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Prices are rising on essential items, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to afford your weekly groceries. Shopping on a budget is a challenge, and as fresh and packaged products get even more expensive, keeping your weekly trips to the market under your uppermost limit requires some careful planning – and the right money-saving tips.
We’ve got you covered. Slash your grocery bill with the following tips, which will help you minimize waste, maximize savings and keep more cash in your wallet.
1. Plan like a boss
Create a weekly menu to streamline your shopping and pare your list down to only the essentials. Inventory your fridge and pantry, and build meals around what you already have. And don’t forget to focus on ingredients you need to use right away to minimize waste. Planning ahead also heads off last-minute runs to the (overpriced) corner store. Make a detailed list, and stick to it; list-free browsing is an invitation for impulse buys.
2. Shop from your couch
Online browsing is the best way to compare costs and find deals on what you actually need, without driving all over town. Plus, you can tally up your total and trim unnecessary items before you even leave the house (and you’ll be less tempted to overspend if you never step foot in the store). Don’t offset savings with expensive delivery charges; instead, choose free drive-up options if you don’t want to wander the store yourself.
3. Take advantage of loss leaders
Stores offer weekly discounts on produce, meat, eggs and other staples – called “loss leaders” – that are designed to get you in the door. Check websites, apps and coupons so you can stock up on discounted items and work them into meal plans. And shop in the middle of the week; retailers usually offer bigger markdowns to turn over products before the weekend rush.
4. Don’t be seduced by sales
An array of alluring deals at your local grocery store can charm you into buying more than you need. But don’t fall for it – even if an item is on sale, tossing spoiled meat or rotten fruit is wasteful and expensive (you’re literally throwing money away!).
The same goes for BOGO sales. If you don’t need one ginormous box of cereal, you definitely don’t need two.
5. Pick a smaller cart
Like the psychological trick of using a smaller plate to slim portions, a smaller shopping cart can slash your grocery bill. And unless you’re buying for a large family, carry a basket. You’ll be more likely to stick to what you need (they get heavy, fast) instead of tossing in impulse purchases to fill up the empty space.
6. Minimize ready-to-eat products
There’s always an upcharge for convenience. Ready-to-eat and single-serve items are pricier (and heavily packaged, so less environmentally friendly). When saving money is top of mind, buy loose greens rather than bagged lettuce, choose whole instead of pre-cut veggies and repackage yogurt into your own single-serve containers. And dried beans are significantly cheaper than canned; cook large batches and freeze for speedy meal prep.
7. Buy big (when it makes sense)
Buying in volume can save you a bundle – but only when it makes sense. Good choices include canned foods, tomato sauce, pasta, honey and other items with a generous shelf life. But unless you’ll use them quickly, overbuying short-lived, hard-to-freeze foods (avocados, hummus, yogurt and fresh herbs, for example) is a waste of money in the long run.
And think twice about warehouse clubs. Unless you’re purchasing for a party or a sizable household, the annual membership fee may not offset your actual savings.
8. Go generic
Loyalty (at least to brands) is overrated. Off-label and store brands are generally produced in the same facilities as name brands, without the marketing costs that get passed on to you. They’ll taste exactly the same, too. Grocers usually stock name brands at eye level; scan shelves for pricing, and check lower shelves for often-substantial savings.
9. Shop for staples in bulk
Here’s one way bulk buying makes sense: Stock up on items you use frequently, and buy them in large quantities so you always have them on hand. Look for pantry staples (beans, grains, nuts and flour) in the bulk section, for lower prices and less packaging.
Plus, you can often customize your quantities – which is important if you only need a small amount (a handful of macadamias, a cup of quinoa) instead of buying a big, expensive bag that may go to waste.
10. Join loyalty programs
Sign up for (free) loyalty programs and get member-only discounts, with automatic deductions at checkout. You can also load digital coupons from your store’s website or app onto your loyalty card for extra savings. And speaking of coupons: Those super-annoying flyers that clutter up your mailbox can save you a ton of cash. Check them weekly for sales and savings.
11. Don’t overlook frozen
Frozen produce is typically cheaper, especially when it comes to out-of-season items like berries and peaches. And it’s more convenient – there’s no chopping or washing necessary. But skip the frozen dinners; they’re pricey and loaded with sodium and processed ingredients.
And when you cook, you can also keep money-saving tips in mind. Make extras of home-cooked meals, and freeze in individual containers for instant dinners.
12. Add as you go
If you’re shopping on a budget, keep track of your spending as you shop. Use the built-in calculator on your phone and “ring up” every item that goes into your cart. And make a reasonable budget before you head to the store. Scrutinize bank statements and credit card bills to track your grocery spending, then devise a plan customized for your household size and the foods you eat.
13. Visit the discount rack
Most stores have dedicated shelves for clearance items (day-old pastries and discontinued canned goods, for example) at cut-rate prices. Check expiration dates, and steer clear of products close to their use-by date. Otherwise, you’ll end up tossing food because you didn’t have time to use or eat it.
14. Pay with (the right) plastic
A rewards card that offers cash-back on grocery purchases is like money in the bank, and using a dedicated card for groceries allows you to track purchases and create a realistic budget. Choose a card with no annual fees, and commit to paying it off. Unless you clear the balance every month, interest fees will eat up any potential savings.
Keep reading to discover more money-saving tips and tricks: