How to Save Money on Groceries (Without Settling for Junk!)
Food can easily become a budget nightmare; after all, food is essential to life, it has to be bought often, and it can be seriously expensive, especially if you’re trying to eat healthier and want to switch to all-natural and/or organic stuff. Sadly, the most affordable food at the grocery store is often the worst for you. In my nutrition class in college, I remember the professor using the term “edible, food-like substances” to describe artificially flavored/preserved/created food. At the time I didn’t fully comprehend what he meant, but as I’ve gotten older and have learned more about food and the effects it can have on us, I’ve come to realize how sad it is that so much of our food has become “edible, food-like substances.” It’s only been in recent years that there’s a push from consumers to pressure food corporations to stop putting so much unnecessary junk in our food. Thankfully they’re starting to listen, but it just takes a quick walk down one aisle at the grocery store to see that we still have a long way to go.
Healthy food is still more expensive than the alternatives, and for a family on a tight budget, it can be really tough to choose the healthier option over the least expensive option. A couple of years ago we changed our kids' diets to exclude artificial flavors, artificial colors, and artificial preservatives (specifically BHT, BHA, and TBHQ). When we made that switch I couldn’t believe how much food had that stuff in it. We made the switch for them because we started connecting the dots between some ingredients and behaviors, which is a story for a different day. In the beginning it was tough on our budget, but I’ve learned some great things along the way, and I want to share with you how our family of 5 eats natural/organic food on a $162/week budget (not including our $200/month Costco budget, which includes food and things like diapers).
This one is pretty obvious, but I know from experience that it doesn’t always end up that way. There are weeks that I don’t meal plan and we end up making multiple small trips to the store, and those are the weeks that we 1) end up spending more, 2) end up eating out more, and 3) end up eating less healthy. It adds extra stress during the week and extra thinking (and I don’t really have room for more thinking in my head!). So I’m working on being much more consistent with meal planning every week, it really makes a huge difference to our budget and my midweek sanity.
Choose Your Store Carefully
Just because you’ve always shopped at one store doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best option out there. Before we bought our house back in 2014, we used to live by Walmart, and that was where I did 90% of our grocery shopping. I always assumed it was the cheapest because, well, it’s Walmart and it has the stigma. We occasionally shopped at King Soopers (our Kroger brand store), but not nearly as often because I honestly just assumed it was more expensive. Once we moved, however, our closest store was King Soopers, just 5 minutes away. I switched out of necessity at the time, but now I am so glad I did! I am OBSESSED with King Soopers. Like possibly to an unhealthy level, haha. I could sing the praises of Kings for pages on here, but I’ll limit it to this: when you have a [FREE] shoppers card, not only do you get the sale prices on items, but you have access to HUNDREDS of digital coupons, AND you earn fuel rewards points and can save a ton on gas every month (for perspective on how much those fuel points add up, we’ve saved $1,099.91 on gas so far this year!). They also send out “Best Customer Bonus” personalized coupons throughout the month for things that I buy frequently. And finally, King Soopers Pickup (formerly known as ClickList), the sanity-saver of Moms.
Anyway, do a little research and figure out which store near you works the best for you. Whole Foods and Sprouts are what people typically think of for all natural food, but those stores can be mega expensive (we call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.” We shop there sometimes, but only for certain hard-to-find items, and if I’m unable to make our kids’ birthday cake we’ll buy a delicious and fake-stuff-free cake there for just $16!). Most stores are adding all natural foods to their line up, and once again, King Soopers takes the cake on that. They have a HUGE selection of all-natural food, including their own line called Simple Truth. And no, King Soopers is not sponsoring this post, sadly they have no idea who we are, we’re just huge fans.
Check the Ad
Once you’ve picked your store (or stores), browse their current ad for sales on foods that you eat. I highly recommend creating your weekly meal plan AFTER you look at the ad so you can base it around foods that are on sale that week. Take advantage of sales like Buy 5/Save $5, where you buy 5 participating products and get $5 off. Oftentimes the buy 5/save 5 products will be on sale already, so it’s a double bonus; occasionally digital coupons will match up with participating items and you can score big-time savings.
