According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family of 4 spends between $720 and $1,290 each month on groceries.
Do the math quickly for your own family. Think about how much you spend in an average month on food, even those meals out at a restaurant. Does it come uncomfortably close to the high end of that monthly range?
Don’t worry; here are 10 tips that will help you save a little cash at the store, no matter how many hungry mouths you have to feed.
Planning out what you’re going to eat each week has a couple advantages. First, it sets you up to know exactly what you’re going to shop for at the store, and second, it means you don’t have to think about it with a vague sense of panic each night after a long day at work.
Start by scanning your pantry for what you have and can use during the week. If you have a stockpile of rice, maybe it’s time for a stir fry. Or if you see multiple cans of chicken broth, a soup night might be a good choice.
Make a list of all the items you’ll need at the store. And once you get there, don’t deviate from the list, no matter how tasty those ice cream bars look. If it’s not on your list, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist.
One last tip: Write out the week’s menu and put it on the fridge (or in a similarly convenient location) for your family to see. It will serve as a helpful reminder while you’re pulling ingredients from the fridge.
Have you ever heard someone at a restaurant say, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach?” This is usually as he or she looks chagrined at the huge pile of food being poured from the plate into a to-go box.
Don’t let that happen to you at the grocery store. Have a quick snack first or head out to shop after a satisfying meal. You’ll be less likely to indulge in impulse buys or junk foods that don’t match up with what you had on your list. (There are even calorie and food choice implications when you shop hungry versus when you don’t.)
If you haven’t already, take 5 minutes to sign up for the loyalty card at each store. It’s a simple process and it could save you hundreds each year when you use the card at checkout.
The cards allow you to participate in store sales and, sometimes, gain points for free items like deli sandwiches, Hallmark cards, or even fuel for your car.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the little flags hanging off your keychain, you can set up a special separate shopping ring. Just don’t forget it at home!
At any given time, the grocery stores you frequent will have a variety of items on sale. If you find out what’s marked down when you plan your menu, you can save even more money.
To get “in the know,” browse through your local newspaper. Many stores will have special inserts (especially on Sunday) that detail upcoming deals. These may also be available through a store’s weekly email newsletter (you can usually sign up on the website).
Or you can follow the companies on social media. Most post upcoming or current promotions on Facebook or Twitter — sometimes they even run specials just for their followers.
Be willing to spread your shopping trip out a little. One store has better produce, another has better pantry items, and a third might have the best, most cost-effective meat.
Go where the food is the freshest and where the sales are, even if that means a second stop (provided you’re not burning through the same dollar amount in gas that you would save on groceries).
Get ready to be coupon savvy. The same inserts in your local newspaper that advertised the sales also probably had a nice juicy bunch of coupons.
If you prefer the paper-free route, many stores offer the option of loading your coupons right onto your loyalty card from the store’s website or right inside the front door (yet another bonus to signing up).
Even if you’re saving only a couple cents per purchase, it’s the small difference that will really add up over time.
Here’s a little secret: A number of the store-brand foods are manufactured by the name brands you recognize, meaning that while the packaging might be different, they likely taste exactly the same as the ones you know well.
Going generic could save you quite a bit each trip as stores want customers to buy their products rather than the name brands and will price accordingly.
Make the giant wholesale retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s Wholesale a monthly stop. Although it might seem at first glance like these places are more expensive than a regular grocery store, pay close attention to the unit price and how many items you’re getting in each package.
These wholesalers keep their goods marked relatively low because it’s a no-frills shopping experience and the goods are sold in bulk. It’s the perfect spot to purchase paper products, pet food and other related items, diapers and wipers, and meat (which you can separate at home and freeze in smaller bunches, depending on how much your family will eat).
Thanks to the growing farm-to-fork movement, many towns around America now host a local farmers’ market.
This is an excellent change for a smart shopper to save money and get the best fresh produce, which is often organic. You’ll also be contributing to the health of your community and supporting your neighborhood farmers.
Even if you can get to a farmers’ market, it may be worth trying to grow some food of your own. Having a small patch of tomatoes, herbs, or peppers is a surprisingly easy undertaking, even for apartment dwellers with no lawns. Just find a sunny spot, a big pot with healthy soil, and water in regular intervals.
Before long, you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your endeavor with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s also a great chance for kids to learn about plants and where their food comes from.
Did we miss any tips? Be sure to leave your favorites in the comments.