How To Save Money On Groceries: A Comprehensive Guide
By: Tiffany Thai, BSc, MPH, RD, Julie Mancuso, founder of JM Nutrition, JM Nutrition team
In this post:
Tips and strategies that show how to save money on groceries
Selecting where and how to do groceries to save money
How to grocery shop on a budget
What you can do at home to spend less on groceries
How to save money on groceries is becoming an increasingly more prominent concern. This is especially the case during these ultra-inflationary times. Although there are scores of people who want to do their utmost to eat nutritious food and lead healthier lives, some challenges exist that may make things difficult. One of these obstacles is high food prices–something that is of great concern for many of our clients. And rightly so.
For this very important reason, our team of registered dietitians and nutritionists has decided to lend a hand. We did so by compiling a comprehensive list of strategies that show how to save money on groceries and/or shop on a budget.
Let’s take a look at these ways to spend less on groceries.
A. Selecting where and how to do grocery shopping to save money
Before going to the grocery store
1. Run a comparison on food prices
As the saying goes, proper preparation prevents poor performance. This no doubt applies to grocery shopping in order to save money.
According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, those who plan and avoid impulsive buying can save up to 23% on their grocery bills. That’s potential annual savings of $2 360.
The prep work starts with research.
Simply compare food prices at grocery stores, supermarkets and discount grocery stores in your neighbourhood. Although food prices are generally comparable, we find that there are significant differences on some food products to warrant shopping for some items at one store, and for others at a different one.
You can even visit the local health food store to take a peak at their prices. At times, some products may be priced lower here.
2. Buy locally produced food
Frequently, this is one of the better ways to save money on groceries. Not only does shopping locally give a boost to your community, it can help save money on groceries.
This occurs simply because there is less overhead and fewer people involved in the process. As a result, the savings are passed on to you, the customer. This is very important if you grocery shop on a budget.
3. Shop for produce at a farmer’s market
Picking up fruits and vegetables at a farmer’s market near you is a great way to spend less money on groceries. Typically, farmers’ markets carry locally grown produce which, once again, involves fewer hands and a good deal less in transportation costs. Consequently, your money gets a greater bang for the buck.
4. Grocery shop online
Don’t overlook online grocery stores, when looking for ways to save money on groceries. But that’s not all. There’s more.
Online grocery shopping may be a time-saving feature as well. It allows you to skip the drive to and from the grocery store.
In addition, you can do grocery shopping in increments throughout a period of the day, when you have a few minutes here and there. Simply place the desired items in the cart and check out when ready.
Doing your grocery shopping from a laptop or phone allows you to save a good deal of money that would normally be spent on gas. Because fuel is becoming more and more expensive, you can save additional money.
Tips for online grocery shopping
So how do you online grocery shop on a budget?
Again, you may have to do some digging to find the best deals.
Frequently, online grocery stores offer sales on a whole host of food items. We recommend subscribing to each online grocery store email newsletter that is delivered directly to your inbox. These newsletters are a convenient and easy to way to keep up with current sales. Occasionally, we found incredible sales on some food products that feature prices considerable lower than those at some grocery store.
The best part, many of the online grocery stores offer free shipping and home delivery, if you buy groceries over a certain dollar amount. This allows you to save money on groceries without ever having to leave your home.
5. Do curb side pick-up.
This is another good way to save money on groceries. One of the pitfalls of grocery shopping that may lead to overspending occurs when you peruse the aisles and buy unnecessary items that you previously would not have bought. This is especially true if you come fact to face with your favourite treats or when hungry.
To avoid this pitfall, order at home. Then drive to the grocery store for curb side pick-up. It’s as simple as that. Doing so allows you to only buy what you need and spend less money on groceries.
6. Plan your meals in advance
Planning your meals for the week can provide a framework for not only what you will eat, but what you will buy.
Going into the grocery store armed with a solid idea of what ingredients you need to buy for the meals you’re going to cook can help to save money on groceries.
Read more about effective meal prepping tips and strategies.
7. Make a grocery list
After you have planned out your meals for the week, create a grocery list to which you must adhere, while shopping.
Try not to stray from your list as you know the items on it are the ones you will need, not want, for the week.
8. Set a budget for your grocery store trip
Planning is no doubt crucial when trying to save money at the grocery store. And setting a budget forms a large part of this strategy. Having a well-defined budget, and sticking to it, allows you to avoid unplanned or impulsive purchases.
After the grocery store trip is complete, analyze whether or not you actually stuck to the budget. If so, you now have a template. If not, make adjustments accordingly by streamlining the grocery list to fit within the budget.
