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How Much is Too Much: Saving Money On Groceries

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Anyone trying to save money starts by eyeing big costs. Whether you have a big family, a small family, or it’s just you, groceries probably “eat up” a big part of your budget. You know you need to save money on groceries, but where do you start?

When you start looking for tips to save money on groceries, what you find can be discouraging. Advice like “don’t buy organic” or “cook a big batch of one meal and eat it all week” makes saving money on groceries seem either impossible or just depressing.

Or maybe you find loads of advice on couponing. Searching out online coupons, paper coupons, and going to different stores requires a whole lot of time. Let’s be honest, who has all that time, energy, and paper cut resistance?

Saving Money on Groceries in Three Easy Steps (And Two Rules)

Don’t worry, saving money on groceries in 2021 is about cutting costs, not cutting coupons. You don’t need loads of time to sort through deals. You don’t need tons of energy to cook a month’s worth of meals in a day. You definitely don’t need upfront cash to build a stockpile of non-perishable foods you didn’t even want to eat.

Instead, you can start saving money with three easy steps. You’ll have to make some choices and change up your routine, but you can start saving $100 or more every month.

You’ll need to choose a tool to help you save, a plan to help you avoid spending extra, and a DIY option to swap out financial costs with an extra step or two in your day. Before we get started on the steps, let’s go over the rules.

Saving money on groceries is mostly about setting yourself up for success. You might need more than two rules, but these two rules are universal.

Rule #1: Never, Ever (EVER) Shop Hungry

You might already know you’re “not supposed to” shop hungry, but do you know why?

It’s all about what your brain is designed to do when you’re hungry. Your stomach telling your brain you’re hungry makes your brain say, “OH NO! I need to get food right now, as much as I can!”

Several studies have shown significant increases in hungry people buying things (or even taking free things) compared to full people. This effect applies to non-food items, too.

When you’re grocery shopping, this means two things. First, you’ll be spending more money on food, since everything sounds good. Second, you might find yourself wandering into other sections of the store. “I needed shampoo, anyways” might turn into “A face mask sounds refreshing” and snowball from there.

By giving yourself a snack before you head to the store, you’re setting yourself up for success. No more wandering into the snack aisle “just to look” with a growling stomach!

Rule #2: Check Unit Prices

This is usually pretty easy since most stores list the unit price of an item in the upper corner of the price tag. The unit price is how much you’re paying for each item or each ounce of an item, so it usually looks something like this:

In this particular instance, 12oz of Cheerios costs $2.98, so each ounce is 24.9¢. Why does this matter?

Sometimes, buying in bulk means the unit price is cheaper. Other times, smaller packages will have a cheaper unit price. Checking means you’ll be getting the best price no matter what. Checking unit prices is a great way to start cutting the cost of your shopping trip in seconds.

Saving Tip #1: Pick a Tool

Ok, on to the things that will really show up in your budget. First, you’re going to pick a money-saving tool.

There are few options for this, depending on how much money you want to save and how much effort you’re willing to put in. When it comes to saving money, there’s usually a direct connection. More time or effort = more money in your pocket.

The lower effort options can still make a dent in your grocery bill, but if you need to save some big bucks, be prepared to put in a little extra oomph.

There are some exceptions to the rule, and here are our favorite easy ways to save (or get cashback) on groceries:

1. Ibotta

Ibotta allows you to save money by scanning your grocery receipts for cashback. You can cash out in gift cards for a variety of retailers, paying it forward to your next grocery bill.

You can plan ahead by looking at items that have deals already, or you can just scan your receipt afterward and see what qualifies. For your very first receipt, you can get 25¢ cashback on every item, so plan a big trip when you use it!

2. Rakuten

Rakuten is the cream of the crop for saving money. Not only have they been around since 1998, not only do they have a Better Business Bureau rating of A+, not only do they have an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars or higher across multiple platforms…

Rakuten allows you to compare prices across stores while shopping online. You get $20 anytime you refer a friend. You also get to cash out with any balance higher than $5 and get up to a $50 rebate on any single purchase. That’s a whole lot to love!

3. Fetch Rewards

The most low-effort of the three has got to be Fetch. Fetch Rewards also has you scan in your receipts, but unlike Ibotta, you don’t have to select offers. Fetch works with all major retailers, and takes 10 seconds.

To make some extra money, check their “Special Offers” tab to get extra points on specific items. If they’re things you were planning to grab anyways, this is a great way to get some extra money without spending extra time. You can even scan the same receipt in Fetch that you did in Ibotta, so you can stack up those savings!

