How to Save Money on Groceries in 2020
According to Yahoo, the average American household spends approximately $80 per week on groceries – which adds up to more than $4,400 per year. And given that that is an average, there will be a lot of families who spend significantly more than that. Groceries are one of the biggest expenses after rent and utilities. They are also a necessary expense (unless you plan to eat out for every meal) and the cost can vary dramatically depending on how savvy you are and what you’re buying. These 26 tips are designed to help you get the biggest bang for your buck and save tons at the grocery store.
26 Best Ways to Save Money on Groceries in 2020
Take an inventory of your purchasing habits
One of the first ways you can start to shave money off of your grocery bill is by paying more attention to what you are buying. Is there anything you could easily cut without starving? Examples of this would be junk food, alcohol, expensive cuts of meat, pre-made foods, precut produce and desserts.
I’m not suggesting that you never purchase any of these things – but if you need to cut spending down, these are some items you could consider cutting. My children would riot if they didn’t have apple slices to munch on, but it is much cheaper for me to buy a bag of apples, cut them up, and squirt them with lemon juice than it is for me to buy them precut.
Raid your own pantry
We’ve all done it. Maybe you bought some food for a party you didn’t end up attending, or you bought stuff for a dinner you never ended up making – or maybe you just grabbed an item because it was on sale or sounded good, but then it got shoved in the pantry and you never used it. No matter the circumstances, your pantry is probably full of random food items.
If you need to cut grocery costs quickly, consider digging through your own pantry. There are a lot of online challenges of people only eating meals from what they have on hand for a week or a month. Even if you can’t completely make a meal out of those odds and ends you already have, it will dramatically cut down what you need to buy at the grocery store.
Consider cutting meat
Going vegetarian isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. But could you go meatless once per week? Meat is one of the most expensive items on your grocery list. The average meal for a 4-person family requires $6 - $15 in meat, depending on the type. Cutting out meat once per week (and swapping in something much cheaper, like eggs) could save you literally hundreds of dollars per year.
Proteins you could consider besides meat are eggs or beans. If your family is anything like mine, they will love pancakes and eggs for dinner every now and then.
Have a plan
One of the next ways you can cut back on purchasing at the grocery store is to plan in advance. There are a lot of ways this can benefit your grocery budget. For starters, you can plan cheaper and simpler meals. This is much easier to do when you’re thinking ahead. Next, if you have a plan, you are much less likely to eat out or order food to go – which can save you a lot of money. Thirdly, if you are making a plan, you can start with meat you might already have in the freezer, or items you might already have in your pantry, which will save you money on that week’s grocery bill.
Having a plan also prevents you from showing up to the grocery store and buying randomly. That is a recipe for impulse purchases and usually results in more trips to the grocery store because you end up needing more ingredients for the slew of items you bought in the first place – and fewer trips to the store will save you money, too. That brings us to the next tip.
Limit your trips to the grocery store
In theory, if you buy some groceries twice a week, or do all of your shopping once a week, you could theoretically spend the same exact amount. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tend to actually work that way.
The average American spends $60 on average per trip to the grocery store – and that is regardless of how many times that person has visited the store that week. The more often you visit the store, the more chances you have to buy extra things you don’t really need. In fact, grocery stores are designed to make you buy extra things that you didn’t intend to buy.
To counteract that, try to only go to the grocery store once per week – or less, if you can. Another way to counteract overspending at the grocery store is to order your groceries for pickup – which is our next tip.
Order your groceries for pickup
Order my groceries for pickup? You’re probably thinking. Doesn’t that cost extra money?
Some grocery stores will allow you to place pick up orders for free. Even if yours doesn’t have this service, the small fee you might pay for the pick-up service will likely be offset by the amount you aren’t spending in impulse purchases. Additionally, as you’re putting items in your online cart, you can more easily make adjustments if something is too expensive. For example, if hamburger is not on sale, but chicken is, you can see what the best ratio of chicken to hamburger is to stay within your budget more easily than you’d be able to calculate it at the store.
Besides saving money, grocery pickup (or delivery) will generally save you time. According to the Time Use Institute, the average grocery shopping trip takes 41 minutes, and generally people go to the store 1.5 times per week. That adds up to about 5 hours per year that you’re spending at the grocery store. While that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with saving money – it is another perk.
Calculate on the go
If your stores don’t allow for pickup, or you simply can’t bring yourself to try it, then make sure you use a calculator as you shop. This will prevent you from getting any surprises when you go to checkout.
