If you feel like grocery shopping has become more expensive, you're not imagining things! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices rose 2.6% in 2020. That's the biggest increase in nearly 50 years.
Whether the pandemic is the reason you're spending more on food or you've just never taken the time to figure out a money-saving strategy for your grocery bill, now is the perfect time to turn that around. These smart grocery bill hacks will save you time and help you keep your hard-earned bucks in your wallet without the hassle of clipping coupons.
1. Don't wing it; plan it!
Hands down, the easiest way to save thousands of dollars each year on your grocery budget is to get on board with meal planning. No matter the size of your family, when you take time to plan your meals you'll always be ahead of the grocery game. Having a plan, and a shopping list to match, will not only save time, but you'll be less inclined to buy things you don't need. Bonus: You won't have to waste gas on extra trips because you forgot to pick up a key ingredient.
2. Get a meal planning app
A free meal planning app will eliminate the guesswork. Two of my favorites are Spoonacular, which syncs with your google calendar, and Yummly, where you can search for recipes based on meal course (such as entree or side), prep time, or fun new menu trends.
3. Keep your pantry stocked
You don't need to have tons of extra space in your home to have a well-stocked pantry. You know what your family loves to eat, so make sure you always have the basic ingredients (like pasta, rice, seasoning mixes, and more) on hand. If you always have the basics to whip a meal together, you'll be less likely to opt for pricey take-out. So, before you make your weekly grocery list, shop your shelves first. What do you have that you could use in your meal plan this week? What's running low?
Supercook is a time-saving app for doing a little planning based on what's in your pantry. Enter the ingredients you have on hand and it suggests dozens of yummy, cost-saving meals you can whip up in no time!
4. Stock up during sales
Take advantage of sales to stock up. My rule of thumb for sale items is to buy one to use now and two for later. Just make sure you're buying versatile, family-tested items you know you'll use. Impulse items might end up abandoned on a pantry shelf long past their expiration date.
5. Shop seasonal
My grandmother taught me early to take advantage of seasonal produce. Whether it was berry-picking season or time for autumnal root-veggies—nature always provided a palate of seasonal goodness. As tempting as it is to buy juicy strawberries in January, you'll likely pay more for out-of-season produce. Pay attention to mother nature's timetable.
6. Weigh your produce
Grocery stores have scales for a reason! I can't tell you how many times I thought I could eyeball a bunch of cherries or a few heads of broccoli only to find that I bought way more than I needed.
7. Grab from the back
Your friendly grocer stocks the oldest products at the front of the shelves so they'll get purchased before they expire. If you're using that produce in a meal soon, go ahead and grab from the front. But if you'll need to store your produce for a while, reach in and grab from the back to get something fresher that will last longer in your fridge or pantry.
8. Buy reduced
Of course, fresh produce is great! But don't be afraid to buy from the "reduced" section in your favorite store. Bell peppers, tomatoes, bananas—there is always something that needs to be used immediately. If you're going to use bell peppers in tonight's recipe, go ahead and get the ones that are marked down for a quick sale. They'll still be fresh and tasty, but you'll save money. You'll also make sure that produce doesn't end up wasted when your grocer has to discard it.
9. Nix the pre-cut produce
As tempting and timesaving as the pre-cut straw carrots or apple wedges are, you're probably paying way too much for the convenience. Buy the whole fruit or veggie and take a few minutes to prep yourself.
Older kids make excellent sous-chefs! Teach them to use a knife safely so they can chop veggies and fruits. They'll learn valuable life skills while they help out in the kitchen. Check out the video below for a review of knife skills.
10. Stock up on freezing supplies
Freezing meals, leftovers, and fresh produce reduces waste and saves time and money, so keep the necessary supplies on hand. You'll need sealable storage containers and bags. (Bonus points if they're reusable—you'll be both frugal and eco-friendly!) Have masking tape and markers on hand to date and label your items so you won't have mystery contents taking up valuable space. I keep a simple freezer inventory sheet on a magnet on my freezer where I note the date and the item that was frozen.
11. Learn what you can freeze
Some surprising items that freeze beautifully: whole avocados, breadcrumbs in canisters or bags, dairy products such as cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, shredded and sliced cheese, pancake mix, nuts, chocolate chips, hummus, or even premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Soups and sauces freeze well in Mason jars (be sure to leave one or two inches at the top of the jar for expansion.) Buy chicken breasts and other meats in bulk when on sale and slice and bag individually in marinades or plain. Even cake mixes and containers of frosting freeze well.
12. Cook and freeze family favorites in batches
Batch cooking means making a double batch of a favorite recipe. You serve one batch and freeze the other. This technique requires planning and some extra work up front, but the reward is having a variety of your family's "go-to" recipes available in a pinch. Betty Crocker has a helpful article full of great tips: Thirty Day Batch Cooking. I learned about batch cooking during my early pregnancies. The time and energy, and indeed the money I saved by employing this technique, was priceless.
13. Don't be afraid to try generic brands. Many come from the companies you already love.
14. Embrace “yellow sticker” items, especially meat. These are items reduced for a quick sale. They're still safe to eat, of course. Or you can add them to your freezer stockpile.
15. Download your store apps. You'll be able to take advantage of digital coupons or sales you didn't see in your flier.
16. Shop in the middle of the week. This is when most stores offer their weekly deals.
17. Consider ordering groceries online. You'll be able to see your order tally right before your eyes, and you won't be as likely to make impulse purchases.
18. Download the Fetch Rewards app. This is like putting free money in your pocket every time you shop. Simply scan your receipts each time you shop and you’ll earn rewards and bonuses that you can cash in for gift cards at Amazon and your other favorite online shopping sites.
19. Shop with cash, not a debit card. Several years ago, I switched to shopping with cash. Knowing I have a set budget helps me stick to my grocery list. And speaking of grocery lists ...
20. Never shop without a grocery list. You'll buy stuff you don't need and forget stuff you do! Pinterest has lots of free templates to get you started.
Don't forget about the local dollar store—it's useful for more than just party supplies! Most stores have staples like condiments and spices, but also grocery items like bread and beverages.