10 Simple Ways to Save Big on Groceries

By | 2016-09-21

Since we have not mastered cutting our grocery bill, I asked Amanda if she would be willing to do a guest post and cover this topic. She is a pro, and I am glad she agreed to share her expertise! Make sure to head over to her site and check out all the great content.

Amanda is a wife, mom, black belt and creator of CentsiblyRich.com, where she shares tips and insights gained through paying off $100,000 in debt on one income.

 

Is your grocery bill killing your monthly budget? It’s likely food is one of your largest expenses. Food expenses rank fourth in consumer expenditures, right behind housing, transportation and insurance.

Yet, grocery expenses are also one of the most flexible, controllable expenses you have. Lowering your grocery bill could add up to hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year. So what are you waiting for? Get working on that grocery bill!

My family has been able to slash our grocery expenses by 50% without using coupons or significantly changing how we eat or shop. With a little planning, preparation (and cooking, of course), you can do the same!

10 simple ways to save big on groceries (without clipping or printing coupons)

1. Track Grocery Expenses

If you’ve never tracked your grocery spending, you may be shocked by how much you spend on groceries each month!

Tracking grocery spending does a couple of things. It 1) gives you a baseline for how much you spend and 2) provides accountability. Knowing how much you typically spend on groceries helps you have starting point, set new spending goals and see improvement. Plus, if you have to actually write down what you’ve spent, you are more accountable and likely to spend less. That package of cookies you have your eyes on? Do you really want to tack that onto your expenses?

2. Buy and Stock Up on Sale Items

Stocking up at low prices is crucial to saving money on groceries. Study the grocery flyers each week and take note of the sale prices on items you normally buy. I recommend making a price book to track unit prices on your commonly purchased items. The price book helps you figure out when prices are rock bottom and, therefore, when to stock up.

Focus on buying the loss leaders. Loss leaders are items retailers are willing to “lose” money on to get you in their store. They are typically found on the front and back of store flyers.

Are you brand-loyal? This could cost you! Make a deal with yourself to at least try the generic or store brands and see if you really notice a difference. Making this switch can save you a heap of cash.

3. Make a Grocery List

Go through the grocery flyers (and look at your price book) when you make your list. Take note of what you plan to eat during the week for breakfast, lunch and dinner when you make your list (to eliminate any last minute trips to the store).

The most important thing here is to stick to your list! Keep in mind, retailers spend tons of time and money on product placement and displays so you will go off your list and buy more. If you have wandering eyes when you’re at the store, ask yourself if the item is truly a need or a want.

4. Plan Your Meals

Each weekend, sit down and take a look at your calendar for the week. Plan out exactly what you will have for dinner each day of the week. Plan simple meals that can be prepared in short order on those busy nights (the slow cooker is a necessity when you don’t have time to cook!).

You don’t have to make a 5 course meal each night. Keep it simple. I usually have one main dish, along with a veggie and/or fruit. Easy peasy.

Base meals around items that are on sale that week. You’ve already studied the grocery store flyers and know what’s on sale. Use those low priced items to your advantage.

Keep ingredients for quick meals on hand at all times. Pasta and sauce (and other quick meals) should be stocked in your pantry for those times when dinner becomes more of an “emergency”.

5. Prepare Meals Ahead

Preparing a portion of meals ahead of time literally saves dinner for my family each night. I know what’s for dinner each night (because I’ve made my meal plan), so I prep part of the food the day before. This may mean chopping veggies for the entire week, or simply thawing out meat, but any little thing you can do ahead of time speeds the process.

Make meals that overlap ingredients to create multiple meals.  For example, if you cook chicken breasts one evening, cook extra chicken to have chicken enchiladas the next night. Or, double the meal you are making and put the extra food in the freezer for a future meal. This alone saves a ton of time and money.

6. Limit Meat Purchases

Meat is likely the most expensive item on your grocery list. If you tend to eat a lot of meat, try to start with one or two meatless meals each week.

