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Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

How to Spend Less on Groceries

Cutting Your Costs at the Grocery Store

Since grocery expenses tend to be the largest expense in American households that we have some control over, this topic is critical for all of us to address. The US Department of Agriculture puts out “Cost of Food” reports every month listing how much American men, women and children can expect to pay each month for their food, based on a “Thrifty plan,” a “Low-cost plan,” a “Moderate-cost plan” and a “Liberal plan.” These guidelines are based upon a cost-of-living index and are too often used as “proof” that crackpots like me are off our rocker when we suggest monthly grocery bills far lower than even the government’s “Thrifty plan.”

Spending even 50% of the “Thrifty plan” is not only possible, it is achieved regularly by millions across the country. If you think it can’t be done than you’re reading the wrong blog. It IS possible and YOU can do it too. Read our popular blog on the suggested monthly cost of groceries per person to learn how others are doing it.

When it comes to the following keys to saving money on groceries, two principles should guide all decisions: first, buy when prices are low, and second, buy a lot when prices are low. Basically, stock up on items that can keep well in pantries or freezers when you find them at a great price.

To find the best prices, consider one or more of the following keys to uncovering the most affordable grocery budget possible for your household:

1. Take advantage of store rewards or points

Using your grocery rewards for discounted gasMany grocery stores offer a rewards program for loyal customers. Typically, for each dollar you spend at the store, you earn a set amount of points which you can redeem later for great deals on many food staples. Some stores even let you build and use points when buying gasoline at their own station out front.

TIP: Don’t waste those precious points on food items that you would not buy if it were not for the discount. Save them to use on staples such as butter, cereals, milk, and bread when those items go on sale in combination with the rewards points. Keep in mind, though, that many store rewards points do expire in less than two months, especially those that provide discounts at the gas pump.

2. Use coupons

Just a few years ago, many grocery stores not only accepted retailer coupons but would actually double the face value. Other grocers would round any coupon up to the next whole dollar value. Such practices spawned popular television reality shows while they created at the same time a lot of impatience and frustration for customers stuck behind super-couponers at the checkout stand.

Coupon policies vary widely by both store and region. Call the customer service department at the store’s home office to ask about the coupon policies in your area. Many stores have the policies listed online. It is not uncommon for a store to post a great coupon doubling policy online but then not notify or train their employees on how to do it. If you find such a policy, print it out or save it to your Smartphone so you can be sure to qualify for the discounts.

3. Look for relevant discounts

Ask your grocery store managers about discounts you might qualify for. Many grocery stores, bakeries, and other venues for purchasing your food staples may have weekly or daily discounts for seniors, military members and their spouses, and students.

4. Competitor match policies

Do you know if your favorite grocery stores have a price match policy? It could be well worth your time to look through competitor circulars, cut out the best price you find, and take it with you to your grocery store. This can be really handy at the butcher counter or when stocking up on other high-cost items.

Having no store loyalty can help you cut food expenses5. Venture into new grocery stores

Many large drugstore chains now carry grocery staples such as milk, bread, and cheeses. These drugstores will often be more likely to double coupons. Just because it is a non-traditional place to shop, don’t write it off.

6. Case Lot Sales

Often taking place in a store’s parking lot or in their aisles, case lot sales offer some of the best deals of the year on many of your favorite staples. Military members know that base commissaries have regular case lot sales, but these events can be found around the country for “civies” as well. Before buying everything you see, though, make sure you’ve done your homework and know if the price really is a good deal. Also, keep in mind that you will need space in your vehicle to get the cases of food home and then more space to store them in your pantry or garage. Remember that canned goods need to be stored in temperatures below 85°, and above freezing, so some garages may not be appropriate.