9. Bring your own bags
Granted, the savings generated by bringing your own bags aren’t going to make or break most budgets. That said, we feel obligated to mention this how-to-save-money-on-groceries strategy.
Look at it this way, a plastic grocery store bag costs about 10 cents. Let’s suppose that you purchase 10 bags on your weekly grocery store run. That’s $1 saved every week, which adds up to $52 over the course of the year. As said, these are not significant savings, but savings nonetheless. Every little bit helps, so bring your own bags.
10. Download a grocery store rewards app
Today many grocery store chains carry their own rewards apps. All you have to do is download it before going to the grocery store. Next, simply collect points through your purchases and then receive cash back at check out. Several variations of a this rewards system exist, depending on the grocery store. All of these are aimed at rewarding loyalty and saving money on groceries.
A number of these apps also list various sales currently offered at the grocery store. It’s a good idea to take a peak before heading out to do shopping.
B. How to save money at the grocery store
Savvy Grocery Shopping
Employing savvy shopping strategies can help you save money on groceries. A study examining consumer shopping strategies and retail food prices concluded that shopping strategies can play a large role in managing the cost of groceries (Binkley & Chen, 2016).
Let’s take a look at some of these strategies to help save money at the grocery store.
1. Avoid grocery shopping when hungry
The first tip to save money at the grocery store is arguably the most important one.
To avoid having your appetite influence how you perceive food and your grocery purchasing decisions, it is best not to shop on an empty stomach. Interestingly, a meta-analysis found that not only does hunger play a role in our motivation to eat, it can also influence our desire to obtain non-food items (Xu, Schwarz, & Wyer, 2015).
Those non-essential items, can unnecessarily raise the totals of our grocery bills. To prepare yourself for a grocery trip, try having a balanced snack before heading out.
2. Shop alone
How can you save money on groceries by shopping alone?
When you shop alone and follow the grocery list, you’re more likely to buy only what’s on the list. Doing so allows you to buy what’s necessary, enabling you to stick to the budget.
When, on the other hand, you shop as a family, especially with young children, your grocery bill is likely to inflate with the various treats hand-picked by the young ones.
Discover tips for grocery shopping with toddlers.
3. Shop when you have energy and don’t feel tired
Doing groceries when tired is a pitfall that you simply need to avoid to be able to save money on groceries. When energy levels are low, you are more likely to have less patience, less resolve and less interest in sticking to that grocery list.
You can even resort to buying processed or pre-packaged foods, which are more pricey, just to speed things up.
In addition, you may not pay close attention to food prices, when feeling drained.
Falling into these traps can swiftly bloat that grocery bill. For this reason, we recommend grocery shopping when well-rested, perhaps on the weekend.
4. Use coupons
Using coupons is probably one of the most common and straight-forward ways to save money at the grocery store.
Typically, coupons can be readily obtained as you enter the grocery store. Another place to look, however, is online. Grocery store websites and apps list various offers and sales of which you can take advantage.
5. Price match
Other than coupons, store flyers are another great place to check for deals. This may lead to shopping around at various stores in search of the best prices.
Interestingly, Binkley and Chen’s literature review analyzed the impact of shopping at multiple stores and found one study to note that consumers could pay 5% less, while another study found that this practice could generate savings of up to 20% (Binkley & Chen, 2016).
While you can save money on groceries by applying this strategy, it does require some extra time. Fortunately, some grocery stores offer price matching to a competitor store’s advertised price. This would allow you to shop at one store while still taking advantage of sales found elsewhere. Don’t overlook this important money-saving feature.
6. Shop sales
Grocery stores often place many food items on sale. You can find hundreds of products throughout the store that are marked down.
Even the produce section has a reduced price section with labels such as “Enjoy tonight for 50% off”.
Granted, some of these items have a very short shelf life. However, if you’re going to consume within a short period of time, you can save a bundle of money.
7. Avoid buying already prepped, pre-packaged meals
Although we’ve alluded to this grocery shopping money-saving tip, we feel it deserves its own space.
Buying pre-packaged, already-made meals is certainly a welcome convenience at the end of a long work day, especially when you’re in a rush to get home.
This convenience, however, comes at a price. A high price. Simply put, already-made meals cost considerable more than if you were to buy the ingredients yourself and made the meal from scratch.
Although we do not discourage the occasional temptation to buy pre-packaged meals, doing so regularly can add tens or hundreds of dollars to your monthly grocery bill. Let the buyer beware!
