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.
#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.
#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?