45+ Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store
Ready to cut grocery costs? Here are some of our top tips from readers and staffers for cost-efficient grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping is a necessary part of life, but we know that shopping for the family can quickly add up. Grocery prices are skyrocketing nationwide, and people are shopping on a budget now more than ever. On average, a weekly grocery bill for a family of four can run just over $320 on average, according to USDA food plan spending guidelines. That’s why we compiled our favorite ways to save money while grocery shopping to keep your wallet and your family happy.
These are the themes we followed:
- Where to shop
- Making lists
- Online shopping
- Reading price tags
- Buying in bulk
- Buying fresh versus frozen
- Stocking your kitchen
- Substituting foods
- Joining loyalty programs
- When to shop
- How often to shop
- Store tricks to avoid
- Using what you have
How do you save money on groceries? Share your tips with us! Many of our tips below are from readers like you.
Find a place to buy cheap groceries
Fresh veggies, high-quality meat, delicious and healthy snacks—those don’t have to come with a high price tag. Stores like Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Aldi and Sprouts have great deals without the markup. Take the time to research grocery stores in your area and figure out who has the best prices. It’ll pay off on your next grocery bill!
Buy meats separately
Sometimes, buying produce and pantry staples at one store and then purchasing meats at a different store can save you quite a bit of cash. One reader, Marina Castle Kelley of Canyon Country, California says she finds great deals on beef, pork, chicken and turkey at Target. “The selection is sparse, but it saves several dollars on each item.”
Buy paper products where they’re cheap
Oftentimes, grocery shopping isn’t just for groceries. Make sure you keep your list updated with other products you need like cleaning supples, toilet paper, paper towels, hand soaps and detergents. All those products can add up quickly, so it’s best to plan ahead and make a trip to Walmart or dollar stores for goods like those.
Check out your local food pantry
For times when you really need help with groceries, consider visiting a food pantry in your neighborhood. There, you can stock up on a few things you need like pastas, rice, beans, canned goods and other nonperishable items. Reader Marilyn Gisi visits her local food pantry two times a month and then makes trips to Walmart for other items like fresh produce that might not be available at a food pantry.
Visit your local farmers markets
Farmers markets are such a fun way to shop. Not only do you get the freshest seasonal produce, but the fruits and veggies are usually grown locally. Locally grown foods are better for the environment and can be better for your health since they usually contain fewer pesticides or growth hormones. And you might have guessed it, but by taking out the middleman (aka the grocery store), sellers at farmers markets are able to sell products at a lower price.
Make a list and stick to it
Oftentimes, ambling through grocery aisles without a list leads to picking up foods we don’t need. If you’re trying to stick to your grocery store budget, bring a list to the store and try your best to buy only what’s on the list.
Just getting started working with a budget grocery list? Give yourself some grace in the beginning! Budget an extra five dollars into your list so that there’s room for fun errors like picking up that carton of ice cream you’ve been craving all week.
Note when you need smaller portions
You know that one time every few weeks you make soup and it calls for two stalks of celery? Or the pizza you’re making calls for a few chopped olives? If you know you’re not going to use more than what a recipe calls for, reader Anne Ormond from Dover, New Hampshire recommends picking up certain smaller-portion foods at your grocery’s salad bar. She says it’s cheaper than buying the full size of a certain product and can save time on chopping and dicing. To notate which grocery items you need smaller portions of, add an asterisk after the food on your list.
Customize your list to your family’s preferences
“Years ago I made a family shopping list custom to our family,” says reader Julie Herrera-Lemler from Rochester, Minnesota. “As we need things, we put a check in the checkbox. This helps with multiple trips to the store. It also helps whoever is shopping, as I have the brand name next to the item along with the size so there’s no extra spending on wrong brands or sizes.”
Build an inventory
At least once a month, go through your freezer and pantry to take stock of what you have and what you don’t need to buy (that’s called a reverse grocery list). When you’re at the store, you won’t impulse-buy an item you already have, and you won’t be wondering about what else you might need.
