Day 5: Tips for Saving On Groceries

As is the case with most growing families, we go through an awful lot of food. In fact, behind the mortgage and transportation costs (car and gas) groceries can be one of our biggest regular monthly expenses. I have a feeling that this may be the case for many of you too. So today I want to pass on some of my most helpful money saving tips.

I will not be recommending that you buy less quality foods for the sake of cutting costs. Neither will I suggest that you buy overly processed, conventional foods over natural, organic, or grass-fed in order to save a little money. I believe consuming lower quality, overly processed foods in the long run costs us much more in alterations in health.  

Some of these tips I’ve discovered myself. Many of them I’ve picked up throughout my years as a homemaker from other blogs and magazines and books. And here they are…the best of them all.

50 Tips for Saving On Groceries

Pick and choose the ones that you think will be of most use to you and your family:

1. Make a spending plan.
Also know as a budget. Most people ignore this step and are naturally set up for failure. There are multiple budgeting programs available, but I am going to tell you what works for my family without fail. Determine how much you can spend on groceries each month, get that amount out in cash, stick it in an envelope, and once it’s gone…it’s gone. I’m telling you, it works! Cash works! This method has stopped me from useless spending more times than not. Give it a try!

2. Eat a cheap breakfast.
Here are some great ones:

3. Don’t shop out of boredom.
Go to the store only if you know what you need, with a list in hand, and then get out. Many times people go grocery shopping, with a vague idea of what they need, and get caught up buying much more; or, worse yet, they go as a form of entertainment. That ends up costing a ton and it can really add up.

4. Drink water.

We can often drink lots of empty calories through products such as soda, coffee, alcohol, juices, tea, etc. And that all costs a lot too. Drink water, save money, and save calories. There may be a time of transition, but it’s worth it in the end. Even my children have learned to crave water; don’t worry, they’ll drink it if it’s the only thing in the house!

5. Reduce convenience foods.

Frozen processed dinners, microwaveable meals, and junk food…basically anything that is packaged with plastic or in a box, and prepared for our convenience, is not only more expensive than foods you’d cook yourself, but there’s a good chance that they contain a much lower nutritional content. I’m not telling you to eliminate them completely, just encouraging you to reduce your consumption.

6. Adopt a zero waste approach to grocery shopping.
If we would live and shop like this family, I’m willing to bet all of us may spend a heck of a lot less.

7. Cook ahead.

If you have one free day a week (or even a month), cook food in big batches and freeze in dinner-sized portions. I admit that I do not do this all the time, but I have done it in the past and it does save money. You have to plan it out a bit, but once you’re done, your meals each night are quick and easy. This can save you from the temptation to eat out or eat convenience food when you’re hungry but too tired to cook.

8. Herbs and Spices.
Use herbs and spices to bring simple meals up to a new level. In many cases they offer added nutriton and are a frugal alternative to more expensive foods.

9. Grow your own herbs.

No matter the amount of space you have, you can grow herbs on a windowsill or kitchen counter with very little effort. Have you seen the prices of herbs in the store…jeez…grow your own!

10. Use coupons.

Clip coupons. In general, you can save 10-20% of your bottom line with coupons. Check out the store entrances, newspaper and fliers for coupons. It never hurts to do a little coupon clipping…and these days you don’t even have to clip them, you can print them for FREE.

11. Only use coupons for items you were already planning to buy.
Don’t let them trick you into buying something that’s not on your list, just to “save” money. If you’re buying something you don’t need, who cares if you got it for a “good deal” it’s money wasted.

12. Look for weekly or monthly specials.

Every grocery store has specials. Some advertised and some not, so be sure to look for them in the newspaper, or when you get to the store. Also check the higher and lower shelves for deals. But here again, don’t buy it unless it’s something you always use.

13. Eat leftovers, instead of eating out.

Don’t waste leftovers! The convenience of eating out is frequently hard to resist, we all know this. One way to avoid this temptation is to prepare meals that can be eaten more than one day. Try making casseroles, soups, and large batches of beans that will last 2 or 3 days. And use everything possible. For example, do you have a bunch of different leftover ingredients? Try combining them for a quick meal, so that they don’t go to waste. The more you can stretch your food, and the less you waste, the less you’ll spend in the long run. In our house, we almost always eat leftovers for lunch the next day and they are in some way incorporated into dinner as well.

14. Shop at farmer’s markets.

Often local farmers are happy to match or beat supermarket prices because they don’t have to pay large overhead costs. Another tip that I’ve found very effective — go to the farmer’s market 20-30 minutes before it closes. Usually the farmers are willing to almost giveaway the food because they don’t want to haul it home. Check this site out to do a search for a farmers market in your area.

