As owner and creator of a frugal-living website, Jenny Martin knows a few things about saving money at the grocery store.
With the help of coupons, shopping apps and sale items—not to mention motivational words from grocery checkout workers — she trims her family’s grocery bill by hundreds of dollars each month.
A disciplined, proactive approach to shopping at your favorite grocery store can help you “save 40% or 50% of what you were spending,” says Martin, owner and writer of SouthernSavers.com and a stay-at-home mom to five girls.
With many household budgets tight and bills like the rent, car payments and mobile phone bills fixed, finding ways to free up cash is important.
Dialing back the family grocery bill is a good place to start.
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Food shopping isn’t cheap. A family of four with two kids younger than five spend an average of $897 a month on groceries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And if the kids are between 6 and 11, the bill balloons to $1,071. So do the math: If you can save 40% to 50%, you can free up roughly $350 to more than $500 a month by shopping smart.
Here are 10 tips on how to clip your grocery bill:
View coupons as cash
Clipping coupons seems so 20th Century. But clipping a 75-cents-off coupon for a box of cereal from a grocery circular, or getting $1 off a package of granola bars via a store app or printing out a 50-cents coupon for a gallon of milk from a “coupon database” is akin to getting a matching contribution for your 401(k) from your employer. Just those three items can save you $2.25. Taking advantage of offers to double the value of the coupons will lower your bill further.
In the age of apps, it’s getting much easier — and less time consuming — to save with coupons.
“Definitely use your store’s mobile app,” says Martin. “You don’t have to do much work. Just open the app, scan the bar code (of the item on sale) and it auto-loads an offer. It can’t get any easier.”
Non-store apps like Ibotta, which provides offers from more than 300 retailers at over 500,000 locations nationwide, is another place to search for savings. The app helps you earn cash back on purchases.
And if you can’t find a coupon for an item you want in your local store’s circular or app, tap the words “coupon database” into Google and you’ll find sites that aggregate all available coupons for you. For example, on SouthernSavers.com’s coupon database, which has 9,000-plus printable or insert coupons, you can get $1.50 off a package of Galbani snack cheese or 75 cents off one Sabra Breakfast Avocado Toast. Other coupon databases include Hip2Save; Coupons.com; and Living Rich With Coupons.
Shop after a five-course meal
If you go to the store after fasting for 24 hours, rather than on a full stomach, your brain is going to scream, “I’m starving. That looks so good. I’m getting it.” As a result, you’re going to be picking items off the shelf without thinking about how fast your total bill is adding up. Impulse purchases are a no-no.
“Never go to the grocery store hungry,” Martin says. It’s far easier to stick to your budget and list if you’re not focused on “cravings” like chips and salsa.
Resist buys near the cash register
When you get to the checkout, don’t dare get lured into buying those within-reach individual chocolate bars, bags of chips or bottles of soda. Why? Those single item purchases often cost nearly as much, if not more, than a much bigger bag offered for sale in aisle two.
“Never purchase those instant gratification items that are sold right near the register,” Martin says. A 16-ounce soda you buy on your way out of the store can cost $1.99, while a six-pack sold in the soda section will cost around $3.99. So, if you’re buying the single soda, you’re essentially paying the equivalent of $12 for a six-pack, or $8 more. And when it comes to math and keeping your grocery bill down take your smartphone along so you can tally the cost of everything you buy—and see which per-unit price shown on the stickers on the shelves is the best deal–on your phone’s calculator. You won’t know if it’s a better deal to buy a six-pack of soda or a two-liter bottle unless you do the price-per-unit math on your phone.
Plan meals around sale items
Planning your meals for the week and tying the menu to items on sale is a win-win. First, by getting all you need for the week at once, you’ll avoid the budget-busting behavior of making extra runs to the store. “Just planning ahead will save you extra trips to the store and money, as we rarely leave the store only with what we went in for,” says Martin.
Second, by building your meals around items on sale, you’ll save money. When it comes to sale items, especially meat, if you discipline yourself to buy only when there’s a sale, you’ll not only save money, you’ll also diversify and add variety to your dinner menu. How? Porterhouse steak, chicken breasts and salmon may be on sale this week, but next week it might be hamburgers, pork chops and turkey burgers.
Save on meats
Meats typically are one of the highest-priced items on your list. So, here’s a tip from this reporter, who regularly grocery shops: Be willing to buy sharply marked-down and so-called “must-go” meats that are getting close to their expiration date, but still healthy to eat. The savings are often 30% or more, and the expiration dates can be two or more days away. To best execute this savings strategy, make sure you cook the meats before the expiration date or freeze them when you unpack your order at home.
Another way to save on is to go meatless some nights. It can be Meatless Monday, or Spaghetti Saturday, or Tofu on Tuesdays. The protein you serve daily, “doesn’t have to be meat; it can be tofu or beans,” says Annette Economides of MoneySmartFamily.com, a mom-and-pop website dedicated to helping people stretch their dollars.
Grow your own veggies
Fresh produce, even if purchased on sale and at lower in-season prices, can be costly. So, if you have a backyard or room for growing containers, consider harvesting your own veggies, says Economides. “Think out of the box,” she says. “This is the year to grow a garden. It’s a no-brainer.” Easy-to-grow vegetables include lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers — key ingredients for a healthy salad with dinner.
Bond with your favorite brands
If you’re a brand-specific shopper, get savings directly from the brands you love via brand loyalty programs and email newsletters that offer deals and savings. For example, if your kids love Eggo waffles and Fruit Loops, it makes sense to sign up for Kellogg’s Family Rewards where you can earn rewards, such as gift cards and coupons.
Buy in-season produce
If you want a deal on strawberries, apples, avocados and other fruits and vegetables, buy them on sale and when they’re in-season, when they cost less. “It will save you a lot of money,” says Martin. Not sure when your favorite fruits and veggies are in-season? Go to the USDA website to find out. Asparagus, carrots and strawberries, for example, are in season now. Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, are in-season during summer, the USDA says.
Shop online, pickup at store
Personal finance guru Dave Ramsey has a few grocery-savings tips on his website, but here’s one that makes a lot of sense in the digital world. Do all your grocery shopping online and then pick up your order at the store. The reason: “You tend to cut out the impulse buying and stick to your grocery list and budget,” Ramsey wrote on his website. Another savings tip: If you buy something, make sure you eat it. “Nothing is worse than discovering funky vegetables floating through the abyss in the back of your fridge,” he wrote.
Revel in your savings successes
Unlike a diet or a new workout routine, grocery savings results show up immediately, says SouthernSaver’s Martin. “When the cashier tells you, ‘Hey, you saved 50 bucks,’ you are ready to do it again,” Martin says. “It becomes like a hobby, and you start to see how much you can save if you change your routine.” Another way to spend less is to connect your monthly grocery savings to a specific bill. “If you saved $80 bucks, that’s the electric bill,” says Martin.