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If you’re trying to free up room in your budget, it never hurts to start by addressing unnecessary expenses. That could mean cutting out subscription services you never use, renegotiating your bills or refinancing debt to a lower interest rate.
But once you’ve tackled the easy stuff, there’s a good chance you’ll still need to lower your expenses. In this case, it can be helpful to take a closer look at your shopping habits – especially when it comes to the grocery store.
That doesn’t mean you need to live on ramen noodles and canned beans for the rest of your life. Here are some effective, practical tips to save money on your grocery bill without giving up the foods you love.
Scour Store Sales
Every grocery store runs weekly sales to promote certain items, usually beginning on Sundays. You can find the best deals by checking online or signing up for the store’s newsletter.
Plus, you can combine manufacturer coupons from sites like Coupons.com on top of weekly sales for even more savings. Some grocery stores will let you digitally clip coupons to your store loyalty account so they’re available when you swipe your rewards card.
Pro-tip: Use Mint’s free grocery budget calculator to help determine how much you should be spending on groceries.
Use Grocery Pick-Up Services to Your Advantage
Having your groceries delivered to the house can be a huge time-saver, but it also comes with extra fees. If you’re trying to save time and money, opt for grocery pick-up instead of delivery. Grocery pick-up is almost always free, and you can schedule a time that works best for your schedule. Plus, there might be another hidden cost benefit.
“With grocery pickup, you’re never tempted to pick up something extra on the shelf that wasn’t on your list,” said Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability.
Shop Your Pantry First
If you’re used to shopping for groceries based on what looks appealing in the store, it might be time to change your strategy. Another way to save on your grocery bill is to start by seeing what you already have at home and basing your meals around those items.
For example, if you already have ground turkey, plan on making turkey burgers or tacos. If you’re not sure what to make, use websites like Supercook, which let you input available ingredients to get recipe ideas.
Avoid Food that Spoils Quickly
According to the non-profit Feeding America, the average family of four throws away $1,600 worth of produce every year. That comes out to about $133 a month.
To lower your food waste, focus on buying produce that lasts a long time. For example, instead of buying fresh broccoli, pick up a frozen bag instead. Choose fruits like apples and pears instead of berries that go bad quickly.
If you find yourself throwing an item away, think about why you didn’t use it. Did you buy too much? Do you not like it as much as you thought? Did you need less for a recipe? Be honest about how much of an item you can reasonably consume before it spoils.
Shop in Season
Consumers always pay a premium when food is out of season. To save money, look for food that is in-season – especially when it comes to produce. In the winter, that may be butternut squash, spaghetti squash and Brussels sprouts. In the summer it may be corn, tomatoes and peppers.
Take advantage of holiday sales, like buying a whole turkey after Thanksgiving, cooking it and dividing it into ready-to-eat portions.
Split Bulk Items
If you have a friend with a warehouse club membership, ask if they want to split any items with you. So many people buy items in bulk, but can’t use them before they expire. This way, you still get the cost savings without having 10 jars of peanut butter to get through.
Some local co-ops and other stores sell items like oatmeal, rice and beans in bulk. Buying spices in bulk is also usually cheaper than buying spice bottles, because you can buy as little as you need.
Find Resources for Inexpensive Recipes
Saving money on groceries starts with focusing on meals that don’t require expensive ingredients. Instead of using recipes that call for pricey cuts of meat or exotic spices, save money by cooking with cheaper ingredients.
“Learn to make the most of low-cost ingredients, including beans, rice, and in-season fruits and vegetables,” said Accredited Financial Counselor Kate Horrell. “There are many great resources on the internet. I like Budget Bytes myself – their Dragon Noodles are amazing!”
Examine the Prices Carefully
If you’re used to buying the cheapest bottle or box of an item, start looking at the per unit cost instead. Sometimes buying the larger size might actually be less expensive in the long run.
Remember to look beyond just the middle shelves. Stores often put the least expensive items toward the bottom. Poke around until you find the item with the lowest per-unit price.
Maximize Your Rewards
If you don’t already, use a credit card that offers cash back on grocery store purchases, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express which provides 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%)., or the Chase Freedom Flex which offers 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Terms Apply.
Most grocery stores have loyalty programs where you can sign up to get access to exclusive sales and discounts. Joining is almost always free, so there’s rarely any downside. Many grocery stores also print out and mail extra coupons to cardholders
Some cash-back apps like Ibotta also dole out rewards when you scan your grocery store receipt.
What are some other ways you save on your grocery bill? Let us know in the comments!
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.