Get the inside scoop from a grocery store veteran on how to save money on groceries before even stepping foot in a store!
Everyone always wants to inside scoop, no matter what you’re talking about! Because let’s face it, us moms need all the tips, hacks, and genius ideas we can get! Doing things the hard way is not what we’re all about!
Well, this is it! The inside scoop on how to save money on groceries from someone who knows! Me 🙂 Now, I don’t know all the tricks for all the stores, but from working in a grocery store for six years, I picked up quite a few useful pointers on how to save money on groceries!
After reading this, you will have some great ideas to try and know some of the MUST DO things before going to the grocery store to save money!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure for more info
How much do American’s spend on groceries?
Of course, the answer to this question varies greatly by where you live, but in general terms, according to USA Today, “Average food spending was about $660 per consumer per month in 2018. This represents 13% of household spending and includes $372 on food at home and $228 on food consumed away from home, including fast food, takeout, delivery, vending machines, and food trucks.
This is more than Americans spent on entertainment, health care, personal insurance, pensions, and education. It also adds up to close to $8,000 per year — a big chunk of change.”
That number seems high to me, but we are fairly frugal with our food, so I don’t know that my family is the “norm.”
While the USDA says as of June 2020, “The latest numbers for a four-member family: a thrifty food plan, $136 a week; a low-cost food plan, $174 a week; a moderate-cost plan, $216; a liberal plan, $266 a week, some food waste is built into these costs.”
Overall, it adds up to be a lot of money over a year! Something that you can absolutely take action on to save money on groceries!
Knowing how to save money on groceries all starts with a strategic plan!
There are many different methods on how to save money on groceries, but the first step is always to make a grocery list, know your grocery budget, and have a plan of attack!
Let’s start with preplanning! Every good General knows you can’t just wing it! You’d end up with pickles and bag of chili cheese Fritos if you just strolled into the store. So here are the quick tips that you need to do before going to the grocery store.
How to Save Money on Groceries – do your research
One – Know which stores have better prices
Many store chains (not just grocery stores) alter their prices by location. I go to a local Kroger chain, and there are two stores within a handful of miles to each other, yet one always has lower prices, so I go there! Now we’re not talking a huge amount, maybe $.30 to $1.00 more per item, but if you add that up over your whole cart and all your trips, that is a lot of money!
Example: let’s say you buy 12 items, each being $.40 more at one store, and you go shopping once a week. 12 x $.40 more = $4.80 more per trip x 52 weeks a year = $250 more on groceries a year!
So when just starting out, look at the items you buy all the time, then check out prices at your local stores and see which has the best prices (non-sale prices, as promo prices tend to be the same across all locations).
Two – Know your discount days
Are you a senior or a member of the military? If so, you can save on average about 10% if you shop on certain days of the week. I always go shopping for produce at one specific store, and I always go on Tuesday, which is the military discount day (my husband is military).
Example: If you spend on average, $60 per week on groceries and go shopping once a week, then… $60 – 10% = $6 x 52 weeks = $312 a year saved!
Three – Shop the sales
Grocery stores have new sale items every week, and you can usually go online a few days before the new week and see what’s on sale. Look for the loss leaders (aka items they put on huge discount just to get people into the store). Things like berries, cheese, chicken breasts, etc. Sometimes it’s one item per department, look at the sale flyer’s front & back page to find these items. Go for those!
Just know that stores need to make up this margin in other items, so other items could cost more than usual.
Did you know that stores change their prices on items daily? Not all items change prices daily. What happens is that the Grocery Gods sit at their desk and say, “We need to make more margin on condiments!” So up goes the price of relish and mayo by $.10. Or maybe a particular brand just upped the cost per case of their items, so then that brand goes up $.07 per item across the store.
Or flash sales happen; sometimes, they’ll find out that their DC is sitting on 42 pallets on mayonnaise. Guess what? Yup, mayonnaise on a crazy good discount is coming up!
Just be prepared that the price you saw last week for your favorite cereal may change. This is just a normal part of doing business for grocery stores.
Four – Know your store’s sales
Most stores run big sales around holidays, and stores have deals that are specific to them. For example, Founder Day, or their Anniversary, etc. Know when that is and be ready to spend some $! You’ll end up saving a lot of money on food at these sales by stocking up!
Plus, stores typically put the same item on sale every 6 to 9 weeks. So when I am buying a lot of cereal, I buy enough to get me through to the next sale cycle! (cereal with fresh blueberries is one of my favorite meals!) I practice this same strategy with many items, especially health & beauty goods like shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.
