When Jacob and I first got married, we were in significant debt. We were looking for ways to cut down the cost of our living expenses, and that included finding the best way to save money on groceries.
We developed a cost-effective grocery shopping system and have been using it ever since to save thousands of dollars on groceries every year. In fact, in our first year of marriage, we spent less than $12,000 total, with an average of only $220 per month spent on groceries. We weren’t buying cheap food, either.
Our diet consists of fresh vegetables, some meat, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of healthy carbs and fresh fruit. It’s a solid, research-backed diet that should lead to optimal health.
All that to say, we don’t have the cheapest diet. Most people would consider it top shelf living. However, through a few simple habits, we are able to consistently eat great food at reasonable prices.
All of the tips you see below are proven methods we have used to save the maximum amount of money on groceries, and we highly recommend you implement as many as possible.
Save money on groceries with smartphone apps
1. Use multiple* grocery cash back apps
Grocery cash back apps are simple to use and can keep more money in your pocket when you shop for groceries.
How it works:
- Sign up for an account.
- Then, either download the app to use on mobile or sign-in to your account on your computer.
- Select your favorite stores.
- Select desired rebates for specific items at your favorite stores.
- Go shopping and buy cash back items.
- Take a photo of your receipt and submit it within one week.
- Receive cash back.
- Once your account reaches the required minimum, cash out for gift cards or cash.
*The best way to maximize cash back rewards is to utilize several grocery cash back apps. You can get cash back for an item from two or more cash back apps by submitting your receipt to each company. The companies operate independently, so doubling up is legitimate and strategic. So, sign up for all of the apps below to get the most money back.
Ibotta is our most frequently used cash back app because it is easy to use, has tons of cash back opportunities, and has chances for cash back bonuses every month. Get a $10 signup bonus when you use referral code CASHCOWCOUPLE at sign- up.
This $10 signup bonus gets you halfway to the $20 minimum cashout for cash via Paypal or Venmo or your choice of gift cards to companies like Whole Foods, Best Buy, and Hotels.com.
Berry Cart is a cash back app that focuses on healthy food items like organic, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and non-GMO food items.
Once your account reaches a minimum of $5, cash out via Paypal or your choice of gift cards to stores like Whole Foods, CVS, iTunes, Gap, Walmart, and Target.
Saving Star is a basic grocery cash back app that is easy to use. Saving Star has multiple offer redemptions and the chance to earn bonuses for watching videos and sharing your email address.
Once your account reaches a minimum of $5, cash out via a direct transfer to your bank, a Paypal transfer, or you have the option to donate your cash back to a charity.
Checkout 51 has the most diverse cash back offers. They offer grocery items as well as other items you might find at a superstore like razors, diapers, shampoo, band-aids, and more. New offers go live every Thursday.
Once your account reaches a minimum of $20, request a cashout and Checkout 51 will send you a check in the mail.
2. Use a grocery cash reward app, too*
Cash reward apps operate like a loyalty program.
How it works:
- Download the app.
- Securely link your credit and debit cards.
- Go grocery shopping.
- Use your credit or debit card at checkout.
- Automatically receive rewards for using your credit or debit card at partnership companies like Walmart, Costco, H.E.B, Trader Joes, Safeway, Whole Foods, and more.
- Redeem your rewards for gift cards to your favorite companies.
*Similar to the grocery cash back apps above, cash reward apps can help you save money on groceries. However, it’s important to note that cash reward apps can work in conjunction with cash back apps to earn even more money back on your groceries. Use the cash back apps above to get cash back on specific items and the cash reward app below to get rewards by using your credit and debit cards at specific grocery stores.
Shop Around to Save Money on Groceries
3. Buy groceries online:
When we went shopping at our local health food store, we found that the available specialty items were far too expensive. That’s when we looked online to see if we could find better prices buying directly from an online merchant. Luckily, there are several online options that make wholesome, healthy food affordable.
