We all have to eat. We also all know that one of the best ways to save money on food is to make our own meals, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also save money on groceries while we’re at it.
Okay, before you roll your eyes and think this will be another post filled with tips about buying pasta in bulk, making your own sauce, or eating ketchup and mustard sandwiches like Mark Cuban, this isn’t about complete deprivation. It’s about eating well, nourishing your body, and saving money while doing it.
I buy organic produce when I shop at Whole Foods, and I never spend more than $35 per week there. So, where did that “Whole Paycheck” nickname come from? In all fairness, I’m the one who cringes when I see people at Whole Foods with tons of premade salads, pre-cut fruit, bottled kombucha, and frozen organic pizzas in their cart. Not to mention a bunch of junk from the bakery.
Now, you might be thinking I’m crazy for shopping primarily at Whole Foods when I’m trying to teach you how to save money on groceries. When it comes to food, I believe in putting the best things in your body. If you invest in your body and eat well, you’ll have more energy, vitality, and mental clarity to succeed in and enjoy life!
I also enjoy shopping there. Most things are high quality, the stores are clean and posh, and the service is excellent. Just walking by the bakery section sometimes to test my willpower is an easy pick-me-up for the day.
But no matter where you choose to shop, you’ll find these top 7 ways to save money on groceries applicable. Plus, they won’t ask you to deprive yourself of healthy, nutritious food.
7 Top Ways to Save Money on Groceries
1. Make a “Meal Plan Game Plan,” Not a List
Ever open your fridge to find those blueberries growing some mold or that bloated almond milk carton that you only used half of? People waste a ton of food, and by default, money simply because they fail to eat/use the products they’ve bought before they spoil.
Making a meal plan will help you make sure you don’t waste food and thus money. I hesitate to call it a list, as lists come across as stringent and mundane. Would you rather go shopping knowing you only should buy eggs, bread, and spinach, or head to the store knowing you’re going to make some amazing black bean avocado burgers with beet pesto for meal prep?
First, think about what you want to cook, and then list out your ingredients. Many ingredients can be interchanged across various recipes, such as tofu scramble for breakfast and tofu blocks for stir fry. It may take you a week or two to determine what portions you go through and what you can freeze or use in other dishes. So make it fun!
Look up some exciting food blogs to stir up your creativity and motivation to try something new. When you prepare your meals for the week and find you’ve got some spinach or bell peppers leftover, whip up an omelet or side salad. Most produce can be readily frozen as well, so you can save it for another meal when you’re running short on some ingredients.
Whatever you do, make sure you buy with a plan, whether to use the food in another recipe or to preserve it in some fashion.
2. Sales Make a Difference
Don’t worry, I’m not going to encourage you to obsessively clip coupons or aggressively peruse the weekly circular (you shouldn’t be signed up for a circular anyway, who needs wasteful junk mail?). Plus, I certainly don’t have the time or energy to find ways to save a few cents on a pound of chicken.
What I’m talking about when I say sales are the sales you find when you’re already at the store for things you were already planning to buy. This mentality sometimes works like sales at a clothing store; you’ll buy something because it’s on sale, not because you really need it. That’s dangerous!
Instead, what I’m talking about is buying a brand or type of food slightly different than what you were already planning to buy based on a sale.
When you’re at the store doing your meal game plan, look at things you were looking to buy and the sale price. Fuji apples for sale instead of Honeycrisp apples? Store Brand hummus for sale rather than your favorite brand? Try it out!
I’ve found it’s also useful to look up coupons on your phone while you’re shopping, especially for more expensive dry goods like protein powder. Many stores now have easy-to-use apps, which may also be a good place to look for deals and coupons.
3. You Don’t Have to Buy Everything at the Same Store
Now, I know I said I shop pretty much exclusively at Whole Foods for my weekly trips. However, I also go to Costco every few months for bulk purchasing dry goods.
Living alone has its advantages here, as I know how much I go through and can plan accordingly. If you meal prep, you can buy things in bulk like beans, grains, almond butter, protein powder, nuts, oatmeal, etc. Things with a long shelf life and a higher price tag are solid wins for buying in bulk, plus less packaging waste.