Also, the days after a big holiday are also the perfect time to score deals! Decorations for next year are now 50% off! Or maybe you’re hosting a birthday party in November, and every kid gets their own pinata, good thing candy is dirt cheap after Oct 31st!
Five – Know what’s in season and what isn’t
Have you ever tried buying raspberries in February? $5.99 for 6oz?!?
Yes, if your kiddo is sick and all they want is raspberries (in February), then by all means, get them. But buying out of season means that you will pay peak prices! This is mostly for items in the Produce Dept and the Meat & Seafood Dept.
You can’t get around having fresh items, but buying frozen can be a great option! Or better yet, visit a local farm and pick your own! Pick some for eating now and some to freeze for later! I do this every year with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Check out how the cost breaks down compared to buying from stores, here in this post on cheap things to do with your kiddos, it’s #15.
How to save money on groceries – know your resources
Six – Use your tools
If you have the time, you can compare a few store flyers to see which has the better sale price on items you need. Use the flipp app to access all the digital flyers and look for the best prices! They have over 2,000 stores, and you can load coupons to your store loyalty card from it to help save on groceries even more!
I usually go through the app every week, and then right before I shop, I load up coupons, and while in the store, I check the app just before checkout to see if there’s anything else in my cart that may have a coupon.
Yes, knowing how to save money on groceries is simple, but it takes a bit of time. I feel it’s a fair trade. Besides, it’s so automatic for me now that I’m really fast going through store apps and looking for and loading coupons.
PS – Be sure to download your store-specific apps, as most of them have digital coupons available!
PPS – Be sure to download your coupon rebate apps like ibotta and Fetch Rewards (sign up here to get 2,000 free points!). Again, you’re not going to get rich doing this. But remember, it only takes 30 seconds max to use these, and it all adds up!
For example, with ibotta, I have earned $261 in rebates. Not a lot, but it’s enough for me to buy myself a birthday present every year! Plus, with ibotta, you can link some of your loyalty card accounts to it so it will automatically save! I do this with Target; I never have to do anything to get rebates, I just transfer the rebate money to my account! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
Seven – Grab your printable grocery coupons
Couponing gets a bad rep, BUT you can absolutely save money with it if you know what you are doing! One year, maybe it was 2012, I saved over $13,000 in one year by couponing. (Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands that year, so I tracked everything.) It became a game to me to see what I could get for a super low price! It was fun, and it was addicting for sure!
Buyer beware, couponing is great if you have a strategy. Yet, you can quickly get into trouble by…
- Buying things you wouldn’t usually buy, but you buy it because you have a coupon! You’re only saving money if you use coupons to buy things that you normally buy anyway!
- Buying 42 mustards never did anybody any good (unless you donated it all to local food banks, if you did then you’re AWESOME!) Please don’t be a greedy gimmie and clear out entire shelves, that’s not nice. AND you don’t need 42 mustards anyways!
Eight – Coupon stacking
This, of course, ties into tip #6, but to really save money on groceries, you need to embrace the concept and fully understand the beauty that is coupon stacking! Plus, there are so many great resources out there that do this for you! Hip2Save is my favorite site for this! They cover a ton of stores and match up ads to coupons for you! But first, let me explain what coupon stacking is. It’s best done with an example…
- Frozen Waffles regularly $4.99 a box
- They’re on sale for $3.99 a box (save $1)
- You have a manufacturer coupon for $1 off two boxes (you buy two)
- You have a store coupon for 5% off entire purchase
- You shop on your military discount days = 10% off
($3.99 x 2) – $1 – 5% – 10% = $5.97 total = $2.98 a box (saved $2 a box)
Now, you don’t get rich doing this. BUT this is a great lesson, that if you apply it over many things, it makes a significant impact on your food costs! The lesson is; know what your dollar is worth! Just because something is priced at $6 doesn’t mean it’s worth $6, nor that you need to pay $6 for it!
For example, I never pay more than $1 a box for cereal, ever! Because I know that if I’m patient and flexible, I can get it for the price I want to pay. Then when it is $1 a box I buy maybe 6-8 boxes of it, to last me until the next sale.
How to save money on groceries – the actual trip
Nine – Limit your shopping trips
How many times have you walked into the grocery store needing just two things, and you end up walking out with seven things? ALL. THE. TIME! Going shopping multiple times a week is self-sabotage.
