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Sunday, April 21, 2024

How to save on groceries

How to save on groceries

Key takeaways 

Prices are going up all over the place because of rising inflation — and your local supermarket is likely no exception. 

06.23.2023

Hungry for cost savings?

If you don’t want your grocery bill to eat away at your wallet, there are ways to fulfill your appetite without breaking the bank.

While inflation is slowly starting to cool at the supermarket, after hitting record levels in 2022, stocking your pantry these days can leave you sick to your stomach. Everything from eggs to meat to bread has spiked at the checkout stand because of increased labor costs and ongoing supply chain issues, among many other factors. For 2023, the USDA anticipates food prices to rise above 6.5% overall.1,2

But the current financial conditions are nothing to stew over. While the sticker shock may take some time to wear off, follow our “list” of tips and tricks to help keep your grocery receipt as lean as possible.

1. Eat before you go

If it’s time to fill your cart, it’s best to have a full belly. Many studies, even scientific theories, show shopping on an empty stomach could lead to more impulsive, hunger-inspired purchases when you’re strolling down each aisle at the supermarket.3,4 Before you head out the door and to the store, be sure to grab a snack to satisfy your appetite. Doing so could help you resist temptation while reducing your spending.

2. Look in your pantry first 

Taking inventory on what you already have in stock at home can prevent you from wasting dollars on products that you don’t quite need yet. Double-check your pantry, freezer and refrigerator for household staples such as condiments, seasonings and grains as well as frozen foods and canned goods.5 Oftentimes, you may discover there’s enough ketchup and mustard left to get you by for another week or two.

3. Make a list and go alone 

Everyone is guilty of grabbing random things off the shelf and tossing them into the basket from time to time, but this may cause your grocery bill to spiral out of control. Whether you use an app on your phone or a pen and paper, you could trim $100 off your weekly grocery bill by simply shopping with a list and sticking to it.6

Going alone, and leaving the family at home, can also help you stay committed to what you need and what you don’t.

4. Find coupons 

Snipping coupons from the newspaper is still a great way to score a great deal. But if that sounds archaic to you, a can’t-miss BOGO (buy one, get one) special on something like your favorite ice cream may be just a click away. For the latest promotions, see if your grocery store offers digital discounts or rebates through their mobile app. If the coupons are on your phone, then you likely won’t forget to bring them.7

5. Think in season 

Is it winter, spring, summer, or fall? When you’re perusing the produce section, don’t just grab the first fruits and veggies you see. Depending on the time of year, the price you pay for each produce item will be impacted. In-season foods typically cost more than ones out of season, which are being grown and shipped from warmer states or countries. Some common fruits and vegetables, like apples, bananas and carrots, are harvested throughout the year and usually don’t shift too much in price.8

What’s in-season where you live? Check out this super friendly seasonal food guide to find the best foods, at the best times, near you.9

6. Buy this over that 

Sometimes, when you’re trying cut corners at the grocery store, it’s all about sacrifice and savviness.

The average price of 100% ground beef, which varies by region, is almost at $5 per pound, so consider substituting cheaper but protein-packed ingredients such as black beans for a similar taste in your traditional casserole.10 For chicken, which is starting to come down in cost after jumping nearly 15% in 2022, one expert recommends subbing in white beans in your go-to recipes.11,12 Instead of buying cereal for the mornings, oatmeal is usually a less expensive and much healthier alternative.13

7. Avoid precut produce 

Just because it’s sliced up, piled up and wrapped up doesn’t mean it always has the prettiest price on the package. While they may be super convenient, prepackaged fruits, veggies and cheeses can also be super costly. In general, precut produce in a container is three times more expensive than a whole item, like a watermelon. They also have a much more shorter shelf life, so they won’t last as long in the fridge.14

8. Go generic

Who doesn’t love the real deal when it comes to popular items like laundry detergent, toilet paper, and pain medication? But passing up on the big names could mean big savings. Premium brands are often the safe and simple choice for a variety of household products, but they usually come with a high price tag. In fact, swapping out well-known logos for generic labels could help cut your receipt in half.15

9. Use a loyalty card (and a cash-back card)

Most national chains will allow you to sign up for their loyalty program to gain access to additional perks. Points can typically add up fast and can be redeemed for member-only rewards, such as scoring 10 cents off per gallon at the gas pump. Other specials and sales can help you save even more each trip.16

Even better, many major credit card companies offer exclusive cash-back credit cards when used at a grocery store. For example, you can earn back anywhere from 1% to 8% on some of the more popular cards when you tap it to pay for groceries. That’s essentially free money you can stockpile for future visits.17

10. Pay attention so you don't pay more

When you’re checking out, put your phone down and your head up. You owe it to yourself — and to your wallet — to do your due diligence at the cash register by making sure everything rings up at the correct price and nothing scans twice.18 It may be tedious process, but reviewing the monitor for any errors, glitches or mistakes provides an extra layer of protection so you don’t accidentally overpay for anything.

The last word: Shop smart!

In addition to the ideas above, there are many other ways you can save at the grocery store. From searching the clearance aisle after a holiday to limiting your trips to once a week to buying items in bulk, anything and everything can help you pinch pennies. It’s important to do what works for you and fits your lifestyle.

1 Nerd Wallet, “The Cost of Groceries: Are Food Prices Going Up?,” June 2023.

2 Yahoo Finance, “Inflation in 2023 Is Coming Down — Here’s Why Your Grocery Bill Isn’t,” May 2023.

3 USC News, “Are you hungry? Best to eat first and shop later, study finds,” March 2015.

4 The Penny Hoarder, “How to Save Money on Groceries: 28 Tools and Tricks to Save $100 or More,” June 2022.

5 Go Banking Rates, “15 Tips for Stocking Your Pantry on a Budget,” July 2022.

6 Real Simple, “Here's How I Save $100+ Per Week By Shopping With a Grocery List,” June 2021.

7 CNBC, “11 tips for saving money at the grocery store,” January 2022.

8 Eat This, Not That, “30 Shopping Hacks to Save Money at the Grocery Store,” July 2021.

9 seasonalfoodguide.org, June 2023.

10 Axios, “Memorial Day barbecues cost more with inflation,” April 2023.

11 CNN, “Chicken prices are finally starting to fall. You can thank busy roosters,” November 2022.

12 CNBC, “11 tips for saving money at the grocery store,” January 2022.

13 U.S. News, “10 Grocery Items Getting Pricier and Alternatives to Buy Instead,” June 2022.

14 Huff Post, “Why You May Want To Reconsider Buying Precut Vegetables And Fruits,” January 2021.

15 Go Banking Rates, “15 Tips for Stocking Your Pantry on a Budget,” July 2022.

16 The Penny Hoarder, “How to Save Money on Groceries: 28 Tools and Tricks to Save $100 or More,” June 2022.

17 Nerd Wallet, “8 Best Credit Cards for Groceries of July 2022,” July 2022.

18 Eat This, Not That, “30 Shopping Hacks to Save Money at the Grocery Store,” July 2021.

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The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

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