- For many families, the sting of inflation is felt disproportionately in their grocery bills.
- High prices have a greater impact on lower-income families, who spend a larger portion of their budgets on food.
- Groceries are an unavoidable cost, but you can significantly reduce it by shopping strategically.
In times of rising inflation, one area where consumers feel the pinch the most is in their grocery bills. And the price increases disproportionately affect lower-income families who spend a larger portion of their budgets on food. In 2020, lower-income families on average paid $4,099 on food, which accounted for 27% of their income, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Groceries are a necessary expense, like your mortgage or rent, utilities, and loan payments. You can’t just cut them out of your budget when times are tough. But you can proactively reduce your grocery bill.
“You can save 5% to 10% a year on your grocery purchases if you’re smart about it, and that doesn’t include the cash back you can earn by paying with a credit card,” says Andrew Latham, a CFP® professional and managing editor at the financial services comparison website, SuperMoney.
12 ways to save money on groceries
Groceries are an unavoidable purchase, but by shopping strategically, you can avoid paying full price at the store. Here are 12 ways you can reduce your monthly grocery bill.
1. Reward cards, loyalty programs, and rebate apps
A credit card that earns bonus cash back on groceries is a great way to save money and use rewards — if you find the right card and use it at the right stores.
For instance, the best grocery cards can earn up to 6% cash back at the supermarket, and some come with generous welcome bonuses or introductory 0% APR offers. But you’ll want to avoid carrying a balance after your intro rate expires — otherwise, the interest charges may eat away at any rewards you earn.
You can also use loyalty programs to save money at your favorite stores. Retailers like Walmart, Target, and Kroger all offer membership programs where you can earn free delivery for groceries, save money on gas, and learn about in-store promotions.
And if you sign up for a rebate app like Ibotta, you can earn cash back on your grocery bill. You download the app, unlock the available rebates, and buy those items at the store. You’ll verify your purchase by submitting a photo of your receipt, and your rebate will be deposited into your Ibotta account within 48 hours.
2. Grocery coupons
Couponing may sound like an outdated strategy, but it’s still a valid way to save money at the store. The average American could save $122 per month by using online and mobile coupons, which adds up to $1,465 annually, according to a study by CouponFollow.com, a web platform that tracks and features coupon codes from online merchants.
And this strategy is easier than ever because instead of clipping coupons from the Sunday paper, you can find them online. Some of the best deals from coupons are on household goods like toilet paper, paper towels, or soap and shampoo. Keep an eye out for these items and stock up when prices are lowest.
You can also use coupons for canned goods and meats you can freeze. Since you can store these longer than fresh foods, you’re less likely to see them go to waste.
Coupons can save you quite a bit of money, but be careful.
“Couponing can save you a big chunk of change every month, but it only works if you use them for things you were already planning to buy, and you don’t waste hours on it,” Latham warns. He says the key is to choose a low-cost grocery store that is close to your home and provides generous coupons for generic brands.
“Walmart, Target, Food Lion, and Publix are good examples of stores that offer coupons on store brands that already have competitive prices,” Latham says.
3. Buying in bulk
You can save by buying household products in bulk at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. These memberships come with an upfront cost, but you’ll lower your per-unit cost. And buying in bulk can help you make fewer trips to the grocery store.
Latham agrees that buying in bulk is a great way to save money. He says his family started buying items in bulk during the pandemic and, over the last year, they spent less money on groceries than they did two years ago.
But just like couponing, you don’t want to overdo it and buy more than you need. A giant bag of fresh produce isn’t saving you any money if it goes bad before you can go through it. And unused pantry items take up space and represent money you spent but aren’t getting any benefit from.
4. Food assistance programs
If you’re hurting financially, you may qualify for a food assistance program like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is a federal program that provides nutrition assistance to low-income families.
To apply, you’ll contact your state agency by visiting your local SNAP office. Your state agency will determine whether or not your household is eligible to receive benefits.
