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In these trying times, where so many are focusing on savings amidst job loss and economic uncertainty, it’s a perfect opportunity to reassess and implement changes to save money on some of the more significant household expenditures. For the majority of people, the three most substantial expenses are housing, transportation, and food. Food tends to be the low-hanging fruit of savings, no pun intended. Small changes can help you spend less money on groceries and make a significant impact on your bottom line.
In a prior post, I shared 6 Easy Steps to Save Time & Money on Weekly Dinner Planning. The following tips, in conjunction with weekly dinner planning, can help you to spend less money on groceries. All it takes is a little bit of preparation before your next grocery run!
What Do People Spend on Groceries?
An article from Business Insider reviewed the average grocery and overall food budgets for 22 major US cities. Based on the findings, the monthly grocery spend for families is under $550, with total food spending below $1000.
After reviewing our grocery spending for the last year, I realized we were hovering around $600-700 per month on average. So I decided there’s no time like the present to take a look at ways to cut back. Below are my favorite ways to lower spending without sacrificing quality, or eating ramen for every meal.
Buy in Bulk
I used to hate Costco. The general feel of shopping in a warehouse did not appeal to me in the least. It felt vastly different and somewhat disconnected from the consumer-focused shopping experience to which we have grown accustomed.
After doing some math, and getting over my overwhelm at the size of the store, I realized that the smartest and most cost-efficient way to buy items is in bulk. And let’s face it, Costco has insanely good deals. Buying grains, peanut butter, olive oil, and other things we go through like crazy in bulk is a significant cost savings.
For example, I was paying 14.99 for a 25 oz bottle of olive oil on Thrive Market. At Costco, I bought a 3-liter container of olive oil for 12.99, which is equivalent to 4 bottles from Thrive for a savings of $46.97. A bag of quinoa at Costco is 10.49 for 4.5 pounds. This is in comparison to the 1 pound bags I was purchasing at Harris Teeter for 5.99 apiece. That’s again a huge savings of $16.46.
Imagine savings like that for every staple item that you’re buying monthly. That’s going to add up fast and definitely be worth the cost of a membership.
Use Apps That Give Cashback
My favorite app to save money on groceries is Ibotta*. This app will offer you cashback on certain generic and brand name items that you’re already buying. You go through the app and select certain offers that apply to what you’re buying. Then simply submit your receipt and scan item barcodes to receive cashback.
Now you have to be cautious of buying things just because they’re on Ibotta. When I was first using the app, I was buying items I didn’t need just to save an extra $2.50. Can you say “completely missing the point?”
But let’s say I already have apples and grab-and-go breakfast bars on my list. If Ibotta has fuji apples listed as $1 off and KIND bars $.50 off, I will take a look at those types and brands in the store to see if there are overall savings to be had. If it doesn’t make sense and won’t end up being cheaper, I won’t buy it. But I at least explore these deals as an option.
I generally take 5 minutes before I go to the store to add any offers from Ibotta and specify brands on my grocery list as needed. I also anticipate grabbing my receipt at checkout to make sure I scan it and get the money back.
One of my favorite things about Ibotta is that money, once accrued over $20, can be retrieved via PayPal or any number of merchant gift cards. On average, I cash out over $20 on Ibotta every other month. I put those earnings towards Amazon gift cards since I know I’ll use them eventually.
Shop Local at a Farmer’s Market
If one is available in your area, take a trip down to the local Farmer’s Market. It’s one of the best ways to support local farmers while also getting a killer deal on fresh food items. Our local Farmer’s Market has an array of goods ranging from free-range eggs and kale to homemade tortillas and jams. I love the atmosphere and friendly-feeling of all the Farmer’s Market vendors. I hope to find that nothing has changed there in a post-COVID world.
Go With What’s in Season
I like this site for checking your local area to see what’s in season. Often the produce that’s in season will be less expensive as the local farmers are producing it in abundance. Your local market may have a section dedicated to local products, which would be the best place to find these items, aside from the Farmer’s Market, of course!
Buying seasonal produce can also be an excellent opportunity to try new recipes. Search Pinterest for “whatever ingredient recipe,” and you’ll get a ton of results. It could be time to make that Sesame Ginger Bok Choy or Summer Squash Saute you’ve been eyeing for months.
Do Your Own Slicing and Dicing
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables are significantly more expensive than buying the whole food and preparing it yourself. This article from Vice shows the average person could save around $100 per month by doing their own prepping at home. The report compared several types of whole produce to their chopped counterparts. What they found is that many of the chopped variety were about $2 more expensive per pound. That adds up quickly if you’re buying several types of produce on each grocery visit.
In the age of the internet, “I don’t know how” is no longer an excuse. There is a youtube tutorial on how to prepare virtually any kind of vegetable. So find that kitchen knife and get started!
Changes for the Long Run
While we are all a little extra budget-focused right now, it’s good to remember that the changes we implement can, and probably should, be for the long term. Being a bit smarter about what we buy and taking a step back to plan are lessons we can carry for a lifetime.
Do you have another tip for saving on groceries? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!