Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin
Do you need to save money on groceries and still eat well? Is inflation destroying your budget and causing you stress? You are not alone. I have 12 tips here that our family of 11 uses to manage food costs and save on groceries. Try one or try them all!
Over the years, because of inflation, job loss or other changes in finances, we have had situations where money was tight…very tight. And when those times happened, one way we were able to get through those situations without debt was to tighten our belts and reduce our food budget way down.
One way we do that is to maintain a well-stocked pantry. Another way we do that is to carefully analyze what we are buying and where we are buying it.
When finances are tight, that can cause a lot of stress on the family. Being able to eat a home-cooked meal and spend time with family should not be a luxury of the wealthy. It should be accessible to all of us, even when money is tight. Here are my best tips for where to save on groceries.
Table of Contents
1. Take Inventory of What You Are Buying
The first step to saving on groceries is simply to know what you are already buying. How much milk, how many eggs, how much bread?
Grab a notebook to keep in your purse or on your counter and write down everything you buy as you shop…or before you put everything away at home. Keep track for a month or so to get a good idea of what you are buying and how much you are buying.
For added detail, you can also write down how much you are paying as this helps when you are trying to find better deals.
2. Look For Deals On Your Most Common Purchases
If you only buy an item occasionally, that is not the best place to start looking for deals. Start with the items you buy the most of.
When we did this exercise, we realized that we were buying about 8 loaves of organic bread a week and it cost about $4.30 a loaf. We like to buy organic bread for a bunch of reasons…but this was definitely more than an incidental cost that was adding up to over $135 a month.
I like to make bread and after a few calculations, I realized I could make organic bread for around $1.50 a loaf. We can’t “make” everything easily…but this was something I could do practically without sacrificing quality. (There has definitely been a learning curve though and I’m still working on perfecting my bread!)
Now instead of spending $135, we spend about $48 for the same amount of bread!
3.Use the Flashfood App!
Have you heard of the Flashfood App? As grocery items like meat, cheese, dairy and produce get close to their “best buy” date, grocery stores that are partnered with the Flashfood App will list them in the app. If you have the app on your phone, you can check to see what they have, buy it right in the app, and then stop by to pick it up. Savings are usually 50% or more off of the regular price. Sometimes prices are up to 75% off but that requires careful monitoring to know when you are seeing a really good deal.
GET $3 off Your First $15 Order with Coupon Code: SARA3SXVK (If you use the code, you will receive $3 off and so will I. You will then get your own code you can share with friends!)
If you place a Flashfood order, when you enter the store, you will go to customer service…or to the Flashfood case usually at the front of the store near the checkout. Tell the attendant you are there to pick up an order. They will usually have it all bagged up with your name on it. I always count the items to make sure I have the right number of items.
If you do have an item missing, you can email Flashfood and they will give you a refund. I had to do this one time and it was not a problem at all.
4. Substitute less expensive options
So once you’ve identified what you’re actually buying, it can be helpful to go ahead and look at less expensive options for what you are using. That might mean shopping at a grocery store like Aldi instead of your local big chain grocery store. That might mean buying a store brand of your favorite product instead of a name brand.
None of these things require coupons. None of these things require a lot of thinking. It is simply a matter of choosing a less expensive option. I’m aware that people buy things because of the ingredients that are in them. I do that as well, but often there are less expensive choices if we simply spend a little time looking for them.
Substituting less expensive options can be a practical way to save on groceries.
5. Buy Whole Ingredients Instead of Prepared Foods
One of the best things you can do immediately if you are trying to save money on food is to stop buying processed food. That means choosing to buy whole foods only. If you buy dry beans instead of canned beans that will save you money. If you buy canned beans instead of cans of soup that will save you money.
|l pound dry beans Great Value brand $1.00
|1 pound = 6-7 cups of cooked beans
|15.5 oz can Great Value brand .78
|1 can = 1.5 cups cooked beans
|1 pound dry beans 6-7 cups = $1.00
|4 cans = 6 cups = $3.12
This kind of comparison works for many other types of whole foods. If food is eating up your budget, it’s time to swap out what you buy for whole food items and start preparing less processed foods. This means buying meat instead of processed chicken nuggets or buying things like flour and yeast to make your own bread instead of buying bread that’s already made.
6. Eat Beans and Rice to Save on Groceries
People joke about eating beans and rice when funds get low, but really beans and rice are a great meal option. They are both inexpensive and you have a lot of variety available to you. There are many Mexican dishes and Asian dishes that are heavily based on beans and or rice, so there are a lot of choices.
Beans & Rice Recipes
7. Shop at Discount Grocery Stores
To save on groceries, you may want to consider shopping at discount grocery stores. In my area there are stores like Big lots and Marc’s which are chains that buy surplus and sell things at a discount. We also have some located in Amish Country here in Ohio. At these stores it is common for groceries to be discounted 50% to 75%…and sometimes more! Some of these stores do not sell produce but they do sell a lot of shelf stable items heavily discounted.
