Trips to the grocery store can be expensive, especially if you have a lot of mouths to feed. The average U.S. household spends $4,942 on groceries per year, based on 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s roughly $412 per month. With inflation rising and continued supply chain shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals and families have noticed that grocery bill rising even higher.
There are a lot of factors that impact the cost of your groceries, such as your diet, budget, region, and number of people eating in your household. While most of these are factors that we cannot control, there are various strategies on how you grocery shop that can help you save your hard earned cash.
If you are struggling to meet your basic food needs, we encourage you to visit Any Hungry Husky to learn more about resources for food instability. Food instability is common and there are many pantries and programs to help. If you are in a place where you can give, visit this resource article from the UW Combined Food Drive to see how you can contribute.
Here’s 20 tried and true tips for your next grocery shopping run. These won’t answer all the questions, but at the end of the day every dollar counts. Try a handful and see how much you can see.
Use a cash back credit card.
Depending on how much your average grocery bill is, using a cash back credit card to make your grocery purchases can be a great way to get those precious dollars back! Some cards can even offer up to 8% back on purchases, depending on how the card works. Click here to see which cards NerdWallet recommends for grocery shopping in 2022.
*Be sure that you only spend as much as you would in cash or from a debit card, and read the fine print. Some cards have special rewards cycles, and if you’re able to follow along, that’s when you can really ring in the benefits.
Sign up for loyalty programs.
Most grocery stores have loyalty programs that provide points for cents off at the gas pump, coupons for your favorite items, and full access to store sales. Generally, grocery loyalty programs are free to join. If you shop regularly at a large retailer, these programs can really help shave dollars off your final bill.
Consider joining a wholesale club.
Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club do have an annual fee, but if you are a large family or are able to shop in bulk and store items, you can really save. Items like beans, nuts, seeds, canned goods and cooking ingredients tend to be cheaper when purchased in bulk through wholesale clubs. Wholesale clubs like Costco can also help you save on gas if you live in an area where gas is expensive-like here in Seattle!
One trick to seeing if your wholesale club is cost effective for you is to keep a log in your first year. While tedious, you’ll be able to see if you saved money and how much. Start by logging what you buy, how much you got, and how much it cost. Compare to your local grocery store and estimate how much you would have spent on the same goods. Subtract your annual wholesale membership fee, and see what your bottom line is.
Stick to your list and set a realistic grocery budget.
It’s a tale as old as time. Going to the store with no grocery list can really increase your final bill! Shopping by the list can be a great help to save more at the grocery store.
Not sure how to structure your list and navigate the store? Click here for The Whole U’s guide to navigating the grocery store.
Setting a grocery budget can be difficult, but it is important to understand your limits and needs. What foods can you afford? What is a splurge and what are your staples? Click here to learn more about grocery budgeting and recommendations for how much of your income to spend.
Quick note: Groceries typically fit into the necessities bucket of your budget.
Avoid pre-packaged items and prep your own food.
Pre-packaged items like yogurt, hummus, and snacks are convenient, but they cost much more than if you purchase in bulk and package at home. A few ways you can do this is to invest up front in Tupperware or glassware you will use ongoing or repurpose store containers. Save your cream cheese containers, clean them out, and voila!
Avoiding pre-packaged foods is great for the wallet and the environment. Shopping second hand is another great way to find gently used glass bottles to start packaging your goods.
Make bulk batches and freeze meals.
Do you find you are constantly purchasing too much food, and then it’s going bad? Making your meals in bulk and taking advantage of the magical qualities of a freezer may be the trick for you. Then, the following week when you’re too tired to cook, you can pop your prepared meal in the oven or microwave and be good to go.
This may also help you visit the store less. You won’t have to return as soon when you have meals prepared and waiting for you.
Got time on your hands? Compare prices.
My grandfather always shopped the daily paper looking at advertisements and comparing prices. I used to wonder how it was worth the effort, but now I find myself doing the same. If you have the flexibility to visit multiple stores, shopping paper or online advertisements can be a great way to find the best deals. There’s no need to feel married to one store.
Pro tip: If you don’t get the advertisements in your mail or online, you can always find copies in the front of most grocery stores when you first enter. Ask a clerk if you need assistance.
Buy generic brands.
I will always laugh at the fact that I used to beg for the MAIN BRAND! At the end of the day, generic brands taste just as good and cost less. Win, win! It’s a known, but often forgotten, trick that grocery stores keep the more expensive items at your eye level. Look up and down. That’s where you’ll find Kroger cereal, crackers, etc.
Bring your own bag.