Use Ibotta and Similar Apps
Use apps like Ibotta and Checklist 51, where you literally get free money (cash back) for buying certain products! We’ve gotten a good chunk of money back when I use those apps consistently, and a lot of times you can stack it with sales, as well as digital (or printable) coupons. Ibotta has way more offerings so I use that the most, but Checkout 51 is great, too, and I’ve gotten a good chunk back from that one too. I currently have $27.10 available in my Ibotta account, and I love the option of being able to choose how I get the money back when I’m ready to cash out; I usually choose the PayPal option, but you can also use Venmo or get gift cards to places like Amazon, AMC Theatres, Bath & Body Works, the list is huge!
They have a huge, often-changing selection of product deals to add to your account, and when you buy the qualifying product (each offer has an expiration date so be mindful of that), you upload your receipt by snapping a picture of it on your phone and then it will have you scan the barcode of the product you bought. You can also use Ibotta to earn cash back shopping online at a ton of different retailers, and every time we stay at a hotel I’ll make sure to use Ibotta for hotels.com or Expedia (whichever is offering the most cash back + best price combination). Such an easy (and legitimate!!!) way to earn cash back.
If you don’t have an Ibotta account yet, I highly recommend trying it out! They usually offer a Welcome Bonus (typically $10) for signing up and then redeeming an offer. They also offer team bonuses, so if you sign up under teams your account gets connected to your teammates' accounts and if the whole team hits certain levels each member gets an extra monetary bonus. Go here if you want to learn more and sign up to be on my team (and don’t worry, we won’t have access to each other’s account information like cash back earned, what we’ve redeemed, etc).
Stock up when you find an exceptionally good deal. Stocking up is a great way to save long-term, but I do understand that when you’re on a tight budget, it’s not always possible. Sometimes you can only buy 1 pack of the super-on-sale paper towels, and that’s okay, be happy you’re saving so much this week! Not everyone has the stockpile pantries that extreme couponers have, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When something really good comes up though, something that you use frequently or really like, try to move some things around in your grocery budget to buy a few extra.
One thing I do that with is butter. On a daily basis we only use Earth Balance spread, because Isaac is allergic to dairy and also it’s really yummy. However, when I bake for other people I use real butter, and I ONLY use Land O’ Lakes butter. I used to use the cheap store-brand, but Land O' Lakes was on sale once so I bought it to make my homemade oatmeal cream pies, and I have never gone back. You not only can taste the difference, but you can also smell the difference. About twice a year or so King Soopers has a massive sale on it, sometimes $2.99/lbs, but I’ve bought it as low as $1.99. The regular price for it at my King Soopers is $6.29. That is a SIGNIFICANT saving!!! So I’ll load up like mad on that stuff. I probably look a little weird checking out with my 6 or more pounds of butter, but I don’t care because I’m saving as much as $25 on those 6 packages of butter! TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS. Not something to bat your eye at, that’s for sure. Butter freezes well, so I’ll stick it in the freezer and pull it out when I need to bake something with real butter. It lasts so long that way and is totally worth the savings.
Try Store Brands
Don’t be afraid to try store-brand food. Store brand food sometimes has a bad reputation for being lower quality than name-brands, but most of the time that’s just not the case. A lot of stores now offer all-natural store brand lines, like Simple Truth at Kroger stores which offers all natural and/or organic food, or Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value line. I’m a huge fan of Simple Truth products, I buy them frequently because they’re priced great, they’re super yummy, and they aren’t full of the artificial ingredients our family chooses to avoid. Of course, some store brand items just aren’t as good as the name brand version, like butter for me, so I either stockpile it when it’s on sale, or I just pay full price and adjust my grocery list budget accordingly.
Shop Multiple Stores
Another tip that you can utilize if you have the time/want, is to shop multiple stores every week for the best deals. One store might have a killer sale on apples and free-range chicken, while a different store might have a major sale on yogurt and cheese. You can hit up multiple stores on your shopping day to take advantage of all of the different sales. I personally don’t usually do this, because it’s just too time-consuming for me. I prefer to shop at one store, maybe two, and save as much as I can there.
These tips have helped us keep our grocery budget under control (most of the time at least!), and we hope they help you too! Do you have any other tips to share on ways to save on groceries? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!
Just bought a bunch of pumpkin puree on sale? Why not make a Pumpkin Cheesecake with it?