Some of them sell organic. Some of themselves things like gluten-free products. Often at these kinds of stores, the inventory changes from week to week because of the way they are buying their products.
If you’ve never shopped at a discount grocery store, it may feel a little different than your regular grocery buying experience, but it’s worth starting the process. If you’ve never popped into one of these stores before, go check one out, walk around write down prices or take pictures of products that you would normally buy. Part of this process is simply becoming aware of what things cost in different places.
8. Start a Garden
If money is tight right now, then starting a garden doesn’t solve your problem immediately. However, starting a garden can solve the problem long-term. A garden is an investment. It takes time, energy, and some investment of money to build it up over a period of time.
I like to look at a garden as both an investment and an insurance policy. Practically, starting a garden can be a great way to add fresh fruits and vegetables to your family. You can grow your fruits and vegetables organically much less expensively than you could ever buy them. If you grow a lot, you can freeze or can the rest which helps save you money down the road.
9. Go Directly to the Source when Possible
A great way to save money is to go to the source whenever possible. That means if there is an apple orchard nearby, you might be able to get apples much cheaper than you could buy them individually or in small bags at the grocery store. Especially when a product is in season.
In our area, I think I can buy a 3 lb bag of apples at Aldi right now for around $3.50 or $4 for 3 pounds. At the local apple orchard, I can buy half a bushel which is around 24 lb of apples for $8 for seconds. (That is just $1 for 3 pounds of apples!!)
Seconds aren’t perfect but I’m not going to store them for a long period of time, but these are great for making things like applesauce or making pie filling or things that I want to put in the freezer. This is a great way to do that for far less money than I could get at the local grocery store.
Other things you can buy locally are things like grass-fed beef or eggs. It is often less expensive to buy it in bulk per pound from someone locally than it is to buy it at the store.
10. Get a chest freezer
One of the most important tactics for saving money on groceries is being able to buy in bulk. When you find a good deal, you want to be able to buy a lot of it, not just enough to get you through the next week.
In order to do that, the easiest thing to do is get a chest freezer. These come in all different sizes and they will allow you to buy a lot of meat or to buy things in bulk when you go to a membership club like Sam’s or Costco. If you don’t have a chest freezer, it will be more difficult to stock up when you find good deals on things.
11. Learn to Can to Save Money on Groceries
Canning is an old-fashioned skill for modern times. If you are thinking about saving money on groceries long-term, then it’s worth learning. Like growing a garden, this is something that requires investing a small amount of money, but it can have great returns. In addition, it allows you to translate your produce and meat bargains into shelf-stable products that don’t require a freezer!
In the past, everyone knew how to can. It was an established way of preserving food. It is only in more recent times that people have been able to go to the store for literally everything and not need to know how to can. Canning is a great way to preserve food, but it is also a way to make foods that are more convenient. Here are a few canned food items that make life easier. You can buy all of these in the store, but the homemade version is less expensive and healthier.
- Canned Soup
- Spaghetti and other sauces
- Pie Fillings
Recommended Canning Supplies
If you are interested in canning, I recommend buying a pressure canner over a water bath canner. The process is similar but a pressure canner gives you a lot more flexibility. All meat, vegetables and beans have to be pressure canned.
12. Stop Eating Out Until Your Food Budget Is Under Control
A couple of months ago, things got really tight financially…our bank account had dwindled to almost nothing. We knew we had to pay the mortgage…and the utilities. Be also knew that we could eat out of our pantry and not buy much from the store. But we quickly realized that it was essential that we not eat out at all.
We rarely eat out anyway, but $10 at Mcdonald’s, $40 for 2 of us going out to breakfast, and other bits here or there was adding up to a couple of hundred dollars a month. We have a lot of kids, so we never eat out as a whole family…maybe once a year, but it was the little things here and there that were compiling. So while we were trying to get that budget back under control, all eating out had to stop.
I actually enjoy that process from time to time as it helps me see how I’m spending money and helps me pay attention better in the future.
13. Stop Buying Groceries for a Month
One of the ways we reset our budget in January after all the Christmas spending is to stop buying groceries…other than produce and dairy for a whole month. We eat out of the pantry and freezer and by the end of the month, we have cleaned out a lot of things at the back of the cupboard! We will often save about $1,000 just by doing this January reset. Of course, you can apply this idea any time of year!
Save Money on Groceries By Taking Action…Do What You Can and Go From There
I know from experience that when finances get tight, it can be overwhelming. And food isn’t optional…we have to eat. As you look over this list of ideas, you may think, “I can’t do this one or that one.” Our brains automatically go to the negative. It is easy to find things we “can’t” do. But you don’t have to do all of these.
Pick one or two that seem doable. Simply swapping out one meal a week for one based on beans and rice might save you $20 or $30 a week. Buying a lower priced off brand might save you that much a week or more. Many people find hundreds of dollars a month simply by taking simple steps to save money on groceries.
It may not feel like much at first, but I encourage you to write it down and keep track of the money you are saving!
Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!