Consider protein substitutes, such as eggs and beans (an uber frugal food!). Each week, we have one dinner with eggs as the main protein, such as egg sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

Another way to limit meat is to use it as part of a meal, rather than the feature of the meal (steak, chicken breasts, etc.). Use smaller amounts of meat to prepare stir fries, rice bowls, salads, soups or casseroles to limit meat consumption.

7. Buy Seasonal Produce

If you watch the grocery sale cycles, you will note that the cheapest produce is, typically, what’s in season. Apples are cheap in the fall, cucumbers and squash in the summer, greens in the spring. So, this means January is not the time to give into your hankering for strawberries. When it comes to produce, the cheapest way to get your fruits and veggies is to eat with the seasons.

8. Focus On Nutritional Value

Soda and candy don’t have any nutritional value. Paying to put junk into your body doesn’t make good economical sense. Try to limit the amount of junk food you add to your cart.

I live with two teenagers, which means buying junk food is a source of contention in my house. While I try to find a balance and buy some “treats” each month, I try not to spend much money on food with no nutritional value.

9. Skip Prepared Food

The cut up fruit and veggie platters at the grocery stores certainly are convenient, but you pay dearly for that convenience. Prices for pre-washed, pre-chopped or pre-cooked food can be anywhere from 30% to 100% more expensive.

Instead of the pre-washed, pre-cut produce, develop some knife skills and prep fruits and veggies ahead of time. Rather than buying the pre-baked brownies from the bakery, buy a boxed mix and make them yourself for a fraction of the price.

10. Buy Non-Grocery Items Elsewhere

Grocery stores shouldn’t be your one stop shop. Buying clothing, household items, or even personal care items at grocery stores is going to cost you. The sky’s the limit on the markup on these items at the grocery store. Order non-grocery items online or purchase them at a warehouse club or big box store.

Most importantly, make any grocery savings you have count! Don’t just spend the money you saved, but make sure you actually save the money you saved.

How do you you save on groceries? Do you need to work on cutting back?

21 thoughts on “10 Simple Ways to Save Big on Groceries

  1. The Green Swan

    Awesome tips Amanda, thanks for the guest post. I follow these pretty closely in our household, but #10 was a new one for me. I didn’t realize this and had always thought we get a decent deal on personal care items by buying the store brand at Wal-Mart. I’ll have to shop around a bit better! Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, GS! You know, Walmart probably has a decent deal on the personal care items, but the grocery stores – such as Safeway, Kroger, and Publix – you know, the ones that sell mostly food, aren’t the place to buy them. I have found myself ordering many of our personal care items on Amazon lately because 1) I don’t like to shop and 2) I found lower prices.

      Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, Brian! It’s really hard with teens in the house! If you come up with a way to stop the teenagers from eating so much, please let me know! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Financial Panther

    Thanks for these tips Amanda. Grocery costs (and general food costs) are definitely way too high in the FP house. We definitely need to work on meal planning. My latest cheap and quick meal has been throwing a fried egg on a plate of rice. Cheap, tastes good, and still get some protein.

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      You’re welcome, FP! Meal planning is so important for saving on groceries – I know when I don’t plan, I definitely end up spending more. Love fried egg and rice! I often make fried rice and throw in some veggies for a cheap, relatively healthy meal.

      Reply
  3. Jon @ Be Net Worthy

    Great tips as usual Amanda! Thanks for sharing and guest posting over with AE. Our downfall are the frozen organic meals we have as “backups” for busy days. They have ended up becoming the standard instead of the exception the past few weeks with school chaos back in session!

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, Jon! The change in schedules that comes with the start of the school year throws me off too! When I do have time to cook lately, I’ve tried to make a double batch and put it in the freezer for a future meal. Last night was simply pasta and veggies – 15 minutes to the table!

      Reply
  4. F
    Full Time Finance

    Great tips. I might add one more. It may not always make sense to buy everything at one shop. Needless to say this can become ridiculous and cost you more in gas, but in general if you split once on your veggies and fruits to a farmers market you likely will end up with a significantly cheaper bill. Thankfully for us the farmers market is on the ride home from the grocery store and indoors so its open year round.

