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As grocery prices continue to increase, now is the time to implement these effective techniques for cutting your grocery bills. Making these changes to your shopping habits today can result in tremendous savings for years to come.
1. Plan your meals and your shopping
Planning your weekly meals, especially dinner, has a number of benefits. First, you can save an impressive amount of money by creating your weekly menu based on what you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry coupled with the sales for that week. The simple combination of using the food you already have at home and rounding out your menu with items on sale at the store is the key to saving money through menu planning.
Meal planning often results in less stress at mealtime, as well, because there is no panic moment every night while you try to figure out what to make 30 minutes before dinnertime. In addition, taking the time to plan meals means you can offer more well-balanced and healthier options instead of throwing something together at the last minute.
Be sure to use any leftovers for lunch the next day or with dinner in the next couple days. If you throw out leftovers, it’s just like throwing money in the trash since you used your hard earned money to pay for that food.
See a list of top meal planning apps, including some with free basic versions from thespruceeats.com.
Be sure to make your grocery list and cut any coupons (or clip the digital ones from the store app) before you shop so you know what you’ll need for your meal plan each week. If you prefer a digital shopping list option, check out these grocery shopping list apps that may help you to organize your grocery list.
2. Understand that no one store has all the best deals
If you do all your grocery shopping at the same store every week, you are likely paying much more for your groceries than someone who is willing to shop the sales at a couple locations. Your willingness to shop the best weekly deals at 2 or 3 grocery stores can save you a significant amount of money. You do not have to visit every store in your area every week. Just adding one more store to your weekly shopping routine can make a noticeable dent in your grocery bill.
Save on the gas required to get to the stores by keeping a cooler in the car and shop on your way home from other errands. To find the best buys for your local grocery stores, utilize the sale flyers on store websites or their apps. If you are in the Raleigh, NC area, be sure to check the list of top grocery deals we provide every week on the WRAL Smart Shopper column at wral.com or on Facebook or Twitter.
3. Sign up for reward cards
Sign up for the frequent shopper reward cards at the stores you shop. Without them, you won’t be offered the sale prices and other special incentives. Many grocery stores and drug stores offer digital manufacturer grocery coupons to reward card members and you definitely want access to those discounts. Take advantage of the sale prices by using your reward card every time you shop.
You’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to carry around a wallet full of reward cards anymore. Most grocery stores allow you to enter your phone number at checkout or scan the app for the store to enter your reward card number.
4. Stock up on the best buys
Be sure to stock up on the best deals for non-perishables as well as meat, produce and dairy products that you can freeze. Since the pandemic, many grocery stores have implemented limits on the top sales each week, but you can still stock up within those limits.
5. Target the BOGO sales
Seek out the BOGO sales (buy one get one free) in the ads each week to get 50% off with the sale. The BOGO sales at some stores actually ring up at half price so you only need to buy 1 to get the discount. If it’s an item you use often (or can freeze), you may want to buy a few extra to hold you over until the next time it is on sale.
6. Buy store brands or try different brands
If you have steered clear of store brand grocery products in the past, now is the time to give them a chance. The quality of most store brands is just as good as name brand products but the price tag can be much lower, especially when they are on sale. If you tend to buy the same exact brands week after week, you are probably spending more than you need to. Consider trying other brands that are on sale (especially if it’s a BOGO sale) and you’ll see a reduction in your grocery bill.
7. Cut back on meat and buy produce in season
Cutting back on meat even for just a couple nights a week can save you money since that is often the most expensive food item in a meal. You don’t even have to cut it out completely from a meal, just use less. Make burritos with half the meat and use more beans or rice. Garnish a salad with some bacon crumbles. Use half the usual amount of meat in your spaghetti. Make meals with less expensive proteins including beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Shop fresh produce when it is in season, which is often a less expensive time to buy. Check out your local farms and farmers markets, as well. Many farms offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food share options during their growing season. When you find a great deal on berries, pick up some extra to freeze so you can enjoy them during the off season.
