Daily Life | 11 ways to save (some) money at the grocery store


I know, I know, I recently mentioned how my grocery budget might be a tiny bit out of control (but who decides that anyway, right?), but I wanted to prove to you that I do carefully plan our grocery shopping and don’t just deliberately throw groceries in our shopping cart (even though you might think that our receipts don’t reflect that behavior).

Anyway, I’d like to think that I am employing pretty good strategies to save be mindful at the grocery store and if not to save, then at least not to waste any money. (As always, take these suggestions with a grain of salt. Nobody’s perfect and I don’t do all of those things 100% of the time, but keeping these strategies in mind might save you a few extra dollars, which is just a way to say that my grocery spending could in reality be that much higher. Ha!)

Here are eleven of my strategies:

Eat what you buy.

Ok, that is a no-brainer, right? It seems obvious and this is my number one rule. You wouldn’t believe how much food people throw away every month! It translates to roughly 25% of the food people buy. That’s insane. My grocery bill might be higher than yours, but I can say with 99% certainty that we pretty much always eat everything that we buy. Only very rarely do we have to throw something out (and that usually just happens when we have unexpected changes of plan or when things that are supposed to last longer unexpectedly spoil prematurely). Bottom line: the biggest waste of money is if you don’t eat the food that you buy.

Buy in bulk whenever possible.

Even though we’re only two people in our household, we shop larger quantities of select items at Costco and we also tend to stay away from “convenience sized items” at the regular grocery store. It’s always financially wiser to buy larger quantities and divvy them up yourself (granted that you’ll be able to eat things up before they expire).

Don’t spend (much) money on drinks.

We hardly ever buy bottled drinks. We occasionally buy some apple juice and sparkling water (especially in the summer), but we mostly drink (filtered) tap water and homemade iced tea.

Go for the no-name brand.

I promise you, in 99% of cases the brand-name is not better than the no-name equivalent. (In fact, it might even be the same product in a different package!). I will admit that there are exceptions where I do reach for the brand name item, but that happens very rarely.

Always check the unit prices.

If you don’t know what the unit price is, it’s high time that you learn about it. The unit price is displayed on the price tag on the shelf and tells you the cost per liter, per kilogram, per pound, per ounce etc, of what you want to buy. The lowest priced item might not be the best deal in terms of price vs. quantity (though sometimes it is).

Shop your pantry.

So, we established the notion that stocking up is good idea, but you also have to make sure you eat the food that you have stocked up (otherwise the whole concept is a mute point). When you meal plan, check your pantry/freezer/fridge first and plan your meals around items that you have on hand and that might need to be consumed pretty soon, or else they go bad. Which also means: you don’t have to buy that item this time at the store.

Meal plan around sales.

I am assuming that this is what most people do anyway (it seems like one of the first ways to cut grocery spending that people think about), but maybe not. So, if you receive the ads for your local stores in the mail – just take a few minutes to see what’s on sale this week. Which also leads me to the next point.

Stock up when prices are at their lowest.

Don’t limit your grocery budget to a certain amount per week, rather think about your budget monthly or even bi-monthly. Because only then will you be able to take real advantage of the time when items go on sale at their lowest prices. The trick is to stock up when items are at their lowest price and have them last you until the next sale cycle comes around. I always – every week! – check if the items that we use most frequently are on sale and if they are, I grab a few of them (even if we haven’t run out yet). This way I make sure to always buy at the lowest price.

Take advantage of personalized deals by using your store card/app.

Many of the bigger grocery chains have apps now that you connect to your store card and they offer you personalized deals on the items you buy most often. This is really an extra perk that you definitely should take advantage off, because there will be sales on items that you buy regularly, even if they’re not on sale for everybody else. I consistently save between 20-30% of regular retail price at Safeway because I am religiously using their app (and I don’t usually even clip extra coupons from elsewhere).

Bake your own bread.

I touched on this before. Store-bought bread is freaking expensive and often not even that great. Start baking your own bread. Not only will you save some money, you’ll also get to choose which ingredients make it into your bread (e.g. NO added processed sugar).

Shop at different stores.

I personally have at least three stores (sometimes more) that I frequent for my weekly grocery haul. Luckily, the stores are not too far apart, so I don’t really have to factor in driving time and gas when I decide where to shop.

Which strategies do you have at the grocery store (if any)? Am I missing something essential?

  1. For me, meal planning, buying what I need, and looking at store flyers before I shop are the best ways to keep my grocery bill at a level I am happy with. I tend to shop at 3 different places as well but at different times. Like I get a lot of my non-perishable goods at Target during the week since there is one a block from where I work, and then on the weekend I go to one big box grocery store and a smaller one that tends to have better quality produce/organic meat/etc. I try to consider what I have in mind when I meal plan but that doesn’t always work. Since my kitchen is small and doesn’t have a lot of storage, I don’t have much room for inventory so I don’t have all that much “inventory” to plan meals around. When I have a larger kitchen with a pantry, I will stock up on staple items when they go on sale.

