You Spent How Much on Groceries? Simple Options for Cutting Your Grocery Expenses

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Cutting Your Grocery Expenses

Simple Options for Cutting Your Grocery Expenses

Food, shelter, and clothing.  I’m not sure why I always hear people say those words in that order.  I’m not here to power rank humans’ needs (Maslow did that), but it’s safe to say that food is up there.  While the need for food is a common among all of us, our opinions, preferences, and habits are quite varied.  Groceries are, indeed, an unavoidable expense, but thoughtful cuts can be made.  Let’s take a look at a few easy ways for cutting your grocery expenses.  And, yes, these options can be applied to online grocery shopping, as well!

#1.  Make a List

Okay, we’ll start with an obvious option for cutting your grocery expenses.  But, as obvious as it seems, it’s so easy to end up at the store without one.  Maybe it’s a quick trip for just a gallon of milk that turns into a series of impulse buys.  Or it’s a bigger trip when a shopper simply forgets to make a list and ends up improvising.  Without a list, we can end up lacking the discipline to stick to only the items we need.  Or we buy a perishable item we thought we needed but really don’t.  As in, “Woops, we already have two heads of lettuce.”  Instead, make a thoughtful list well ahead of time which can be tweaked or revised prior to the trip.  You can subsequently focus more on actual needs rather than unnecessary basket filler.

#2.  At the Store, Only Go Where You Need To

Based on the rational list you created in step #1,  put your plan (e.g. list) into action.  Only go to the locations of the store (or website) which hold those items.  Do not go aisle-cruising.  The last time I did this, I ended up with some Sweet Tarts Ropes that seemed like a good idea at the time.  By simply avoiding unnecessary areas in the store, we can more easily avert the temptation to add useless but costly items to the cart.

#3.  Find Your Favorite Generic Brand and Embrace It

Cutting your grocery expenses by choosing generic brand items is another easy option.  But let’s face it, some generic stuff is awful.  Don’t get discouraged!  Try new generic brands and different items to find ones that work for you.  Generic stuff can even be better than the brand name alternatives.  We are lucky enough to be in the Wegmans service area, and we have found their generics to be excellent across the board.

#4.  Cutting Your Grocery Expenses with Discounters

Discount supermarket chains, such as Aldi and Lidl, provide reliable value on a variety of groceries.  While generics are huge there, I’ve found that certain name-brand items can be purchased at a discount, as well.  I’m willing to put up with a bit of inconsistent availability and unpredictable inventory in order to save substantially on certain items at these chains.  While it is possible to do a full grocery trip at some of these chains, we haven’t been able to meet our needs with just a discounter.  But there’s no doubt you can save substantially while shopping for quality items at these stores.

#5.  Responsibly Use Apps

Grocery stores are increasingly developing their apps to provide more value, but also more temptations, to customers.  We particularly use grocery apps, such as Kroger, for online-only coupons and promos.  Of course, this can easily turn into virtual aisle-wandering, so be careful how you use apps.  In addition to those tied to specific chains, apps like Ibotta have become popular for saving money on groceries.  We try to keep things a bit simpler by not using Ibotta, but I know others have gotten great savings by using this app.

#6.  Don’t Over-Optimize

It’s easy to get caught up in chasing sales from the different grocers, but consider the additional time and costs of such actions.  By going to one store for the apples on sale then another store across town for the sour cream deal, you end up blowing more time and money on gas than simply paying a bit more for one of those items at one store.  That’s an overly simple example, but the spirit applies to many situations.  Of course, if you consistently get a better deal on 20 items at one store and 30 items at another, going to multiple stores may be valid.

I’ve also caught myself doing something similar with discount clubs.  For instance, years ago, I went to Costco just because their generic paper towels were on sale.  I had nothing else on the list, but I ended up hitting the street to save a few bucks.  I ended up wasting 30 minutes or so and probably buying a too-large container of guacamole, as well.  Instead, since then, I have ordered these one-off items via the Costco or Sam’s Club apps, and the majority of the items I’m looking for are available with free shipping.

Cutting Your Grocery Expenses
The Amex Gold is my favorite card for grocery purchases.

#7.  Cutting Your Grocery Expenses with Credit Card Plays

Sometimes, the simplest options are right in front of us.  For instance, you may see easy Amex or Chase offers that can be used at grocery stores, discount clubs, or other merchants for food.

At other times, you may need to get a bit creative.  For instance, Amex periodically has Lowe’s offers, which provide bonus Membership Rewards and/or a percentage off a purchase.  Often, these offers have allowed gift card purchases.  My local Lowe’s sells Kroger gift cards.  I’m effectively able to discount all Kroger spend by obtaining their gift cards at Lowe’s in this situation.

And, of course, ensure to use the optimal credit card for your grocery spending.  My favorites are the Amex Gold or the Chase Freedom (currently 5% this quarter).  In August, the Citi Premier will join this list.  Check out Ian’s article where he further dives into optimal credit cards for grocery stores.

#8.  Consume What You Already Have/Avoid Waste

Do you ever find yourself running to the store to grab some dinner items because you don’t feel like eating what you already have in the cupboard/fridge?  Taken too far, you can end up wasting food and money.  However, taken too far the other way, this can mean “don’t shop until the cupboards are empty”; I’m not endorsing that extreme, either.  Thoughtfully store and consume your groceries to avoid wasting money and food expiration.