If you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, you may be eligible to receive free food through a food bank. You can search for one near you at FeedingAmerica.org.
5. Meatless meals
Food costs are increasing across the board, but meats like beef and pork have seen some of the most significant price hikes. The price of beef was up 20% in June 2022 from a year earlier, and pork was up 14%.
To cut down on your grocery budget, try to plan a few meat-free meals per week. Instead of fixing chicken or beef, make a big salad a few nights per week, or dishes with rice and beans or tuna fish. These lower-cost alternatives to traditional meats offer healthy protein without breaking the bank.
Dinnertime also doesn’t need to be a big production. You can keep it simple by fixing breakfast foods like scrambled eggs for dinner. Breakfast foods are quick, easy, and will keep most kids happy.
6. Get organized and plan ahead
One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to go to the grocery store with a plan. Go to the store with a list, and don’t buy anything that isn’t on it. Impulse purchases may seem harmless, but they will slowly eat away at your wallet.
Keep your pantry and refrigerator organized, so you know what you have on hand and what you need. Keep track of how quickly your family goes through various grocery items.
And try to reduce the number of trips you make to the store. You can cut down on waste by eating the food you have on hand before it goes bad or expires.
7. Practice meal planning
Do you ever find yourself halfway through the week with no idea what to fix for dinner? Meal planning is an excellent way around this — you can create a weekly meal plan using low-cost recipes.
The USDA has hundreds of seasonal recipes listed on its website. You can also visit Nutrition.gov for additional recipe ideas.
Latham recommends combining meal planning with buying in bulk for the best results. “Meal planning and buying in bulk can save a lot of money over a year if you keep things simple and avoid waste,” he explains.
“I suggest choosing six or seven recipes you love and cycling through them weekly. Then shop in bulk for those recipes. It might take a couple of weeks, but over time, you’ll get a good feel for how much you need to cook those meals, allowing you to buy in bulk without wasting food and money.”
8. Consider generic or store brands
If you have favorite brands, you can sign up to receive coupons directly from the manufacturer. But don’t rule our generic or store-bought brands. They’re often just as good as name brands, without the higher price tag.
9. Pay attention to timing
Supermarkets regularly run promotions on certain items. Many of these sales are cyclical. Start paying attention to when items go on sale at your local store. This will give you a better sense of when to expect prices to drop.
For instance, you may be able to save more by shopping mid-week instead of on the weekends. New inventory comes in mid-week, which prompts additional sales. You can also compare prices between different grocery stores to optimize your savings.
10. Shop for fresh foods that are in season
In-season fresh fruits and vegetables will always cost less and taste better. Start looking for seasonal recipes to take advantage of produce that’s in season. You can visit the farmer’s market for additional incentives during the summer.
If you have the time and motivation, you might also consider growing your own fruits and vegetables. A home garden will allow you to grow herbs, tomatoes, and vegetables all summer.
11. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry
Have you ever noticed that you end up spending more when you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach? You’re likely to buy less nutritious food, and you might end up overspending on your grocery budget. Even eating a small snack before you go grocery shopping can make this easier.
12. Keep your kitchen organized
Finally, you can save money on groceries by keeping your kitchen and pantry organized. Put perishable foods away immediately and label any items you end up freezing. Prioritize fixing older food first so that you’re using it before it goes to waste.
When you keep your kitchen organized, you’ll know what food you have on hand and won’t buy unnecessary items at the store. This will not only help your budget, but it can cut down on food waste.
The USDA estimates that we waste roughly 30% to 40% of the food supply. This translates to approximately 133 billion pounds of food that could have gone to help families in need.
The bottom line
You can cut down on your monthly grocery bill with the right strategy. Small changes, like making fewer trips to the store and eliminating impulse buys, can lead to big changes in your grocery budget.
Start by taking an inventory of the food you already have on hand and think about how quickly your family goes through certain items. This awareness will help you shop smarter and regularly find the best deals.