12 Non-Extreme Ways to Save Money on Groceries

by David@MoneyNing.com · 2 comments

When it comes to grocery shopping, it seems like there are only two camps: the extreme couponing types who devote hours upon hours to cut their grocery bill to the absolute bone, and those who just want to get in and out of the grocery store quickly, never mind the savings.

Count me in the latter group. Although I’m generally pretty frugal, grocery stores send out so many coupons with varying expiration dates that it just seems like an organizing nightmare. For frugal shoppers who don’t have time to make grocery-buying a part-time job, it may seem like there are no options for cutting costs that aren’t unrealistic.

Luckily, it IS possible to save money on your grocery budget without turning into a coupon commando. Here are 12 ways to cut your grocery bill without making yourself crazy:

1. Create a price book. This strategy helps you to determine reasonable prices for the items you buy most frequently. Amy Dacyczyn, the author of The Tightwad Gazette, first described this strategy 30 years ago. Dacyczyn would keep running tallies of the prices she paid for various items at different stores so that she could figure out price cycles and spot bargains.

While Dacyczyn’s method would require a great deal of work (she claimed it would take five hours to create the book in the first place, and then she would add information each week when she shopped), the beauty of the price book is that it can be as simple or complex as you make it.

My wife gave this method a go recently by simply logging down the price she paid for an item. The next time that item was on her shopping list, she’d look back to see what she paid the last time to know if she was getting a reasonable price. If the new price was lower, then she’d cross out the old and write in the new one—making it my new “set” price. She said jotting the numbers down just took her a little time while she was shopping, and it helped her to recognize and remember good deals. It also helped her to decide which stores to shop at more often for various items.

2. Carry a calculator to the store. While many stores will calculate the unit price for you, there are some stores that don’t provide you with that information on the shelf tag—or else they will use different units of measurement for similar items. Just having a calculator (or even whipping out your iPhone to use the calculator function) can help you decide whether the family size jar of peanut butter is really a better deal than the regular size.

Many grocery stores even show you the per unit price right on the label. Just make sure you are looking at the right label by double checking the barcode or else you may be comparing the wrong item.

3. Meal plan. We all know that we should go grocery shopping with a list, but it took me years to take the next step of actually planning out my meals ahead of time before I went shopping. Not only does deciding what meals to make early eliminate the regular last minute rush to the store before dinner (and the accompanying impulse buys that you always end up making), but it allows you to plan your meals based on the food you already have in the pantry.

4. Find a place that sells groceries for less. This seems like an obvious way to save money, but too many people just go to the neighborhood grocery store because it’s the closest and the most convenient. If you are willing to travel to just a couple of stores and plan your visits, you’ll likely score much better deals because perhaps store A always sells milk for less and store B always sells produce for less.

This is where the price book can help too because you will be able to figure out which places usually have the best deals.

5. Let prices dictate what you buy and consume. There are many savings to be had if you are willing to be flexible with what you eat regularly. Instead of chicken, why not try pork if it’s on sale? Because guess what? Chicken will be on sale next week anyway. By trying to come up with a delicious dish based on pricing trends, you will also up your cooking game because you’ll be forced to step out of your comfort zone. Now that’s a win-win.

6. Consider soon-to-be expired goods. I used to be scared of buying soon-to-be expired milk because I didn’t want to waste any by dumping what I can’t finish, but I won’t hesitate to grab the 75% off milk carton these days. That’s because I realize that the grocery store will throw away the entire carton when it expires. That’s a total loss. Even if I just drink 50% of it, I’m improving on the situation. I’m helping the grocery store out because they get to recoup 25% of the price, and I’m also getting a great discount.

7. Buy in bulk only when it makes sense. I’m never going to agree with people’s shopping habits at Costco. It seems like everyone around me when we are waiting in line to checkout has over $500 worth of groceries. Do they have 10 people in the family or something? Buying in bulk has its place though. If there’s anything you regularly consume and seem to run out of, then opt for a larger package to save on per unit cost. It’s just simple math. Just be wary that seeing more of something at the pantry may tempt you to over consume. That’s bad for your wallet and your stomach.

8. Use a credit card that gives you the most cashback. Do you know how much cashback you get when you pay with the card of your choice at the grocery store? Did you know that some cards give you back as much as 6% based on the total of your receipts? I don’t even go to the grocery store much to justify having a credit card specifically for grocery stores, but even my card gives about 3.5% back.

Look through your repertoire of plastics and see which card gives you the most cash back and use that one from now on.

9. Consider grocery shopping apps. The pandemic really accelerated the adoption of shopping apps and that’s a good thing. When you shop on the app, you get to see what your bill is going to be before you pay. It’s also easier to not get tempted into making impulse purchases. You also save time because someone else is going to spend all the time it takes to find everything you have on the shopping list and they’ll bring it right to your car.

10. Compare prices before you step out of the door. Another beautiful benefit of using shopping apps is that you can quickly compare prices before you commit to buying. It’s still going to take a quick few minutes to switch back and forth between the different sites, but it’s much easier than driving back and forth just to see if you can save a couple of bucks.

11. Try generic. I seem to bring out the naysayers every time I talk about generics, but no one I’ve dined with can tell the brands of ingredients used when we have dinner together. Sure, some name brands do taste different. But if you have an open mind, you’ll find that not everything is worth paying the name brand premium. Pasta, for example, is something we don’t mind buying generic. Milk is another example. Find what you like and don’t like. Just don’t pigeonhole yourself to thinking that name brand is always the only brand you can accept.

12. Check the receipt. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught mistakes on my grocery receipts. Double charges, missed coupons, you name it, I’ve seen it. I’ve even seen the wrong item being charged because the cashier typed in the wrong product code. It’s a hassle to review everything, but get in the habit to take a quick look at the receipt and you’ll find yourself spending less all the time.

The Bottom Line

You can spend less time pouring over circulars with a little forethought and a willingness to take time to compare prices and take notes while shopping. You’ll realize that you won’t need to have a OCD-style coupon organizer to reduce your grocery bill. What are your money saving strategies for groceries?

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  • JJ says:

    Don’t ditch your milk just because it’s nearly at the date. It’s still good for days after the date. I know; I’ve used it on my cold cereal even 5 days after, & it tasted fine, not even blinky (just beginning to turn). There’s also a host of ideas online for how to use milk that’s a just little off. You can find them under “ways to use sour milk”, or similar sites.

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    our Publix Supermarket here in Florida puts out a weekly 10 or 12 page paper promoting assorted groceries . A good many of them are on sale or often …..Buy One , get One Free. I take advantage of that Freebee . If it something I readily use even though I may not need it right now , I buy 2 or 3 and get 2 or 3 Free. Of course the Sunday papers also have discount coupons . I also check the cost per ounce . The larger the package , the lower the cost per ounce. Well known name brands vs. house brands , I try the house brand and if it is comparable , I will buy the house brand for a much lower price. If the supermarket discounts a product whose expiration date is coming due soon , I will BUY because the product is still good for months afterward. Always come with a list of what I am running low on , I do not wander up and down isles looking for things I think I might like to try. Buy the essentials .

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