I live in an area with one of the highest costs of living in the entire United States. Everything from gas prices to rent for a tiny studio apartment seems astronomical when compared to the national average. Grocery prices are no exception–my little family of three has had trips to the grocery where we’ve spent $100 for only a few days worth of meals. Nothing is more disappointing and frustrating than feeling like you’re being ripped off while simply trying to provide your family with food. Through some trial and error I discovered a number of things that help me save money on groceries. I’m not saying I’m an expert here or that these are the rules I always follow when shopping, but I generally try to employ these tips and they’ve helped me so much–I hope that they’ll also be useful to you!
1. Shop on double sale days. This has got to be one of my favorite secrets for saving at the grocery store. Many stores have a double ad day where sale prices from the previous week are valid for one day along with sales for the following week. This is great because the variety of items being offered at a reduced price is expanded for that one day and you can take advantage of them–all in one trip!
2. Buy in bulk whenever possible. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve definitely been guilty of buying an item containing less because I didn’t like the higher price sticker on the item containing more, only to return to the store a few days later for the same item. My husband was the one who started to encourage me to go for the larger size because when you buy in bulk, you run out of that item less frequently so you save yourself an extra trip to the grocery store, and many times get more for less.
3. Avoid pre-prepared foods. Bagged salads, chopped garlic, pre-shredded cheese–all of these are great convenience items, and don’t get me wrong, I do buy some pre-prepared foods to help me out in the time department, but if you’re reeeally looking to pinch pennies, doing the prep work yourself will save you a significant chunk of change in the long run! I’ve also found that when I buy the whole item I get more for my money. I can buy a fresh, whole 16 oz. block of cheddar cheese for 4.99 or I can get a 12 oz. bag of shredded cheese for the same price with a couple added powdery/chalky “mystery” ingredients to retain the “freshness” of the cheese. No, thanks on that. Sometimes doing a little extra work is totally worth it in the money and quality of taste department.
4. Plan ahead of time. I cannot stress this one enough. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the store without a plan, my belly empty and growling, and my mind a blank slate because I don’t feel like preparing a menu ahead of time. I tell myself that I’m just leaving the door open for “inspiration”. Heh, yeah right. Inspiration. Suuure. That’s really code for “Let’s buy aaall the food because I’m so hungry and ooh! look! a bag of chips that’s just calling my name! And don’t those salted caramel brownies look delectable?!?”. You NEED a plan, ladies. Jotting down just a few meal ideas before entering the store will keep your eyes on the prize and prevent the dreaded impulse buy, plus you’ll get groceries that actually correspond to your meal plan AND won’t have to stress about what to make during the busy work/school week! WIN-WIN!!!
5. Look for manager’s specials and price markdowns on meat. This is a great trick as long as you make sure the meat still looks, and most importantly, smells fresh. Just last week I got an entire package of boneless-skinless chicken thighs that were still fresh and delicious marked down a dollar because the “sell or freeze by” date was the following day.
6. Try to shop the perimeter of the store. Most of the brand-name, pre-packaged items in the inner aisles of the grocery store are full of chemicals whose names I can’t pronounce, plus they are unnecessarily expensive. I try to steer clear of these aisles as much as possible because I know it’s better for my health and that I’ll spend less if I stick to the basic essentials that my grandma bought for her family back in the day. This tip is especially helpful if you’re going to the store with kids. Trust me. I get tempted by the Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Peanut M&M’s too folks, so I completely understand the children’s struggle.
7. Shop around at different stores to compare prices. I’ve found that club card stores in my area tend to have the highest prices, even with the club card discount, so I tend to skip them unless I need to just pop in and out for one or two items. I always spend less at non club card stores like Stater Brothers, Walmart, and my beloved Aldi, so I tend to do the bulk of my shopping there. It’s always good though to compare prices and find which store offers the best value on an item. And this can change week to week with sale prices, so always pay attention to your favorite stores’ weekly ads.
8. Look at the unit price. My dad drilled this bit of advice into me from a young age because it’s easy to unwittingly get ripped off because you choose one brand over another. The unit price simply tells you how many cents per ounce you are paying for an item, and it can be particularly useful in the dry-good and canned food sections of the store. Although your savings from using this method might only be a few cents per item, those cents will add up so it’s worth it!
9. Embrace the beauty that is the off-brand. My favorite brand of sour cream is the Stater Brothers store brand. It doesn’t contain any chemical stabilizers like the other guys, has great flavor and texture, and costs over a dollar less! Many times off-brand items will be identical to their brand-name counterparts in taste, color, texture, etc. so it’s worth it to make the switch. Of course, this is based on personal preference and trial and error but I encourage you to try the off-brands of your favorite items and see what you find.
10. Use rebate apps to get cash back. I just recently started using the Ibotta app, which offers rebates on a number of items I buy regularly. All you have to do is unlock the rebates in the app, then purchase the unlocked items, scan their bar-codes and take a photo of your receipt to get cash back or gift cards! Although the Ibotta app has a lot of rebates for brand-name items, it also has some for items that could be from multiple brands, like milk, bananas, meat, etc. As long as the item appears on the app and is purchased from one of the stores on their list, it will qualify for a rebate. Ibotta has a large selection of items and stores to choose from, including Stater Brothers, Albertsons, Sprouts, Walmart and more. There are other rebate apps out there as well, it’s just a matter of finding the one that works best for you. Getting money back in exchange for buying food for my family is totally worth the research in my book!
I hope these tips were helpful to you! Tell me in the comments what your favorite ways to save money at the grocery store are. Have you used Ibotta or another rebate app and did you love it or hate it? I’d love to hear from you!