4. Store Loyalty Programs

You can also save money by checking out store loyalty programs. Local grocery stores have especially great rewards programs. Sticking with one store also decreases your chances of running around to several different places. That would keep you busy longer, and that means you’ll end up hungry.

Signing up for a loyalty program can be a tricky one, though, because stores use loyalty programs to increase sales on more expensive items. You can offset this by paying attention to whether the foods worth extra loyalty points are relevant to you.

Loyalty programs are also great because you can stack Fetch, Ibotta, or any other rebate tool with them. Three times the savings? Yes, please!

Saving Tip #2: Pick a Plan

Next, pick a plan to help you cut costs on your grocery run.

5. Meal Prepping

First up is meal prepping (but not the boring kind). Meal prepping doesn’t have to be unseasoned chicken and plain rice 7 days a week. An Instant Pot is a great investment or gift request when you’re trying to save money on groceries.

The “dump and stir” formula many Instant Pot recipes follow means you can prep the ingredients easily ahead of time. Just toss them in a freezer bag and move them to your Instant Pot when you’re ready. This works especially well for things like soups, chilis, curries, and roasts.

6. Meal Planning

Maybe meal prepping isn’t your jam. In that case, try meal planning. With meal planning, you decide what you’re going to eat ahead of time, but you don’t make it right away. This doesn’t have to be boring, either!

You can even visit Betty Crocker’s website and get a two-for-one. Signing up for their email list will give you as much as $250 worth of coupons, as well as recipes for your discounted food.

7. Cutting Something Out (Just For A Day)

Finally, try cutting something out for a day a week. You’d be surprised how much removing a specific food can help with your grocery budget!

  • Meatless Mondays have recently taken off for a couple of reasons. The health benefits of switching to plant-based eating for a day a week is one reason. The cost of meat is another. Choosing cheap protein options like beans can help you make delicious meals without breaking the bank.
  • Got a sweet tooth? Try Sugar-free Saturdays! Again, this can have a huge impact on both your health and your wallet.

You can also try cutting down on coffee, snack foods, or alcohol for a day every week or month to save some money without feeling like you’re missing out.

Saving Tip #3: Pick a DIY Option

The last saving tip is picking something to DIY. While you can get everything prepped for you at the grocery store, that usually isn’t very cost-effective. Instead, pick just one thing to start doing at home.

8. Gardening

One option that can help with production costs is gardening. You can plant all kinds of veggies, berries, and even herbs from seeds in products that you buy at the store.

If you have a backyard, set a corner aside for your favorite veggies. If you don’t have a backyard, don’t worry! You can grow fresh herbs on a windowsill or balcony. You can also check out your local community garden to see if they have any plots available.

9. Break it Down

Speaking of veggies, don’t buy pre-chopped veggies. Those spiralized zucchini look tempting, but it’s a big cost. Remember your unit prices? Pre-prepped vegetables can have a unit price 2 -3 times (or more) higher than whole veggies. Prepping your veggies at home can save you on groceries, even if you have to sharpen your knife skills.

Veggies aren’t the only thing you can prep at home. Try prepping your meat at home, too. Buying a whole chicken rather than just thighs or breasts is much more cost-effective. Hunting down local suppliers of beef or pork and buying in bulk is another way to make your meat consumption cheaper (and more eco-friendly).

10. Make it at Home

You’d be surprised how many items you buy at the store can be made cheaper and better at home. Bread and pasta are two great examples. Both require only 2-4 ingredients and taste better homemade. There’s a bit of a learning curve to them, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and cheap. AND you learn a new skill!

Other things you can make at home include yogurt in an Instant Pot or slow cooker, iced coffee, coffee creamer, peanut butter, salad dressing, tortillas, granola, and the list goes on! If you eat it often, it’s worth running a cost comparison to see if eating at home would be cheaper.

How to Grocery Shop Cheaply?

There’s no avoiding it: we all need to eat. That means we all need to spend money on groceries. Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be a dull, frustrating process. Before you resign yourself to living off ramen or cutting hundreds of coupons, use these steps to help you start saving.

You might find that adding some routine and extra work to the foods you normally eat makes them seem a little extra special. You also might find that meal planning or prep helps you find new recipes to fall in love with, making grocery shopping exciting and interesting.

Most importantly, though, these rules and tools can help you cut back stress by saving money. Following the rules and sticking to your plans sets you up for success. Picking good tools and DIY options means you save money or get money back, and while those savings may not show up immediately, they can create a snowball effect over time.

Once you take the stress of overspending off your plate, a normal errand can become something you find you enjoy. Your wallet, at least, will start to enjoy getting groceries more!

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"Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving."

Warren Buffett

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