Coupons are a great way to save money at the grocery store—but geez, the process of finding and organizing them is a little bit too annoying for many of us. Who has time to find a coupon that matches every item on your list, let alone figure out all the restrictions, double deals, expiration dates and more? If you do, we bow down to your patience.
For everyone else, you don’t need to take out a small loan to get what you need at the grocery store if coupons just aren’t your thing. There are some simple and easy tricks that can add up—big-time! Master the ideas below and then avoid these 23 Scams and Sneaky Tricks at the Grocery Store while you’re at it!
Shop the Farm
If fresh fruits and veggies are a staple of your diet (they should be!), then you know how they can really add up on your grocery bills. Skipping the produce section and heading to your local farmers’ market instead is a great way to get the produce you need. Lola Berry, the author of The Happy Cookbook, says that farmers’ markets are a cheaper way to get the freshest produce. “Plus, you’re supporting the local economy!” she reminds us. In our opinion, these are the 15 Things You Should Only Buy at the Farmer’s Market.
Don’t let all the food you buy at the store go to waste! Pick a date every week that you shop—and do your meal prep immediately after. Plan on keeping a lot of those meals in the freezer, too, so they keep longer. “It’s not only a great way to save money but also keeps you on track with your eating plan during the week,” says Berry. Not sure where or how to start with such a big change in your routine? Then don’t miss our guide to Meal Prep Sunday: 25 Tips to Cook Once, Eat for a Week!
If you have a roommate (not someone you share a bank account with), go shopping with them. Berry says this is a money saver because you can share things like fresh herbs that are expensive (and now you’re getting half off by splitting) and prevents waste.
Be More Loyal
It can be tiresome every time you go to check out at the grocery store and the cashier gives you the hard sell on joining the store’s loyalty program. But according to Ken Immer, CCHE and President & Chief Culinary Officer of Culinary Health Solutions, it’s worth taking those few extra minutes to join because all you’ll have to do after that is swipe your card (or enter your phone number) for savings only available to members. Plus, it’s kinda fun to see your loyalty points add up, too!
Eat the Budget Breakfast of Champions
“Oatmeal is one of the cheapest breakfasts [to buy],” recommends Berry. “And if you have it with cinnamon, a banana, and a dash of almond milk, it will keep you going right up until lunch because it’s a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber.” We’re a little bit obsessed with oats around here at Eat This, Not That! Remember that time we pulled together 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss?!
Get Your Bean On
Beans are a really versatile ingredient to cook with and they’re also a source of protein to fill you up. But best of all? They’re not expensive. “Beans and legumes like black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, and fava beans are super cheap and you can buy them dried or in tins—which means they will last for ages so you can stock up on them,” says Berry.
Soup It Up
If you’re into cabbages, potatoes (white and sweet) and carrots, the great news is that those are all on the lower end of the price spectrum. So take advantage to get as much mileage out of it as possible. You can whip up a big batch of soup when you know you want to save some money and stick to healthy meals for awhile.
Learn the Sales
Have you always wondered about the rhyme and reason for why your local grocery store puts things on sales? According to Immer, many stores have a rotation of how they offer these sale prices on staple items such as meats, paper products, cheese, drinks, and even produce. “Figure out the rotation and stock up on items with longer shelf-lives or ones that can be frozen when they are at a deep discount,” he recommends. For more smart insights, check out these 14 Money-Saving Secrets from Costco Employees!
Grab Almost-Gone Items
You know that ‘discontinued’ table or rack near the cashier stations? “Always take a look,” says Immer. “Sometimes, they’re also in the back of the store near the stockroom entrance, usually a little hidden. You never know what you might find as they rotate through stock.”
Cut It Out
Yes, the convenience of buying pre-cut veggies and fruit and even pre-shredded cheese is a time saver. But the money you save by slicing, dicing, and shredding it all yourself is worth the extra effort. Make it a habit to cut/chop/shred everything as soon as you get home from the store. Unless they’re something like strawberries, you could even do it all as soon as you get home. (Why not pre-slice strawberries? Find out in our report on How to Prepare Food to Get the Most Nutrition!)
