It’s easy to waltz down the grocery store aisle and fill up your basket with things that aren’t on the list. Maybe it’s the fluorescent lighting, strategically placed products at checkout, or that squeaky wheel on the cart that messes with your sanity—and your budget.
But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to spend like crazy! It’s time to reel it in and learn how to save money on groceries.
How Much Do Most People Spend on Groceries Each Month?
Around here, we recommend spending 10–15% of your take-home pay on food, which includes both groceries and eating out. But (like you probably guessed) most people spend a lot more than that. The average cost of monthly groceries for one person ranges from $162–372. Married couples clock in at spending somewhere between $371–773 each month. And when it comes to a family of four, the average cost for their monthly grocery bill shoots up to $570–1298!1 Yikes!
Spoiler alert: You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on groceries. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are 30 easy ways to go grocery shopping on a budget, plus some tips from Dave’s Facebook fans!
1. Redefine dinner.
If the word dinner makes you picture a big homemade meal with a nice cut of meat, two steaming sides of fresh veggies from the farmers market, a warm loaf of French bread, and a chocolate dessert—chill out and cut yourself some slack! This isn’t 1952, and supper doesn’t have to be a big feast.
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Your kids and spouse will survive on BLTs, omelets or a big salad several times a week. Don’t be afraid of serving simple meals or doing breakfast for dinner to make your groceries stretch! Eggs are inexpensive, and you can whip them up into different dishes like frittatas and quiches if you’re feeling fancy. Or make egg salad sandwiches if you want to keep it simple.
It’s time to shrink your guilt and your budget by rethinking the most misunderstood meal of the day. Freeeeedom!
2. Crunch some numbers while you shop.
If you keep a running tally of how much money is adding up in your cart, you’ll save yourself from any surprises when you get up to the checkout line. Pull out the calculator on your phone and keep track of all those veggies, fruits and other staple items you’re putting in your cart. This might make you stop and ask yourself—wait, do I really need that fancy $5 sparkling water that isn’t on sale?
“Stick to your list and use a calculator as you shop to stay under budget. We’re under $50 a week for our family (two adults and a toddler). No junk food either. It’s doable!” — Amanda N.
3. Round up your grocery cost estimates.
This is a fun little trick to play on yourself when you’re stumped for how to save money on groceries. While you’re walking around with your calculator, round up each item’s price. The $1.59 product becomes $2, that $7.75 item becomes $8, and so on. If you do this for everything in your cart, you’ll still know roughly what you’re spending, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you’re standing at the checkout line and coming in under budget every time.
“I use tally marks to keep track of what I’m spending, and I always round up every item. Even if the item is $1.29, it gets two tally marks. That way, by the time I check out, I’m both aware of approximately what to expect and surprised to still be under what I wanted to spend.” — Jillian H.
4. Raid your pantry.
Challenge yourself to look through your pantry (or fridge) and see what kind of meals you can throw together with the ingredients you already have. Who says you have to stock up on more groceries when there are perfectly good chicken thighs shoved in the back of your freezer and a couple unopened cans of black beans and salsa on your shelves?
“Don’t feel like you need to buy something just because you’re out of it. Raid your pantry and fridge for substitutes first. Make your meal plans around what you already have.” — Carla A.
5. Think before you bulk up.
Buying in bulk is amazing . . . when it actually saves you money. Don’t assume that the big bulk buys at the discount stores are automatically the cheaper option. When you’re grocery shopping on a budget, be sure to stop and compare the price per unit or ounce for the item you’re buying.
As tempting as it is to stock up, don’t buy more than you really need—especially when it comes to perishable items. Buying bulk cereal might be a great investment for a family of four, but if it’s just you and your spouse, that 40-count of Greek yogurt might not be the best buy.
6. Start freezing and storing meals now.
Need to figure out how to save money on food fast? Say hello to freezer meals. There are a ton of freezer meal recipes online. Look them up! You can set aside a Saturday to make a bunch of freezer meals and then reap the benefits later on down the road. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also save time. Can’t beat that!
“Cook big meals and divide leftovers into portions and freeze them. Freeze as much as you can from your shopping.” — Anthony R.
