How to Save Money on Groceries

Sunday, May 16, 2021 | Melissa Brock
How to Save Money on Groceries

I really dislike spending an overwhelming amount of money on food. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy buying food because every time I go to the store, I can imagine the delicious items we'll cook together as a family. 

Currently on this week's menu: chicken fajitas with cilantro lime guacamole, ribs and broccoli/cauliflower salad. Yum. 

Americans spent about $4,015 on average per year on food at home ($7,023 on food in general) in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I can only assume that that figure has jumped quite a bit since 2015.

Unfortunately, I usually spend more: Up to $150 every week on groceries, which amounts to $7,800 per year. This amount usually gets our family of four through the week, save the odd extra gallon of milk. We also shop for groceries at Aldi, which offers a tremendous cost savings, excellent produce and the most interesting European oddities you can buy. (Have you shopped there? Trust me, it's a frugal person's dream. Just don't forget the quarter for the cart.)

Tip 1: Buy staples in bulk.

Buying in bulk from Costco really does save money — but only if you buy staples. I remember that on one trip to Costco, I thought, "Giant bags of salad! What an ingenious idea. We'll have salad for a month!"

Of course, we had salad coming out of our ears and the big bags rotted within a week. Lesson learned.

So, only buy the essentials — dishwashing soap, hand soap, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and of course, stuff you can freeze, like meat, from big box stores like Costco. Have you ever seen Costco's nearly seven-pound container of Nutella? Huge fan, right here.

Note: You still have to pay for membership, which looks like the following:

  • Executive Membership: $120 annual membership fee and free household card. It offers an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco purchases, additional benefits and greater savings on Costco services and select Costco travel products
  • Business Membership: $60 annual membership fee and a free household card.
  • Gold Star Membership: $60 annual membership fee, includes a free household card.

Most of the time, the membership pays for itself with the amount you save. What'd we buy with our first Costco membership? A piano. (Giant eye roll.) However, we got a great deal on it and it saved us so much money that the membership ended up being a blip.

Tip 2: Plan your meals ahead of time.

If we plan out our meals, we spend less. We don't waste time wondering what to make for dinner, then dashing to the store between softball and soccer practices. We plan four to five meals and go shopping on Saturdays. Sounds regimented? It is. However, it works well with kids because we don't spend a lot of time making repeat trips to the grocery store and we spend less.

Saturday morning at our house includes a lot of rifling through cabinets to see whether we have all the ingredients we need for recipes. 

Tip 3: Actually eat your leftovers.

If you normally pitch the leftovers into the trash because nobody in your family ever eats them, reconsider. Try those leftovers on for size! For example, leftover mashed potatoes might taste great in a shepherd's pie. 

Did you know that 40% of food in the United States today goes uneaten? This means that Americans throw out the equivalent of $165 billion each year! Yikes!

Not only that, but the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills and makes up the largest amount of U.S. municipal solid waste, which in turn becomes methane emissions. 

Makes you feel kinda bad for throwing everything out, right? The NRDC says that reducing food losses by just 15% could feed 25 million Americans every year at a time.

More than one reason exists for brown-bagging leftovers at work the next day!

Tip 4: Buy the off-brand.

I eyeballed the off-brand of Oreos at Walmart the other day, sitting right next to the regular Oreos. Then without a moment's thought, my hand reached out and plucked the regular Oreos off the shelf. It's like my brain wasn't even connected to my hand movements. 

Great Value brand cost $1.98 and 12.8 cents per ounce. Regular Oreos cost $2.99 and 20.9 cents per ounce.

Think of how much money I could have saved since my very first days of grocery shopping on my own if I could just control myself and not buy the name brand version of all products.

How frustrating.

Tip 5: Use a budget app.

Getting a budget app might seem like the last thing you might want to do — ever. However, budget apps can save you so much money. The most basic budget apps connect your financial accounts, help you track your spending and put your expenses into categories so you can easily understand at a glance how you're flushing your money out (like on regular brand Oreos). 

The truth is that many people don't understand where their money goes, and budget apps can even deliver messages like "you spent more money than usual on landscaping supplies" or "your car costs you a lot — get a new one." Well, they don't reprimand you quite to that degree, but you get the idea. 

A budget app can make it possible for you to have extra money sitting in your account that you can earmark for other things, like vacations! Consider using Personal Capital to get a 360-degree view of your money. I really like using its planning and analytics tools. 

Save Money on Groceries Starting This Week!

You'll notice that I didn't include a glaring, obvious way to save money on groceries on this not-exhaustive list: clipping coupons. In all honesty, I don't have time to research how to save on groceries by clipping coupons. In fact, that sounds exhausting to me. To those of you who do clip coupons, my hat's off to you. If you can help me figure out how to do that in about 30 seconds right before I leave for the store each Saturday, I'll do it.

I know there are lots of other ways to save money on groceries! How do you save money on those weekly grocery runs?

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