Trying to get your grocery bill down? Here’s a look at how I save on groceries:
I Buy in Bulk.
I cook most things from scratch, so buying bulk quantities of the ingredients that I use regularly just makes sense. It saves me time and cuts down on trips to the store. I buy sugar 25 pounds at a time; I buy olive oil in a big tin; and I hit the bulk bins for dried beans and spices a couple times a year. I used to buy my flour in bulk when our friend owned a pizza place, and I hope to get back to buying it in bulk again soon. It’s just so much easier (and cheaper).
I Shop Holiday Sales.
Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas – they all trigger great sales on baking supplies, so I wait for the holidays to load up on flour, spices, chocolate chips and butter. I may get strange looks when I throw a year’s worth of butter on the conveyor belt, but when I’m saving $1.50 a pound, I don’t mind a bit.
The meat department also has killer deals during the holidays. I usually buy a couple hams and turkeys while they’re dirt cheap. Then, I pop them in my chest freezer, and use them for lunch meat throughout the year. $.69 a pound for turkey sure beats the $11.49+ that the deli charges for it, and the quality is much better.
Since stores bring in so much extra food for the holidays (more than they could ever hope to sell), I also watch for markdowns after the holidays. This is when I typically stock up on nuts, M&M’s for trail mix, baking chocolate, good quality dark chocolate (for snacking) and coffee. At 75-90% off, my husband will happily drink pumpkin spice-flavored coffee in July.
I Shop at Multiple Stores.
Kroger is my main grocery store. I find they have the best everyday prices in my area (and the best reduced-price racks), but I also shop at several other stores.
Aldi has great prices on goat cheese ($1.99), organic apples ($3.99/bag), dried cranberries ($1.19) and trash bags ($4.99 for 80), so I stop in every couple months to stock up.
Dollar General gets Nature’s Own’s day old bread, and they’re the cheapest game in town for sweet potato fries, frozen fruit and Jennie-O turkey bacon, so I drop in whenever it’s time to refill my freezer.
I typically buy raisins and dried apricots from the drug stores, when they go on sale, and I hit Fresh Market a couple times a year to stock up on chicken breasts and ground beef. They usually sell both for $2.99 a pound on Tuesdays, and it’s the best quality that I’ve found anywhere.
I’ll hit Target, if something is free or close to it, and there’s a new Amish dry goods store that I’m dying to check out.
If I shopped at all of these stores every week, I’d run myself ragged, but since I only visit each occasionally, and buy enough to last a while, shopping at multiple stores is no biggie.
I Look for Reduced-Price Items.
As soon as I enter a store, I start scanning the aisles for clearance items. Kroger uses yellow and red stickers to mark their Manager’s Specials; Target sticks their markdowns on end caps (the shelves at the end of aisle). Whatever the system, I’m on it.
I know what a good price is for every item that I buy, and I use clearance racks to get things at or below that price. The reduced-price rack in Kroger’s produce department saves me a ton of money. Any bag of fruit or veggies is just $.99 – even if it’s organic. Most of the fruit we buy lands in our fruit bowl, but if I score a bunch of apples or pears, I use them to make fruit butter. Yum!
Kroger’s dairy markdowns also save me a bundle. We go through three gallons of milk a week, so buying milk that is near its expiration date is no big deal for us – especially if it’s half off.
This week, I spotted a Manager’s Special sticker while I was cruising past the deli. I moved in for a closer look, and it was an entire ham (the kind they keep in the deli case to slice for lunch meat). It had been marked down to $22.53. I ran the numbers in my head, and determined that that made it $3.99 a pound. Compare that to the original price of $10.49 a pound, and that was a savings of $6.50 per pound! I waited in line to see if they’d mind slicing if for me, and they were happy to do it. So, I asked for it to be shaved (thinner slices = more sandwiches). When I got home, my husband divided it into one pound bags, and we put all but one in the freezer. Now we have five weeks of lunch meat at a good price.
I Buy Foods in Their Simplest Form.
Generally, the less processed a food is, the cheaper it is. So, I buy dried beans, instead of canned and popcorn kernels, instead of microwave popcorn. Buying basic ingredients, rather than ready-made foods also helps to ensure that my family is eating healthy foods.
- Price Comparison: Dried Black Beans vs. Canned
- Price Comparison: Store-Bought Refried Beans vs. Homemade
I Don’t Buy Individually-Packaged Foods.
Foods that come portioned out into individual servings cost more – lots more. So, unless they’re on the reduced-price rack at a killer price, I don’t buy them. I purchase the big tubs of yogurt for school lunches and the big bags of pretzels. It only takes a second to spoon out a serving of yogurt or to stick a handful of pretzels in a sandwich bag.
I Don’t Buy Foods I Can Make Myself.
Cooking from scratch is a big part of how I keep my grocery bill under control. If it’s something I can make myself with minimal cost and fuss, that’s what I do. I don’t buy baked goods (except for the occasional loaf of bread), and I don’t buy cake mixes either. Vanilla extract, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and broth are just some of the other things that I make myself.
- How to Make Your Own Extracts
- How to Make Evaporated Milk (my recipe on thebalance.com)
- How to Make Broth
My goal is to never pay retail for any groceries, so when a good sale comes along, I aim to buy enough to get me to the next sale. After years of bargain shopping, I have a firm handle on both my family’s usage habits and the frequency of sales, so it’s rare for something to go bad before we use it. Overbuying wastes both food and money. Not my style.
We keep opened foods in the pantry, and everything else in the basement.
And I should mention that we don’t just stock up on non-perishables. With two upright freezers and a chest freezer in the basement, we can (and do) take advantage of sales on all of the foods that we eat.
- What to Stockpile (my printable on thebalance.com)
I’m not an extreme couponer by any means, but if there’s a coupon for a product that I plan to buy, you better believe I’m going to use it. Since I shop at Kroger most, I check KrogerKrazy.com before I shop. She does a good job of matching up sales and coupons, which means I don’t have to do that myself.
My best haul last year: $69.84 worth of groceries and household goods for $.32. You can see what I got here.
I Grow Some of Our Food
To cut down on our produce costs we grow lots of fruit in our backyard – cherries, apples, grapes, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. Since these are all perennials, they take very little work to grow, and they save us a bundle. Have you priced cherries recently?
I Seek Out Free Food. Our local Salvation Army thrift store gives away free bags of day-old bread from a popular bakery chain every Friday, so you better believe that’s the day I shop. We also collect free fall apples from someone’s lawn (with their permission); and we forage for things like blackberries and nuts. Since our friends have a farm, we also receive a fair amount of free fruits and veggies from them. If you thought three freezers sounded crazy, you wouldn’t if you saw all the free food they’re stuffed with.
I Store Foods Properly
Buying ahead only saves money if the foods don’t go bad before you use them. So, we put a lot of care into how we store things. Wheat flour goes into the freezer, where it will last indefinitely. Bulk apples (anything we won’t be able to eat this week) go in the fridge. Pantry staples like beans, grains and sugar go in air-tight containers to prevent pantry moth infestations; and everything gets rotated to ensure we’re using the oldest foods first.
- How to Store Foods Properly (a collection of my articles on thebalance.com)
Do you have other strategies that you use to save on groceries? I’d love to hear about them.