This is a very simple, yet effective tip and it really does add up. Let’s say you live in Washington state. We have an 8 cent bag tax. Some regions it’s even higher, and this fee is taxable because the store is selling you the bag. If you go the store about 2 times per week and purchase a bag, that’s about $10 a year. That may not sound like a lot of savings, but it’s a yummy coffee or lunch item. And using your own bags is better for the environment. We love a win, win.
We’ve all heard of those extreme coupon clippers…they save thousands of dollars each year! While this takes all sorts of time and energy, keeping track of what you buy each month and saving coupons from both the manufacturers and the stores you shop at can give you generous savings each year.
Plan recipes ahead of time.
If you know what you’re going to be cooking and eating, you can make fewer visits to the grocery store and be successful in one large haul. This tip goes hand in hand with having a good list prepared before you visit the store and utilizing freezer storage. When you know what recipes you’re cooking, it’s not as tempting to throw yummy things in your cart that may end up going to waste.
Not sure where to start? Download this guide to meal planning and preparing from The Whole U.
Without planned meals, you may also buy something that sounds good, go home, and realize that you need even more ingredients to go along with that item. After you head back, you’ve spent more than if you had a list based on your meals pre-planned.
Shop alone and on a full-stomach.
If you have the luxury of shopping alone, you can make your trip a mindful experience. Yes, I really said that about the grocery store! Take your time and try not to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of it all. Fit your grocery shopping into a time in your week that you can carve out intentionally for you.
You won’t be coaxed into buying things you don’t need by other people who had to come with you, and you’ll be able to make better decisions on what you really need.
The next part of this tip is to never shop hungry. We all know where that leads…a cart full of comfort, quick fix food that is typically more expensive. It’s also difficult to shop hungry, our brains just cannot compute!
Take inventory before you shop.
We’ve all been there. Standing in the aisle wondering, “Do I have eggs at home?” It’s just the worst buying double, coming home, and realizing you already have something. Especially if it is perishable. It’s difficult to shop unprepared. Knowing what is in your pantry, freezer, and fridge is a guaranteed way to help you save money.
One way to do this is to keep a kitchen inventory. Some people swear by the reverse list: Keep a list of all the things you have and regularly use. Cross off when you are out of that item, and then it moves to your ‘Need to buy’ list. When it’s time to shop, you already have your list and are ready to go.
Shop in season.
Are you buying blackberries in winter? Odds are they cost much more than when they are in season. Shopping your local and seasonal produce is a great way to save money on produce.
Click here for a Washington seasonal produce guide from The Whole U. Print it out and display in your kitchen, and you’ll never have to wonder what’s in season anymore.
Consider limiting high priced items.
There are some luxury items that are always going to be more expensive. Consider limiting these items and making them more of a treat. Things like alcohol or meat. You can try meatless Monday’s, and creating meals focused on lower priced items. Vegetable and bean-based protein is more nutrient dense and more affordable.
Buy frozen vegetables and fruits.
Are your vegetables always going bad? What a waste of food and money! Consider buying frozen goods so that you can extend the shelf-life of your favorite produce. It’s a myth that frozen fruit and vegetables aren’t good for you. Frozen is a great option for many households.
Don’t get down on yourself if you’re not able to sustain cooking fresh food. We all have different needs and lifestyles, and frozen veggies and fruits are better than nothing at all.
Shop at discount grocery stores.
Consider mixing discount stores like Grocery Outlet and the Dollar Store into your shopping rotation. These stores often carry the same products for a much better rate.
Pay attention to the price per unit.
Ah the price per unit, the extra numbers on the price ticket that everyone gets confused by. Understanding the price per unit is a great way to know what the best deals are. If you only shop by the price listed, you may not notice that you could buy the same item in a large quantity and higher price, but at the end of the day, you are saving more.
*Make sure to factor in whether you can store the item properly to preserve.
Click here to read how to understand the price per unit.
Find out when your store’s discounting cycle is.
Do you always shop at a particular store? Ask your checker when they do the discounting for the week. Often, weekdays are cheaper than weekends, and stores tend to begin sales mid week, especially on items that will eventually spoil.
There’s no shame in making sure you get the best deals! If you are able to shop early in the day on sale days, even better. You’ll get first access to the best deals and won’t feel rushed by the hustle and bustle of the store.
Pay attention at the register.
If you use only one of these tips, this is definitely one to consider. Stores have complicated sales and thousands of items. Make sure your items are ringing up as listed. If your grocery bill comes out without all the wonderful savings and perks, what’s the point of even shopping for those deals?
Grocery shopping can be stressful and expensive. We hope that these tips help you navigate the store with a little bit more finesse and confidence. Share with us your other favorite tips in the comments below!