8. Avoid buying pre-cut fruits and vegetables
Similarly, do your best to avoid buying pre-cut fruits and vegetables because they provide a small bang for the buck. You can buy much more produce if you buy whole and then slice and dice yourself.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with buying nicely packaged and pre-cut fruits and vegetables when you’re hosting a party. But, doing so regularly will result in more money spent on groceries. Therefore, avoid.
9. Compare brands and/or buy generic
While you can save money on groceries by shopping at different grocery stores, you can also find them within a single store.
A study conducted an analysis on the prices paid for groceries at a variety of stores and found that switching brands can lead to sizeable savings (Binkley & Chen, 2013).
In particular, the study found that switching to the grocery store’s private brand can lead to savings of around 30% when compared to choosing a national brand (Binkley & Chen, 2013).
Another study also found there to be significant savings when choosing generic over branded food products and identified the breads and cereals category to offer the highest savings at around 43% (Chapman et al, 2012).
In the end, this grocery shopping strategy involves a simple switch that can have a large impact. Don’t over look it!
10. Check unit prices
If you’re looking for ways to save money on groceries, it doesn’t get any more direct than comparing unit prices of food items.
Although grocery stores have product labels stating the price of an item, it can be difficult to compare prices among different options.
There are, however, details on the label that may often go unnoticed. In a smaller print, you can find the price per unit. This is standardized among common products making it easy to compare prices and select the best deal.
For example, different varieties of eggs may all write “__ cents per egg”. Grain products may list this as “__ cents per 100g”.
Even if these are not listed, you can calculate this yourself, if you’re more mathematically inclined.
11. Use a calculator
The previous point brings us to the next one. Use a calculator to calculate deals.
For example, food product A costs $5.99 for 800g, while product B costs $2.99 for 300g.
Which is the better buy?
Let’s take a look:
Product A: $5.99/8=$0.75/100g
Product B: $2.99/3=$1.00/100g.
Therefore, product A is a much better deal because the unit price is lower.
This method is no doubt time-consuming and requires some math, but the financial rewards can be significant, especially over time.
12. Buy in bulk
Buying food in bulk can potentially save money on groceries.
Frequently, a better value can be found when buying in larger quantities. Products labeled as ‘Family Size’ or ‘Club Pack’ tend to have a lower price per unit. Wholesale stores may offer competitive prices at large volumes. Bulk food stores may also be a good option for dry foods you commonly consume (e.g., grains, nuts, seeds, etc.).
One size does not fit all, however. Avoid purchasing an item in bulk if you are trying it out for the first time or if it does not appear to have much versatility.
Grocery stores may also offer multi-item sales such as “2 for $2”.
Again, check the price label carefully! Sometimes you can still purchase one of the items at the same sale price (e.g., 1 at $1).
Or, you may get less of a reduced price if purchasing under the multi-item sale quantity (e.g., 1 at $1.25).
Consider what your needs will be long term (i.e. next week’s grocery list). If it makes sense for you to buy multiples, take advantage of the sale. If you are in need of a smaller quantity, give it a closer look before ruling out the sale altogether.
If your approach is methodical, you can certainly spend less on groceries.
13. Buy versatile ingredients
Again, we made a mention of this in a previous point. If you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, then we recommend buying versatile ingredients because it is a time-tested money-saving method.
Ingredients that you can use in different meals throughout the week can be purchased in bulk and especially when on sale.
A meal prep system can also help you identify opportunities to use ingredients multiple times.
For example, you can buy ingredients such as avocados for both a taco salad and breakfast burrito.
In other words, you want to choose foods that are versatile to ensure that the purchase can be spread across multiple use cases.
14. Look beyond eye-level items
While your goal as a grocery shopper may be to save money, the primary goal of the food industry is to try to make as much money as possible.
There’s a saying in the food industry that “eye level is buy level“. This means that the products with the greatest ability to capture attention on grocery store shelves are those found 14.7 inches below eye level and upward to meet the eye level.
Because of these findings, you will often find brand names and/or the most expensive products at this level. If you look above and below, you may be able to find food items that cost less.
Pay heed, look around and you just may be able to save money on groceries.
15. Buy frozen or canned vegetables
This is a simple money-saving strategy that can be employed by just about anyone.
Buying frozen or even canned vegetables can cost less than buying fresh vegetables. This is especially true in more remote areas, at northern latitudes or places where many vegetables have to be imported. The costs associated with transporting fresh vegetables (and fruit) can be astronomical, especially in recent months.
Frozen and canned vegetables can be an alternative that you can toss in the freezer and have on hand whenever you need. Just beware of the sodium content of some canned vegetables, which can be rather high.