8. Check the meat and produce markdown section
Many grocery stores mark down meat and produce when it is nearing the sell by date. Ask the employees in the meat and produce dept. if they have a markdown section for these products. Make sure you use the products that day or freeze them, if possible.
9. Use coupons for even more savings
Smart shoppers know, without question, that using coupons wisely is an excellent money-saving technique when it comes to buying groceries. Your coupon savings on items like toothpaste, bath tissue, cereal, yogurt and more can help to offset the cost of non-coupon products like produce and meat. The key to couponing effectively is to couple a good sale with a coupon.
Popular places to find coupons for the items you buy include the digital coupons on grocery store apps, printable coupon websites, Sunday paper coupon inserts, register coupons (that print from the little machines at checkout), in-store coupon containers on store shelves and manufacturer’s websites.
Select grocery stores will double the face value of a coupon including Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Wegmans and more. Check with your local stores to see if they offer this added benefit.
Sometimes grocery stores even offer digital coupons for free products. These are often for new products that the manufacturer wants shoppers to try so they offer a limited number of free product coupons. Before you shop, be sure to check the digital coupons for your grocery store, if they offer any.
The most popular printable manufacturer coupon websites include:
10. Cash in on cash back rebate apps
Remember when you used to have to fill out a rebate form, cut out the UPC from a product and mail it (using your own stamp) to get a rebate? Thankfully, most manufacturers have transitioned to online cash back rebate submission sites making the process much easier for everyone.
With the cash back rebate sites, you sign up for the site and download their app. For some sites, you will need to add the rebates you are interested in to your account. Then, buy an item that offers a rebate, scan the receipt and barcode with their app (if required) and usually within a couple days, the rebate amount is added to your account with the rebate site. Once you reach a certain amount of savings in your account, you can cash it out for gift cards, Paypal and more. Popular cash back rebate sites include Ibotta, Fetch and Checkout 51.
11. Score the senior discounts
Some grocery stores offer a senior discount. They are usually available for shoppers who are 55 or 60. For instance, Harris Teeter offers a 5% discount to those 60 and over every Thursday.
12. Check your receipt before you leave the store
Many grocery stores carry 30,000 or more items. It is not hard to imagine that there may be a price mistake or two at the register. Before you leave the store, thoroughly review your receipt to make sure you weren’t overcharged. If you discover an overcharge, head straight to customer service for a refund of the amount you incorrectly paid.
Some stores even have a price scan guarantee, which means that you will receive the entire cost you paid for the item and get to keep the product. Yes, this means you will take home the product for free! Never leave the store without reviewing the receipt and requesting the price scan guarantee, when applicable.
Still Struggling to Afford Groceries?
For those who are having trouble making ends meet no matter what you have tried, another option to consider is your local food bank. In central North Carolina, you can see available food banks and food pantries on the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina website.
As you look at new ways to live more comfortably within your means during this high inflationary period, cutting grocery bills is only a part of the equation. Consider eating out less, cutting costs in other aspects of your life (like canceling cable TV, your land line if you already have a cell phone, magazine and newspaper subscriptions). Look for more free activities and adventures closer to home (like free museums, parks, lakes, library story time).
Whether you are struggling to make ends meet every month or not, everyone can benefit from a household budget. It gives you a clear picture of where you are financially regarding your income vs. expenses. Learn how to create a budget and set financial goals HERE.
Once you begin to implement some or all of the above techniques for cutting your grocery bills, show yourself some grace. It can be hard to change shopping and cooking routines you have had for many years. When you consider the juggling act of parenting, working and simply functioning in these strange times, it can seem daunting to add more to your already full day.
Start with the grocery saving techniques above that you think you can do right now with the least amount of added stress and go from there. As each technique becomes a part of your routine, add another one. With each added step, you’ll find more money in your wallet and less sitting in the cash register of your grocery store.
As I always say, it’s your money, spend it wisely!
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