Groceries aren’t the largest expense for most families, but they are one of those areas where you may be able to make changes and save money. This can be significant for many families. Here are some simple strategies you can consider to save on groceries.
Saving money on groceries is rarely the only solution when a family is having financial problems. It’s one place many people can use to be more frugal, however.
Dollar Stores Can Help Save On Groceries
I love my local dollar store, 99 Only. They have locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Not everyone will have one available, but they are my absolute favorite dollar store for one simple reason.
Their produce section.
The other dollar stores in my area don’t bother with fresh produce as a general rule. 99 Only not only has fresh produce, some of it is organic. You have to be a little careful when buying it, as some locations aren’t as careful as they should be about freshness. When you get the produce fresh, it’s wonderful, especially considering the price.
For example, the other day I bought a package of yellow, red and green bell peppers. Six of them for $2. Even Aldi doesn’t beat that price in my area. I get much of my fresh produce at 99 Only because I know when they usually put out the fresh stuff, and it’s such a good deal. They carry an excellent range of produce.
They sometimes get amazing deals on other things. Bacon from various companies comes in, and some of it’s very good. They had a shipment of grilled, marinated artichoke hearts come in. I may have gone somewhat overboard on that find (15-20 jars, but they’re at least $5 at the grocery store so I went a little nuts). The kids love it when the granola bars come in, the same brand as we get at the grocery stores the rare times I will buy them. The random deals like these make every trip a hunt to see if there’s something unusually good available that I’ll probably never see there again.
Dollar stores are often good for canned goods and frozen foods. You can also get a lot of stuff for decorating your home around the holidays, dishes, cleaning supplies and more, but that’s not the topic for today. Just check your local dollar store if you’re not familiar with it and see what they carry that is good. There might be some surprises.
If you find a dollar store you like, see if there’s an active Facebook group for it, especially a group local to your region. I learn about things I should keep an eye out for that way. It can be frustrating if I miss something good or if my local store doesn’t get the item, but overall I’ve found this a useful tactic.
If you have an Aldi in your area, you probably know that the prices are very good there. The stores are on the small side, so the selection may not be all that special, but there’s generally enough to make a stop there worthwhile. Most people find Aldi an excellent resource to save on groceries.
If you aren’t used to shopping at Aldi, it may feel a little strange. You have to put a quarter into a slot on the cart to separate it from the other carts. You get the quarter back when you put your cart away, so it’s not a big deal, but it catches a lot of people off guard. That said, it’s not at all uncommon at the Aldi by me for people to pass carts off to each other. Sometimes it’s in exchange for the new person’s quarter, but many people don’t care about it.
You also have to bag your own groceries. I live in California, and these days we have to bring our own grocery bags anyhow, but the added step of having to bag your own can be a little surprising. They have a long shelf for people to handle this, and it’s not a big deal at all.
Amazon has some pretty good grocery deals, and you’ll get your groceries quickly if you have Amazon Prime. They have a program called Amazon Fresh for fresh foods in some areas, which includes shopping from Whole Foods. You can also check out Prime Pantry, which allows you to fill a box for a flat shipping rate. If the deals are good enough, the shipping rate won’t be a problem.
Know What The Deals Are
If you plan your shopping to take advantage of the weekly deals at your local grocery store, you can save quite a bit. It’s harder to stick to a budget if the ingredients you need are at full price.
Make sure you know if your grocery store does overlapping ads. I shop at Stater Bros, and every Wednesday is a double ad day – the new ad and the old both apply. Guess what day is my big shopping day.
You can also create a pricing spreadsheet very easily. I like online spreadsheets because they’re easier to edit than printed ones. These days it’s no big deal for many people to open it up on their smartphones while shopping. You can also use a spreadsheet to calculate the cost per unit, which is a huge help when dealing with different package sizes.
