I love it when I save on food at the grocery store. What about you? Whether it’s a “Buy One, Get One” deal, an in-season sale, or even a dented-can discount… there’s just something about saving some extra cash when it comes to grocery shopping. Maybe it’s the fact that you walk away with more for less. Maybe it’s a primeval sense of security. It just feels good.
So I’m sure you’ve heard of the great successes of extreme couponers. They’re the ones who shop the deals with such skill and savvy that they literally save thousands of dollars by the end of the year. We’re not going to discuss that kind of activity here. Good for them for saving big bucks. They are in a league of their own. When you live in small space though, that kind of shopping behavior is really hard to sustain. Balance is critical. We just don’t have the room!
Just because we have tiny kitchens doesn’t mean we can’t save on food! I like to pride myself on being thrifty. Over the last four years I’ve tried every method I could find to save money at the grocery store. So here are my 10 best and easiest ways that you can save on food at the grocery store while supplying your a tiny kitchen. You’ll end up everything you need to feed your family and more money in your wallet.
The Easiest Ways to Save on Food at the Grocery Store
- Make a Meal Plan
- Shop Sales and Rebates
- Join Loyalty Programs
- Limit Your Trips and Stick To a List
- Look for the Discount Rack
- Buy In-Season Fruits and Vegetables
- Avoid Buying Convenience Foods
- Buy Store Brand For The Biggest Savings
- Skip the Dressings, Broths, and Sauces
- Don’t Shop Hungry
Make a Meal Plan Before You Shop
A meal plan is a simple, yet powerful, concept that can save you a ton of time and money.
Basically, it’s a list of meal ideas that you plan on making in the next few days, weeks, or even for the entire month. Remember those lunch menus they would send you home with in elementary school? That’s a meal plan. With a meal plan, you also benefit from not having to think about what’s for dinner. All that has already been decided. You give your future self a heads up that something needs to be defrosted, soaked, or prepared in advance.
If you’re really clever you can also save on food by buying in bulk and reusing the same ingredients for several different meals. Buying in bulk can save you a lot of money. Plus, it’s extremely helpful when you have a tiny kitchen with an equally small pantry. You don’t end up overbuying (creating a nightmarish game of Pantry Tetris…) and you know your groceries will all get used before they expire. You have a plan.
I highly recommend it! You can create a meal plan simply by writing down a list on a piece of paper or putting it into your favorite todo app on your phone. If you want to get your entire family on board though, it’s a good idea to put the plan in their faces with a reusable dry-erase meal planner like this one.
When I make my weekly meal plan, I usually start with the grocery store circular. Not only are these flyers packed with discounts and coupons, I actually find that they are a great resource for meal planning. You get a sense of which fruits and vegetables are in-season, what’s on sale, and roughly how much your shopping trip is going to cost. Additionally, sometimes just looking at food can give you inspiration for what you want to eat that week.
Because we travel a lot, we don’t get a paper copy of the circular from local grocery store until we get there. That’s not very convenient if you’re trying to make a plan that will actually help you save on food. You literally have to do all your thinking and organizing in the entrance of the store. That’s no fun.
If you Google the store address, you can often get access to an online copy of their circular. Additionally, if you use your phone a lot, you can download the Flipp app, which automatically finds and displays these circulars.
Use Cashback Rebate Apps
I hate using coupons at the grocery store. Half the time I forget to bring them with me and the other half the time I forget to use them. This I why I prefer using cashback apps like Ibotta and Ebates for purchases. These programs are easy to use and can be downloaded to your phone.
Before you go to the grocery store, just open the app. Activate the rebates for the products you expect to buy at the store of your choice and you’re set! When you’re done shopping, you simply take a photo of your receipt and they credit your account with the money you earned for purchasing products you were going to get anyway. It’s wonderful!
The best part about these apps is that sometimes you can double up on the money you get back. If two apps are offering the same deal, you can scan the same receipt in each app and get twice the money back. If you shop wisely, you can earn enough money that the item is basically free!
Save on Food At The Grocery Store!
Sign up for Ibotta today.
I prefer Ibotta as my primary cashback app because they have bonus rewards. What these do is add additional cash to your account because you redeemed a certain number or certain type of rebates. That’s extra money in addition to what you already got for the rebate itself. Plus, they give you $10 in your account just for signing up! When you’re ready to get your cash, you can have app send your funds directly to PayPal.