Be Spontaneous with Meal Planning
If you and your family have flexible palettes (a.k.a no picky eaters), then Immer recommends letting the sale prices determine your menu. This also is helpful if you’re good at being spontaneous with your weekly menus. “If not, then this is terrible because you’ll end up with more waste!” he says.
Watch Your Waste
Speaking of food waste: “One strategy for saving money at the store is to make sure you’re never throwing away food at home. This is especially important when buying produce,” says Immer. “It’s easy to over-buy. Some stores have ‘bulk bins’ for items like fresh spinach and salad greens, and mushrooms. These are things that don’t store well, and should only be purchased in amounts that you will use immediately.”
Size Up Your Options
“Be sure to compare prices on different sizes of the same product when they need ‘refrigeration after opening,'” recommends Immer. “It may be cheaper to buy the larger size, but the savings may be minimal. And if you end up throwing away the tomato sauce before you eat the rest of it, you haven’t saved anything.” Psst! These are the 12 Things You Should Never Buy in Bulk.
Eat Up—Then Shop
Not only should you write out your shopping list before leaving the house, Marissa Ciorciari, MS, RD, LD/N, CLT at the Carillon Miami Beach says you should also make sure you’ve had something to eat within the past couple of hours. “Chances are that if you prepare a list in advance and you aren’t starving, you’ll be less likely to over-buy during your trip to the grocery store,” she says. Even if you’re running out the door, first drink some water and pop a few almonds in your mouth to curb your appetite!
Freeze for Ease
Is your schedule all over the place? If you’re not sure when you’ll be home to cook dinner throughout the week, Immer says the frozen aisle is your best friend. “Recognize that some frozen vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, peas, and corn can be great purchases for people with erratic schedules,” he says. “These foods freeze really well, keep their nutritional quality, and allow you to only use what you need when you cook reducing waste.” Shout-out to these 20 Make-Ahead Meals to Keep in Your Freezer!
Don’t Knock the Store Brand
Don’t shy away from generic brands—they’re actually great quality and can save your wallet from feeling attacked. “Store brand products such as those from Whole Foods like 365 Everyday Value are often offered at a better price with same or similar quality to brand name varieties,” says Ciorciari. “According to Consumer Reports studies, buyers can save up to 25 percent buying store brands over brand-name counterparts!”
Roll Out the Ripe Ones
Do you often buy produce like avocados and bananas that need to ripen? We know it’s hard to pass up the ones that are ready to eat, but don’t forget about how often your plans have changed in the past and you never got around to eating the already-ripe items. When buying those items, Immer says to consider purchasing the individual fruits at different stages of ripeness: “Consider buying three avocados: buy one ready to eat now, one that has a day or two until it’s ready, and one as hard as a baseball that won’t be ready until next week. Same for bananas and tomatoes.”
Know Your Portions
If you’re planning a meal of chicken, fish, or beef for your family, buy those items at the counter. But the trick? Ask for exact portions you need for the meal. “A family of four should be getting about 1 ¼ pounds of ground beef, chicken breasts, or other meats,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. “Even if you plan on making two meals from ground beef, have them pack it separately so you can gauge how much you are using.”
Follow the Deals
Believe it or not, the meat and dairy aisle are great places to find marked-down items. A hint: major holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter are perfect times to score a deal. “Grocery stores often mark down those items when they overstock on them—especially before festive seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Immer. “These are also marked down by as much as 75 percent as they near the sell-by (not expiration) date.” Speaking of, find out these 25 Ways to Use Almost-Spoiled Food.
Bang Out the Bargains
If you are going to shop at the grocery store without coupons, then you will need to focus on where and when to get the best prices. “Aldi and WalMart are going to average between 20 to 30 percent off what you will spend at a traditional grocery store,” says Paul Moyer, owner of SavingFreak.com. “Aldi will typically beat WalMart; so if you’re lucky enough to have one in your area, you should always start your grocery shopping there.” No, they didn’t pay us to say that; and yes, you can totally use our list of 20 Ways to Save Big at Aldi.
