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By Runar Thor
In 2020, American households spent an average of $4,942 on groceries, which translates to some $412 per month. But with rising prices caused by the pandemic, these numbers likely would’ve risen since then — with food making up a bigger chunk of seniors’ living expenses.
Of course, the exact numbers on your grocery receipt will vary based on your location, living situation, budget and food habits. But no matter how much you’re currently spending on your groceries, there are always ways to lower it and get more bang for your buck.
Not only will doing so allow you to try and offset rising prices, but it can also empower you to spend your hard-earned money for living more comfortably in retirement.
And so, the next time you head off to the grocery store, try and keep the money-saving tips below in mind.
Tip #1: Come With a List
The inescapable truth to grocery shopping is that half the battle is preparation. Grocery stores are designed to make you want to spend more without you noticing it, so the journey towards lower expenses starts way before you step foot into the supermarket.
If you can, try planning recipes for the week so you know which ingredients you’ll need. If a whole week’s worth of planning is a little overwhelming for you, try planning at least for the next few days. And once you’re in the grocery store, do your best to stick to your grocery list.
Tip #2: Make Separate Lists
Once you’ve gotten the hang of that first tip, it’s also a good idea to come up with a second list to help you streamline your grocery list.
This second list is called the reverse grocery list, which is just like a pantry list. The hardest part is building your initial list, as you’ll need to look through what’s in your refrigerator and your cupboards to account for all the ingredients you regularly buy. It’s best to make your list on your Notes app so you can mark them all as ticked off.
Once an item runs out — say, eggs or cheese — simply un-tick the item to remind yourself to get it the next time you’re at the grocery store. You can also use your reverse grocery list when preparing your main grocery list. This way, you don’t accidentally buy what you already have.
Moreover, it’s a good idea to make separate lists for non-food grocery items like detergent or garbage bags, which you might be better off buying at a discount store or online.
Tip #3: Don’t Go Hungry or Tired
Grocery shopping on an empty stomach or with low energy is not a good idea. It makes you tempted to buy more things you don’t actually need, as everything suddenly looks so much more delicious. It might also make you prone to forgetting key grocery items in your rush to get home to your bed.
So to make better money choices on your next trip to the supermarket, be sure to come after a snack and avoid grocery shopping when you’re worn out from a busy day.
Tip #4: Sign Up for a Loyalty Program
Many grocery stores offer loyalty programs for free, so check if your local supermarket has one.
These are usually found near the checkout aisle, so here’s another reason why it’s good to do your grocery shopping while well-rested. When you’ve just finished paying for all your items, you might feel like taking the extra time to haul all your groceries to the rewards program sign-ups table is too much of a hassle.
But really, it takes two minutes, and you’ll get member-only discounts and savings — usually automatically deducted — that can definitely add up over time.
Tip #5: Make Time for Coupons
This one’s a little more time-consuming than signing up for a loyalty program, but finding, cutting, and organizing coupons can make a sizable dent on your next grocery bill.
The key is to keep an eye out for brand-specific or store-specific coupons that can be applied to what you’re already buying. Don’t waste your time with coupons for items you don’t need — those are just there to encourage you to spend more.
If you’re happy with using tech, your grocery store might even have a mobile app for digital coupons and available discounts. But if you’re not, paper coupons in your supermarket or the Sunday paper work just as well.
Tip #6: Bring a Calculator
On your next grocery shopping trip, a calculator can be handy in several ways.
For starters, you can use it to add up your grocery bill as you put items in your cart. This way, you’re more mindful of staying within your budget as you go, and won’t be horrified at the running total once you get to the checkout aisle.
The other good use for it is to compare different grocery items. When comparing different brands of the same thing, it’s a good idea to compute the unit price, or how much it costs for one gram or mL of something. For example, a pack of pasta might come in 400 g for one brand and 550 g for another. By dividing the $ cost by the gram, you’ll have a better idea of where you’ll get more for your money. The same goes for different sizes within the same brand.
For items that don’t run out, like kitchen tools, food keepers, or even the lawn chair that’s on sale, it’s good to consider price per use, and not per unit. For example, if the vegetable peeler you’re eyeing is cheaper than the other option but looks a little flimsier, then you might just end up coming back to buy another one — and spending more — in a month’s time.