Track The Unit Prices
It’s easy to think something is a good deal when it isn’t if you fail to notice how much you’re getting for the money. Different brands may offer different amounts in their packages. Manufacturers may decrease package size to disguise a price increase. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to know unit prices when you want to save on groceries.
Meat can get very tricky. Different cuts of meat will give different numbers of servings, depending on whether or not skin or bones are included and how fatty it is. There are times when getting the bones is an advantage, such as saving the bones from a whole chicken to make chicken soup later. Other times, the bones are just something you throw in the trash after your meal.
If your budget and storage space allow, stock up when prices are especially good according to your tracking.
Remember Your Coupons
There are a lot of ways to get coupons now. You can use the traditional clipped out coupons. There are websites such as Coupons.com, SmartSource.com and Redplum.com where you can download coupons. Some apps are available that will give you money back on your purchases. Here are some to consider:
- Ibotta (my referral code may give us both a bonus!)
- Checkout51: iTunes, Google Play
- Shopmium: iTunes, Google Play
- Mobisave: iTunes, Google Play
- Receipt Hog: iTunes, Google Play
- SavingStar: iTunes, Google Play
- BerryCart: iTunes, Google Play
You may also want to check out store-specific apps such as Target’s Cartwheel app (iTunes, Google Play). You select from the available deals before you go shopping, or as you shop. When you check out, the cashier scans your code off your phone.
Another good option is Walmart Savings Catcher in the Walmart app (iTunes, Google Play). Scan your Walmart receipt after shopping. The Savings Catcher will seek out lower prices on your purchases. It will add price differences to a gift card for you.
Many of these can be used together, or rather, have no effect on each other. Sometimes you will find an item that has more than one discount available. That can really help you save on groceries.
Take Advantage Of Loyalty Programs
Many grocery stores have loyalty programs. While it’s a bit of a pain to have to keep their card with your or give them your phone number, you can save quite a bit of money with these. Many of the deals stores offer are only valid if you are a part of their loyalty program.
The Keyring app can make it easier to keep track of your loyalty cards by storing them on your phone for you.
Don’t Shop Hungry
This is old advice, but still very good. If you’re hungry, you’ll probably spend more at the grocery store. Have something to eat before you go to the store.
Studies have been done on this, and it has been shown that even if you aren’t buying food, you will buy more if you shop when you’re hungry. It seems kind of funny that it impacts your shopping habits even if you aren’t buying food, but it’s true.
The reason why you buy more food when you’re hungry? Well, I think we all know that one.
Skip The Aisles You Don’t Need
If you don’t need anything from a particular aisle, skip it. You don’t need to check every aisle. It’s especially helpful to skip the aisles that have nothing other than relatively unhealthy snacks and drinks, such as the chips, soda, and candy aisles. They’re all a lot less tempting if you don’t look right at them.
Buy Store Brands
For many foods, brand name doesn’t make a significant difference anywhere except on the price tag. When the store brand is cheaper and just as good, it makes sense to buy the store brand.
Many store brands are made by the same places that make the name brands. There may be small differences in how the product is made, or they may be identical aside from the packaging. Either way, it makes sense to give the store brand a try when it will save you money.
Of course, if you can get a coupon or sale price on the name brand that makes it a better deal, go for it. Don’t forget to consider any deals you might get on the money back apps as well.
Don’t Go To Too Many Stores
Going from store to store to store can cut down on your savings because you’ll spend them on gas without realizing it. Figure out which store or stores have most of the best prices, and use those as your regular stops. Keep an eye on the ads for the others, and know when a run to a different store will be worth the money.
If I have to drive a distance to get to a particular store, such as Costco, I will see how many other places I need to go to that are on the same path, as it’s a half hour drive to Costco for me. Hitting lots of stores when they’re more out of your way can make sense, so long as you have a good reason to shop at each one.
It’s easy to go overboard when trying to save on groceries. Many people spend more time trying to save money than the money is worth. Be smart with the strategies you use to save money on groceries so that you don’t waste time and effort on things that won’t save enough.