7. Save for Sales Splurges

Finally, it will be critical to save money so you have it when you need it. And by “save money,” I don’t mean “spend less.” I mean actually putting money into a savings account so that you have access to it when you find killer deals using the keys above. If you are just starting down the path toward ultra low grocery expenses, you may only be able to save $5 or $10 a week from your normal grocery bill. That’s okay. Get it out of your checking account so it doesn’t get spent. Then what do I do with the money? Then, when you find a food staple on sale, you’ll have $40 or $50 to stock up. That means you may be spending less on that item for the next 2-3 months and can, therefore, save $10 to $15 a week now. Keep the snowball rolling until your weekly grocery is half what you were spending. At that point, your grocery bills will almost be on autopilot, and you’ll know how much of your grocery budget you can afford to use elsewhere.

 

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Todd Christensen, Director of Education,

Debt Reduction Services, Inc.

Do You Have Questions About or Suggestions on How to Save Money on Groceries?

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If you’d like more information on finding ways to cut your grocery bill, improving your monthly budget, or have tips to share with others, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer right away!

  1. Cynthia McCormick

    Have you any opinion about aldi shopping? The quality seems to be impressive and the prices are a bit lower, in my observation.
    I still need a trip to a bigger store the next day, for the items that aldi doesn’t carry..but the key is, to do aldi first, then Walmart or Kroger.
    I miss publix, my fave.. but cannot afford it.. even with b1g1f deals… 😉

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Cynthia,
      I do not personally have any experience with Aldi, but I like your approach: Shop at the most affordable store first to get what you can, then hit the next store up to finish out your list.
      Maybe another reader will have their own personal experience and opinion.
      -Todd

  2. Shasta

    I don’t use coupons very often because they aren’t what I normally buy. I don’t have a car so I order a lot of stuff from Walmart and Amazon and sometimes Target. I order in big quantities and store under my bed and in empty drawers . I date them so I know how long it takes me to use up something and this helps me know how much to buy. I try to keep my shopping trips to once a month where I buy produce and occasionally dead animal products. I can often get produce to last two weeks if I wrap it in paper towels. No organic. I don’t believe in organic–I believe it is a rip off. It is expensive and doesn’t last very long. During the two weeks I have salads with my meals or I have chef salads–tuna, taco or whatever sounds good. The rest of the month I just have a main dish and vegetables. My fridge is stocked with frozen vegetables. I also have learned to buy fruit, cut it up and bag it and freeze it. Then I toss it in the blender, throw in some powdered milk, a couple of ice cubes and I have a smoothie. I don’t care to drink milk so this is a good way for me to get my calcium. I suppose you could do that with soy milk as well, although I don’t know if there is powdered soy milk. If I get fresh milk it spoils. I don’t drink milk straight so powdered milk works for cooking. I know I need to cut down on meat and other dead animal products. I bought five pounds of meat and measured it into half pound packages and freezed it. Last year it lasted me a year. I also have a whole chicken I will cook and cut up and measure if into 4 ounce portions for salads and casseroles. Then I have the bones and I can make some chicken soup. I have some chicken legs I pulled the skin off and they are frozen in my freezer. I love chicken legs. I don’t care much for breasts and that saves me money. I find that it is much cheaper to buy lettuce and other produce and chop it or tear it myself instead of buying bagged salad. It is also cheaper to shred my own cheese instead of buying it pre shredded. It’s cheaper to do my own chopping and dicing and shredding instead of paying someone else to do it. I also don’t buy bottled water. I once had a water filter but I haven’t been able to find one that will fit the faucet I have now.

    • Todd Christensen

      Shasta, you make an important point about not paying others to do for you what you can do yourself. Pre-shredded cheese, pre-cut salads, deboned chicken, etc. will always cost more than the original.
      Thanks for sharing your experience and your successes.
      -Todd

  3. James Meuzone Person

    Where do you get all the coupons at and what days though they come out Coupons are thank you

    • Todd Christensen

      Great question, James! Many coupons, of course, come in the Sunday edition of local papers. I know of others who find coupons online at coupon speciality sites. Still others go directly to the manufacturer’s website.

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