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks! Yes, shopping at multiple stores (or farmer’s markets) can add up to a ton of savings. I used to have a tendency to try to score all the deals at every store each week, but found myself spending way too much time! That said, if you have a few stores on your route anyway…why not, right!?

      Reply
  5. Linda @ Brooklyn Bread

    Amanda – you’re a black belt?? That is incredibly cool. And these are great tips. Not falling into the -one-stop-shop trap is definitely a good one. We all want to save time shopping for everything at one place, but we pay a premium for that.

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, Linda! The solution I have for not using the grocery store for a one-stop shop is to get the “other” stuff online (as long as it’s a good price).

      And, yes, I got my black belt a few years ago! Thanks for asking! It’s a big part of my life.

      Reply
  6. Latoya @ Life and a Budget

    Prepared foods are the worst budget buster when I’m at the grocery store. By time I try to do all the math and calculate what’s the best buy, I could have been home and made whatever prepared dish I was contemplating in the first place, lol! This is a great list of reminders to keep that grocery bill in check, Amanda!

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, Latoya! That’s too funny! This happens to me when I have a potluck or family gathering I didn’t prepare for – I stop at the grocery store and spend 30 minutes trying to figure out the best deal on the pre-prepped foods.

      Reply
  7. DC @ Young Adult Money

    I’m a vegetarian so I’m definitely supportive of eating less meat : ) These are all good ways to save money without couponing, but I do think spending 10-15 minutes looking over coupons each week could net you a considerable amount of savings, so I’d encourage people to not rule it out.

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Coupons are definitely helpful. I could probably get my monthly grocery expenses even lower if I used them. The problem I had when I did use them – I would spend way too much time trying to find the best deals and buy things just because I had a coupon. If people can make the coupons work for for them in an efficient manner, by all means, I encourage them to give it a go!

      I think you should come up with an easy, budget friendly vegetarian meal planning guide, DC! Though we eat at least 2 vegetarian meals in each week, I sometimes struggle to find good, budget friendly recipes.

      Reply
  8. Dividends Down Under

    Meal planning is such a lifesaver! I have no idea how people don’t do this. Not only does it save money, but you don’t have to wreck your brain trying to come up with dinner ideas every single night.

    I have to slightly disagree with your last point there Amanda (uh oh, no beef, I promise!). We shop at Aldi in Australia and they often have the best prices/value for money on random other household stuff – I love the weekly special buys!

    Jasmin

    Reply
    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Meal planning saves dinner every night at my house! Otherwise I’d be scrambling to figure it out at the last minute.

      It’s true, Jasmin! Aldi does have random household items each week at a reasonable price. I think they are the exception to the rule with their weekly special buys. I have purchased a few of their household items, I just have to be careful not to buy things in that section I don’t need (because the prices are really good).

      Reply
  9. Mystery Money Man

    Love these ideas Amanda! #6 is a popular one in the Mystery Money household. We’re buying less beef and chicken, and eating more eggs. My wife and I also make whey protein shakes packed with frozen berries and greens once/day, which is very cost effective and easy to prepare!

    Reply
  10. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    Thanks Mystery Money Man! I am working on #6 now more than ever. So far this week we’ve had two meatless meals! Eggs and beans are great protein subs for meat. I love whey protein shakes – cost effective, quick and healthy to boot. You just can’t beat that!

    Reply
  11. t
    timeinthemarketblog

    I think a lot of it is also picking what stores you shop carefully. I’ve seen my grocery bills drop down quite a bit since I cut out whole foods(they have some cool specialty items but the majority of their stuff is way overpriced) and switched to Trader Joe’s. Aldi’s is another good option although I’ve noticed in certain locations, the quality of their stuff is mediocre.

    Meat is the only part that’s hard to save on since higher quality meat merits a higher price. I do like buying in bulk and freezing as a way to save there.

    Sales are a big deal too especially for packaged items. My girlfriend is a big cereal eater so we’ll stock up whenever we see a huge sale on cereal since it lasts quite some time.

    Reply

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