15. Don’t buy plastic wrap, tin foil, plastic sandwich/snack bags, etc.

For everything that you could think of needing – plastic anything, tin foil, or any other disposable nonsense – there is a non-disposable alternative.

16. Always go to the grocery store with a list.
Let me tell you…going to the grocery store without a list is the same as throwing your money away. If you’re going to do that, you might as well donate it to me :) No, seriously, you need to make a shopping list containing everything you need. Pulling from your meal plan, write down what you don’t already have in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer and stick to that list. This alone has saved me TONS on impulse buys! Just for kicks…the next time you go to the store keep a running tally of things you thought about buying that were not on your list. In the checkout line, calculate how much money you saved by sticking to your list. You’ll be amazed!

17. Plan out a weekly menu.

This is the best way to ensure that your shopping list is complete, and that you have enough to serve your family dinner for the week or month (whatever your meal planning method). My weekly menu plan is a bit different as I base it somewhat off of our CSA (community supported agriculture) produce. But the idea is the same. Read more about menu planning here at List Plan It.

18. Don’t go when you’re hungry.

This is pretty much a given, but it’s true; when you’re hungry, you want to buy all kinds of junk and you’ll end up spending a lot more. Eat a nutritious meal first, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your list.

19.Join a CSA (community supported agriculture).
Often CSA’s will require the cost of products for 10-12 weeks at the time of joining. This really helps me to save money and time because I don’t have to worry about price matching fresh items week to week. I know each week I will get my slotted amount of food without a change in the price. My meal plan is pretty simple…it’s based off of what is growing seasonally. Now is the perfect time to find a local CSA near you and join!  

20. Eat seasonally.

Since we’re on the topic of eating seasonally…you probably should know that one of the biggest secrets to saving money on groceries has to do with learning to eat seasonal foods. Seasonal produce is cheaper — for several reasons: seasonal produce is more than likely grown locally (reducing the cost of transportation), it’s fresh and at the peak of nutrition, and seasonal foods are usually found in an abundance therefore the prices drop as the harvest continues. Seasonal produce is the backbone of our family’s diet. I use it as much as possible and this has made all of the difference in my food budget.

21. Will work for food.
That’s just the proposal I made to a local farm…and they accepted! Starting this week I will begin working a few hours on the weekend, pulling weeds and harvesting for the markets, as trade for all the fresh seasonal veggies and fruit we can eat. My monthly grocery budget is about to take a nose-dive! Never be afraid to ask.
 
22.
Buy in bulk when it makes sense.
Buying in bulk is another method of purchasing that has revolutionized the way I shop. By switching to a simple, unprocessed food diet, buying in bulk can help any family meet their goals. Warning: There are downsides to buying in bulk…just be sure that you’re going to use all of it before it gets bad — it isn’t cheaper to buy in bulk if you don’t use it.

23. Keep your receipts, then enter into a spreadsheet.

Think of this as a virtual price book. It’s also a great way to comparison shop between stores. Additionally, the spreadsheet can serve as a checklist when you’re creating your shopping list.

24. Buy frozen veggies.

Of course we know that fresh veggies are more nutritious; however, frozen veggies are almost as good, and in some cases much better. For example, in the dead of winter I almost never purchase tomatoes at the store, for a couple of reasons: 1) No telling where it was grown and in what conditions 2) On average (considering travel time), that tomato was picked 7-10 days (sometimes up to 2 weeks) ago and therefore almost nutritionally void. In the winter, I say go with frozen over fresh — unless you know your source. 

25. When you’re running low, write it down.

Don’t wait until you run out. It’s so frustrating to truly need something and not have it. So when I see that there’s only a couple rolls of toilet paper left, I put it on my list. Because when by the time I run out, it’s too late!

26. Cut back on meat.

Meat is expensive, especially if you are looking to purchase organic, pastured meats. So that we are able to meet budget, our family eats quite a few vegetarian meals several times throughout the week. Organic dried beans and grains have become staple ingredients in my cooking, along with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Less expensive and healthier. 

27. Pack your own snacks (especially for the kids).

There’s no doubt buying pre-made snacks is convenient (how do you think we got in this mess…out of convenience), but it’s also a big waste of money. Get your little reusable containers and buy snacks from the bulk section, and that’s it — you have somthing quick and easy to grab. Whole wheat crackers, popcorn, cut-up fruit, raisins, and other kid-friendly snacks are much better than the junk you often see ki’s eating. And they’re cheaper.