16. Avoid buying bottled water
Buying bottled water is a convenience that can drive up the grocery store bill.
While you can incur an upfront cost by buying a counter-top filtration unit such as Zero Water, you can save a great deal of money in the long run.
Buying bottled water is generally more expensive. It also creates plastic waste. And to be frank, the taste often leaves a good deal to be desired.
Learn more about the pros and cons of bottled water.
17. Check best before and expiration dates
This is another useful tip to grocery shop on a budget and/or to save money.
In order to buy what you need and what you’re going to actually use up, you need to get into the habit of checking best before and expiration dates of foods. Otherwise, you risk buying more food than you can consume before these dates, and having to throw it away.
In the end, such food waste will just add to your grocery bill.
Related: Food Expiration Dates: What To Know
18. Make it last
Knowing how to spend less on groceries is interlinked with knowing how to make food last.
Clearly, grocery bills can go up when food spoils and needs to be purchased again. This commonly occurs with fresh produce.
It’s a fact that certain varieties of produce last longer than others. For example, vegetables and fruits such as apples, carrots, pears and potatoes have a longer shelf life than items like berries and tomatoes.
A study published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition also found that these longer-lasting produce items also see fewer fluctuations in price (Valpiani et al, 2015).
To save money on groceries, we recommend learning the basics of shelf life of various foods.
19. Buy food in season
If you buy food in season, you can certainly spend less on groceries.
When vegetables and fruits are in season, grocery stores tend to have large quantities available and can offer a better price (Valpiani, Wilde, Rogers, & Stewart, 2015).
A study analyzing the availability and price of produce at supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and roadside stands found that certain items can be found at a cheaper price at markets and stands compared to supermarkets when in peak season.
It appeared that produce that is best consumed shortly after harvesting demonstrated greater price fluctuations according to the season (Valpiani et al, 2015).
Given this finding, purchase produce with a shorter shelf life more often when in season. For example, you may find berries at a better price during the early summer months than the fall.
To continue saving money on groceries throughout the year, adjust some of the foods consumed during meals to suit the given season.
Related: Navigating Summer Nutrition
20. Try plant-based proteins
According to Statistics Canada, the price of meat has increased 10.1% from April 2021 to April 2022 with beef showing the greatest increase at 12.9% (Statistics Canada, 2022). If prices continue to soar, you may shift focus off meat, at least some of the time, in order to save money on groceries.
Fortunately, there are alternative protein options that are both nutritious and affordable.
Eggs can be a great protein option to incorporate into your meals. Plant-based proteins, such as legumes and tofu, are also inexpensive options.
To top it off, legumes bought canned or dried have a long shelf life, reducing losses due to food waste.
21. Cut costs with different cuts of meat
You can also spend less money on groceries by selecting less expensive cuts of meat. These cuts can also be stretched further such that with a smaller amount, you can still feed the same number of people.
For example, using a dish with ground meat can offer a larger number of portions at a lower cost compared to serving a piece of steak per person.
A similar idea applies to tougher cuts of meat and/or those that require slow cooking. Mixed dishes, soups, and stews are great options to apply this cost-saving grocery shopping strategy.
22. Pay attention to the time of day and day of the week for reduced prices
According to some grocery insiders and experts, the best day to do shopping at many grocery stores is Wednesday. This is because, “most supermarkets release new circulars, ensuring you have the first pick of the top deals,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money saving expert.
It is important to keep in mind that grocery stores have their own sales cycles, so it’s best to pay heed to those that occur at the grocery store where you do your usual shopping.
23. Check your receipt
If you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, look no further than making sure you check your bill for mistakes after every grocery store trip.
Although rare in our experience, errors do occur from time to time. Some in your favour, while some not. In any case, it’s best to ensure that you pay for what you actually buy.
If you check diligently, you’re bound to spot an error at some point.
C. What you can do at home to save money on groceries
Miscellaneous money-saving strategies
1. Learn to cook
Knowing how to cook is a timeless skill that comes in handy in many situations. Although it takes years to master, the basics can be acquired rather fast.
Learning to cook will not only make your meals taste better, but it can also lead you to spend less at the grocery store.
Knowing your way around the kitchen, so to speak, will likely lead you to learn about the shelf life of different foods, how certain ingredients can be used in various meals, how to batch cook and so on. Such knowledge will allow you to maximize resources, making the most of the purchased food. You are, therefore, more likely to save money in the long run.
What’s more, cooking and eating at home is an effective way to avoid buying take-out food or visiting a restaurant, which can be expensive in and of itself.