You can easily keep track of this on your phone, or, if you’re like me and need to use your phone for your grocery list too and hate switching back and forth every few minutes, bring an old-fashioned calculator with you.
This practice will help you stay in-touch with yourself throughout the process. You’ll already know if you’ve overspent, and it will make you rethink questionable grocery decisions – such as buying that $10 bag of fancy coffee, even if it is on sale.
Another method that also works is using the grocery pick-up apps. Even if you don’t actually order your groceries to be picked up, you can still figure out your exact costs by mirroring what you buy with what you’re putting into the app.
Use cash for groceries
If you’re at all familiar with the envelope budgeting method, then this won’t be a foreign concept to you at all. It is much easier to stick to a budget if you have the amount you intend to spend in cash and don’t allow yourself to spend more than that.
If you find that you are having trouble not throwing extras into your cart when you go to the grocery store (maybe at the urging of your spouse or children), using cash may help keep you more accountable, and allow you to say “no” to the items you don’t need more easily.
There are a couple of issues with this method, though. For starters, depending on how much you spend on groceries per month, you may end up carrying a bit more cash on you than you’d prefer – or you might end up forgetting the cash at home when you need it. It also isn’t too difficult to pull your debit card out and pay for the groceries with that instead if you’ve gone a bit over.
Reconsider bulk stores
A lot of people automatically assume that shopping at a bulk store, such as Sam’s Club or Costco, is as cheap as it gets. Frankly, that isn’t always the case. For one, those stores typically only carry name-brand items – so the generic versions at the regular grocery store are likely cheaper.
For two, they may call something a “sale” but it may not be any less than what you’d pay at the grocery store. In some instances, it might even be more.
Lastly, many people end up buying more than they can reasonably use before it expires. Snacks and spices are probably fine to bulk up on, but a giant container of yogurt may not be a thrifty investment if you end up throwing half of it out.
Before you stock up, check the price against what you’d normally pay. Another great thing about grocery pick-up services is that you now have access to the prices of almost every item in the store from your phone. It is easier than ever before to compare the cost of different items before you buy.
Freezer meals are your friend
Almost everyone has at least heard of a freezer meal. If you haven’t, the concept is pretty simple. You simply make a meal (or many meals) and put them in your freezer. Some of the most convenient ones (that I also swear by as a working mom) are freezer-to-slow cooker meals. I make a bunch of meals up on a Saturday, throw them in my freezer, and put one in my crockpot before I leave for work. Then I come home to a meal that is cooked and ready to go – or that I only have to make a simple side dish for.
The cost-savings here comes from planning and not eating out as often because you’re “too tired” to cook when you get home. But the other element is that it is possible to go ahead and purchase bulk for items that are on sale and then make multiple meals out of it. Because you’re freezing the meals, you can go ahead and buy more than what you would use before it would normally expire.
If you want to give freezer meals a try, I strongly recommend searching for some on Pinterest, or reading the blog from The Family Freezer.
If freezer meals aren’t your jam (you’re always forgetting to take them out etc.), you might also research 3- or 5-ingredient meals. The fewer ingredients you need to buy, the cheaper the meal will often be.
That being said, many of those meals are based upon serving a large serving of meat with sides. Buying an individual serving of meat per person will ultimately be more expensive than cutting up less meat and serving it in a soup or casserole-type dish. So while this is certainly a strategy to explore, it may be best to mix it with other types of meal prep strategies to get the most variety from your meals and the best value.
Shop in season
The produce that is in season now will almost always be cheaper than any other produce. Try to plan your meals and snacks around what is in season. There are a lot of websites and resources to help you figure out what to buy when, especially in your region, but this is a quick guide to get you started:
Spring: Asparagus, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, salad greens, spinach, strawberries
Summer: Apples, apricots, beets, broccoli, blueberries, cantaloupes, cauliflower, cherries, chilis, corn, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, onions, peppers, pears, peas, raspberries, tomatoes, watermelon and zucchini
Fall: Apples, Brussels sprouts, celery, pumpkins, squash, turnips
Winter: Clementines, chard, collards, fennel, kale, potatoes
Go to the farmers market at the end of the day
While we’re on the subject of produce, consider your local farmers market. Many people steer clear of farmers markets, incorrectly assuming that they will pay more for produce there. In general, the produce prices are going to be similar to the grocery store prices.
Even better, if you can visit towards the end of the day, you will likely be able to purchase produce at a discount. These markdowns are usually steep, as the seller would rather sell it for something instead of taking it back home.
