Personal Finance

17 Creative Ways to Save on Your Grocery Bill

long grocery billIt seems like the prices of everything are only increasing as of late. This is especially true at the local supermarket where the cost of meat and dairy have been on a steady rise, not to mention items like produce and even salty snacks and desserts all demonstrating some modicum of price fluctuation that has us shelling out more money at the checkout line.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to stretch a dollar on groceries and there doesn’t appear to be much relief on the horizon as manufacturing and transportation expenses continue to increase. When the price at the pump rises, you can be sure that’s going to affect your grocery bill too. In fact, there are a litany of factors that currently exist which play a role in the price you’re going to pay for food each week and all of them are well beyond your control.

But you don’t have to accept it. You can fight back. Just start getting creative in finding ways to save on groceries. We have seventeen ideas you may want to try the next time you hit up your local supermarket. Some are pretty simple, others you may have never even considered before now, and all of them are guaranteed to help you keep more money in your pocket while putting more food in your shopping cart.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and at these prices that time is now. So gather up your reusable bags, print out this list, and get ready to hit the aisles. You and your family are about to stock the pantry with your favorite items…and make sure you clear some room in the freezer too. You’re going to need it.

1. Budget Your Trip

The quickest way to spend too much at the grocery store is by not having a plan before you get there. Establishing budgetary parameters when you go will help you control your spending. The best way to accomplish this is by making a shopping list of the items you really need first and budgeting around them. If you know you need to purchase certain items, then you can decide on how much you’ll have left over after you’ve bought the necessities.

Be sure you stick to your budget as well and avoid splurging on products you don’t really need because you may come across a really great deal on something in a different aisle later. Stay focused and shop conservatively, this way you’ll definitely remain under budget.

2. Check Out Those Weekly Circulars

Every supermarket has them; a weekly circular that you may find in your mailbox or tucked in the middle of the Sunday paper. You can even pick one up by the front entrance. These guides advertise all of the items that are on sale for the week (sometimes even longer for certain products).

Knowing what’s on sale before you go can help you budget and menu plan more effectively. But while there are so many wonderful items at reduced prices, don’t go hog wild and put something on the list just because it’s cheaper than usual. If it’s not something you or your family is actually going to consume, then it’s not worth including in your budget or shopping list, even if it is a dollar cheaper than normal. If you can’t find the printed version of the weekly circular, you will likely be able to find a version online at the supermarket’s website. That site is going to be a helpful resource for you in other ways as well.

coupons-1619720-639x4283. Clip Your Coupons

Like I said, the store website is going to prove useful for more than just the weekly circular. Coupons have long been a trusted ally at the checkout counter and there is a myriad of sources from which to find them. In addition to the store website (and sometimes the circular), you can find coupons at a plethora of online locations. You just need to visit the sites, print out the coupons you want, and bring them to the store. The more you use coupons, the shrewder you will become in applying them to the things you buy the most.

You’ll soon discover ways to combine coupons together as you differentiate between manufacturer and store coupons and how they can be doubled up to get even deeper discounts. This is commonly referred to as extreme couponing and hundreds of thousands of consumers just like you have turned this method of saving money into a full-time endeavor. Before long, you’ll be an old pro at saving money on products by adding coupons to those items that the store has already dropped in price.

4. Go Directly to the Clearance Bins

Sell-by and expiration dates can be very handy in helping you know when to buy and use a food item after you get it home. They can also be one of your biggest allies in saving money. Just about every supermarket keeps a portion of their shelf space devoted to moving products that are nearing these dates.  Once they hit these dates and still are not purchased, the items are no longer good for sale.

You can be sure the company doesn’t want that portion of their inventory to go unsold, so store managers mark down these items as much as 30 to 50% just to get them out the door. Here’s a pro tip: search the meat aisle for the clearance bin and you’ll likely be able to find good cuts at drastically reduced prices. The sell-by or use-by dates will usually be within a day or two so plan on eating those items that night or, if you’d prefer to wait, put them in the freezer until a later date.

Also, for most foods these dates are merely estimates as to how long they will remain at their freshest and (with the exception of some dairy and protein) can still be eaten for a few days after sell by dates.