The other thing to consider instead of a warehouse is shopping at a different grocery store or even the farmers market. If you must buy fancy fish, fresh bread, and imported olives at one store, you can buy other items like rice, frozen vegetables, and olive oil where they are cheaper. It can be like “Whole Foods Wednesdays” and “Tom Thumb Thursdays,” parties at the grocery store! (I promise my life is more exciting than that).
The point is, don’t feel like you must stick to one store. Strategically planning your purchases and where you purchase them can save you a ton of money on groceries.
4. Keep Your Receipt
How many times have you opened up that package of organic strawberries or that tub of spinach, only to realize fungus or mold has sadly taken the life of your beloved grocery item?
Make sure you select the package with the best-buy date as far out as you can, but even then, it should only last a few days longer.
Many may not realize that most grocery stores will happily exchange the product for free if you take it back or bring in your receipt when you find something has spoiled before or on the expiration date. Even though many products will last longer if properly handled, the expiration date is a guarantee for each product, and you’re more than entitled to at least a product exchange if it has spoiled on or before the date.
That adds up when you buy $6 baskets of berries and salad or a $15 package of salmon.
5. Keep Your Packages
If you threw out your receipt, fret not. There are other ways to get your money back or exchange the product for free, rather than spend money again to replace the items.
Keep the package! Whether it’s berries, pancake mix, or a jar of pesto, most stores will still accept the package for an exchange (maybe not a refund) as a gesture of customer service.
Be nice about it, and don’t abuse this measure of generosity. If the store doesn’t accept the package for a return or exchange, you can also use the lot code/barcode information to contact the producer directly.
When the pandemic hit, and stores started an “All Sales Final” policy, I was able to get free replacement coupons for spoiled hummus, plant-based burgers, and oat milk simply by explaining the situation on the producer’s contact form!
6. Shop During the Middle of the Week
Often, grocery stores run specials during the week, and sometimes they overlap in the middle of the week when a new circular comes out.
Furthermore, shopping during the week can also save you money by helping you resist temptation. Even if you don’t care for couponing, as mentioned above, shopping during the weekend may increase your urge to buy that cheesecake or that innocent little tub of gelato for movie night if you see there’s a coupon for it. Hey, you’ve had a hard week. It’s the weekend, what’s wrong with a little treat?
Stick to your plan! If you really want to reward yourself, save the money you spend on those frivolous store-bought treats, and visit your favorite bakery or ice cream shop for something special.
Another bonus for sticking to your meal plan during the week? I’ve also noticed that stores get most of their stock during the week, not the weekend, so they are more likely to have the items you need in stock. Having items well in stock prevents you from settling for a higher-priced option or resorting to a frozen pizza because the store is out of rainbow chard for your frittata.
7. Forget Beverages and Ready-Made Meals
I know you think there is no way you will have enough energy to cook after work, never mind packing your own lunch. You pass by that delicious-looking Tuscan chicken pasta and pad thai microwave meal, thinking, “I deserve this! I’m too tired to cook, anyway.”
Look, as convenient as that microwave meal may be, you’re paying extra for that convenience. Ever notice how the cut watermelon is way more expensive than just buying a watermelon?
This goes back to my first point. Meal plan for the week. It won’t be easy at first, and you may want to give up. Still, you WILL save money, taste fresh food variety during the week, be healthier, as well as develop confidence and appreciation of your blossoming cooking skills.
As far as drinks, how much is that organic cold-pressed beet and cucumber juice in your hand? Oh, did you want four of them? Guess it’s between that or the dinner party this weekend.
The best beverage for you is water, and it’s free. Forget anything bottled. If you consume cereal or tea, maybe look into some nut milk (pint sizes are less expensive, and you don’t have to worry as much about waste).
If you love fancy drinks, juices, wine, or whatever else, make it a once-in-awhile treat. Take a friend out to celebrate their new job, or take a buddy out for a draft beer just because. You’ll save so much money by passing on the bevies at the store and enjoy it more thoroughly by making it a treat and socializing at the same time.
It’s possible to save money on groceries without depriving yourself or sacrificing your health. The key is to make a plan and strategically shop.
Also, take the time to properly handle your food so it’ll last the longest, and be willing to seek replacements or refunds when your products don’t last as long as they should.
A few strategic tweaks here and there will make a huge difference. It is possible to save money on groceries and eat healthy at the same time!
Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University. She has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money, make money, and understand money.