2. Make and eat left-overs
Similarly, when you batch cook, you can buy ingredients in bulk. And, as we alluded to before, buying ingredients in bulk is usually less expensive.
Consequently, this allows you to make meals that can be placed in containers and eaten the next day. Having leftovers is a strategy that not only saves time, but can also save you money at the grocery store.
Left-overs can help save money on another way.
Let’s suppose you batch-cooked on Sunday and end up with left-overs in the fridge. Then, the next day is a long, busy work day, where you don’t feel like cooking when you get home.
What do you do?
You may be inclined to buy take-out food rather than cook. And this is fine. We all do it from time to time. Unfortunately, however, this is the more expensive option that can be remedied with a simple left-over meal.
3. Repackage food and place in plastic containers
Repackaging is another effective way to save money on groceries.
When you buy large packages or boxes food, simply repackage them by placing them in smaller containers. Because we tend to eat more when we’re eating out of large packages, we can save food and, in turn, money, by eating out of smaller containers.
4. Use smaller plates and bowls
If you replace larger plates and bowls with smaller ones, you can effectively eat less food. Consequently, you can spend less money on groceries.
Reason being, we tend to fill up our plates with food as we underestimate the food portion in relation to plate size. Because we tend to engage in behaviour known as ‘clean the plate target’, if we use a smaller plate, we will likely consume less food.
5. Make preserves
Although making preserves has become a somewhat of a lost art in recent years, nonetheless, it can help save money on groceries. Again, buy ingredients in bulk, look up some preserve recipes and voila. You have food that is readily available, lasts a long time and helps keep costs down.
6. Invest in a freezer
If you have room at home and if it’s financially viable, consider investing in a freezer. A freezer will allow you to stock up on meats and other frozen foods, including batch-cooked meals. You can buy meat when it’s on sale or buy in bulk, and freeze it. This way you save money on groceries and always have something to eat on hand. Win-win.
7. Grow your own food
We saved this money-saving strategy for the end as it the least simple and most time consuming.
It also has a number of drawbacks such as inadequate growing conditions due to climate, lack of room to build a home garden, lack of know-how, pests and so on.
That said, however, you can save a great deal of money on groceries by buying your own seeds and growing food. There is no doubt about it.
Take a look at this comprehensive guide on how to grow your own food in your backyard.
There you have it: a comprehensive list of how to save money on groceries. If have an effective strategy to add to the list, get in touch with us, and let us know. We welcome user generated content!
1. Binkley, J. K., & Chen, S. E. (2013). Prices paid in grocery markets: searching across stores and brands. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 47(3), 465-484. 10.1111/joca.12016
2. Binkley, J. K., & Chen, S. E. (2016). Consumer shopping strategies and prices paid in retail food markets. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 50(3), 557–584. https://doi.org/10.1111/joca.12098
3. Chapman, K., Innes-Hughes, C., Goldsbury, D., Kelly, B., Bauman, A., & Allman-Farinelli, M. (2012). A comparison of the cost of generic and branded food products in Australian Supermarkets. Public Health Nutrition, 16(5), 894–900. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1368980012000961
4. Government of Canada. (May 18, 2022). Consumer Price Index, monthly, percentage change, not seasonally adjusted, Canada, provinces, Whitehorse and Yellowknife — Food. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1810000403&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.2&cubeTimeFrame.startMonth=04&cubeTimeFrame.startYear=2022&referencePeriods=20220401%2C20220401
5. Dietitians of Canada (April 26, 2018). 20 Ways to Save Money On Your Groceries https://www.unlockfood.ca/
6. Dietitians of Canada (February 22, 2017). Healthy Eating while Spending Less. (Handout) https://www.pennutrition.com/viewhandout.aspx?Portal=UbY=&id=JMbnWgY=&PreviewHandout=bA==
7. Xu, A. J., Schwarz, N., & Wyer, R. S. (2015). Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood objects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(9), 2688–2692. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1417712112
8. Valpiani, N., Wilde, P., Rogers, B., & Stewart, H. (2015). Patterns of fruit and vegetable availability and price competitiveness across four seasons are different in local food outlets and supermarkets. Public Health Nutrition, 18(15), 2846-2854. doi:10.1017/S1368980015000981
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Tiffany Thai is a registered dietitian whose practice focuses on nutritional support for diabetes, fatty liver disease management, cardiovascular health support, weight loss diet counselling, vegan diet and meal planning, vegetarian diet support as well as digestive health support. Watch: Dietitian Tiffany Thai on her nutritional counselling.
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