Save on Groceries No Matter Where You Shop
Last updated in September 2018
Whichever store you choose, how you shop will substantially impact your annual grocery costs. Here are some saving strategies.
- Plan your meals, make a shopping list, and stick to it. If you map out your meals in advance, you’re less likely to waste money on high-priced, low-nutrition impulse items. Plus, fewer trips to the grocery store save both gas and time.
- Shop specials. Unless you have plenty of time, don’t pursue specials from store to store. Instead, choose a grocer based on a weekly special and take advantage of any discounts at whichever store you hit. And consider buying in bulk if you find good deals.
- Keep track of what you throw away. Buying food that you trash adds significantly to grocery bills. Keep track of what spoils in your fridge, and buy less of it.
- Cut down on convenience foods. Wash and cut your own produce, slice and grate your own cheese, make your own sauces, and shun individual serving packets.
- Go online for coupons. Although you can find coupons for many brand-name items on company websites, some stores’ websites or apps let you load coupons onto your store loyalty card. Look for more coupons at sites like SmartSource.com, Coupons.com, and RedPlum.com.
- Avoid stores’ spending traps. It’s no coincidence that impulse items are located at the ends of aisles and dairy items are at the rear—stores know that the more tempting snacks you pass en route to what you need, the more likely you’ll buy stuff you hadn’t intended to get.
- Don’t shop while hungry. Studies have shown that shoppers tend to buy more groceries when famished.
- Consider changing your overall eating habits. Eating less meat can save money, as can preparing international dishes that require less meat than American fare.
- Try store brands instead of national brands. Subbing store brands for about one-sixth of the items in our price-shopping market basket typically cut grocery bills by about five percent.
- Use per-unit pricing (for example, price per ounce) to determine which products are the best values.
- Select sizes carefully. Big roasts, hams, and turkeys usually have a higher meat-to-bone ratio than smaller ones. Large sizes of flour, sugar, rice, oil, and other storable staples also usually save you money. And milk is usually cheaper by the gallon. But small apples and bananas may be perfect for families with small children, and buying other smaller-sized items may save money by eliminating wasted leftovers.
- Buy inexpensive cuts of meat and learn ways to cook them.
- When you want steak or chops, buy a roast. Beef rib eye roast and rib loin pork roast, for example, generally cost $.50 to $1 per pound less than the steaks or chops into which they can be sliced. Simply choose a roast and ask the butcher to cut it up for you. Most butchers are glad to provide this service for free.
- Examine meat carefully before you buy. In a study we conducted to assess waste in meats, one rib steak was 88 percent lean and another was 48 percent lean; as a result, the leaner piece cost 45 percent less per lean pound than the piece with more fat.
- Compare sizes of item-priced fresh produce before you buy. In the same store, we have found heads of iceberg lettuce that weighed as little as 10 ounces and others that weighed as much as 29 ounces—both at the same price per head.
- Compare prices of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. For example, green beans and peaches might cost less fresh in season but cost less in a bag or can at other times.
- Plan your menus and purchases by the calendar. Eat citrus when it is cheapest, in the winter; apples in the fall; tomatoes in the summer.
- Choose size and quality to suit your needs. You don’t need perfect fruit for a cobbler or whole canned tomatoes for marinara sauce.
- Pay attention to nutrition and ingredient labels. They will help you buy brands of processed foods that don’t have excessive fat, water, and other ingredients with little or no nutritional value.
- Consider your travel patterns. If no lower-priced store is located near you, think about whether you occasionally drive near one. Even if you don’t pass one of these stores every week, plan to shop there whenever you do.