Additionally, we gave Thrive Market a try. Thrive Market is a cross between Costco and Whole Foods online. They offer natural and organic products at wholesale prices. You can sign up for free to browse the deals on their site, as well as receive 15% off your first purchase. We use Thrive Market to get great deals on health foods we normally would not buy at our local health food store where products are often marked up much higher.
Be sure you’re comparing prices between online markets like Thrive with the prices on Amazon to make sure you’re getting the best price.
4. Buy goods at the local farmer’s market:
Check your area for a local farmer’s market. Sometimes prices are better or similar to health food stores, but for higher quality food. The farmers market is also a great place to get fresh and hormone free meats and dairy. It’s important to know the average prices in your area for meat, dairy, produce and baked goods before going to the farmer’s market so you’ll know a good price when you see it.
5. Make a deal with a local farmer:
When it comes to dairy, meat, and sometimes produce, search Craigslist for a farmer in your area and negotiate discounted prices if you buy from them every week. If you can’t find a farmer on Craigslist, try negotiating a deal at the farmer’s market. Some might even barter with you.
6. Shop at discount grocery stores:
Don’t be afraid to shop at discount stores like the Dollar store, Aldi, and Save-a-Lot. Their supply is generally limited, but their low prices make it worth the trip. However, be careful when you go into discount stores. Remember to stay sharp and to know a good deal when you see one. For instance, paying $1 for a pack of gum at the dollar store is not as good of a deal as paying $2.00 for four packs of gum elsewhere.
7. Shop at drugstores for special buys:
Sometimes, shopping at Walgreens and CVS is beneficial. Most of their items are wildly overpriced. However, their weekly deals can be a steal. For instance, several times we’ve seen a dozen eggs for $1 at Walgreens. In order to get these special deals, you’ll need a Walgreens card or CVS card. This is as simple as signing up at the cash register with some basic information like name and phone number, and being handed a card to be scanned before you make a purchase.
8. Become a member:
Club membership stores sell in bulk, which sometimes lowers unit prices. Check out your local membership grocery stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. Before you sign up, do your research and find out how much a membership would cost and how long it would take you to make up the cost of the membership fees. Sometimes membership stores will give you a day pass so you can walk through the store without becoming a member. They do this to entice new membership sign-ups. Additionally, some stores have student and senior discounts for their memberships, so be sure to ask.
How to Save Money on Groceries at the Store
9. Don’t shop hungry:
I know you’ve heard this rule before, but it is true. You will have less patience and less self-control, leaving you powerless against impulse buying. Do yourself a financial favor and eat before you shop.
10. Shop alone:
Shopping alone is not only the quickest way to grocery shop but also the most efficient. Bringing along children or a spouse can be distracting, increasing the chance you’ll forget an item on your list or be tempted to impulse buy. Shop alone to reduce the amount of time in the grocery store and stick to your predetermined grocery list.
11. Use a smaller cart:
Similar to eating from a smaller plate, a smaller grocery cart will limit the amount that you purchase, therefore eliminating food and financial waste. Many grocery stores now offer multiple sizes for grocery carts. By choosing a smaller one, you’ll be forced to determine if you really need an item before placing it in your cart.
12. Make a list:
It’s important to go into a grocery store with a plan. Look at the ads for your local grocery stores and make a list of the best deals and where they come from. Having a list of items that are on sale is imperative. Not only will it help you avoid impulse buying, it will also help you get in and out of the grocery store faster so you can get on with the rest of your day.
13. Focus on seasonal produce:
Items go on sale based on availability and demand. This is why you see cherries, watermelon, and avocados on sale during the summer and squash and pumpkins on sale in the fall and winter. So, each week when you prepare to grocery shop, check your local ads and write down only what is on sale. Your written list should consist of what is on sale each week and not much else.
This step is crucial for saving money on groceries. By learning to incorporate variety into your diet, you will save a fortune over time.
14. Shop after-holiday sales:
Take advantage of the discounted prices on holiday food by shopping the day after a major holiday when expensive items like turkey, ham, lamb, pecans, and cheese go on sale. Many stores overstock their shelves for the holidays to ensure they don’t sell out before the holiday is over. However, after the holiday they need to sell the leftover inventory. It may not be convenient to grocery shop when you’re still recovering from a major holiday, but the chance to stock up on pricier items is worth it.