Take a photo of your pantry
If you don’t have time to write down everything that’s in your pantry, take inventory the easy way and snap a photo. Reader Joan Hallford of North Richland Hills, Texas recommends taking inventory photos before heading to the store so you don’t end up buying duplicates of items you already have. Take a photo of your pantry, fridge or freezer—and don’t forget the back rows!
Shop for the right amount of people
Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Often, big markdowns and flashy sale tags convince us that we need to buy something; but if you’re only shopping for one, two or three people, the more you buy on sale could actually be wasted. Reader Cindy Worth from Lapwai, Idaho shops for two and doesn’t buy in bulk unless the item is nonperishable. If you do happen to buy too much meat or produce, freeze what you can.
Shop for groceries online
Wondering how to get cheap groceries? Shopping online can keep you more cost-conscious (you see prices going up on your screen), and it prevents impulse buys. You can also easily reference your fridge and pantry to see what you really need, rather than just guessing.
Start a food box delivery service
If you’re not worried about what your produce looks like, try ordering produce from grocery subscription services like Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods. Not only is the price lower than what you’d find in your local grocery store, but you’ll also have a blast making up meals with the foods you receive.
For other grocery delivery options, you could try Fresh Direct, which sources food directly from dairies, farms and fisheries. Cutting out the middleman (aka grocery store) means you’re saving on third-party handling costs.
Do curbside pickup
Curbside pickup is one of the easiest ways to save money when feeding your family on a budget. “I use the store app to order online and pickup curbside,” says reader Lynne German from Buford, Georgia. “This eliminates impulse buys.” Not only does curbside pickup eliminate impulse buys, but it also means you don’t have to bring hungry or tired kids into the store. Saving money and avoiding frustration? Sign us up!
Look at the price tag
How good of a deal is it really? Don’t be deceived by a sales tag next to your favorite snack—instead, look at the unit cost per item, which can reveal that an option that looks cheaper might just be a smaller size. The best bang for your buck will be the lowest unit cost. Don’t miss all of our shopping tips for saving money at the grocery store.
Do mental math as you shop
It might be a whole lot easier to see the cost of your cart go up as you shop online, but if you like in-person shopping, you can do the same thing. Either keep your calculator app open on your phone, or keep a mental tab of how expensive your cart is getting as you drop items into it.
Buy things in bulk
This doesn’t just apply to toilet paper. Buying pricey foods like meat in bigger quantities can dramatically cut costs down the road. Ordering from a meat supplier is a great way to save, but be aware that to get deals, you might have to order up to 40 pounds of chicken breasts or beef at once. If you don’t have a big chest freezer to store it in, split the order with a friend.
Stock up when there’s a sale
Most of us love a sale, especially when the sale involves saving money on groceries. You can save serious dough thanks to discounts as you stock up. To take full advantage, see if your grocery store has a newsletter that advertises upcoming sales, so you can plot your purchases around them. You can even stock up on certain types of produce or meat, and toss them in the freezer to avoid spoilage.
Shop your pantry overflow
Reader Bonnie Snyder from Freeland, Michigan buys pantry items only when they’re on sale, and then stocks what doesn’t fit in the pantry in overflow shelving in the basement. If you have the room outside of your pantry (like shelving elsewhere in the kitchen or the basement), stocking up during sales can be a great way to cut costs. Once your pantry is running low, simply shop your overflow stock! If your shelves begin overflowing, use our kitchen organizing ideas to keep things tidy.
Opt for frozen foods
Sometimes, produce is just too expensive to manage, especially if the fruit or vegetables you’re looking for are out of season. Opt for frozen fruits that you can toss into delicious smoothies or thaw for your morning oatmeal. Frozen veggies are a great option for meals like casseroles and stir fries.
Shop in-season foods
If you notice that apples and eggplants are cheaper in the fall and peaches and peppers are cheaper in the summer, that’s because they’re in season during those times. Shopping seasonally makes it easier to buy fresh rather than frozen.
“I’ve gotten full boxes of fruit and tomatoes for $10 or less,” says reader Shawn Barto from Palmetto, Florida who visits farmers markets and fruit stands for seasonal produce. “Then I can freeze fruit that is prepped for recipes. We have had fresh peach pie at Thanksgiving! What a treat it is to have a summer fruit in the middle of winter.”
