Grocery stores are literally designed to make us want to spend more, so it is not uncommon to get to the checkout counter and suddenly have a total that is much higher than you expected, planned or can even afford.
Aside from the classic couponing, there are a couple of choices you can make in order to save money at the grocery store. Here are some of our favorite tips on how to save money on groceries, with expert help from some of our favorite homesteaders and bloggers.
Start with a budget
First, determine how much you want to or can afford to spend on groceries per week.
“We have a budget, and we try to stick to the budget,” Nancy Wolff, homesteader and blogger at Nancy on the Home Front, said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, about 10 percent of their take-home income on food, so that is a good place to start. Ultimately, though, your exact budget for groceries will depend on you and your family’s needs.
“I don’t have a hard and fast rule,” Wolff said. “It’s changed over the years. I used to have four kids, but now they’re all grown.”
Plan your menu in advance
In order to stop yourself from buying things you do not need, plan the week’s menu before you go grocery shopping. This will also prevent you from purchasing more food than you can use before it goes bad, thereby reducing your food — and financial — waste.
“I plan out a menu for the week,” Wolff said. “Sticking to a budget and planning ahead, that’s key. By planning ahead, if you cook big meals and keep it in the freezer to have for the future, too.”
Try curbside pickup
Some grocery stores will have curbside pickup, where you can order your groceries in advance online and pick them up at the store at your preferred time.
“Take advantage of curb-side pickup,” Lauren Dibble, blogger and homesteader at Hillsborough Homesteading, said. “When I menu plan, I make a shopping list, and add it to my cart online for curb-side pickup. This keeps me (or my toddler) from impulse shopping, and keeps me to a strict menu.”
Call your local grocery store or check online to see if there is curbside pickup offered at stores near you.
Not only will seasonal fruits and vegetables taste better, but they can also be cheaper. There’s less overhead cost to transport crops locally, plus farmers are also often trying to sell all of their in-season stock before it rots.
Fresh food will also last longer, especially if you buy locally. Food purchased at a farmers’ market may be slightly pricier than in-season stock from the grocery store, but it will last longer and may help you reduce the amount of food waste in your kitchen.
Check the per unit price
In the corner of the price tag hanging on the grocery store shelf, you will find, usually in a smaller font, the price per pound, ounce or unit. Although one product may be cheaper, it will wind up costing you more in the long run if its unit price is higher, especially if it is an item that you use frequently.
“Dollar-wise, it might be cheaper to by the eight ounce package of pre-sliced or pre-cubed or shredded cheese, but per unit (per ounce or per slice), it’s almost always far cheaper to buy the two pound block and slice, cube [or] shred it yourself,” said Raederle Clay, manager of Wind’s Four Corners Farms and a homesteader based in Pocatello, Idaho.
Buy in bulk
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that containers and packaging contribute over 23 percent of the material in U.S. landfills. Buying bulk will not only help you reduce packaging waste, but also help you save a little bit of cash — just make sure you are properly sealing and storing any items that you buy in bulk.
“Look for bulk stores, or bulk food aisles in your local grocery store,” Clay said. “You can buy a pound of cheap, packaged pasta for about a dollar, [but] you should be able to get the same quality pasta in the bulk foods aisle for $0.50 [to] $0.85 per pound.”
Clay also recommended purchasing beans dry and soaking them yourself instead of buying canned beans
“Pre-packaged dry beans can run you $2 [to] $3 [per] pound, but bulk beans will often be $1 [to] $2. One pound of dry beans can make you four [to] six cans’ worth,” Clay said. “They taste so much better and they freeze well, so you don’t even have to can them!”
Shop discount stores or sections
In terms of price, not all grocery stores are created equal. Check for discount grocery stores near you, and keep an eye out for “bent and dent” sections, which offer products with slightly damaged packaging or close to an expiration date for a discount.
“One of the ways that we save money is by shopping at our local bent and dent or discount store,” said Merissa Alink, homesteader and blogger at Little House Living. “Not all discount grocery stores have a good selection, but when you find one that does, it can be a major resource.”
Groceries stores may also have a bin for “ugly” produce that is imperfect or blemished and is sold at a reduced price but is still perfectly good to eat.
You do not have to limit yourself to one store, either. Plan your shopping trip around which stores offer the best deals on your favorite products.
Psychologically, we value purchases more when they are made in cash. Studies show that carrying cash instead of defaulting to credit helps you better manage your budget, so carry cash at the grocery store.
“Once you figure out how much you want to spend, take [that amount in] cash to the grocery card — no credit card, no checkbook,” Wolff recommended. “It means when you’re going through the store, you have to keep count.”
Grow what you eat
If you are getting ready to garden this season, plan around what you usually buy at the grocery store to save some money.
“I only grow what we’re going to eat,” Wolff said. “We don’t like cabbages, so I don’t grow cabbages.”
Freshly grown food from your own garden will also keep longer — plus, it will greatly reduce your food miles and the environmental impact of your food if it was grown right in your backyard.
“Fresh-picked out of your own yard will last for weeks if stored properly,” Clay said. “I’ve had microgreens last up to three weeks without wilting, drying out or starting to liquefy.”
Freeze, can or ferment a portion of what you grow or anything you do not use right away after harvesting. This preserves your bounty and helps you save money on vegetables year round.
By making a few simple adjustments to your grocery shopping habits, you will be able to better manage your weekly finances — and, hopefully, plan delicious, seasonal meals for your family to eat.