28. Make crock pot dinners.

They are simple, cheap, and oh so yummy. I love my crock pot! All I have to do is chop a bunch of ingredients, throw them in the pot in the morning, and I have dinner’s ready when ever we’re ready. Can anything be more perfect than that?

29. What about the off brands.

Brand names are often no better than generic. Besides, you end up paying a higher price only for all the advertising they do to have a brand name. Give the store brand a try! Just because something tastes a bit different doesn’t mean it tastes bad.

30. Cut back on “I’ve got to run out to the store because I forgot something” trips.

These not only waste gas, but it’s almost inevitable that you will end up buying more than that one item. If you can plan ahead by making a weekly menu and shop with a list, this should drastically reduce the number of trips you make for a one or two forgotten items. Stocking up on the things you frequently go out for may also help too. And lastly, my rule is…if I forgot it, we do without.

31. Maintain a healthy weight.

Okay, don’t get angry with me! I preaching to myself here too! But let’s just face the facts…our metabolism increases with the more we eat, which in turn makes us want to eat even more. By reducing our weight and maintaining a healthy weight for our body types, we’ll not only feel better but we may begin to see a significant difference on our grocery bills.

32. Be watchful at the register.
Keep an eye on the scanner and keep the cashier on his toes (in a nice way). This way you may be able to catch any mis-priced items.

33. Stock up when things go on sale.

Sale items can be a great deal. If it’s an item you normally use, buy a bunch of them. This goes for the seasonal produce too! Stock up at the end of the growing season. This past summer, I got 50 pounds of tomatoes for $25 from one of my farmers. I was able to can a lot of salsa, tomato sauce, and spaghetti sauce. As of last week we were still enjoying those summer tomatoes.

34. Comparison shop.

The frugal warrior will not be satisfied with the first price he/she sees. Shop around, look at the different brands for a certain type of product, including store brands. Sometimes there will be a significant difference. This goes for farmers too…be sure you’re comparing apples to apples — don’t just go with the first CSA you find.

35. Shop during the slow times.
My favorite times to hit the grocery store is late in the evening; going when everyone else is at work or other non-peak hours is good too. But avoid like the plague…right after 5 p.m., paydays, on major holidays, and surrounding times of crisis (i.e. be prepared).

36. Know when the grocery store gets shipments of fresh fruits and veggies.

If you are in an area where a CSA is just no feasible, this bit of information can make a big difference. Fruits and veggies can go bad quickly once in the store simply because they have to be shipped. So knowing when your store is stocked can improve your chances of getting fresher food.

37. Plan one big monthly trip for bulk staples.

Doing a once a month trip for bulk items will cut back on your expenses and time. Again, be cautious in the bulk food store, avoiding impulse purchases there too — just because there’s a lot for sale doesn’t mean you’re saving. Same principle applies, if you weren’t planning on buying it in the first place…don’t.

38. Avoid pit-stops at the corner store.

Or the gas station. Or the fast food joint! These are among some of the most common hazards to a frugal budget.

39. Try co-ops.

You can often save a lot of money on staples at co-ops or buying clubs. There are many different options to choose from.

40. Consider shopping at two stores.

Much to advertising efforts, truth be told there’s no one store with a monopoly on savings. I have generally mapped out the stores that I know carry the items I trust at the lowest prices. Each store has savings on different items and at different times.

41. Think deep freeze.
Once you have experienced the joys of owning a deep freezer your life will never be the same! There are many options when considering the use of cold storage. No matter the size of your living space, there are a variety of freezers that can accommodate your needs. And be sure to ask people…someone you know might have a one that they don’t need/use anymore. You may also go in together with another family and share one?

42. Don’t buy non-nutritious foods
.
Junk food not only costs a lot of money for about zero nutrition, but it makes you and your family unhealthy and in the end it can kill you. Talk about a seriously bad deal! Instead reach  for real foods.

43. Rain check.

Pretty basic, but worth highlighting, if an item is on sale but the store has run out of stock, ask for a rain check.

44. Go when the kids are in school (or when mom/dad is home if you home school like me).

This little shopping rule saves me a lot of money and frustration! When the children are with me, because they are still suckers to the marketing giants, they inevitably ask for some kind of junk food. Even though I am able to stick to my convictions, it’s simply not pleasant saying no a million times. Note: I must say that as my children are getting older, I am beginning to use grocery shopping as an opportunity to instill frugality. Children must be taught these things :)

45. Go for whole foods
.
If you can’t easily identify what type of food it is (without a label that is) it’s not a whole food. Look for things in their least processed form — fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned, whole grains or oatmeal instead of sugary cereal. You know what I’m saying.

