Food is one of the largest spending categories for many American families, and when you get to the checkout at the grocery store, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when that final price pops up on the cash register.
According to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food spending makes up about 13% of the average household budget. Luckily, if you’re trying to spend less at the grocery store while still feeding your family nutritious meals they actually want to eat, there are a few simple changes you can make.
Here are eight creative ways to lower your grocery bill.
Follow a Meal Plan
It’s easy to overspend at the grocery store when you go in without a plan. Creating a meal plan (and sticking to it) is one of the most effective ways to cut down on grocery spending.
Related Read: How to Monthly Meal Plan on a Budget
“If you go to the grocery store with a half-baked list or no list at all, you’re setting yourself up to overspend,” says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. “A well-thought-out shopping list can completely change the feel of that trip to the store. It becomes a targeted mission rather than a browsing trip. Knowing exactly what you want to buy allows you to maintain focus, and that focus may just make you less likely to give into temptation and impulse.”
Not only does a meal plan help reduce your grocery bill, but it also helps avoid waste, since you aren’t throwing out uneaten food at the end of the week. For nearly 10% of Americans who face food insecurity in a given week, the ability to not only save money on groceries but also minimize food waste can be life-changing.
Download Cashback Apps
Today, there are plenty of apps on the market that can help you get cash back for purchases you’re already making. When you’re done at the grocery store, you scan your receipt and get credit for eligible items. Once you’ve earned enough credits in your account, you can trade them in for cash back or gift cards.
Some cashback apps can connect directly to your bank account, credit card or your preferred payment app account. When the app registers an eligible purchase, you’ll earn cash back for your spending, and once you reach a set amount, you can deposit that money right into your bank account.
While these apps may not make a huge dent in your overall grocery budget, you could save a few dollars per week.
Buy Generic Products
One of the simplest swaps you can make in your grocery spending to save money is switching from name-brand to generic products.
Consider this scenario: You’re at the grocery store picking up a can of tomato sauce. The most affordable name brand sauce costs $0.99, but right next to it is a store brand that costs 30% less. Chances are you aren’t going to notice the difference. And while such a small amount of savings may not seem worth it, it can really add up when you swap out most of your grocery cart for generic items.
“Americans love their big brands, but if you’re willing to experiment with others, you might be able to save yourself a little extra cash at the store,” Schulz says. “That doesn’t mean that you should permanently give up something you love for a lesser product just because it is cheaper, but if you’re never willing to test your brand loyalty when presented with the right coupon or discount, you may be leaving money on the table.
Plus, generic doesn’t have to mean lower quality. In fact, a 2018 report from Nielson found that roughly 71% of consumers around the world–and 76% specifically in North America–believe the quality of private label products has improved over time.
Use a Grocery Rewards Credit Card
No matter where you do your grocery shopping, a rewards credit card can be an effective way to get a bit of money back for your purchases. Plenty of credit cards allow you to get a small percentage in cash back on your grocery spending, which you can then use to reduce your credit card bill or save up for a big purchase.
“Credit card rewards can extend your budget,” Schulz says. “Even if your card doesn’t give that much back, every little bit can help, especially when it comes to buying groceries, which happens so frequently. The next time you whip out the debit card at the grocery store, take a moment to think about all the cash back you might be leaving on the table. You might just reconsider.”
That being said, think carefully about opening a new credit card simply to get cash back on your groceries. Applying for and opening a new credit card involves a hard credit inquiry, which can affect your credit. If you’re planning to buy a home or borrow money for another reason in the next year or two, the grocery savings may not be worth the hit to your credit score.
Order Groceries Online
Individual grocery items may not actually be cheaper when you buy them online versus in person, but it’s still a great way to save money.
When you’re placing a grocery order online, you can track your price as you go. And unlike in a grocery store, where you may feel it’s too late to put something back once you get to the checkout, shopping online allows you to rethink some of the items in your cart if you’ve gone over budget.
Just be sure that if you’re shopping online, you’re conscious of extra fees you might be paying. Some stores offer free grocery pick-up, while delivery may require an extra fee plus a tip for the driver.
Calculate Your Cost per Meal
Most of us look at our grocery bill as one big number, but it can be easier to control your spending when you instead calculate your cost per meal. In other words, add up the cost of all the ingredients you bought for a specific meal, and then divide that by the number of servings it will make.
Cost per meal can be a useful metric in identifying which menus might be causing your grocery bill to spike. You can also look for substitutes that will bring your cost per meal down (such as buying generic brands, as mentioned above).
Simplify Your Meals
Plenty of people love experimenting with new recipes at home. Unfortunately, buying the ingredients for those recipes can become costly. If you’re trying a new meal that requires a lot of items, you could easily spend half a week’s worth of your grocery budget on a single recipe.
And while it may not be as exciting, simplifying your meals is a surefire way to reduce your grocery bill. But that doesn’t mean your dinners have to be boring. There are plenty of websites devoted to sharing delicious recipes with just a few ingredients. And you can compromise by eating simple meals most nights and splurging on a new recipe a couple of times per month.
Cut Down on Food Waste
Roughly 40% of the food produced in the U.S. each year goes to waste, and the average household spends about $1,500 per year on food they never eat. While these numbers are extremely troubling, they also present an excellent opportunity to save money simply by eating what you already have.
One way to reduce your food waste is to eat your leftovers rather than throw them out. You can easily eat your dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, or even set aside one night where the family will eat all the leftovers out of the fridge for dinner.
Another way to reduce food spending is to shop your own kitchen. Before you go grocery shopping, scope out the pantry, refrigerator and freezer to see what foods have been sitting for a while that you could use up this week. This can help you avoid a situation where something sits in the back of your pantry or freezer for years, only to eventually end up in the garbage.
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