15. Know average prices so you can spot a good deal:
Knowing the average price of any given item will enable you to determine a good deal from a bad one. This may take some practice, so in the meantime, compare prices in your grocery store to those on Amazon.com and Walmart.com, two sites that will give you a good idea of average, non-sale prices for grocery items. Over time, you won’t have to compare prices because you’ll have them memorized.
16. Know when to buy organic:
While we’d prefer to buy everything organic in order to reduce our exposure to pesticides and to support environmentally friendly farming practices, it’s not always affordable to do so. Therefore, we shop by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This environmental group conducts a study every year to help consumers make the healthiest choices possible according to their grocery budget.
Print off, bookmark on your phone’s web browser, or commit to memory the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen lists that detail which items should be purchased organic and which conventionally grown produce items can be eaten safely.
17. Check unit prices:
A unit price is a price for one unit of the item you are buying. For instance, when you are buying items in a multi-pack, there are usually a few options for size or brand. The way unit pricing works is that the bigger the bulk of the item, the less you will have to pay. Knowing the unit price will help you determine how much you will save per unit when you do buy in bulk. It will also assist you when trying to determine between two brands.
Some stores kindly do the work for you. Other times you have to do the math yourself. Look to the left of the price tag at the grocery store to see if they display the unit price.
18. If it’s on sale (and you’ll use it), stock up:
Stocking up on items that go on sale is always a good idea. You can even stock up on produce by picking out items that are not ripe yet. This will give you a few days or weeks before you have to consume them. Just be aware of expiration dates when stocking up. Additionally, make sure you are using the items you stocked up, or else you’ll have wasted the money saved by buying in bulk.
19. Know where the clearance aisle is:
Our favorite grocery store has a discount aisle tucked away in the back of the store by the bathrooms. It is the hidden gem of our grocery shopping experience because we can get items which are normally overpriced for anywhere from 30-90% off.
In every grocery store, we make sure to scout out the clearance aisle. This will often have items that have been discontinued and need to be moved off the regular shelves. As a result, these items will be heavily discounted. It’s a great way to get more indulgent items at budget prices.
20. Buy generic:
Usually, generic is of equal value to name brand. The best way to know if there is a difference in quality is to look at the label. Compare the ingredients, nutrition, and weight to the name brand. Occasionally, it is the exact same product in a different package. So, save money by going for the more reasonable, generic choice.
21. Use coupons strategically:
Coupons are great when you are looking for a deal on nonperishable or hygiene items. However, they can also pose as a temptation for you to buy items that are less than nutritional. It’s great to look at the coupons to see if they have any stellar deals, but if the temptation to buy processed or junk foods is too great, skip the coupons and follow the other tips in this article.
A better alternative to using coupons is to utilize the cash back grocery apps detailed at the beginning of this article.
22. Buy cheaper alternatives:
Milk, cheese, and meat are expensive at full retail price. Try to limit your consumption of each until you find a good sale. In the meantime, consider buying almond milk, coconut milk, or other less expensive alternatives instead of cow’s milk. Another idea is to buy hearty vegetables like eggplant, mushrooms, and squash in the place of meat, and nutritional yeast and yogurt in the place of cheese.
23. Sign up for grocery store rewards:
Many grocery stores now host a rewards system to encourage customer loyalty. Stores will ask for your name and phone number before checkout. In exchange, you’ll get rewards points that can be redeemed for in-store discounts, gift cards, specialty items and coupons. This is a recommended way to save money because it rewards you for adding a short step to your normal grocery routine.
24. Keep an eye on the cashier:
When you go through the checkout line, make sure you are watching as the cashier rings up your purchases. Then, if an item rings up at the wrong price, you can correct it. If you don’t watch closely, you might be overcharged.
25. Get a rain check:
If the store runs out of the advertised special, go to the customer service counter and request a rain check and ask when they will be restocked. A rain check means they will let you buy the advertised item at the sale price when the item has been restocked, even though it is no longer on sale. Be sure to pay attention to the expiration date on the rain check so as not to miss the deal altogether.
