritious diet at a different cost. From lowest cost to highest cost the food plans are as follows: Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal.
This data is updated monthly, and is broken out based on age, sex, and size of family. So how much should you be spending on groceries then? According to the March 2020 Food Plans, costs for a single person could be anywhere from $96.40 to $373.40 per month. Refer to the chart to get the estimate for your demographic.
If the idea of cutting your grocery bill to the recommended amount seems ludicrous, we have some tips for you. Planning ahead is the key to success, and these money-saving tips will help you reach your grocery budget goals. Keep reading for 15 ways to save money on your next grocery trip.
15 Ways to Save Money on Groceries
1. Make a budget.
Setting up a monthly budget is the first step towards reaching your grocery spending goals, and it's the most crucial one of all. There are a number of apps and online resources that can help you create a monthly budget — I use the EveryDollar app.
Some months you may go over your grocery budget, and other months you be a little under. That's ok! While budgeting may seem like a rigid system, it can actually be quite flexible and allow for more freedom in spending.
Say you've budgeted an allotted amount for eating out this month, and you happen to under spend on groceries this month too. Put that extra money towards a nice meal out, after all, you've budgeted for it!
2. Keep it casual.
Okay, this is Allrecipes, so of course we're all about a splurge dinner every once in a while. But if you set an expectation that every night requires a full-on feast for your family, you're setting yourself up to blow your budget.
Browse our collection of budget recipes, for low-cost dinner inspiration. And if you do want to have that fancy meal every once in a while, factor that cost in when creating your monthly grocery budget.
3. Shop your kitchen.
Before you even decide what meals to make this week, look at what you already have. Check your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and every corner of your kitchen cabinet (hey, you never know what gems you might find in there).
Instead of choosing recipes that require you to go out and buy all new ingredients, try to pick ones that already include some ingredients you have on hand. If you can't think of anything new to do with that bag of dried beans in the back of your pantry, you can always search for recipes by ingredient on our site. Consider it a fun challenge, almost like Chopped.
4. Meal plan like it's your job.
Meal planning sounds like a lot of work, and maybe that's because it has become equated with cooking all day on Sunday so you can have perfectly portioned meals ready to go throughout the week. While this is one way to meal plan, it certainly isn't the only way.
In essence, meal planning simply refers to asking what's for dinner ahead of time, instead of the night of. This means you will take time each week to determine what you will make for every meal of the week. But isn't that better than trying to decide in the moment? Once you have your recipes, then you have your grocery list.
Meal planning inherently leads to frugality, because it forces you to only buy what you will actually need for that week. Not what you think you might need. Not only does this save you money, but it also helps reduce food waste as well.
5. Choose your grocery store wisely.
I don't have to tell you this, but your bill can look a lot different depending on where you shop. One way to make sure you're getting the best price on your groceries is to use the stores' websites or apps to see the exact prices on the items you're looking to purchase.
A quick cross comparison will help you make the decision as to which store to go to, and it may not be the same one every week. You may even be able to access some digital coupons through these apps as well.
6. Cut your coupons.
This tried and true method is still around for a reason: it works. I have fond memories of my mom clipping coupons on our living room floor every Saturday morning. I could never understand why she would go to such effort to save less than a dollar on produce. But now I can finally say, I get it, Mom.
But couponing today doesn't look the same as it did then. Sites like coupons.com allow you to scour the internet for the best deals, instead of simply relying on what you get in the local newspaper. However, the store's circular is always a good way to know what deals you can score each week.
If you're really coupon savvy, you can even plan your meals around what deals and coupons are available. And don't be discouraged by the seemingly meager savings you see on each coupon, It adds up!
7. Stick with what's in season.
Cooking seasonally isn't only a fun way to connect with the farm to table food process, but it's also cheaper! In-season produce costs less because the supply is high, and oftentimes it doesn't have to be transported as far. Plus, it will taste so much better. As you meal plan and look for deals, you'll likely find that deals on in-season produce make an appearance in the store's weekly circular.
8. Carry your calculator.
Well, I should really just say your phone. Crunching the numbers as you shop will keep you accountable to your budgeting goals. We're all guilty of throwing in a little something extra in the cart on an impulse. But when you actually add up the total and see how those big ticket items (i.e. wine, fancy cheeses, novelty desserts) can bust your budget, you're less likely to throw them in the cart. Plus, you'll save yourself the heartbreak when you get to the checkout.
9. Look past the obvious.
Grocery stores can be sneaky — they typically put the pricier, name-brand products right at eye level so you're tempted to just grab the first one you see and go. But with a quick glance up or down, you're likely to find some better prices hiding just out of sight. Be sure to scan the shelves from top to bottom to find the best deal.
10. Prep ingredients yourself.
Some are willing to pay higher prices for convenience, which is completely understandable. But for those of us trying to stick to a strict budget, there are some ingredients that aren't worth paying extra for simply to cut down on prep time.
For example, pre-bagged and pre-washed lettuce is certainly convenient, but it can cost almost double the price of a head of lettuce. Instead, opt for whole heads of lettuce or bunches of greens and wash and chop them yourself.
Another example is fresh shrimp, which is higher in price than frozen shrimp. But what you may not know is, unless you're getting it from a reliable fishmonger, the fresh shrimp found in the grocery store is actually previously frozen shrimp that has been thawed. So buying frozen shrimp and thawing it yourself is definitely worth it for the savings!
Other examples of ingredients not worth paying extra for include grated or shredded cheeses (the blocks are cheaper) and canned beans (dried beans are so easy to cook, and much more economical).
11. Remember bulk isn't always better.
You might have heard before that buying ingredients in bulk will save you money in the long term, but this isn't always the case. When buying in bulk, always be sure to compare the price per unit or ounce to make sure you’re actually saving.
Perishable items may not be the best option for buying in bulk. Unless it's an ingredient you know your family will use up in time, stick to non perishable bulk items like cereal, dried beans, and grains.
12. Opt for generic.
If shopping generic products is stepping out of your comfort zone, we understand. We all have those name-brand products we know and love. And this is okay! But consider branching away from your favorite name brands and trying the generic version instead. Often, there are very few differences. Many times, the higher price for name brand products is due to packaging or marketing, not a quality difference in the actual products.
13. Don't shop hungry.
What's the best way to make a list and stick to it too? Don't shop hungry. This may be an old adage you've heard many times before, but it bears some truth.
If you haven't had lunch before your shopping trip, you may be really tempted to go for that two for one ice cream deal that you hadn’t planned on getting. Don't do it! Always stick to your list.
14. Track your spending.
This one goes without saying, but keep track of what you actually spend on your groceries, not just what you budgeted for. Use your budgeting app, or whatever way you prefer to track your expenses, and plug in what you spent on groceries as soon as you get in the car. This way it doesn't slip your mind later. This helps you to evaluate where you might be overspending, and how you can adjust next time to make up for it.
15. Make your freezer your friend.
If you don't already love your freezer, it's time to start. There are so many things you would never think to put in your freezer that actually freeze quite well (including milk and cheese). Make the most of what you paid for by freezing leftovers, produce, and more.