7. Pay with cash.
It’s like Dave Ramsey always says: Cash is king! The best way to be sure you’ll end up with a lower grocery bill is to stick to the budget and pay with cash. When you go to the store with cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend—because once the cash runs out, that’s it!
Plus, it’ll help you prioritize the meat-and-vegetable necessities rather than the ice-cream-and-cookie impulse buys. Those little extras are okay if you plan for them!
If you still find that you’re eating like royalty at the beginning of the month and then scraping by at the end, take out cash for groceries every week instead of once a month. That way, you’ll have a better picture of how much you can actually afford to spend each week.
“Use the envelope system and put unnecessary items at the end of the counter. I would tell the cashier I only had a certain amount of money to spend and to stop when I got to that point. Instead of it being an embarrassment, it was a bonding moment for me and the cashier when I made my goal, or even if it didn’t work out.” — Jan B.
8. Don’t allow for budget-breaking surprises.
This is one of the simplest ways to save money on groceries. When you get to the store, stick to your list! That’s the key to staying on budget. And if you go shopping as a family, let your kids help plan the meals and then find the items. It’s much easier to stay on budget when you’re shopping with a plan and working as a team . . . and when you get comfortable saying no to candy.
“Our grocery store offers ‘scan it.’ You can walk around with a scanner and scan your items as you shop. It keeps a total for you so you’re never surprised at the register—and you can decide if you really need certain things.” — Jamie M.
9. Shop in season.
When you’re grocery shopping on a budget, it’s super important to live by this rule. Buying a pomegranate in mid-July will probably cost you an arm and a leg—and it might not even taste good! So, throughout the year, make it a point to only buy fruits and veggies that are in season.
10. Ignore eye-level items.
Have you ever noticed how the most expensive items on the grocery shelves tend to be right at your eye level? That’s no random fluke. It’s on purpose. Grocery stores are smart. They want you to go for the splurge items!
Instead of falling for those marketing tricks, look up and down as you shop. The more affordable brands could be higher or lower on the shelves. Think of it as a treasure hunt for the best price!
11. Try different grocery stores.
Why did you pick your grocery store to shop at? Is it the friendliest? Is it the closest to your home or most convenient to your commute? If we’re being honest, most of us probably shop where we do out of pure habit.
Don’t let a comfortable routine cost you money.
In the U.S., the top seven cheapest ranked grocery stores to shop at are Aldi, Market Basket, WinCo Foods, Food 4 Less, Costco, Walmart and Trader Joe’s.2 But keep in mind, things might stack up differently near you, so if you’re not sure which grocery stores are worth your time and dollars, ask around and compare prices.
Also, if you want to save money on food, be sure to check the weekly ads in your area for what’s on sale at competing grocery stores. You might find that shopping at the store down the street is costing extra money in the long run. Figuring out a new shopping plan may be frustrating at first, but it’s worth it to keep extra cash in your pocket.
12. Learn the sales cycles.
Are you ready to do a little detective work? Start paying attention to when your favorite items go on sale and how much the price drops. You might even want to jot it all down in a small notebook or on your smartphone. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re keeping track of those sales so you can see if there’s a trend. Soon you’ll be able to predict them before they hit!
Nope, it’s not what you think.
It’s time to bring your own bag to the grocery store! Lots of stores will give you a discount off your total grocery bill just for bringing in a reusable bag. How easy is that? Your savings will usually run somewhere between five and 10 cents per bag! Five bags could save you anywhere from 25 to 50 cents. Hey, savings are savings!
14. Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
People do a lot of silly things when they’re hungry. They say things they don’t really mean, eat all of their roommate’s chips, and aimlessly stroll the grocery store aisles like zombies.
And while your best friend might not hold you responsible for what you said when you were “hangry,” your grocery bill won’t let you off the hook so easily. Step away from the 48-count of frozen waffles, and put back that pineapple upside-down cake from the bakery.
Walk into the grocery store with a full stomach, and you might be shocked by how much lower your grocery bill is!
