7 Little Ways Financial Experts Save Money on Their Groceries (That Will Work for You, Too!)

published Jun 2, 2021
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Let’s face it: It’s easy to overspend at the grocery store. Whether you’re distracted by enticing sales or tempting food displays, author Bola Sokunbi, the founder of Clever Girl Finance, says sticking to a budget can be tricky while shopping for groceries. 

“One of the biggest reasons people tend to overspend is shopping when they are hungry, along with impulse purchases,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “It also doesn’t help that retailers purposely change the store layout, so you have to maneuver through aisles searching for items which result in seeing and buying things you don’t even need!”

There are other reasons why your grocery bill might add up quickly. Along with alluring sales and foodstuffs, “Fruit and vegetables often end up being the most expensive essential,” financial coach Dasha Kennedy of The Broke Black Girl says. “Outside of production and transportation cost, fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life, so they often have to be purchased repeatedly to avoid spoiling.”

Now for some good news. No matter what your budget may be, there are lots of little ways you can save money at the grocery store. From meal planning tips to mobile rebate apps and more, here’s how money experts cut down costs on groceries — and how you can follow in their footsteps. 

Shop for meals, not individual items.

Not only is food waste detrimental for the environment, it’s bad for your pocketbook, too. One goof-proof way to avoid overbuying and wasting food is to plan your meals for the week in advance, so you only purchase the items you know you’ll consume. “Invest your time upfront to plan meals out per week and only purchase the items needed for each meal,” Kennedy advises. “Consider purchasing meats, fruits, and vegetables — the foods that are usually more expensive — that can be used for multiple meals.”

If you’re having trouble deciding which meals to make, money-saving expert Andrea Woroch says your fridge and pantry are a great place to start. “Identify any items that need to be consumed before they go bad so you can build a meal plan around those ingredients,” she advises. “You can also look up recipes that use overlapping ingredients to further reduce your grocery purchases and ensure you consume every bit of food you buy.”

Shop with a list (and a calculator).

After you’ve planned your meals out, Sokunbi says the most effective way to save money at the grocery store is to make a list of the ingredients you truly need — and stick to it. “Shopping with a list ensures you buy only what you need, and prevents impulse purchases,” she explains.

Along with a list, Kennedy recommends shopping for groceries with a calculator close by, especially if you’re on a strict budget. “Calculate every item that you put into your cart to keep a running total to avoid any surprises in the checkout line,” she advises. “Most stores include cost per ounce on the price tag, but in the event your local grocery store doesn’t, you can calculate cost per ounce to confirm you are getting the best bang for your bucks.” How to do this? Simply divide the item’s price by the product’s size — and keep in mind that a larger name-brand item may actually be more cost-efficient than a smaller store-brand option as a result.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Buy in bulk (or off the bottom shelf).

If you know that you will actually use them, Sokunbi says buying certain food items in bulk is a simple way to save money at the grocery store. “Non-perishable items such as canned food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies can be cheaper if you purchase them in large quantities,” she explains. “Sometimes you can save even more through online sites such as Amazon.”

When you can’t buy in bulk, Kennedy recommends shopping the bottom shelves at your grocery store to save some cash. “Most of the expensive items are placed around five feet off the ground (or at ‘eye level’) where most customers are looking for and grabbing items to place in the cart,” she explains. “Consider shopping  from bottom to top to grab a better deal.”

Get picky about produce.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a nutritious diet, but their cost can quickly add up at the grocery store. Fortunately, Sokunbi says you can save money on fresh produce by stocking up on fruits and veggies that are in-season (when supply often outweighs demand). “Specific fruits and vegetables are cheaper during different times of the year because there is an abundance of them,” she explains. “Research seasonal produce while making your grocery list so that you can shop for what’s in season.” 

If you tend to only purchase organic produce at the grocery store but are looking to save money, Woroch says it can be cost-efficient to be selective about which specific items you buy. “The ‘Clean 15’ refers to vegetables and fruits that are safe to buy in the non-organic version because they have tough, inedible peels in which the pesticides can’t affect the food you eat, such as avocados and pineapples,” she explains. “You can save yourself money and go non-organic with these!”

Be strategic about perishables.

Perishable foods like meats and cheeses are often the most expensive items on a grocery list, which is why Woroch recommends looking for manager markdowns to save a little money. “When they get closer to their expiration date, meats, cheeses, poultry and fish may be available for a discount,” she explains. “Just make sure you will consume it by the recommended use-by date, or freeze it for later.” 

If you have a tendency to purchase pre-prepped perishables, such as sliced meat and shredded cheese, Woroch says you can instantly save money by buying them in their original form. “For example, meats that have been trimmed, cut up, or marinaded as a prepared option can cost anywhere from 30-60 percent more,” she explains. “Always check the price per pound to find the best deals.”

Shop with rewards in mind. 

If you aren’t using a free in-store rewards card every time you shop at the grocery store, Sokunbi says you might be missing out on some major savings as well as potential cashback earnings. “Most grocery stores offer rewards and discount cards, so be sure to sign up for these cards for every store you shop at,” she advises. “Using these cards can save you quite a bit of cash up front, and some even give you points for discounted gas and other items.”

Forgot your rewards card? No worries. Woroch says you can earn cash back on your groceries after you shop with the help of a rebate app. “Instead of clipping coupons or trying to remember to bring your rewards card with you every time you shop, apps like Fetch Rewards allow you to take a picture of your receipt to earn points towards free gift cards at stores like Target, Walmart, and Instacart that can help offset future food purchases,” she explains. 

Shop around.

To ensure you get the best possible deals on all your grocery store essentials, Sokunbi says shopping at different stores for the lowest priced items can be a big help. “For example, stores like Dollar Tree have many items for only $1 each,” she says. “So, shopping at a variety of stores can help you save even more every month.”If you don’t have the time or energy to check out multiple stores for the cheapest groceries, Kennedy recommends making your one-stop shop a discount or chain grocery store like Aldi, Target or Walmart. “You can save up to 50 percent on most grocery items just by switching to hard-discounter and big box stores,” she explains.