46. Read labels.

Look for, and avoid, those bad fats, hydrogenated oils, sugars, lots of sodium, cholesterol, etc. Look instead for high fiber, good fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.

47. Clean out your fridge.

How long has it been — no really, how long? Just go in and start new. Toss out the old and make room for the new. Read more here on how to naturally deodorize and clean your refrigerator.

48. Garden and Preserve.

These can add up to big savings over the long run. Obviously families living the the “country” or rural areas have more gardening options than those living in suburban or urban areas. Families with limited or small outdoor spaces should look for resources on urban gardening. Likewise, home canning, dehydrating, and freezing are all vital skills necessary for a frugal kitchen. 

49. Look for free food.

Foraging is quickly growing in popularity and rightly so! Once you begin to learn what wild etibles grow seasonally in your area begin looking around. Recently, I was driving down a street that I have traveled thousands of times and noticed a couple gleaning citrus fruits. Naturally I pulled over, asked a few questions, and helped myself to nearly 25 lbs of lemons, grapefruit, and oranges that would otherwise go to waste.

50. Make cloth grocery bags.
You’ll save tons of plastic over time, and help the environment tremendously.

Now It’s Your Turn

Daily Goal:
Pick a few things from the list that you think will have the greatest impact on your monthly grocery budget.

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This post shared here: Frugal Friday, New Nostalgia, Simple Lives, Monday Mania

Comments

  1. once again . . a great post and great list of money saving tips. You rock Andrea! :)

  2. Great post! I would add that price matching can save a lot of time and money. We have two stores in our area that price match to other ads. Price matching saves me from driving around all over town so also saves me gas! And, it keeps my grocery budget low. Here’s an example of how I saved 45% with no coupons on a recent shopping trip buying mostly produce from the clean 15 list. http://www.simplifylivelove.com/2012/01/january-no-spend-challenge-week-1-update.html

  3. just found your blog through Beauty that moves. and I have to say! yay! Love it!

  4. It’s great to see such a great list of easily attainable goals – so often “green” and “frugal” lists like this don’t seem accesable to the regular person – bravo!

    • That’s great that you think that Molly! Yes! It’s my goal to help people see that frugality and sustainability go hand-in-hand.

  5. I am always preaching, GET A RAIN CHECK! It’s saved me a lot of grief. I’m tickled pink to see it on your list. :-) And some stores have rain checks that never expire! WOOHOO!!!!!!!

  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing :)

    We also order meat from local farmers and buy a 1/4 of a steer and a whole pig each year. They are grown without antibiotics and hormones, in a pastured setting so they have grass in addition to grain. It isn’t as cheap as the sale price on meat at the store, but it is a lot less than the humanely raised organic meat that I was buying.

    I also belong to a food coop and I am able to buy organic flour for a much more reasonable price that way. I gave more info in my blog if you are interested.

    Thanks again for all of the tips!
    Lisa

  7. Thumbs up for a deep freezer! I wholeheartedly agree and wrote some ideas for what you can store in it today: http://www.lonehomeranger.com/2012/01/coming-to-freezer-near-you.html

    • I think my favorite is the “deep freezer/hit the flea or farmer’s market just before closing” combo. My brother in law worked across the street from one for a couple years, and I LOVED Sunday evening when he came home with flats of fruits and veggies for nearly nothing!! I freeze, I can, I pickle… but freezing is my favorite. Next to no special equipment is needed, and meal planning is a snap! Just grab a few bags from the freezer, thaw and cook!

  8. Nice post! I have trouble sticking to a list at the grocery store because I love grocery shopping. I love browsing and looking at all the ingredients because I love cooking an experimenting with new flavors. I’m getting better thought, I at least bring a list with me. I just need to stick with it.

  9. Love your list I follow most of them most of the time, but still some area for improvement. I started cutting the meat portions on many recipes and found that I can easily cut it by 1/2 on soups, chili, stew etc. Buying whole chickens and learning to cut them up yourself is another huge money saver in my kitchen. I portion the pieces out in the way I need them for various dishes. I can make a whole pot of chicken soup with just 2 thighs. Then I use the carcass to make stock. I have a great iphone app that helps with my grocery list too, it has a spot to put in quantities so I know how many or how much to buy when I get to the store. Meal planning and grocery lists have saved me so much money, I just have to remember to plan for all meals and snacks when I make the list.