Pay attention to weight
An item’s sticker price can only tell you so much. Look closer and you’ll see how much it costs per ounce or gram. Compare different brands, and different amounts between brands, to score the best deal.
Avoid Pre-Cut Produce
Pre-chopped fruits and vegetables might seem like the best option because they involve less work on your end, but they also cost a pretty penny. Reader Ann R. Sheehy from Lawrence, Massachusetts recommends avoiding pre-chopped produce and instead checking the produce markdown carts or bins and eating whatever you find quickly. This will prevent the marked-down produce from going bad.
Make your own food when you can
Buying prepackaged foods can really blow through your grocery budget. Try to buy prepackaged items only when it’s really necessary, like when you’re on the go or when you know you won’t have time to meal prep or cook. Meal prepping and cooking your own food might take time, but it’ll save you a lot of money in the long run. Plus, there are plenty of super fast dinners you can make when you’re short on time.
Look for substitutes
Saving isn’t about cutting out what makes you happy but about shopping smarter. Each time you get back from the store, review your receipts to find the most expensive items. Can you substitute something else, or a different brand, next week? There are tons of pantry staple recipes you can make yourself for much less money.
Get creative with cooking
Not only can you save money by substituting name-brand for store-brand products, but you can also substitute store-bought items for homemade goods. “I buy old, discounted bread, bake it in the oven until crisp, grind it in the food processor, mix it with Italian seasoning, and abracadabra, discount bread crumbs,” says Kristyne McDougle Walter, a reader from Lorain, Ohio. Similarly, you can make homemade croutons from old bread, can fresh fruit or make pickled vegetables.
There’s no better friend for a thrifty shopper than coupons. Find them in your store’s weekly flyer, or check out sites like coupons.com and redplum.com. Then use the coupons wisely. There’s no rush as long as you’re aware of the expiration date, so wait for items to go on sale to stack up discounts on discounts.
Be a loyal shopper
Variety may be the spice of life, but it isn’t the best way to save money. Stick to frequenting one grocery store, and take advantage of their loyalty program. You’ll start to rack up rewards, learn their promotions and become familiar with how the program works so you can score freebies and generous markdowns.
Join a shopper’s club
“Definitely join your grocery store’s shopper’s club,” says reader Susan Bickta from Kutztown, Pennsylvania. “My grocery store offers a 10% discount on their brand items for senior citizens every Tuesday. I also check their sales flyer every week to make my shopping list and then use the e-coupons that are offered for club members.”
Use your store’s app
Downloading your grocery store’s app can help you find great deals. Some local shops might scan the barcode on your app to help you rack up points that can be used for free goodies every month. Walmart’s app can be really helpful in finding impressive deals too. One of the best grocery store secrets is that Walmart will honor a price match against its own website!
Go shopping once a week
As far as math equations go, it’s pretty simple: the less you’re shopping, the more you’re saving. You’ll reduce impulse purchases and save money, time and gas by only heading to the store once a week. Plus, it will get you into the habit of planning ahead for the whole week, helping you organize your meals in advance.
Know when to shop
We’ll give you a hint: The best day of the week to shop for groceries is Wednesday. Fresh produce hits the shelves and weekly specials are posted, meaning you get the best of both worlds—fresh food and money in your wallet. The obvious bonus to midweek shopping is that you also get to avoid weekend crowds.
Shop early in the day
“I like to go early in the day,” says reader Kallee Krong-McCreery. “I head to the meat department to see what has just been pulled and reduced that morning for quick sale.” Never be afraid to ask your butcher questions either. Checking in to see which meats are marked down or whether you can buy in bulk could help you save.
Take advantage of holidays
Shopping after big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter means that you get to take full advantage of discounted specialty foods. Buy sale foods like whole turkeys, whole hams, seasonal desserts and seasonal or special edition beverages that you otherwise wouldn’t purchase at full price.
Eat first, then shop
You’ve heard it before and we’ll say it again: Don’t grocery shop on an empty stomach. Studies have shown you’ll be tempted to grab more than you need, especially high-calorie snacks you’d otherwise avoid.
