Your grocery bill really is more expensive these days. The average U.S. household now spends about $330 a month on groceries. Between 2014 and 2015, food prices increased by 3%, according to The Motley Fool. Prices on staples like eggs and beef increased even more due to livestock disease. And if you're trying to go organic or shop at specialty stores, your food bill will be even higher.
But all hope isn't lost. We'll show you all the ways to save on groceries, no matter how you shop: whether you buy online, in bulk, during sales, or cashing in on coupons.
Shopping Sales and Planning Meals
Grocery sales can swing one of two ways. Either you're getting a great price on something and should stock up, or you're getting an OK price on something and if you don't need it, you shouldn't buy it.
To tell the difference — and make sure you're maximizing your grocery store ad savings — start off by making a list of typical prices for the things you routinely buy. Compare your baseline list to the ads each week. Note that new grocery store ads typically run on Wednesdays.
If something is heavily discounted, and you know you can use it up before it expires, then stock up on multiple items. But if you're only getting a 5% discount and have plenty of the item in the house, wait until it's marked down to a lower price.
To keep yourself from overspending once you're in the store, plan your meals ahead of time and always stick to your shopping list. Meal planning, while still a chore, is easier now thanks to technology. Many meal-planning apps let you browse recipes, create grocery lists, or even see what is on sale near you. Here are a few options:
- BigOven: It has more than 350,000 included recipes and a built-in calendar function for meal planning.
- Yummly: Cross-platform features let you save recipes from all over the web and send them to your phone.
- MealBoard: This app lets you create grocery lists and has a handy pantry-tracker feature to keep tabs on what you have at home.
Coupons can save you a ton of money, and thanks to the internet you have easy access to more deals than you may know. Try these options for snagging coupons:
- The Sunday paper: An oldie but goodie, the Sunday paper still has stacks of paper coupons.
- Your grocery store's website: Many grocery stores let you add coupons right to your membership card, so all you have to do is swipe to get the discount.
- Coupon websites: Coupon giants such as Valpak, RedPlum, and SmartSource.com let you print coupons.
- Grocery deals: DealNews keeps track of in-store deals, online sales, and free samples for you.
- Manufacturers' websites: Have a favorite brand? Check the company's website or sign up for the company newsletter to get coupons and free offers.
- Social media: Follow your favorite brands on social media to get access to exclusive discounts and flash sales.
Just remember: The key to coupons is to not go overboard. A discount isn't a good deal if you're buying products you won't really use.
Buying in Bulk: Beware of Budget Pitfalls
Buying in bulk is tricky. You can save a lot of money with a warehouse club membership — especially if you're feeding a family — but how many times have you walked into Costco just to get toilet paper and walked out with an armload of coconut rolls, granola bars, and frozen shrimp? It happens.
To save the most money, you should stock up on the essentials you're going to use a lot. As we recently reported, purchasing common household items before you need them can save you a ton, especially when you're buying in bulk. Saving $27 on paper towels? That's absolutely a good idea.
But those memberships don't always mean big savings. As we've mentioned before, some food items are simply repackaged in larger quantities especially for warehouse clubs. You're not necessarily getting a good deal on everything you buy. To check and see if you're getting a great price, compare the per-unit cost of everything at your club to the per-unit cost at your local grocery store. If the savings for an item aren't significant, it might not be worth taking up all that room in your pantry.
Buying Online: Watch Out for Shipping Costs
Purchasing everything on the internet isn't possible (yet!), but you can still score good deals and save yourself some in-person hassle if you shop around online for the essentials.
Amazon offers two different grocery store features. One, Prime Pantry (only available to Prime members), gives you the option of filling a box with grocery and household staples, which then ships for one low price. The added cost of shipping is a drag, but the online giant has been known to offer coupons to discount or eliminate the shipping charge.
You can also save on things you regularly buy by subscribing to regular deliveries with Subscribe & Save ordering. Amazon lets you tailor the delivery times, and you can get up to a 15% discount on your everyday stuff.
Other online stores, such as Soap.com, ship household essentials like cleaning supplies for free with a minimum order. For pet supplies, web-based retailers like Wag.com also offer subscription options.
Before you buy anything online, compare the cost of buying in-store. Sometimes schlepping to the store ends up being cheaper.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
Opting for organic, or even just eating healthy in general, can seem impossible on a budget, but it isn't.
Store brands can offer incredible savings, especially for organic foods. Many grocery stores are now selling their own lines of organic staples for prices comparable to non-organic items. Organic mega-retailers like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods offer similar store-brand labels at a cheaper price point than other items in the store.
Joining a co-op with a local farm or farmers market can also save you a bundle. Co-ops give you a discount (or bundle deals) on fresh, locally grown produce. Or if you have the space and time, grow your own!
Readers, how do you like to save money on groceries? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!