  10. I love this list. I never thought to ask the farmers at the market to price match. What a great idea! I totally agree with the cash rule. When I cash my pay check I have different compartments in it for each budget, Groceries, gas, babysitting. When it is gone it is gone. I am paid bi-weekly so I have to make sure that it lasts for the whole two weeks. It took some getting used to but now the odd time I have extra left over. I am just trying to get organized with planning meals. Having picky eaters is proving to be a challenge. Thanks for all of the tips and hints.

  11. rocking list:))

  12. This is a great list! I’m quite happy to find your website via The Healthy Home Economist/Monday Mania. I can’t wait to look around.

  13. I would like to add, buying your herbs and spices in the bulk bins instead of prepackaged. They are MUCH cheaper, and you don’t have to buy large quantities.

  14. Great tips! I try and follow most of these. I’m not always great at shopping when not hungry but lately my mom and I have been shopping together and we go to lunch right before so that helps. :)

  15. This is great! I’m making it a personal goal to shrink our grocery budget as much as possible right now.

  16. I just read through quickly and will go over it when I have more time, but I didn’t see one of my top tips. Plan a menu and not just dinner all meals and snacks. That is always my first step, then I make a list of everything and the quantitiy I will need, next I check the pantry, fridge, freezer and garden and cross off anything I already have and then I go to the store.

  17. Michelle says:

    I got so much out of this. Esp. the one when to shop for fresh veggies and fruits in the store you shop. Now I have to check that out. i guess all I have to ask.

  18. LOVE THIS POST! I have added it to one of the post popular pages on my frugality blog, http://www.funcheaporfree.com/p/how-i-grocery-shop.html

  19. Great blog. We have oatmeal Monday-Friday, and only go big on Saturdays(sometimes Sundays as well) with eggs, toast, breakfast meat, and potatoes or grits. Oatmeal is dirt cheap, I do the instant Walmart brand, 10 servings for under $2.00 dollars(my husband wont eat stove top-bigger savings). As for freezing food. I do all my beans(lima, pinto, kidney, and white bean,) in my crock pot within 2-3days and freeze for the month. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes it for me. Having some of dinner ready, encourages me to cook, rather then opt out for take out. Oh as for herbs, If you have to buy some, putting them in a cup with a lil water in the fridge, makes them last forever. I have some flat leaf parsley thats been in my fridge 5weeks, and its barely started to wither a little. I keep a eye on the cup to see if I need to add more water. It works different for each herb, but it I find all my herbs hold up longer this way.

  20. I will send this list to my boot-campers and I always shop Monday thru Wednesday at 5pm or later.

  21. I will second the co-op idea. We are part of a produce co-op and it saves us more than just in the cost of the produce and other extras we can buy through it (bread, occasionally lentils and grains), but also through getting extra produce through volunteering, and by keeping us out of the stores as much.We go to the grocery store weekly for Almond milk, otherwise we stock up on things when they are on sale. And even then we have some soy milk in the pantry for those times when we run out of Almond milk and it isn’t yet time to go to the grocery store.
    And the crock pot is a life saver too. Not only do we use it to save time and insure we have home cook meals on busy days, but near the end of the week I throw in many of the veggies we have left from the co-op for a random veggie soup that uses up the veggies that might not stay fresh and helps empty the fridge in time for the next produce pick up day.

  22. I’m curious what you use instead of foil when a dish needs to be baked covered. I don’t use foil for wrapping foods in to store them, but have been unable to come up with an alternative for covering my Pyrex in the oven. (WHY do Pyrex dishes not come with oven-safe lids??) If you have one, I’d love to know about it!

  23. Great listing.
    Just want to add one more point here… crocking is getting much admiration these days…
    http://crockingirls.com/basics-of-crockin/

    But why buy a crock pot…?

    I remember the days I used Solar cooker at home…more energy efficient…and not just saves time/energy…it felt more in nutrients and great in taste…

    If you have place and sun light try out Crocking with Solar cooker… I recommend it and am sure…you are going to be fan of it…

  24. Cassie Jones says:

    Great list .. As for me i like to save on my grocery bills by using coupons. It is very easy and always helps to save a lot. There are a lot of sites on the Internet that provide customers with such coupons. I usually take them from uspromocodes.com or from retailmenot.com.Hope my experience will help you to cut your expenses ..

  25. Sarah S says:

    Great read, but many of these my family taught me already. I love having a chest freezer, a dehydrator, a food saver, Bountiful Baskets Co-op, the farmer’s market, and many others. I’m getting better at meal planning and freezer cooking. We also do a bulk shopping trip near our hometown as prices where we live are insane for some things (oil boom area). We rarely go shopping except for a few basics.

Mountain Rose Herbs

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