We spend a lot on food. In 2018, the average American spent $4,464 per year — or roughly, $372 per month — on groceries alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Factor in takeout, drive thru-runs, and dinners out and that average shoots up to $7,923 per year.
In fact, on average, keeping our families fed is our third largest monthly expense after housing and transportation — but it doesn’t have to be.
Slashing your grocery bills and food shopping on a budget doesn’t have to be hard (or leave you eating tasteless, unhealthy meals). It all comes down to proper planning. From prepping at home to shopping the stores like a pro to putting dinner on the table, here’s how to save money on groceries the (mostly) stress-free way.
How to Save Money on Groceries: Start at Home
Between work, the kids, and trying to keep a handle on life, you’re busy enough. You don’t have to — and shouldn’t — spend hours meal planning and clipping coupons but saving money on groceries starts with prepping at home. These tips can help you maximize your savings without maximizing your time:
1. Shop your pantry first
Before you shop the grocery store, shop your pantry. Basing your weekly meal plan around what you already have will cut down on what you need to buy each week and help you limit food waste. Need inspiration? Recipe databases and apps like SuperCook and MyFridgeFood search for recipes based around ingredients you have at home.
2. Check the weekly ads
Weekly grocery store circulars are food shopping on a budget 101 for good reason: Sales can save you big. Try to base your meals around what you have at home and what is on sale that week. Most grocery stores post their ads online and many have apps you can download for exclusive deals.
3. Don’t shy from coupons
4. Maximize your loyalty card benefits
If you’re only using your grocery store’s membership or loyalty card at check out, you might be missing out on savings. Many stores have upped their loyalty game, offering exclusive deals to members through their website or letting you load exclusive coupons right to your card. Always check your member deals before you head to the store.
5. Check brand sites for deals
You can also find savings directly from your favorite brands. Many offer coupons on their website. Signing up for brand newsletters can also net you some good deals.
6. Get cash back with rebate apps
Cash back reward apps are an easy way to save money on groceries. Apps like Ibotta and Checkout51 partner with stores and brands to offer customers cash back on everyday items. To get the deals you just need to sign up, select your preferred store, select what items you plan on buying, and then scan either the item or your receipt when you get home.
7. Make a meal plan
Writing out a quick weekly meal plan can help you make sure you’ve got it all covered without overbuying. Once you’re done, you can pop it on the fridge and you’ll always know what to make next, cutting down on food waste.
8. Get your list together
Create a shopping list, using an app or plain old paper, before you head to the store and then stick to it as much as possible. Knowing what you’re buying will keep you away from impulse items.
9. Don’t buy what you won’t use
With all the coupons, rebates, and sales available, it is all too easy to get drawn into “getting a deal” and before you know it, your grocery list is full of items you’ll eventually toss in the trash. Ask yourself if you’re really buying something because you know you’ll need it, or just because it is a really good deal.
Shop the Grocery Store Like a Pro
When you’re trying to save money on groceries, knowing how to shop is just as important as planning. Use these tips to get in and done without busting your budget.
10. Don’t shop hungry
This simple advice has been around for decades because it works. Walk into a store on empty after a long day of work and suddenly everything looks too tempting not to buy. Grocery stores are designed to entice you. Have a snack before you go.
11. Start with the clearance section
Many grocery stores place clearance items on end caps toward the back of the store. These hiding spots can lead to the biggest savings. Start there and see if you can match a deep discount with something on your list.
12. Grab a cart, not a basket
Conventional wisdom says carrying a basket will help limit what you buy. That may be true on quick runs, but if you’re doing your weekly shopping, Eat This, Not That says a shopping cart is the way to go. Carrying a basket may push you into making snap decisions, especially as it gets heavier, but a cart will give you the leisure time to stop and compare prices, weigh your produce, and look for clearance deals.
13. Buy generic
Unless you can combine a sale with a coupon or a cash back rebate on a brand name item, buying generic is often the cheaper and easier way to save money on groceries. Don’t think the generic stuff is as good? NPR found professional chefs are more likely to shop store and generic brands, especially on essentials like baking mixes, teas, and sugar.
14. Shop high and low
Grocery stores often place the most expensive products right at eye level. When you’re browsing the aisles, look at the top and bottom shelves first.
15. Skip the pre-cut produce
All those bagged salads, precut vegetables, and fruit salad mixes may seem like an easy way to shave off a few minutes of time before dinner, but you’re paying extra just so the store can chop it for you. Buy fruits and vegetable whole and prep yourself to save.