If you really want or need a produce item out-of-season, consider buying it frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are almost as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, and they will be considerably cheaper than buying fresh but out-of-season produce.
Compare grocery stores
Most people choose to shop at the grocery store that is most convenient or closest to their home. You probably shop at the grocery store that you do because it is a habit. You shouldn’t let a comfortable routine cost you money.
If you aren’t sure which grocery store is most cost effective, ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues. People who are savvy shoppers will dish about their favorite local spots.
Shop multiple grocery stores
I know this may seem counterintuitive because an earlier tip was to stay out of the grocery store, but the truth is, different grocery stores in your area may have better deals on certain types of groceries.
For example, there are 4 main grocery stores in my area. One of them has amazing prices on dairy and pantry items, but the meat and produce tend to be higher if they aren’t on sale (and sometimes even when they are on sale.) Another grocery store is incredibly high on everything except their sale produce – which they use to get people in the door. It is a “loss leader” or marked down super low to catch attention. I go there literally to buy what’s on sale and nothing else. The other two grocery stores in my area have various sales and are moderately priced on their groceries.
If you aren’t familiar with different grocery stores and chains in your area, it may be worth investigating. By purchasing staples from the first grocery store I mentioned, produce at the second, and everything else I need from one of the others, I can easily save $25 - $75 per week, depending on what is on sale.
The key to this is to know what is on sale (see the next tip) and to only buy what you set out to buy when you enter the store. One way to stick to this is to skip getting a cart. If you are only grabbing carrots, grapes, and a bag of apples because those are extremely marked down, then you probably don’t need a cart. If you really struggle with impulse control, it might not be worth your money for you to visit multiple stores every week.
Use the sale ads
Every week, the grocery stores in your area will mark items down for sale. Many times, the grocery stores will mark at least a few items down super low. These are called “loss leaders” because they actually end up costing the store a bit of money. They mark these items down to catch your attention and get you in the store. The idea is that once you’re in, they can use other tactics to increase impulse purchases, and/or because you’re there anyway, you’ll go ahead and buy all of your other groceries there, too, so that they still make a profit.
That being said, there is (usually) nothing that says you have to buy anything but the super low sale item. One common exception I’ve seen to this is meat that is marked down significantly. Sometimes a grocery store will put a disclaimer that you have to purchase other groceries that total a certain amount before you can get the meat at that price.
Did they run out of the item you wanted at a sale price? Grab a rain check. A rain check allows you to come back to the store when the item price goes back up and purchase it for the sale price.
Learn the sale cycles
This is impractical for every single item. But if there are items that you are buying regularly such as certain cuts of meat, soda, or a favorite snack, start paying attention to when it goes on sale. Keep track of it in a notebook, on your computer, or in your phone. Chances are that you’ll start to notice a pattern. If your favorite snack goes on sale every 4 weeks, then you’ll know when you should stock up on it.
Only buy meat when it’s on sale
We don’t think about it this way – but meat is actually seasonal, too. Obviously, turkeys are “in season” in the fall. But did you know that beef is also “in season” in fall and pork is in the summer?
This is important because when meat is “in season,” it tends to go on sale more often. Every week, there are generally going to be at least 2 everyday cuts of meat on sale. If you can stock up on those and use some of the meal prepping strategies we’ve mentioned, you can save a lot of money from this strategy alone. The key is to force yourself to only purchase meat when it’s on sale.
Learn when your store makes markdowns
I try to only buy meat when it is on sale – or on clearance. Because I make a lot of freezer meals, I don’t care if the meat is close to expiring – I will put it in the freezer pretty quickly, and then cook it from frozen (or thawed overnight.) I know that my grocery store tends to mark down meat early in the morning when the new sale ad starts – so I try to hit up the store on my way to work.
I have large refrigerators and freezers available to me so that I can store my meat and then take it home when I leave work, but if you don’t, it might be worth trying to go shopping and take it home before you go to work in the morning. If you are only purchasing discount meat, the shopping trip shouldn’t take long and it can save you a lot of money.
I know that chicken breasts and ground beef, my two most used meat products, will go on sale at least once per month, so I stock up when that happens. Then I use other sale meats and clearance meat to add variety to our meals.
Meat is one of the most expensive grocery items. Therefore, even if you don’t follow any other cost-saving strategy, having a solid meat plan in place can still shave hundreds off your grocery budget.
