7 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill

Lower your grocery bill and have more money for paying down debt or building up savings. Here are several tips to get started - it's not that hard!Paying down debt or trying to save up for an emergency fund? If you’re looking to save money, one of the first places you should look is your fridge.

Your grocery bill might be one of the easiest places to save money, but it will almost certainly mean investing a little extra time. You don’t have to clip coupons or drive all over town looking for the best deals on your groceries, but you do need to have a plan in order to lower your grocery bill.

Here are 7 ways you can prevent yourself from going over-budget when it comes to food.

1. Meal Plan

At the end of the week, do you throw out a trash bag full of leftovers or wilted produce? Or do you come home every night, open the fridge, see nothing, and order a pizza?

If you aren’t planning properly, it’s easy to buy too much food or too little. Either ends up costing you money in the long run. Take a moment to list out all your favorite meals or spend an afternoon cruising Pinterest for ideas.

Draw up a meal plan that’s realistic (you may love roast turkey, but it’s not a practical week night meal). Alternatively, there are many services that allow you to order pre-made meal plans.

Use your meal plan to create a list of groceries, but make sure to check your pantry. You probably already have certain staples or spices on hand. It’s not a huge deal to have 3 bottles of ketchup in the pantry, but eventually you’ll run out of space. And let’s face it – nothing lasts forever; even canned foods eventually expire.

2. Look for Deals

Once you’re at the store, spend a little time to make sure you’re getting the best deals. The product you’re most likely to buy is at eye level. The brands placed at eye-level also tend to be the most expensive. Look above or below the eye-level shelves and you’ll often find a cheaper brand.

If you use a certain item a lot, then be sure to look for store specials. Maybe you only need one can of black beans for your planned meals, but if black beans are on sale this week, it’s a great time to stock up!

Take special note that some of the deals require a store’s loyalty card. If you don’t have one, get one. The benefits may include credit towards gas purchases or coupons that are targeted toward items you tend to buy.

However, if you don’t want a loyalty card, some stores will scan a courtesy card for you. You’ll at least receive discount prices with it, so ask the cashier if they don’t mention it.

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3. Check Unit Price

When the product you want comes in multiple sizes, look closely at the tag on the shelf. Many stores will display a unit price on one corner of the price tag. The lower the unit price, the better the deal.

If your store doesn’t display the unit price, get out your phone (or old school calculator) and divide the product’s weight (like lbs or ozs) or volume (like oz or grams) by the cost. Now you can compare that against the unit price for a similar product.

4. Be Smart

Sales are great, but don’t get swept away. If tomatoes are on sale, that’s awesome – if you’ll use them. If they’ll be a mushy mess on your counter by the end of the week, then it’s a waste of money to buy extra.

Buying 30 cans of cranberry sauce at half price might seem like a great deal, but even canned goods have a shelf life. If you don’t really like cranberry sauce, you aren’t likely to use all the cans before they expire.

On the other hand, it pays to know what items freeze well. Bread, milk, and cheese are all things you can buy in bulk and freeze to prevent spoilage. (Tip: make sure to empty a little of the milk to allow for expansion during the freezing process.)

5. Shop Less Often

Admit it: even when you have a list at the store, you come out with at least one thing that wasn’t on said list. We all fall victim to impulse buying from time to time. The best solution to impulse buying is to avoid shopping, but that’s not very realistic when it comes to groceries.

However, if you can limit your trips to the grocery store, you can limit the amount of opportunities you have for slip-ups. Some people stop into the store every night to pick up one or two ingredients for dinner. If you followed the meal plan tip (tip #1), you shouldn’t find yourself in this position often.

You can step this tip up a notch by going grocery shopping only once or twice a month. Armed with a good meal plan, you’ll have a solid grocery list. You can go to the store, stock up on all your needs, freeze things that might spoil, and steer clear of the weekly shopping temptations.

I don’t have a freezer, but I have found that I can shop for all the shelf-stable products at the beginning of the month. My subsequent trips will be quick – just produce and dairy. I’m in and out with little opportunity for temptation to overtake me.

6. Shop Without Kids

If you’re a parent of small children, there are several reasons you might want to brainstorm ways to shop without them.

First, even if you have strong resolve to resist the impulse buys, your children are likely to wear you down from time to time. Second, if you’re speeding through the store, trying to get done before Junior starts throwing a tantrum, there are lots of tips you can’t put to use.

It’s hard to check for deals or look at the unit price. You might not even be able to tell what items you’re missing off your list! (And I won’t even tell you how many times I grabbed the wrong product as I tried to navigate the store with my two children. I don’t notice the problem until I get home.)

If your significant other can supervise the children while you make a monthly shopping trip, your wallet will thank you. For some families, the situation is dire enough that it might warrant hiring a baby sitter. If you can save $50 at the store, but only pay a sitter $30, then it might be worth it.

7. Eat Before You Shop

If you skipped breakfast and find yourself in the grocery store an hour past your normal lunch time, everything is going to look delicious to you. List or not, yummy things will keep finding their way into your cart.

This tip is pretty well-known, but isn’t always easy to implement. If you know you’ll be shopping after work and might be hungry, pack a snack. Another alternative is to pick out something that you can eat right after shopping is over.

It’s a good way to remind yourself that you won’t be hungry forever. Instead of loading your cart up with tons of junk food, you’ll be looking forward to the special treat you planned.

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Bonus Tips

If you have a little extra time to kick things up a notch, here are 3 ways to whittle your grocery bill down even further:

1. Coupons

You can absolutely use coupons and not spend a lot of time doing it. Many grocery stores hand you coupons along with your receipt. If nothing else, simply save those coupons and use them the next visit.

If you have a little more time, you can look into extreme couponing methods. You’ll need a couple of sources for coupons, weekly store fliers, and a storage system for your coupons. You’ll also need space to store all your loot!

2. Grocery Store Binder

If you have time to shop at multiple stores, it might be a good idea to keep a price list of your most frequent purchases. While you might check the store circulars each week, it’s also good to have an idea of who has the best regular prices for what. If you have a farmer’s market, don’t forget to include them.

Having a grocery store binder means you can avoid having to drive from one store to another to figure out the best deals. Be sure to have a plan for keeping the prices updated.

3. Plant a Garden

Speaking of farmer’s markets, it’s hard to beat fresh produce. If you have some extra time, why not try your hand at gardening? It might take a few years to break even, but if you develop a green thumb, you’ll save a noticeable amount of money on your grocery bill.

If you live in an apartment or rental home, look into container gardening or see if there’s a community garden nearby.

If you want to lower your grocery bill, it takes a little bit of time and a lot of discipline. You need to plan your list and your trip. And by all means, ignore the cries of all the chocolate and candy at the checkout counter!

What has been the most effective way to lower your grocery bill? Do you shop with your children or use coupons?