5. Switch Up Your Shopping Routine

No matter where you live in the country, chances are you have more than one supermarket chain near you. Larger metropolitan cities may have two or three within a relatively short distance of each other. If that applies to your living situation, then you’re going to want to take advantage of the sales at every one of them. Most major supermarket chains offer virtually identical items on their shelves, but they don’t all have the same products on sale.

So if you’re looking for something in particular, you may find one chain has it on sale versus another that is offering it at full price. Shop around and switch it up from one store to the next from time to time. You may find better discounts at a different store each time you need to make a run. Compare prices in your circulars, see which store has the better deal and then head that way. And don’t forget your coupons!

6. Buy Only What You Need

Maybe “need” is a strong word; none of us NEEDS ice cream. We just love it so! The point here is, just buy the items that you know you are going to use. To expand on my earlier point about only using coupons on the things you will actually consume, think about what you’re placing in your shopping cart before you do. If it’s an item that may not get used anytime soon (or not at all for whatever reason), then don’t buy it. Wasting food is a terrible waste of money at the same time and considering how or when you’ll use a certain food item is a good way to avoid doing either. Some food items have multiple uses that can be incorporated in a number of dishes so focus on buying those over items that have one single purpose in planning your meals.

7. Buy in Bulk

Now here’s a great way to save some cash on your grocery bill. It used to be you could only buy in bulk at the warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, but the major supermarket chains have started to get into the game by offering larger sized version of some items. They’ve even begun to pack meats and produce into larger bundles and selling them at slightly reduced prices per unit than single serving amounts.

This can be helpful in saving money and stocking up on that item for the long term. If you find a great deal on steaks at a lower price, buy that family pack and stick those extra cuts in the freezer. The same goes for any dry goods that you can store in the pantry for long periods of time without worrying about expiration dates. You’re saving money in the long run by not having to buy those items again the next time you go shopping.

8. Shop the Holidays

The biggest sales are usually on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But really any major holiday that often involves a long weekend, and especially if it’s known for bringing family and friends together for a meal, is a good time to find great prices on everyday purchases. The major supermarket chains offer huge sales around these times of the year because they know we’re all going to be shopping for everything from meats to cheeses to eggs to soda and even beer.

The store circulars are chock full of great deals on the widest array of items in the days and weeks leading up to when we celebrate. So be cognizant of when the sales begin because the best stuff is likely to run out early and then all you’re left with are canned green beans and fruitcakes that have dropped in price. We may not all love the holidays, but I think we can all agree they are the most wonderful times of the year to save money on the grocery bill.

9. Pick the Right Card

We are living in an increasingly cashless society and relying on credit cards and debit cards to pay at check out. Chances are you have more than one credit card in your purse or wallet and it’s very possible one of those cards offers some kind of rewards component for when you use that card over the others. These rewards offers sometimes kick in when you purchase certain specific items and one of the most common categories is the grocery store.

The major banks are willing to reward you anywhere from 1 to 3% of your grocery bill each time you swipe it at the supermarket. That may not sound like much at first but after you make three or four visits a month, it could add up to a little more than chump change. So when you’re ready to pay, try to use cash back credit cards over other cards that don’t offer you anything for using them.

basil-320736_64010. Start a Garden

Do you have a green thumb? It’s okay, most of us don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start to grow your own veggies and herbs. Most of these items are pretty simple to cultivate in your back yard or, if you live in a more urban setting, your patio, deck, or even a windowsill. All it takes is a few pots, some soil, some seeds, and some patience.

Be sure to remember to water and feed your garden the nutrients it might need depending on what it is that you’re trying to grow. Before you know it, you’ll have tomatoes, peppers, carrots, strawberries, a whole colorful variety of produce and little herb plants that you can snip anytime you need them. Not only are these items fresher but you’re not spending much money to enjoy them either. It’s a win-win.

11. Organic or Not

The “organic” label placed on items like meat, dairy, and produce has been the focus of some controversy as of late. Some studies and advocacy groups have questioned the need for buying certain items organic when the conventional version is just as good. Most people who purchase organic are concerned about digesting pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other additives that are used in the production of our food.