Tip #7: Use a Small Basket, Not a Cart
Most supermarkets provide a basket, a small cart, or an oversized cart. So if your grocery list allows for it, opt for the smaller options. That’s because bigger carts make you feel like you need to fill up all that space with things you might not need.
If you’re only in the supermarket for a quick grocery run, try foregoing the basket altogether — you’ll even get to line up in that nice 10-items-or-less checkout aisle.
Tip #8: Keep an Eye Out for Items on Sale
Sale items tend to be displayed in prominent locations, like the ends of aisles or by the entrance. Do consider taking advantage of these sale items, especially if it’s for things you regularly buy. But be smart about expiration: There’s a difference between buying large amounts of cheese and large amounts of toilet paper.
Tip #9: Buy In-Season
Vegetables and fruits are important for staying healthy, and it’s best to buy them when they’re in season since produce that is out of season tends to cost more. To avoid waste, plan your meals around what’s in season, and play the long game, too: Buy fresh fruit at different stages of ripeness.
When fresh produce is out of season, frozen or canned vegetables are a good enough alternative. Fruits and vegetables frozen at their peak tend to be cheaper and just as nutritious — while also lasting you longer.
Tip #10: Skip the Pre-cut and Prepared Food Items
Pre-cut veggies and cheese cost more, so go for whole items to save money. The same goes for prepared foods like quinoa salads. Plus, pre-cut produce is more likely to be contaminated.
For prepared food items, the one exception is that delicious-smelling rotisserie chicken. And no, it’s not just because it’s mouthwateringly good. Grocery stores tend to use surplus chicken to save money and minimize food waste, so rotisserie chickens tend to be a steal.
Tip #11: Look High and Low
Supermarkets want you to buy the most expensive items, and so they place those on the shelves that are eye-level. To save money, take the time to look at higher or lower shelves, where cheaper and generic brands — which are just as good, if not better — tend to be placed.
Tip #12: Don’t Forget Expiry Dates.
In all your computing, finding deals, and looking high and low, don’t forget to mind your food products’ expiry dates. By giving yourself enough time to eat it all, you get to prevent waste and save more in the long run.
Tip #13: Shop Around
The same item might cost higher or lower depending on where you’re buying it, so it’s a good idea to write down the prices of the supermarket items you buy often. If you live near different grocery stores, try shopping at a few of them and make a note of which items cost less in which stores.
You can also adjust your shopping based on the different sale items each store might have. This requires a bit more work on your end, but it can help you optimize savings, which definitely add up.
If you’re comfortable with tech, you can even compare these stores and their prices easily at home. Most supermarkets now have an app or website you can browse, so you can make a detailed grocery list — and collect coupons! — for each.
Tip #14: Pay Smart With a Rewards Card
All the tips above lead you to this moment at the checkout aisle: Paying for your items.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with using cash or debit cards, but do consider getting a credit card that has a rewards program. Credit cards tend to get a bad rap because debt in general tends to get a bad rap, but if you pay your credit card bill regularly and are responsible about using your card, then it shouldn’t be all that different from a debit card — except you get extra rewards for the spending you’re already doing.
This is true even for beginner-friendly credit cards, like the Citi DoubleCash Rewards Credit Card that lets you earn a 2% cashback (1% when you buy, and another 1% when you pay your bill) for all purchases. This means that if your grocery budget is near the national average of $412 a month, then you get around $8.24 back, which is $8.24 more than what you’d get by paying with cash.
Moreover, other grocery rewards programs can go up to as much as 6% cashback — not bad at all.
Tip #15: Consider a Rebate App
Another way to get cashback deals is through rebate apps like Fetch Rewards or Ibotta. These types of apps let you register for free, and you get rebates when you submit your grocery receipts. When added to your coupons, loyalty benefits, and credit card rewards, these rebates can go a long way.
Moreover, some rebate apps, like GetUpside, offer nice deals for gasoline purchases, which is great if you drive to and from your local grocery store.
Do you have a go-to money-saving grocery tip you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!