Your store also marks down dairy, baked goods, and produce as well. Figuring out when those markdowns happen could also be a cost-saving strategy, depending on how much you generally spend in each of those areas.
Find the clearance section
Similar to the markdowns of goods that are expiring, your store likely also has a clearance section for pantry items that are seasonal, expiring soon, or just no longer being stocked. I’ve even seen items end up in the clearance section because the company switched packaging and so the old ones got liquidated.
While you probably can’t depend on the clearance section to make meals out of, you should check it when you can to see if there is anything you could potentially use.
The key with clearance (and coupons, which we’ll touch on soon) is to not buy things that you won’t actually use. If you spend money on something because it is on sale, but you never use it, then you’ve wasted money – no matter how good the deal was.
Get a grocery credit card
Generally financial advice encourages you to steer clear of credit cards. However, grocery store-specific cards often have great perks. Some grocery store credit cards will offer gas discounts or cash back for any grocery purchase you make with the card.
Additionally, most grocery-specific cards will mail card holders special coupons and discounts that you can use on store-brand products.
If you have a favorite store that you enjoy shopping at, and you find it to have pretty good prices for your groceries, research to see if they have a credit card available. Just be sure to pay off the balance at the end of each month to avoid paying interest.
Coupons used to be the go-to money saving strategy for grocery shopping. And they can still save you money. But there are several reasons I didn’t mention them earlier.
- Coupons are typically for name-brand items. Most coupons that you’ll come across are from manufacturers for name-brand items. Those items, even with the coupons, are generally more expensive than generics or alternatives.
- Couponing can lead to purchasing what you don’t need or won’t use.
- A lot of coupons are for convenience foods – which are generally not the healthiest or cheapest options available.
That being said, there are ways you can utilize coupons for cost-savings. If you come across a coupon for an item that you would have purchased anyway, then a coupon is obviously a great deal.
If you use grocery store apps with the coupon function, they often include coupons for things like eggs, cheese, milk, meat, bread and produce. You can use these in addition to sales on store-brand items, which makes the savings really add up.
If you do use some of the general coupons that you find in newspapers and magazines, you’ll want to make sure you’re combining your coupon with a store deal in order to truly maximize your savings. Combining a sale plus a coupon on a name brand item can result in an item that is priced below the generics and alternatives, and may even result in the item being free.
Similar to coupons, there are rebate apps that will offer cash back based on what you’ve purchased. There are quite a few to choose from, but one of the most popular is Ibotta.
Like couponing, some of these apps will only offer cash-back on high-end foods, so the cash back you end up earning isn’t really worth it. But if you can earn cash back on something you intended to buy anyway, or something that was on sale, it can be a nice way to cut a little off your grocery bill.
Don’t shop when you’re hungry
We’ve all heard the advice – don’t shop when you’re hungry. Research published by the University of Southern California showed that shoppers spend about 60 percent more when they shop while hungry, on average. They may even buy more than just food items.
There is a lot of information around the topic, but the leading thought is that if you’re hungry, it is harder for you to control your impulses. Additionally, you may feel deprived – leading your “hoarding” instincts to kick in.
Whatever the reason, scientists agree that it is a bad idea for your wallet for you to shop while you’re hungry. Hit the store after your meal, or grab a snack before you head in, and your wallet will thank you.
We’ve talked a lot in this article about controlling your impulses while shopping. The pressure to buy more only adds up the more people you take with you into the store. If you live alone, shopping alone is easy. But if you have a spouse and children to contend with, you’re asking for your dollars to fly out of your pocket if you take them into the store with you.
That isn’t to say that you can’t buy their favorite snack or something they’ve requested. However, you can prevent them from falling prey to the clever grocery store marketing practices and asking for an extra $50 worth of items while you’re at the grocery store.
Even the most iron-willed parents can be tempted to succumb to that tantrum over the $4 bag of Goldfish crackers, even though you already bought Teddy Grahams as the snack for this week.
Incorporating every single one of these “hacks” into your grocery routine is impossible. (In fact, some of them contradict each other a bit.) The point is to choose a few that make the most sense for your spending habits, your routine, your budget, and your family – and use them to save yourself a lot of money on one of the most expensive necessities you buy.
About the Author
Melinda Pettijohn is an expert personal financial writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. She covers topics ranging from budgeting, additional ways to make money, credit cards, managing debt, paying for college, and more. As a mom of three kids, she especially loves sharing insights on how to make the most of your money while raising a family.