9 Easy Hacks That Help Busy People Save Time, Money, and Headaches at the Grocery Store

published May 1, 2021
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Grocery shopping — it’s unavoidable and inevitable. Unless you have the budget to spend your hard-earned cash on delivery and restaurant meals 24/7, you’re probably hitting the aisles of your local supermarket at least once a week to stock up on dinner essentials and snacks, whether that’s a mom-and-pop place or a bigger chain like Whole Foods, Costco, or Trader Joe’s. All that shopping can add up fast, though, and when you’re busy it can be tempting to skip the store and order takeout again. 

You don’t have to become an extreme couponer to stick to a budget, save money, and actually enjoy the process. Here are nine grocery hacks to help you streamline your weekly shop, and help you save plenty of money in the process.

Join your favorite store’s rewards program. 

If you do most of your grocery shopping at a certain store, sign up for their rewards program if they have one. If you’re a loyal Target shopper, for example, join Circle rewards and get the app on your phone to take advantage of discounts on things you frequently purchase, check your points balance, and save cash. Other stores may have special “members only” deals that are worth taking advantage of — just ask the cashier or the general manager the next time you stop by.

Buy in bulk.

If you have the space to store bulk products, then to Costco you go! Buying your go-to products in bulk is a simple way to save money and ensure you always have your favorite foods and other essentials on hand. 

For even more savings — and to save your pantry space — try splitting purchases with a friend or family member. Maybe you don’t need four packages of sliced turkey, but if you split ‘em with a friend, you’ll save money and won’t be out the next time you get a hankering for a sandwich. If you have kids, getting bulk sizes of their favorite snacks (or diapers!) is always a wise investment.

Do the math on per-ounce and per-unit prices.

Say you often buy a certain brand of orange juice, but a similar brand is on sale for a dollar less. Should you stick with your fave or try the cheaper version? If your go-to is a larger size with more ounces, don’t bother choosing the inexpensive juice. Do you eat Cheerios every single day? Spring for the larger and more expensive size. Sometimes all it takes is a little math, and checking the per-ounce price on the labels, to save money.

Shop what’s in season.

When produce is in season, it’s easier to stock and grocery stores don’t need to import it from quite as far away, meaning prices will likely be lower. Plus, there’s the added benefit that in-season produce simply tastes better: Have you ever bought strawberries far out of season? They’re… not great. However, if you buy them in June when they tend to grow best, they’re more flavorful and a bit less expensive than their January counterparts.

Support your local farmer’s market.

If you have a farmer’s market in your town or city, skip the grocery store and buy your produce there. It’s more affordable than you think, it supports local farmers, and the stuff you buy there often tastes better and fresher as it’s seasonal and doesn’t have to be imported to a grocery store shelf. Plus, what’s better than spending a sunny Saturday morning perusing produce and sipping an iced coffee? Nothing! Bring a few reusable tote bags and load up on fresh herbs, fruits, and veggies. If you go towards the end of the day, you may be able to score extra deals as vendors try to unload their wares before they head home. 

Reduce your shopping trips.

While it can be tempting to stock up your fridge every few days to ensure you rotate though everything that’s in there, completing one big shop a week can help you clear out your fridge more efficiently and edit your cart down to just what you need. (Of course, if you’re eating a lot of produce, you may need to pop over more frequently since things do go bad.) If you’re doing all your shopping in one stop, you’re more likely to get everything you need and reduce impulse purchases — but if transporting all those groceries is an issue, be sure to factor in the transportation cost to see which method is more effective in the long run.

Rethink the delivery apps if you can.

It’s tempting to order Instacart or Shipt delivery every time you need a restock, and during a global pandemic, it can feel safer too. However, if you’re vaccinated or comfortable going to a store and have the time to do so, you can save on both delivery fees and tips — and free up delivery windows for people with health conditions and/or other disabilities. 

If you do depend on delivery apps, they often spotlight great deals on items you usually buy, so be sure to pay attention to discounts and stock up when it makes sense to do so. Is there a great sale on butter, and you’re a big baker? Buy a few packs and freeze what you don’t use now for later — this will save you on both the per-item cost, as well as on those pesky delivery fees and your shopper’s well-deserved tip.

Get back to basics.

After a year or more of cooking more than you ever have, it’s normal to want to branch out. But what if I told you that sometimes the most filling meals aren’t the ones with complex, multi-step instructions and new-to-you ingredients? You can create a plethora of meals with inexpensive staples like canned beans, grains, rice, and oats, so make sure you’ve always got your favorites in the pantry.

If you have a “base,” you can whip up everything from Sweetgreen-worthy salads to overnight oats to delicious and filling soups without spending a ton of cash. Looking for inspo? Kitchn has a roundup of 100 meals that rely on pantry go-tos, but don’t skimp on flavor.

When in doubt, freeze it.

It happened again. You bought a bunch of produce and meat thinking you’d spend all week in the kitchen whipping up a gourmet meal, and then you went out for dinner or ordered Postmates, and now everything is on the verge of expiring. The good news is that the freezer was created in part for this very purpose! You can easily freeze meat, and many veggies freeze well. Is that kale or spinach looking just a bit wilted? Freeze it in a Ziploc bag and use it for smoothies. Voila! The produce guilt is gone.