Ever since March 2020, when many areas began shelter-in-place policies, Americans have been spending more on groceries. With more of us cooking at home and altering our shopping habits, managing the weekly grocery budget has taken on a new importance. We want you to make the most of every grocery dollar, which is why we’ve compiled the following tips.
These 15 practical suggestions are another way we’re helping you maximize your daily spending – all part of looking out for your overall financial wellness. For more tips on day-to-day spending, check out our Budgeting page, which has everything from budgeting after a drop in income to an expense tracking guide.
1. Plan meals around sale items
Check out the ads that are delivered to your mailbox or look online for what’s on sale that week. With an online search, it’s relatively easy to find recipes made from the ingredients that are on sale.
2. Use a store loyalty card
Many grocery stores have a store loyalty card, which gives you lower prices on many items. Many stores have also expanded these loyalty cards to be apps that give you the chance to add discounts to your card. You can earn points to get discounted fuel at some chains, too.
In exchange, you’re providing the store with data on what you purchase over time. Especially if you’re using an app, be sure to check the details about what information you’re being asked to share.
3. Take stock of what’s already at home
Many households buy more groceries than needed because they’re not aware of what’s already at home. Take stock of what you have in the pantry and refrigerator before you make your grocery list.
4. Keep track of what’s going to expire
Organize your pantry and fridge so that expiring items don’t end up stuck at the back where your family won’t ever eat them. According to a 2020 report by RTS Waste Services, millions of tons of food is wasted each year. Don’t let your grocery budget suffer because of this waste!
5. Have a grocery list before you go to the store
Having a list ready before you go will help curb impulse buys of items you don’t really need – plus ensure you get home with the items you and your family do need in order to eat each week.
6. Limit your shopping to once per week or once every two weeks
If you grocery shop less often, you’re more likely to be more thoughtful as you shop because you know you won’t be coming back for another week or two. And if you’re prone to impulse buys, you’ll have fewer opportunities each month to buy on impulse.
7. Circle the most expensive items on your receipt after each trip
When you get home from buying groceries, circle the three or four most expensive items on your receipt. You may not realize how much you’re spending on certain categories of food, which could prompt you to make changes. This exercise will also help clue you in on what sales to pay attention to. For instance, if you discover you spend a lot on dairy, you can be on the lookout for dairy deals.
8. Shop around for the 10 items you buy the most
Save your receipts for a couple weeks to determine the 10 items you buy most. Then do some comparison shopping at different grocery stores for those 10 items. This will help you learn where the best prices are for what your family eats the most.
9. Try a grocery rebate app
There are more than a dozen grocery rebate apps out there that can save you money on your grocery bill. Some may be a better fit for you than others based on where you shop, what you buy, and what kind of information you’re comfortable sharing. Typically, grocery rebate apps give you cash back or other benefits after you provide an image of your grocery receipt, which indicates proof of purchase for particular items.
Check out reviews online and on your device’s app store to help you decide. Remember to check what information the app requires from you. You may also need to test drive a couple of apps for a few weeks’ worth of grocery shopping to see which one is giving you the most benefit.
10. Let the internet help you use up ingredients
If you have a random ingredient left over (or two), use an internet search to find a dish that uses that ingredient. This way it won’t go to waste. There are even some websites specifically designed around providing recipes based on available ingredients.
11. Have a “pantry week” every month or two
Set aside one week every month or every two months as a “pantry week.” Spend that week using up the items that are already in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Chances are, there’s more food at home than you realize. A regular “pantry week” can also help assure that you enjoy foods before their expiration date.
12. Be wise when you buy in bulk
Popular wisdom says that buying in bulk saves money – but be sure to check whether you’re getting real value. Many grocery items are cheaper to buy in bulk via a larger size or a multi-pack, but not everything is really cheaper. Compare the “per ounce” or “per item” cost of the smaller item and the bulk size. Also keep the shelf life in mind – there’s not much value in buying an item in bulk if it will expire before you can use it.
13. Check the clearance section
Most grocery stores have a small clearance section. You probably won’t find something you need every time, but you’re likely to score some great deals if you check regularly – so make it a habit to visit that space as part of your normal grocery shopping trip. Stores often put holiday items there once the holiday has passed – and there’s often plenty of time before the expiration date.
14. Avoid shopping when you’re hungry or stressed
People tend to buy more junk food, spend more money, and pick up more than they need if they shop while hungry or stressed. If you’re stressed after your workday and hungry for dinner, that’s not the ideal time to shop. Find a time in your week when you’re fed and have lower stress – this will help you make smarter decisions and stick to your grocery list.
15. Get a Patelco Plus Checking account
Although the Patelco Plus Checking account will not directly save you money at the grocery store, it’s a great way to benefit your bottom line via everyday spending on your grocery runs. That’s because the account comes with Automatic Round-Up Savings with a 10% match. Whenever you use your debit card at the grocery store (or any other store), we’ll round up your total to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference into your savings account. We’ll then match 10% of the rounded-up amount and deposit it into your savings account.
For example, if your grocery run totaled $77.09, we’d deduct $78 from your checking account --$77.09 to pay the grocery store and $0.91 to pay you (via a transfer to your savings account). We’d then add an additional 9 cents – bringing your total savings to $1. And this will add up over time because we do it for every debit card purchase from your Patelco Plus Checking account. Learn more about the Patelco Plus Checking account – including other great benefits, the yearly maximum on matched savings, and the low fee.