It’s no secret that grocery prices went up during the pandemic and (surprise, surprise) haven’t come back down. In fact, between 2022 and 2023, grocery prices rose by 11.3 percent overall. The price tag for eggs famously rose by 70.1 percent (cue the memes of painting potatoes instead of dyeing eggs for Easter) and cereal/bakery products are up by 15.6 percent. And even though the forecast is for prices to rise less this year, the end result is that we will still be paying 20 percent more for groceries in 2023 than we paid in 2021.
Families are feeling the pinch of these high prices, but there are still ways to tame your grocery bill.
Make a meal plan.
The first and most important thing you can do is to make — and shop according to — a weekly menu. Preplanning helps to avoid last-minute dashes to the store for missing ingredients or hitting the drive-thru for fast food because no one knows what’s for dinner. Despite what you will see about meal planning on Pinterest, this doesn’t have to be complicated! Just write down what you want for dinner in the next week. Choose meals based on what you already have in the fridge or freezer and what is on sale at the store. Be honest about how often you’ll cook. If you normally eat out a couple of times per week, plan and buy for five nights so that you don’t end up with wasted food. Meals don’t need to be complicated recipes, either. Sandwiches and soup, frozen pizza with a salad or “leftovers” nights are great menu additions.
Save on meat.
The good news is that inflation on some meats has cooled; bacon products are down 3.9 percent and beef is down 3 percent — but the bad news is that chicken is up 10.5 percent. If you love cooking with chicken breasts, one cost-saving move is to try using chicken legs and thighs instead. These are typically less expensive. Buying chicken in larger packages and dividing them up into recipe-size portions to freeze can save money, too.
Save on produce.
We all know that we should be eating five fruits and vegetables a day, but produce can be pricey. Most major chain stores offer a different fruit on sale weekly, so sticking to the sales can help with managing costs. If you regularly find produce going bad because you didn’t get around to using it, switching to frozen produce can help by keeping your hard-earned dollars from going into the trash.
Another money-saving tip for fresh produce is to prep it yourself. Invest in a good vegetable peeler, knife and maybe even a salad spinner to chop and wash your own veggies. Pre-prepared foods save time but not money.
Combine coupons with sales.
Most major chains have a free app with which you can browse sales and e-coupons. You can maximize your savings by combining a sale with a digital coupon. Check your favorite store’s flyer or app to see what is on offer each week. There are even websites that can help you match up the deals, such as Kroger Krazy and Super Safeway.
In grocery stores, everything from the music played over the loudspeaker to the layout of the store is designed to get you to buy, buy, buy! But even with all of these marketing ploys, you can still shop smart. Start by shopping the periphery of the store. There, you can pick up less processed items such as fresh produce, bread products and meat. When you do venture into the inner aisles, remember that the priciest items are placed at eye level. Look up and look down for better prices. And be careful about buying products displayed on the ends of the aisles. Companies pay extra to have their product displayed there, so make sure it’s a good deal before tossing something from an endcap into your basket.
Crack the unit price code.
When similar items are sold in different sizes, it can be hard to discern which product is the best deal. The way to tell which one will give you more bang for your buck is to check the unit price. This is usually calculated for you on the bottom of the price tag on the shelf, and is expressed as price per ounce, pound or unit. For example, if a 16-ounce bottle of salad dressing costs $2.99 and a 32-ounce bottle costs $4.99, the larger bottle is cheaper at $0.16/ounce.
Let someone else shop for you.
One good thing that came out of the pandemic is curbside pickup. If you are someone who regularly comes home from the store with extras that weren’t on your list — and these additions ran up your bill — let someone else shop for you. Most major chain grocery stores offer curbside pickup for free, as long as you spend at least $35. You can make your grocery selections at your leisure at home and have time to compare prices for the best deals. And the people doing your shopping for you won’t get anything that isn’t on your list!
Try a meal planning service.
If you hate figuring out what’s for dinner every single night (and who doesn’t?), try an app or website that makes a menu and shopping list for you. Most offer an option to choose the type of diet (kid-friendly, vegetarian, etc.) and create a weekly menu based on that. Most will also create a shopping list as well. A few examples are eMeals, Plan to Eat and Say Mmm.
Try a rebate app.
You may have heard of rebate apps such as Ibotta and Checkout 51. These are apps you can use to get cash back when you buy certain items. For example, with Ibotta you might see a $1 rebate for a product. You won’t get $1 taken off of your bill at the register; instead, you will need to take a picture of your receipt and upload it on the app. When you have collected $20 in rebates, you can get a gift card in that amount or a PayPal transfer. Every app works a bit differently. Search your phone’s app store to see what is available and what works for you. Target shoppers love Target Circle, which offers 1 percent back in rewards with each purchase, plus you can clip Target coupons and retail coupons.
Switch to store brands.
One way to instantly save is to switch to store brands. Many stores offer their own brand, such as Kirkland Brand (Costco), Simple Truth (Kroger) and Great Value (Walmart). These are usually similar in quality and taste to their national brand counterparts. Switching to store brands for the staples you buy can save you up to 50 percent.
Watch that waste.
Studies show that the average American family throws out about one-third of the food it buys. If you spend $900 per month on groceries, that is $300 going out with the trash. Families can cut down on waste with a few simple tips. First, if you are making a menu and only purchasing the food needed to prepare that menu, this will automatically cut your food waste drastically. Using up leftovers by sending these to school or work for lunch or by leaving one night open on your menu plan per week to have leftovers can keep these from going bad in the back of the fridge.
Find more great money-saving tips in the author’s new book “Save Money on Groceries Without Losing Your Mind: 15 Strategies Anyone Can Use.”
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