If you do a lot of shopping online, Ebates is another great cashback service. All you here is go to their website, pick your store, and they’ll tell you how much you’ll get back for shopping online. When you’re all done automatically they’ll handle checkings your purchases. No receipt scanning required. All you need to do is shop! Ebates also gives you $10 just for signing up, so you literally have nothing to lose!
Finally, if you shop at Walmart, you can save on food by using their Savings Catcher program. Just scan your Walmart receipt and Savings Catcher automatically compares the price you paid to all of the other grocery stores in the area. If there is a better discount at another store, Walmart will give you the difference. It’s just another great way to get all the money you deserve when you’re grocery shopping.
Be a Loyal Customer
Loyalty has two types of perks for those of us who want to save on food when grocery shopping. The first is the grocery store loyalty discount program. This is usually associated with the store. You get a card and they give you special discounts on items. You can usually save anywhere from 5 to 10% on each shopping run. If you’re a really smart shopper and buy store brand items as well, you can save up to 30 or 40% or even more! Some store also give you discounts on gas.
Loyalty programs are the first and easiest place to start if you’re trying to eat well and save on food. I recommend you join the program at every grocery store chain that offers one. Attach your phone number to the card too. That way you don’t have actually have the card in hand when you checkout. My husband and I travel the country in our RV and we literally keep a two-inch thick stack of loyalty cards… I never remember to bring a single one into the store with me.
The other perk of being a loyal customer is that you know the store. Time is money after all and the less time you spend in a store looking around for what’s on your list, the less likely you are to pick up any extras. Plus, some groceries stores might have great prices on vegetables while another has better prices on meat. Familiarly will help know what to buy and what not to buy from each store.
Limit Your Trips and Stick to a List
This can get tricky if you live in the city and have to walk your groceries home. If possible, you should still limit the amount of times you visit a grocery store. For each shopping trip, one can expect to buy at least one or two extra items that you didn’t account for in your meal plan or budget. If you stop in 5 times a week, that ends up being a lot of extra food!
Make a list for every shopping run and stick to it.
Try not to buy groceries more than once a week. If you do need to make a quick stop because you ran out of an important ingredient, go in with just enough cash to pay for that item. This will help you avoid any impulse buys on your way around the store.
Look for the Discount Rack
In almost every grocery store, there is a discounted goods section. This is where they sell items that have flaws in the package or items that are about to expire. Ok, your momma taught you to never buy a dented can or eat expired food… but it’s not always going to kill you. Your best judgement and the savings can be extreme. In the discount section, you’ll often find foods that are about to expire, have a sticky package, are overstocked, or maybe have slightly marred cans or labels. It doesn’t mean the food is bad, it just means that it has to be eaten quickly. If you’re going to devour it anyway, why not do it at a discount?
Also for fresh fruits and vegetables, checkout the grocery stores in the morning. If you’re going to farmers markets, the best time to go if right before closing. This is usually when they want to get rid of the food the most, so they’ll usually cut you a deal. You might not have the best selection. But it’s always worth a look.
Buy In-Season Fruits and Vegetables
Speaking of vegetables… in-season fruits and vegetables can be dirt cheap. If you like to eat fresh and really want to save on food, learn what’s in-season and when. Groceries stores sell in-season fruits and vegetables at deep discounts because the market is flooded with them. Farmers are harvesting their crops and because, food is perishable, they have to move quickly. Because of this, you get to save money! But fruits and vegetables don’t magically stop being perishable when you take them home. Sure, you could dedicate several weeks to eating nothing but one ingredient… but why?
Save your in-season fruits and vegetables by cutting them up and storing them in the freezer. You’re essentially making your own convenience foods, except you’re doing it with fresh, delicious, ripe, quality produce. You can even go as far as making your own mixed packs—for example, combine your own stir-fry ingredients or freeze different fruits together to make quick smoothies.
Avoid Convenience Foods
Many of us think of convenience foods as frozen all-in-one dinners or that junk you get from fast food restaurants. It’s a lot bigger than that. Convenience foods are all over the grocery store. They include pre-cut and frozen vegetables, canned soups, boxed or canned broths, bakery items, breads, cookies, ready-to-use dough in pressurized tubes… the list goes on.
These convenience food items are often inexpensive. They are the most common type of item to go on sale and they can easily be found in “Buy One, Get One” displays. By the price, you would think that they are the ultimate way to save money at the grocery store. You’d be wrong.