26. Buy first, then meal plan:
This is by far the most underutilized grocery shopping money saving habit. Most will tell you to meal plan and then shop. However, that introduces too much of a temptation to buy things that are not on sale (or unnecessary) to complete the recipe for the meal you planned. By shopping first, and then planning your meals, you will have to work with what you bought on sale.
To successfully complete this strategy, go to Pinterest and type in the main ingredient you want to use and the type of food you want to make. For instance, if I bought a lot of chicken this week, I would type in, “chicken Paleo recipes”. This would populate with a plethora of recipes to choose from. Look for a recipe that you already have all the ingredients. If you don’t, skip it and find one where you do have all the ingredients. While you might strike out after clicking on the first few recipes, the best recipe can usually be found within 10 minutes or less.
How to Save Money on Groceries at Home
27. Keep a running list:
Keep track of items you run out of, as well as items you’re about to run out of. This list is important so that you are not running to the store, wasting gas and time, on one or two items. We’d recommend keeping a list on your phone so you’ll always have it with you when you go shopping.
28. Only grocery shop once:
Once you’ve made a comprehensive list, plan your route to the grocery store when you’re already going to be close to one. We grocery shop once per week and always run all our errands on the same day to cut down on time and gas and to decrease the temptation to make impulse purchases.
29. Grow your own:
The best way to save money on produce and spices is to have a garden full of items you would normally buy at the store. Spending a little bit of time in your garden every day has big payoffs because you don’t have to buy marked-up produce at the store.
Even if you don’t have the time or the space to have a full vegetable and herb garden, it’s easy to keep a few herbs like mint, basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and lavender growing on your countertop or windowsill. Not only are fresh herbs better for cooking, but they are also a cheaper alternative in the long run, after the initial cost of buying the seeds or plants.
30. Eat wild game:
Hunting wild game is a cheaper and healthier alternative to buying meat at the grocery store. Not only is wild game better for you, it is also better for you pocketbook. We had a relative who shot a deer, so Jacob helped skin it and then paid $30 to have 40 pounds ground. We made venison burgers and chili for months. While this is not an option for some, if you live close to a rural area, ask around in your community. Chances are, someone will know something about where to get wild game, even if you don’t hunt for it yourself.
31. Learn to freeze produce:
Knowing how to freeze produce is important for when you have bought in bulk or grown more than you can eat and need to save some for later. It’s important to know what freezes well and what doesn’t. Use this as a strategy to get produce on sale this week and use it weeks from now.
32. Do the work yourself:
Ready-to-bake foods are usually not a good deal. For example, a green pepper that is already stuffed will be much more expensive than buying rice, beans, meat, and cheese and stuffing the peppers yourself. Another great and common example is a veggie/fruit tray. You get less food for a higher price when you buy items that come pre-cut. Don’t be duped by convenience, and do the work yourself to save money.
33. Make staples from raw ingredients:
Some items like peanut butter, juice, and beans are better to make yourself. Not only will you cut out any harmful additives and excessive salt and sugar, but you will also save money by making it yourself. Buy peanuts, fruit, and raw beans and crush, juice, and boil your way to cheaper staples.
34. Don’t throw food away:
Try to recycle the meals you make at home. For instance, if you have grilled chicken one night, make it into fajitas the next night. There are tons of creative ways to keep your leftovers from going to waste. Just ask Pinterest. Try to have as little food waste as possible to save the most money on your groceries.
35. Use what you have:
Take stock of what is in your refrigerator and in your pantry. Make sure you are using all produce before it spoils, and use the canned foods in your pantry before buying new ones. This will ensure that you are not building a pantry and fridge full of food that will eventually expire.
*Because of some reader feedback, we thought we would recommend the finest cookbook available and the only one you will ever need – Nourishing Traditions
I hope you enjoyed our guide on how to save money on groceries. Do you have any other ideas to cut the cost of grocery shopping?