Along with that label of assurance comes a higher price tag. But the reality is that not everything needs to be purchased organic. If this is something that concerns you, then check out the updated list from the Environmental Working Group, an agency that monitors the items that should be bought organic and those products that are just labeled that way to make you spend more for them.

12. Make More Meals at Home

This also includes the components that you might eat with your meals. Eating out can be an expensive proposition, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t do it every once in a while. Those runs to the fast food place, however, can and will add up fast. Not to mention what that stuff does to your body. Going with fresh home-cooked meals can help reduce your grocery bill because you can make large portions and store what you don’t eat in the fridge or pantry for lunch or dinner in the future.

There’s no reason to stop with meals, either.  Making your own bread and cookies can also provide additional food staples to have around the house without the need to buy it. Making the stuff from scratch will also taste better along with that feeling of accomplishment you’ll get from eating something homemade while saving money at the same time.

13. Change Your Eating Habits

This might be a tough one to adopt at first, and how far you want to take it is up to you, but switching up your diet from time to time can help save money. Expensive items like meats can be substituted for less expensive items like tofu and beans in many recipes. Try making your favorite dish with veggies instead and be adventurous. Who doesn’t like buffalo-style chicken wings? Maybe next time go with a cheaper vegetable substitute and make buffalo-style cauliflower. You just may enjoy it and you might not even know the difference. There’s also the added bonus of eating healthier with soy and vegetables instead of the alternative.

14. Lose Some Weight

Buying produce usually means weighing out what you want to purchase at the time. But there are many types of vegetables and fruits that come with parts and pieces that you’re going to discard anyway when you use them. So do that before you weigh out what you’re buying. Why pay for stuff you don’t want or need? Things like stems, stalks, even leaves and husks may not seem very heavy but they do count towards the overall weight of your produce. Take them off before you weigh and you’ll save some extra green.

15. Don’t Pay Full Price

This may seem weird at first but that’s no reason not to try it. Sometimes the stores don’t get to all of the items that are nearing their expiration or use by dates to put them into the clearance bins that are located in the various departments. You’re already well aware of the fact that the supermarket doesn’t want to lose money on an inventory item that doesn’t sell, so if you come across an item that is nearing it’s end date bring it to a manager and ask him or her to lower the price. Chances are they would do it anyway, but someone neglected to move it from the main shelf to a clearance area. You know what they say, you’ll never know unless you ask.

16. Where You Shop Helps

Some supermarkets may come across as slightly more “prestigious” than others. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you may have some of these stores in the area. It’s not about status when you shop for groceries; it’s about sustenance. So if you have the choice between going to a Whole Foods Market or a Stop and Shop, be sure you picking one over the other because you actually feel like that store is supplying you with the items you really need. Don’t feel like you have to shop at Whole Foods to portray a certain image. You can end up paying more for the same items or find that your selection is limited and you’re buying something you don’t really want to consume.

You may also want to seek out alternative types of grocery stores like small bodegas or ethnic shops that might offer certain items at lower prices. Much like anything else we buy, you can find grocery stores online as well. Amazon has been offering a delivery service that is designed to bring the supermarket to you through their website.

17. Don’t Shop Hungry

Last but not least, we come to the single most important way to save money on your grocery bill. Going into a supermarket when you are hungry is a dangerous proposition to your wallet. Everything looks good when you walk into a food store and you haven’t eaten yet. It doesn’t matter which aisle you’re walking down, it’s all appealing and you can end up putting much more in your shopping cart than you need or may even want later on. So before you head out to the grocery store, grab a bite to eat first and that way you won’t be starving when you shop for the week.

Our Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the ways to keep your grocery costs low. There are many others you may discover on your own with just a little bit of ingenuity and creative finagling. Just be sure to look out for sales, every supermarket always has something at a reduced price, and keep your eye on those weekly circulars. Keep an eye on your coupons as well, know which ones can be combined or doubled and, more importantly, check the expiration dates. Coupons can go bad just like old food in your pantry and both can be a wasted opportunity when it comes to saving money on your grocery bill.

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