15. Stick to a meal plan.
It sounds like a chore, but meal planning can actually be a lot of fun when you’re learning how to save money on groceries. Pick a day of the week when you’ll plan out the meals. Once you decide what you’ll make for breakfasts, lunches and dinners, write out each ingredient needed for those meals—plus a few snacks, of course. Try to use ingredients you already have on hand before you think about the other ingredients you need to shop for.
And remember: A list can make or break your budget. So stick to your meal plan for the week and let your list be your guide!
16. Don’t buy more than you need.
We love a deal. Everyone loves a deal. But if you get suckered into buying stuff you don’t really need, did you really get a deal at all? Buying something just because it’s on sale is a good example of this. If it wasn’t part of your planned grocery list, then you still spent more money than you were intending to—deal or no deal.
“Just because something is marked two for $5, four for $10, etc., doesn’t mean you have to buy that many items. You get the same discounted price if you buy just one.” — Stacy H.
17. Test out your green thumb.
This might not be for everyone, but if you can grow your own tomatoes, bell peppers and cauliflower in your garden, you’re sure to save money at the grocery store. Why? Because you don’t have to buy any of those things there! You can just go out and grab them from your garden, Little House on the Prairie style. How awesome is that?
18. Shop online and pick up at the store.
If you’re looking for another hack when it comes to grocery shopping on a budget, you might want to consider using curbside grocery pickup. You can select the exact items you want online, pay for them, and then pick them up at whatever time works for you.
A lot of grocery stores are offering this service, and customers seem to be enjoying the convenience factor. But here’s why we really love it: You tend to cut out the impulse buying and stick to your grocery list and budget! No more getting up to the register only to discover that family-size box of cereal isn’t on sale after all. And no more buying rolled oats just in case you’re out at home (you can walk to the pantry to see for yourself—mind blown).
Some stores offer a pickup service for free, but others will make you pay a small fee, so be sure to budget that into your overall cost too.
19. Use apps on your smartphone.
When you’re searching for ways to save money on groceries, don’t forget about all the rebate apps out there!
Ibotta, Receipt Hog, Checkout 51 and Fetch Rewards are just a few of the great apps that can help you save. While rebates don’t give you a discount up front (like a traditional coupon), you should see savings in the long run.
20. Try going meatless for a meal.
Look here, carnivore, don’t be afraid to branch out and have a meatless meal once or twice a week. Buying large quantities of meat can make your grocery bill skyrocket (especially when the meat isn’t on sale). So instead, find some meatless recipes to whip up on Meatless Monday—or whatever day of the week you choose!
“We do a meatless meal one to two times a week. We budget $500 for a family of five. Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s the perfect amount. If we don’t spend it, we put it toward our debt snowball.” — Holly M.
21. Eat leftovers for lunch.
We all know this—going out for lunch will seriously eat into your food budget. If you’re dropping $10 just twice a week, that’s $80 a month being spent on going out to eat (and we’re not even talking a nice dinner out with friends on Friday night).
Don’t waste your money like that when you can take leftovers and save a ton!
“We almost always have a nice dinner every night and are really good about taking the leftovers for lunch. No matter what you cook, if you consistently eat at home, it’s way cheaper than going out all the time.” — Cindy N.
22. Buy generic.
You know generic pasta is cheaper, but you’re still not convinced it won’t ruin your grandmother’s lasagna recipe. Are generic brands really as good as the name brands?
Consumer Reports found that most store brands measure up to the name brands in taste and quality—and they’re usually 20–25% lower in price too! And if that isn’t enough to sell you, a family of five can save up to $3,000 a year just by making the switch to store brands.3 In other words, your less expensive lasagna will taste just as delicious as Grandma’s.
Still not sold? The National Bureau of Economic Research says when buying staples like salt, sugar and baking soda, chefs were more likely to buy generic than everyday grocery shoppers.4 And they’re the food experts! The study figured out that if more consumers purchased store brands, we could save roughly$44 billion.
With that kind of money on the line, it pays to be brand disloyal.
“We shop at a great grocery store known for their low prices, and most stuff we buy is generic. We no longer buy desserts or junk food, which cut probably $200 from our budget.” — Erin A.