    I guess the biggest way that I save money, though, is by the number of meals I make a week. I’ve told you this before, but I usually only make dinner twice and then I make something to bring to lunches for the week. The rest of the week I eat leftovers or I eat simple meals like eggs and toast. That will have to change when we are married and have kids but for now it works for me. And that decision is related to the fact that I’m ok with boring meals throughout the week as it allows me more time to do other activities like running, reading, etc. If time wasn’t such a limited resource, I would cook more often!

    1. I am convinced that my meal planning and grocery spending would look VERY different if I only had to worry about myself.

  2. I meal-plan like crazy, we eat what we buy (almost always), and I use what’s in my pantry and try and restock…but I have never once looked at the mailer that comes every week. Not once. I also don’t use coupons. Ever.

    So…room to improve? Sure. BUT! I’d like to point out that 90% of my grocery cart is fresh fruit, veggies, real cheese/dairy, and meats and canned tomatoes or beans in various forms. I only venture into the bowels of the grocery store aisles occasionally for things like spices, toilet paper, or the odd item.


    1. Oh, I know what you mean… I don’t venture much into the bowels of the supermarket either ;)

  3. One thing I would add is try to buy what’s in season as much as possible (fruits and veggies). For example, Matt and I love berries (all kinds), but they are ridiculously expensive during the fall and winter around here so we forego them all together. Instead we’ll buy what’s in season like apples (and we get bananas because they are always around – for now).

    I can’t wait till spring. I want my berries back!

    1. Yes, good point. Buying what’s in season is definitely also something I try to do! Can’t wait for fresh berries!!

  4. Good suggestions! My freezer is my friend for buying in bulk when spread and cheese is on sale. I shred the big blocks of cheese with the grater on the food processer and then freeze in large ziplock bags.

    One thing I could improve on is buying my fruit and vegetables from a grocer or at the market instead of the supermarket, because the supermarket is always more expensive, but it’s very convenient.

    1. I’ve never tried to freeze cheese…. maybe I should try that? :) But then again, cheese is almost always gone before there is anything left to freeze :)

  5. I don’t really do much in the way of meal-planning, but I’ve started shopping at Aldi for the bulk of our groceries. It’s all weird off-brand stuff, but it’s owned by Trader Joe’s, so it’s the same damn thing – just WAY cheaper!

    1. Aldi is a German grocery store and their concept of having “not very fancy” stores and passing those savings on to the consumer works! I wish we had an Aldi in CA.

  6. Really really great post! My favorite is “eat what you buy” because it definitely is harder than it looks but is a huge way to save more money. I used to be pretty horrible about it, but I’ve got a bit better over the years and now I feel really awesome when I’m able to use, say, a particular vegetable for three different meals and nothing spoils…. bam! :)

  7. While we are pretty good at keeping a relatively low food budget (£250 per month for groceries and household items, but not for eating out etc.) we are actually quite bad at always eating what we buy. I don’t think it’s anywhere near 25% but still too much especially fresh vegetables and sometimes fruit as well.
    I so agree with you on buying in bulk and stocking up when something is on offer. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t like doing it this way, i.e. spending money when we don’t need to yet. I’ve been trying to convert him to my way of thinking but it is still one of the things we often disagree about in the supermarket.

  8. There is definitely a balance of buying when you don’t need it, but trying to take advantage of the best prices.

  9. My trick for keeping my grocery shopping low is to figure out what’s on sale this week at the grocery store and plan my meals around that. It doesn’t always work – sometimes, whatever is on sale isn’t something I’d eat anyway! – but it does help. I also ALWAYS meal plan and can’t imagine not doing that, and try to shop my pantry before venturing to the store or even starting my meal plan for the week.

    It’s a bit different for me, as a single lady who just has to cook for herself, but I try to spend less than $200 a month on groceries. Eating what I buy, though, is something I don’t always succeed at. That’s an area of improvement for me, for sure!

  10. Great post, San! I am so guilty of letting food go to waste once in a while. Last night, I picked up Panera for dinner (was too hungry and tired to cook after work) instead of cooking what I had at home. Luckily, the salmon I meant to cook was still good so I cooked it tonight, but I’m not always so lucky!

  11. You have some great tips! This year I’ve started buying groceries for a couple of weeks at a time instead of just one week and it’s made a huge difference – we’ve actually been under budget! If we had a freezer and pantry space I would try to do all the grocery shopping for a month at a time, I think. I shop at a couple of different stores too … I use apps, scour the flyers, and try to make meals out of leftovers as often as possible. This year we’re thinking about joining a CSA for vegetables, too. I can’t believe how expensive they are in the grocery store!

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