Know Your Seasons
Before you head to the store, check online with a simple Google search for a list of the fruits and veggies that are currently in season. “Produce items that are in season are going to be greatly discounted compared to the items that are not currently in season,” says Moyer. “Produce items that are out of season are being shipped from warmer climates states or countries and incur additional costs to get them to your store.” But if something out of season is a must-have, Ciorciari says to buy them frozen. “Many [frozen fruits and veggies] were picked at the peak of ripeness,” she says. “They contain similar nutrients to their fresh counterparts and will often be more affordable than their fresh varieties.”
DIY The Specialities
There are some specialty items at the store that make your daily menus tasty and healthy. But things like kale chips, pesto sauce, and even that perfectly crushed garlic can be extremely overpriced. Stephanie Mansor, weight-loss and lifestyle coach for women, suggests making those things fresh and from scratch. “You can also make way more yourself than the tiny portions of these ‘gourmet’ items,” she says.
Buy One, Get One
The freezer strikes again! “Look for ‘buy one, get one free’ in produce, proteins, frozen foods, and other sections of the store,” says Ciorciari. “If you won’t use it right away, you can freeze it and save it for a later date.”
Get credit for bringing your own reusable bags to the store! “Besides being more earth-friendly and reducing plastic waste, many grocery stores will provide a bag credit which can add up over time,” says Ciorciari.
Buy In Bulk
“One way we love to save money at the grocery store is by buying items in bulk!” says Karena Dawn and Katrina Hodgson of Tone It Up. “We get beans, nuts, quinoa, and even coconut flakes. Generally, these items are cheaper when you buy them this way because you aren’t paying for the packaging.” The TIU ladies also told us that they buy their coconut waters, almond milks, and kombuchas by the case, noting that you can often save 10 percent.
Ditch Bottled Water
Are you purchasing packs of water bottles? Stop the madness! Buy a water filter to save money instead. “You can purify your water from your faucet by funneling it through your water filter,” suggests Leslie Tayne, financial attorney and author of Life & Debt. “Stop constantly refilling your fridge with water bottles. This not only helps you save money on your budget and ensure you have the water readily available for your family but also helps the environment. It’s a win-win.”
Weigh Your Options
So, you know how there is pre-bagged produce at the store—like a five-pound bag of apples? If you’re in need of a large quantity, Joanie Demer of thekrazycouponlady.com says to go ahead and weigh a few of the bags. “If you ever wondered if every bag of apples weighs exactly five pounds—it doesn’t!” she says. “The truth is, producers must fill the bag with at least five pounds, so it pays to weigh your bag to make sure you’re getting the most for your money! Recently, I found an eight-pound bag of potatoes that weighed a full nine pounds. That’s an additional 13 percent—for free!” Speaking of apples, find out the 30 Foods With More Fiber Than an Apple.
Learn to Sub
Learn how to be flexible and make easy substitutions while you shop. Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com recommends the following: “The rolls for a sub [or hoagie] cost four to five times more than cutting a beautiful, fresh French bread loaf from the bakery. A rotisserie chicken from the service deli costs half as much as expensive lunch meat and is better for you. I prefer small curd cottage cheese over ricotta for lasagna—and it’s a third of the price. And that over priced cube steak will cost at least twice as much another steak on sale that’s tenderized for free by the butcher.”
Rethink Your Drinks
An easy way to cut costs is to cut back on the types of drinks you choose. “If beer or wine are on the list, look into locally crafted items,” says consumer finance expert K. Gallegos. “For juices, lemonades and sodas, remember that their plastic packaging adds to the cost. Instead, think about buying powdered mixes and making your own at home. You can also use a seltzer maker to make your own cola and seltzer water.”
Forget the Cart
Impulse buying is the easiest way to jack up your grocery bill. So, if you’re just running in for milk and eggs, don’t give yourself the room to grab anything but milk and eggs. Literally, do not grab a cart or basket; just carry your milk and eggs in your hands. You won’t be tempted or able to reach for those impulse buys because, very simply, you can’t buy what you can’t carry! For more clever hacks, check out these 1-Minute Dinner Hacks That Save Tons of Time.