16. Ask for a discount
When perishables like meat, bakery items, and prepared foods are near the expiration dates, stores will often mark the item down to get it sold. Check the dates on anything your buying. If you know you’ll eat it within the next day or two, ask for a discount.
17. Weigh your produce
If you find yourself tossing more produce than you’re eating, try weighing it out the next time you’re in the store. A head of broccoli may look small under the bright lights of the produce section, leading you to buy two only to realize one was enough when you got home. Weighing can give you a better sense of how much your family can realistically eat.
18. Buy some items in bulk
When you’re food shopping on a budget, it makes sense to buy some items with a longer shelf life in bulk. For example, potatoes, onions, and grains are almost always cheaper in bulk bags and will last for weeks — or months — at home.
19. Ask for a raincheck
If an item you want is on sale but out of stock, ask for a raincheck. A raincheck guarantees the sale price for another week or two, so you can still grab the discount on your next trip.
20. Buy frozen
Frozen produce is healthy, often tastes just as good as fresh in recipes, and can be cheaper than shopping the produce aisle. Stock up when frozen produce is on a sale and you’ll have plenty of food in your freezer to create last minute, easy-to-cook weeknight meals.
Keep the Savings Going at Home
How you store, prep, and cook your food can make all the difference in your budget. Get it done with these tips:
21. Store food by expiration date
On average, Americans waste nearly a pound of food per day. To reduce your food waste, try storing perishable items by expiration date. By putting what is about to expire front and center, you’re more likely to see it and use it up before it can go bad.
22. Set aside time to meal prep
If you find yourself starting off strong, but exhausted and headed to the drive-thru by midweek, you’re not alone. Cooking a meal from scratch every night is hard. To make things easier — and make sure you’re using your fresh foods before they expire — set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to meal prep. Cut produce, mix spices, shred cheese, anything you can get done in your leisure time will make cooking throughout the week more possible.
23. Keep perishables fresh longer
Make sure you’re storing perishables the right way. For example, keeping potatoes and onions separate in a cool, dry place can extend their shelf life, according to Taste of Home. Fresh herbs will last longer if you pop the stems in water and cover loosely with a plastic bag before placing in the fridge. And you can extend the freshness of berries by drying them completely and adding a paper towel to the bottom of the container before storing in your crisper drawer.
24. Stretch what you buy
Sometimes you have to buy more than what you need for a meal — a dozen eggs here, a loaf of bread there. Try setting aside a day on your meal schedule to use up what you have left. Turn leftover eggs into a frittata, make croutons for tomorrow’s salad out of old sandwich bread. The more you can stretch what you have, the less you’ll need to buy over time.
25. Make ahead and freeze
Many things can be made in advance to help you resist the siren call of takeout on a busy day. Make soups, pasta sauces, and smoothie mixes in advance, for example. Then just pop them out, defrost, and reheat as needed.
26. Repurpose “ugly” produce
When produce gets a little past its prime, it may no longer seem appetizing to eat, but don’t toss it yet. “Ugly” produce can be repurposed into healthy, cheap meals. Make banana bread out of bruised bananas, add over ripe avocado to smoothies, or turn soft tomatoes into tomato soup.
27. Know when (and when not) to toss leftovers
When you’re food shopping on a budget, leftovers are a great way to keep things in check. The key to maximizing your leftovers is storing and using them properly. Not sure how to store something (or how long you can eat it)? The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Guide can help.
28. Keep your food organized
Pantries, freezers, and fridges can get cluttered, pushing food out of sight. To keep from wasting food (or buying more than you need), set aside time every week to quickly go through your kitchen so everything is within sight.
29. Rethink food scraps
Stretch your budget even further and rethink what you usually toss. Old lemons can be used to clean your garbage disposal. Citrus peels easily turn into homemade zest, and vegetable peels can be stored in the freezer to make quick vegetable broths.
30. DIY, don’t buy condiments and spices
Spice mixes and many condiments often have a huge markup and are easy to make at home yourself. Mix up your own barbecue rub blends and spice mixes using what you have at home and DIY as many condiments as you can. For example, most nut butters can be made with three ingredients or less in a food processer.
31. Grow your own
Fresh herbs can get expensive when bought in-store, but if you have a windowsill you can easily grow your own at home. Invest in some starter plants or seeds and save.