Most convenience food items are not hard to make from scratch. The price of the raw ingredients is a fraction of the cost of these convenience items. If you were to prepare the same item at home, you can guarantee that you’ll get a higher quality of food and you can typically triple the quantity for the same price.
Buy Store Brand For The Biggest Savings
Let’s face it, I know you just read the last section. I know you want to listen to my advice. But putting that into practice when you have a child screaming over a box of cookies is a hard sell. You’re going to go ahead and buy some of those convenience items. It’s okay. I do it occationally too. But… when you do by these packaged products, consider getting the generic store brand instead of the name brands like Kraft, Nabisco, Lay’s, etc. More often than not, these products are the exact same item.
The packaging might be bland, but store brand products usually taste the same and can be up to 25% cheaper!
Now there are some items that you simply might prefer as a name brand buy. For example, in my house we only buy Kraft American Cheese. We just like the way it melts. But we still went through and at least tried all the different store brand versions before we finally decided that the name brand was the way to go. If you’re going to pay more for a product, at least make it an educated decision.
Skip the Dressings, Gravy, Sauces, and Broth!
This is another type of convenience food that seems impossible to do without. When possible, learn to make your own. It much cheaper to just buy the ingredients. Not only that, when you make your own condiments, dressings, and sauces you get the chance to control how much sugar, sodium, and other flavors are used.
I don’t know about you, but when I head down the condiment aisle, I feel overwhelmed. They have store brand, name brand, organic, no high fructose corn syrup, no sugar, low sodium, vegan, extra glitter (just kidding…) It’s too many options. I seriously spend more time in that aisle than I do any other aisle in the store because I can never decide what to buy.
Spare yourself. You can save big bucks and a lot of space if you just make what you need, when you need it. Besides, when you have a tiny refrigerator, do you really need 12 half empty bottles of dressing taking up all the room? No. Make a point to learn how to make the condiments you love and you can thank me later.
There is another aisle to skip too… sauces, soups, stocks, and broths. The manufactured varieties are insanely unhealthy and are usually filled with excess sodium and other junk. Besides, they are so ridiculously easy to make from scratch. Making your own can be a very frugal way to have a delicious meal and save on food. If you don’t have the time to boil your own vegetables or bones, you can just as easily use water and bouillon to make a delicious broth. Add a few beans, rice, and vegetables and you have a homemade soup to feed the family for just a few cents. It’s as easy as that.
Don’t Shop Hungry!
Grocery stores and hunger make a terrible perfect storm. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not shop hungry. If you need to go to the deli section in the grocery store, buy a sandwich, leave the store to go scarf it down in your car, and then return 15 minutes later to do your grocery shopping… do it. The cost of the sandwich will be significantly less than the damage you will do to your grocery bill.
Here’s what happens when you shop hungry. You buy more and it’s usually all junk. Food companies pay very talented people a lot of money to make their packages to look as appetizing as possible. The junkier the food, the more effort they put into making you want it. In addition to random snack food grabs, you also run the risk of over purchasing basic ingredients. If you’ve ever eyeballed a pound of green beans when you were full and compared that to a “pound” of green beans when you’re hungry, you’ll know what I mean.
This is not to say that you can’t extend a great deal of willpower to avoid problems when shopping hungry. But for most of us, we are not that strong. (At least, I’m not!) You can usually see an increase of 40 to 60% in your grocery bill when you shop hungry. Just eat something before you walk in the store. It’s cheaper.
Best Ways to Save on Food At the Grocery Store
The last, and best, tip that I have is: be aware of what you’re putting your cart before you hit the checkout line. My husband and I have this little game where we load the conveyor belt up with our groceries and take a guess at what the total cost is going to be. Whoever is closer to the total wins. Usually I’m a little high and he’s a little low. We don’t win anything, per se. It’s just a good feeling to know that you’re in touch with a resource (money) that is keeping you alive and comfortable (via the food you’re buying at the grocery store).
Every item you pick up should be a conscious decision that is either a necessity or an absolute desire. If you’re buying something you only kind of like… don’t. Just leave it on the shelf. Shaving dollars off your monthly grocery bill is easier than you think. With this article of my best and easiest ways to save on food at the grocery store, you’ll keep money in your pocket, your pantry full, and your household happy.
If you have any other ideas for saving money at the grocery store or if you found this article useful, leave a comment!