With grocery store shelves being emptied daily as people prepare for possible quarantining with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, I thought it might be a good time to share my favorite tips for saving money on my weekly grocery shop.
Here are 9 simple ways to lower your grocery bill that don’t involve cutting coupons.
1. Plan ahead and make a list
This is probably the quickest way to see a significant cut to your grocery (and dining out) bills. When you plan your meals for the upcoming week, you’re able to make a grocery list with the exact items you’ll need to buy when you make your shopping trip. Planning ahead helps save you money in a few different ways.
For one, you can pick recipes that have a “theme” or use overlapping ingredients. This limits the number of items you need to buy for the week and will help you limit your food waste.
By having a set grocery list ahead of time, you’re also able to check your fridge and pantry before you leave for the store so you don’t end up buying things that you already had sitting there waiting to be used (ask me about the time I bought our fourth consecutive container of sour cream, even though we still had the other 3).
And perhaps most important, if you go into the store armed with a list, you’ll know exactly what you need for the week and will be less likely to impulse buy random things that made a lot more sense when you were putting them in your cart than when you get home.
2. Buy generic
Sure, there are few things that I insist on buying a brand name for. But there are plenty of items that I buy I’m happy to buy generic — and honestly, I can’t tell the difference.
I’ll buy store brand for most dry and canned goods (like pasta, beans, and rice), but also for frozen vegetables and even ice cream. The price difference between the brand name and the generic option ranges from a few cents to a couple dollars, but those small price differences can really add up over a month’s worth of groceries.
3. Eat less meat
Meat tends to be a more expensive way to get protein into your diet, but there are plenty of inexpensive (and more environmentally friendly) options out there.
If you typically eat meat every day, try to find a few vegetarian meals to rotate throughout the week. Here are some of our favorites:
- Vegan creamy mushroom ramen
- Scallion herb chickpea salad
- Loaded sweet potatoes
- Orzo salad
- Sweet potato and black bean burritos
If you feel strongly about having meat as a daily part of your diet, see if you can start using it in smaller quantities, so it’s a part of your meal but not the star of your meal. Your wallet will thank you.
4. Stock up on staples when they go on sale
If you know you eat a lot of something, whether it’s pasta, peanut butter, oatmeal, or a certain type of meat, know what the typical price is so that you can recognize if it goes on super sale and can stock up. You can do this with anything that is shelf-stable or can be easily frozen.
Obviously, the amount of storage or freezer space you have will affect this, but you’ll probably always be able to grab an extra one or two of something that you know you’ll use when you see a good deal. As concerns about COVID-19 began to increase, we were grateful that our freezer was pretty well-stocked with proteins that we use often. Plus, we have enough dried beans to last a lifetime (or at least a month).
5. Make your own snacks
Snack foods are what will really dig into your budget when it comes to grocery shopping.
If you know you have a sweet tooth, plan to do a weekly bake so you always have something to snack on. The cost of the ingredients you’ll need to bake things from scratch is often a lot less than what you would spend buying a pack of them ready-made at the store. Here are some of Cassie’s favorites that are also freezable:
Plus, keep an eye out for great deals on produce. If, for example, apples or strawberries go on sale, stock up. You can use your surplus to bake something (hello, apple pie) or keep them on-hand for a midday snack. Sticking to fresh fruits and vegetables as a go-to midday snack helps out your wallet, but it’s good for your body, too.
6. Drink less alcohol
Nothing can ramp up that grocery bill quite like some craft beer or a nice bottle of wine. While I am a fan of an after-work beer or a glass of wine with dinner, I’ve tried to drink more sparingly throughout the week to help lower my grocery bill.
About a year ago, we switched to the Three Wishes brand of wine at Whole Foods (it’s their store brand). It costs $2.99 per bottle, so if we end up not finishing it before it turns sour, we don’t feel bad. When beer goes on sale at Publix, we might buy a 6-pack that hasn’t been refrigerated yet.
While buying these things at a grocery store will definitely save you money compared to buying them out at the bar or restaurant, cutting back in general is another great way to see pretty immediate savings on your grocery tab. Try limiting your alcohol consumption to just one or two days per week, and even then, just one or two drinks per night.
7. Grow your own herbs
For the past few years, we almost always have basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, green onions, sage, and thyme growing on our patio. We haven’t been able to keep any cilantro plant alive, unfortunately (especially considering we use it pretty much weekly).
This definitely saves us money since we don’t have to buy most of our herbs at the grocery store. There’s an initial startup cost to planting an herb garden, but if you cook with fresh herbs often like we do, you’ll earn that back pretty quickly.
8. Use a cash back grocery app like Ibotta
I started using Ibotta a little over a year ago, and Cassie and I have earned nearly $200 in cashback since then — and we don’t even remember to use it all of the time. It’s a simple app that offers you cash back for uploading your receipts. You add things you’ve bought and redeem cashback for the items.
Some need to be a specific brand and some can be any brand of a particular item in order to redeem. Once you’ve hit $20 in earnings you can transfer that money to your Venmo or another account. If you use it regularly, it won’t take that long to hit the $20.
I don’t let it inform my grocery list, and instead just shop for what I was planning to get anyways and then see what I can redeem. It’s super simple, doesn’t take long, and there’s always at least one thing I can get cashback for. For example, this week, we got $1 just for submitting a receipt. They also always have between $2 and $6 dollars back for various six-packs, bottles of wine, and bottles of liquor.
9. Download your grocery store’s app
Speaking of apps, download your grocery stores app and you can often automatically take advantage of deals and coupons they have just by scanning a code at checkout. Okay, so this one is sort of clipping coupons. But they’re digital, so at least you won’t lose them! This is the 21st century y’all.
If you don’t have a phone that can download apps, that’s okay — you can do this exact same thing from a computer. Just make an online account with your grocery store, connect it to your grocery rewards account, and then add the coupons that are relevant to you. Spend five minutes doing this each week, because sometimes, the coupons are ridiculous. Then, at check-out, just give your phone number or email address and the cashier should be able to load your digital coupons onto your total.
Perhaps you already do a couple of these, but maybe there’s something new here for you to try on this week’s trip to the store. If you have a tip that I missed, share it in the comments!
PS — The Ibotta link is a referral link. I wouldn’t recommend Ibotta if I weren’t enthusiastic about it, and I think you will be, too!