Avoid grocery store tricks
There are quite a few grocery store tricks that lead you to spend more money, such as providing oversized carts and stocking expensive items at eye level. One of the safest ways to make sure you didn’t fall prey to these tricks is to take a look at your cart before heading to checkout. Are there any items you can possibly put back? Like an extra bag of chips or an impulse item that is over budget?
Prepare a soundtrack
Our favorite way of feeling like we’re in a movie: Strut your stuff to a mix of upbeat songs while you shop, instead of the slower-paced tunes the store is playing. Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, found that the stores’ songs actually make us move slower, leading buyers to reach for more.
Walk past the displays
Those bright, seasonal displays of delicious baked goods, fresh florals and other fun treats might look eye-catching, but that’s just the point. Chances are none of those items are on your weekly grocery list, so unless you have an extra $5 to spare in your budget, just keep walking. Instead, plan out one or two times a month to shop the displays if that brings you joy rather than every time you’re in the store. It’ll be a win-win!
Make coffee at home
If you’re one to grab a coffee at those perfectly placed Starbucks at the front of grocery stores or Target, it could be the reason you’re going over budget. Try to make your coffee at home before going shopping. There are plenty of copycat Starbucks recipes you can make and save so much money when you’re not buying a $6 (or more!) latte every time you shop.
Say adieu to the cashier
Opt for the self-checkout line. Not only will the wait time generally be shorter—a perk we can get behind—but you’ll have less chance to linger around the sweets and last-minute temptations near the cashier. A study by IHL Consulting Group found self-checkout slashed impulse buys by 32% for women and 17% for men. You’ll also be more conscious of what you’re buying, giving you an opportunity to pass on any impulse items that might have wandered into your cart.
Use what you have
We love nothing more than diving into a new recipe. But rather than picking one with all-new (and potentially expensive) ingredients, find a recipe that allows you to use what you already have at home. The best trick? Look at the leftover ingredients from last night’s dinner, and build today’s meal around that. It’ll reduce how much food you have to throw away and how many ingredients you have to buy. Use this inspiration to make dinner with your pantry staples!
Invest in reusable water bottles
Buying bottled water every week is not only bad for the environment, but it’s also bad for your budget. One of the best hacks frugal shoppers use is investing in a filtered water system you can keep in your fridge or buying reusable water bottles that you can simple fill with tap water.
Make your own cleaning supplies
Using what you have on hand doesn’t just apply to foods. If you often find yourself going over budget because of expensive cleaning supplies, switch things up. Cleaning with distilled white vinegar or other homemade cleaning solutions is easier—and cheaper—than you think. Hint: Most things in your home can be cleaned using only a few basic ingredients.
Buy multi-meal meats
If you’ve ever bought a rotisserie chicken and have gotten two to three meals out of it, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Buying a large amount of meat that you can meal prep into multiple meals is a great way to save on cash. If ground beef is on sale one week, buy a bunch of it and make different meals out of it so you don’t get bored of the same thing. Same goes for whole chickens. Use some in a soup, some in tacos and the rest in chicken wraps for easy lunches.
Or…skip the meats
“Easy peasy: I don’t eat meat!” says reader Linda Hudson from Lopez Island, Washington. Reducing the amount of meat you buy can really lower the cost of your groceries. Planning “meatless weeks” or sticking to “meatless Mondays” can be an easy way to lower your food bill every month.
Make meals last a few days
If you don’t mind reheating and eating leftovers, sometimes casseroles, soups and pasta dishes are the best way to go when shopping on a budget. Ingredients are usually on the cheaper side, and there are all kinds of multi-serve meals you can make: quick and easy casseroles, breakfast casseroles, soups that freeze well and budget-friendly pasta dishes.
Planning out what you’re going to eat every week will help you envision exactly what you need to buy at the grocery store, plus it could help you keep your kitchen organized. “I plan more than one meal around ingredients I buy to make sure that I use it up without any waste,” says reader Anna Miller from Churdan, Iowa. The more planned-out your meals are, the less half-used ingredients you’ll have lying around your refrigerator and pantry. Read our guide to meal planning to learn more.