23. If you buy it—use it!
Nothing is worse than discovering funky vegetables and fruit floating through the abyss in the back of your fridge. And to make it worse, all those rotten cucumbers and moldy peaches are dollar signs you just wasted. Ouch!
Try your best to actually use what you buy at the grocery store. Put a list on the front of your refrigerator if you think that will help jog your memory. Whatever you do, just don’t let those items go to waste.
24. Shop the farmers market at the end of the day.
Okay, heads up—not everything at a farmers market is going to be inexpensive. But by the end of the day, most farmers don’t want to take their food home with them. It’s to their advantage to part with the items, even if it means they barely break even.
Walk around your local farmers market toward closing time and see what kind of deals you can score. Make a reasonable offer for the box of produce they have left. Chances are, you’ll get a great deal on delicious, fresh fruits and veggies!
25. Preserve and store away.
When ingredients are overflowing at the farmers market (or in your garden), buy in bulk and preserve them for the winter. Yeah, it may seem like you’re spending more during the summer between the extra produce and canning jars. But think of each one of those jars of tomato sauce or pickles as an investment.
You can buy a box of pasta for a couple of bucks and pull a container of your homemade “summer in a jar” tomato sauce off the shelf in the winter. You’ll have created an affordable dinner. Plus, think about how gratifying it will be to eat sauce you made!
And speaking of sauce, you can save yourself time and effort if you invest in a vacuum sealer. Plan a day where you make big batches of sauces—like curry, tomato, cheese, etc. Vacuum seal and freeze them for when you want all the comfort of a flavorful sauce with minimal effort. All you need is some simmering water or a slow cooker to revive the sauce. Bon appétit!
26. Shop the perimeter of the store.
The inside aisles of the grocery store are mostly made up of processed food that can derail your budget. Instead, shop the outer edges of the store for fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and beans. Look for nutrient-dense items and fresh, seasonal food. Your food budget will thank you later.
27. Skip the packaging.
A pre-packaged bag of lettuce with a dressing packet and fixings will cost double what a head of lettuce with some simple, homemade dressing would. Go for the unpackaged fruits and veggies whenever you can. They’re cheaper and usually healthier too.
28. Grow herbs and spices.
A store-bought pack of rosemary, mint or chives can get pricey. So even if you don’t have a ton of space to garden, it’s worth it to plant a few fresh herbs indoors or on your patio to save money. And if you can’t use your harvest right away, puree and place it into ice cube trays to freeze.
29. Only buy meat when it’s on sale.
No secret here: Meat can be expensive. And if you want grass-fed beef or extra lean cuts of organic meat, the price is going to go up. So, what’s a savvy budgeter to do when grocery shopping? Well, you could become a vegetarian, sure. Or you could just learn how to become a better meat shopper.
Look for great deals on meat when it’s on sale. Don’t worry about it going bad before you can use it all, because you can always stash it away in the freezer. Also, look for cuts of meat that are cheaper alternatives to what you usually buy. Instead of chicken breasts, opt for chicken thighs. Skip the sirloin and use ground chuck. Pass on the pork chops and grab the pork loin.
30. Leave the overspenders at home.
Word to the wise, if you find that your kids are the culprits of adding all those “not on the list” items to your cart, you might want to leave them at home. Yes, we’re looking at you with the box of cookies, little Jimmy. On the flip side, maybe it’s your spouse who needs to stay far away from the grocery store.
“My #1 [grocery store hack] is banning my husband from going to the grocery store! We saved at least $300 a month by him not going.” — Melissa W.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
A few new habits can help you lower your monthly grocery bill, stick to your budget, and meet your money goals faster. That means more cash to pay down debt, invest for the future, or save for something fun—like a babysitter and a nice meal out where someone else cooks and cleans up.
Try one of these grocery store hacks on your next trip down the grocery aisle, and you could be pleasantly surprised by how much cash stays in your pocket!
And hey, if you want to learn how to budget your absolute best for groceries and everything else in life—plus get the premium version of our budgeting app—sign up for SmartDollar, our company’s free personal finance benefit today!
***From SPS Thrive partner Ramsey Solutions’ monthly newsletter, printed with permission***