Limit your number of trips to just once per week. Have a list on the fridge, or use a digital one (I love Trello), then go once, and if you forgot something then, “Oh, well.” You’ll get it next week. Besides, think of all the time you’ll save by not going to the store!
Ten – The best way on how to save money on groceries…
… is to leave your kids at home. Sorry, it’s true. I mean, you love your kids! No question about that, but when they come with you, they want everything! Or they are throwing fits, and you just need to hurry up with everything and get out of there as fast as possible! So you grab things left and right and dump them into your cart!
Please forgive me if I have overgeneralized on kids’ behavior at the store; if you have perfect angels, then great! My perfect angel transforms into a demon and decides that she wants a bag of dog food NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (and no, we don’t have a dog, but she still wants it!)
Eleven – The cardinal sin of grocery shopping
Okay, so we have all experienced this… You go to the store, and suddenly you are putting four boxes of cake mix into your cart, next in is three bags of spicy chips, or and a 1/2 rack of ribs too!
Hmmm… hungry much?
Never, ever, EVER go shopping when you are hungry! EVER! But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! I always keep car snacks! It will be a cold day in purgatory before I don’t have a snack in my car! By far, my very favorite is Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars! I swear by these bars! Trust me on this; I’ve tried a lot of bars!
- Raspberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Apple Cinnamon flavors available
- Whole Grains
- No high fructose corn syrup
When I am running errands before I leave the stop before the grocery store, I check-in and see if I am hungry, even the slightest bit of hunger means I eat a fruit & fig bar! (you don’t taste the fig, so don’t worry if you’re wary of it). I eat my bar, chug some water, and by the time I am pulling into the grocery store parking lot, I am all set! My willpower is locked & loaded, and I am ready to say NO to all the tempting treats!
So why specifically these bars? Fair question, here’s the rundown
- they don’t crumble and make a huge mess in your car
- if it’s wintertime, they don’t freeze to be rock solid (like some protein bars)
- if it’s summer, they don’t melt (like some bars with chocolate or honey)
- they’re tasty and not total garbage (nutritionally speaking).
Twelve – Shop your pantry & freezer first
How many times have you gone through the store with your list, you at “olive oil,” and you think, “Don’t I have an extra one on the bottom shelf?” Or you buy steaks and get home only to open the freezer and find some there, just staring at you, waiting to be eaten. I am raising my hand right here!
So before I go to the store, I take my list and go through the pantry, sometimes I find that exact thing already there, and sometimes I find a great substitute for it (i.e., lentils for black beans). Now, I try to do this, but I don’t always do it (I get rushed, frazzled and tired just like the next mom). But I have gotten better when I started using some printables that helped me do food inventory. This way, I can write down what I have and then use that to help me meal plan while scanning the weekly store flyers.
Shopping from your pantry is a great way to drastically lower your food costs if you’re doing a money-saving challenge! Specifically, doing a no-spend challenge can be a great way to clean out older, excess foods that you’ve been “meaning” to eat!
Thirteen – Stay home & shop online
One of the best ways to curb impulse shopping is by not going to the grocery store at all! Due to recent circumstances, many of us have tried out online grocery shopping from Instacart or Amazon Prime Now. Many say that getting your groceries delivered is the new normal and will continue after things calm down.
The great thing is that you can see your running total as you add items to your cart, so you know exactly how much you are spending! By not going into the store, you aren’t tempted to buy things you don’t need.
Let me tell you, from someone who’s seen behind the grocery curtain, stores and food corporations put A LOT of money behind finding ways to tempt you as you are walking through the store! Smells from the deli kitchen, bright “sale” signs with deep discounts, cleverly placed eye-level treats, and bright signing packages with happy people all lead you to spend your money in a big way!
So staying home can absolutely help you save money at the grocery store! Other moms have said that they send their husband to the store, as he only buys what’s on the list (no matter how obvious a need is for something not on the list). While other women, say send ing their husband is the kiss of death to their grocery budget! I guess, give it a try and see what happens 🙂 Or why risk it? Just choose Instacart and get everything you need and nothing you don’t!
At the end of the day
So you have your grocery list ready, you’ve eaten your snack in the car (so you don’t buy the whole store), your kids are at home, and you’re ready to shop! You know how to save money on groceries before heading out to the store!
In this next post, we’ll go through exactly what to do (and what NOT to do) while you are shopping in the grocery store! Plus, some insider info on food safety & best practices to really save money on groceries!