#9.  Don’t Go To The Store Hungry

I’m including this primarily because I know I’m in trouble if I go to the store hungry, and I bet there are others like me.  Certain stuff I wouldn’t normally buy ends up looking better than it actually is.  For instance, on a full stomach, I may not buy a half dozen cinnamon rolls. Some of you may be able to stay disciplined at the store while hungry, but I, and maybe others, cannot.

#10.  Keep Good Records

Since grocery spending can easily get out of hand, keep track of what you actually spend on groceries in a given period to increase transparency and accountability.  We keep track on a monthly basis, but others may find more actively managing this spending works out better.  Since we spread grocery spending across different credit cards and gift cards, we have found it simplest to store grocery receipts in an envelope and review this spending throughout the month.

Cutting Your Grocery Expenses
Grocery loyalty program members often receive fuel rewards bonus offers.

 

#11.  Cutting Your Grocery Expenses with Loyalty Programs

It’s almost impossible to go to large grocery chains and get the best prices without joining their loyalty program.  So, obviously, get the best price by joining.  More importantly, leverage the fuel rewards programs of the large grocery chains.  In my opinion, gas rewards shouldn’t justify why you go to a particular retailer, especially if you end up paying more for groceries at that chain.  On the flip side, if you end up with gas rewards based on where you do your grocery shopping, use them as long as gas prices are competitive.

#12.  Buy in Bulk, But Only What You Will Entirely Consume

Discount clubs can provide great savings on items and amounts you already consume, but don’t let the larger sizes change your spending or eating habits.  Sure, those Cheetos are a few cents less per ounce, but do I need a package the size of my car’s airbag?

#13.  Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Yes, paper coupons still exist!  I still get them in the Sunday newspaper.  It can be hit or miss, though.  But when I get that Ken’s salad dressing coupon, it’s a good Sunday.  Also, I generally love a good online coupon, but I don’t focus online for grocery coupons.  They are out there, though, and I’m sure they are worth focusing on for some!

Cutting Your Grocery Expenses – Conclusion

Certain options for cutting your grocery expenses may be obvious, others not so much.  Regardless, I’ve found that reminding myself of these techniques is the periodic reality check I need.  Grocery spending is one of the expenses where it’s easy to get complacent; I always know I can do better.  Likewise, it’s also one of the easiest areas to cut expenses.  What are other simple ways you have decreased your grocery expenses?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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12 COMMENTS

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Another chain that should be added to the list is employee-owned Winco. Based in Boise, ID with locations throughout many western states including Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Nevada, California, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma.

    Winco offers great everyday savings in a large-warehouse type format. Be prepared to bag your own order and no credit. Only cash, checks, pin-based debit, WIC and food stamps.

    I’m not keen on their fresh meat selection – and frankly, Costco has better looking/tasting fresh beef than what I’v had from Winco, and produce is probably not the same grade as a full-price retailer/farmers market. However, if you are able to consume the produce within a few days – great prices!

    Saved me lot’s of money sending the kids to college who shopped Winco instead of the full-price supermarkets. I wish we had one close to our area.

    SO_CAL_RETAIL_SLUT

  2. To save time, go to the supermarket when the early senior hours end. There is always a line to get in during the senior hour, but after they go home, you’ll have the store all to yourself.

    • Karen,

      Great tip! Similarly, I’ve found going to my preferred grocery store about one hour before closing time works well; definitely YMMV, though. Thanks for reading!

  3. I Want to say that I appreciate the new article topics the blog has been focusing on lately. Whole it may be necessary, your seems to be one of the few that is doing so.
    I personally don’t know what I would do without instacart and Amazon Whole Foods right now. We spend a lot on food, and eat out / now take out only about once a week, some times two (but rarely).
    I will not step into a market in South Florida. People are walking around as if nothing has been happening since the beginning. Even delivery people were jo wearing masks or gloves till basically a couple of weeks ago or even less…wiped down everything…

  4. I like to think that the more I spend on groceries the less I spend at restaurants, and that’s certainly true at the moment. Sigh.

  5. I only go to the supermarket once every 2 weeks at the moment. This article reminds me of a funny Roseanne episode when she takes her daughter Darlene and her friends to the supermarket and teach them a few tips on how to save money.

  6. Do online ordering and then pickup. It is nice to just pick our groceries from the store website and then show up at a specific time and have then put it in the car. We live closest to a Walmart. We are over 60 and we generally get our pickup the next morning between 7a and 8a. We can generally update and delete items up to the night before next morning pickup. We did a Sam’s Club pickup yesterday and it was a disaster. We arrive at our time, 5p and no one is there. Finally at 5:15p someone comes to our vehicle and inquires about our order. They then say it has not been picked and will be an hour. We finally get our groceries at 6:20pm. The next day at 3:30a I get a text saying our groceries are ready for pickup. Apparently WM has this down to an art, but Sam’s is a mess.

    • Byron,

      Thanks for sharing. That’s interesting how polar opposite your online pickup experiences were from two entities under the same corporation. Technology is great until it isn’t.

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