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11 tips to save money on groceries

Your grocery budget should be somewhere between realistic and aspirational

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Produce displays at Reams in Sandy on April 4, 2023.

Produce displays at Reams in Sandy on April 4, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

If your grocery bill has swelled up, you’re not alone.

Over the course of the last two years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that grocery prices have increased by around 17%, USA Today reported.

The shock of the sticker price on groceries has sparked a social media trend where users are comparing current prices to previous prices, per Insider.

So, when will grocery prices go down?

“Higher prices might just be the sort of thing we’ve all got to get used to,” Emily Stewart wrote for Vox. It’s unclear if grocery prices will go down in 2024. It’s possible, like Stewart said, that high grocery prices might be here to stay.

“The things that people are very price sensitive about and that they really do think about — the price of gas, food prices, price of cars, the price of housing — is all pretty elevated. Cars and housing in particular saw a big shift up and have not declined very much,” Mike Konczal, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, told Vox. He said prices are unlikely to decrease unless spending decreases by a lot.

If high grocery prices are here to stay, it may require some adaptation to keep your grocery bill down. Here are 11 tips to save money as grocery prices (and restaurant prices) are on the rise.

How to save money with rising grocery prices

Before you start trying to save money on groceries, it’s important to do a couple of things: 1) take stock of what you have that has not yet expired (make a list), 2) assess your eating habits (i.e. do you need to order out less?) and 3) set a budget.

The budget has to be somewhere between aspirational and realistic. If you’re spending $800 a month on groceries, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drop that down to $400 overnight, but you can aim to spend from $700 to $750.

Once you have your goals ironed out and have a realistic idea of your grocery spending habits, then you’re ready to start to save some money on food.

1. Change up your menu

You can make both small and drastic changes to what you eat. Say you got in the habit of making a sirloin every single Sunday night. Well, steak is expensive, even if you’re buying it and cooking it at home. Instead of buying a mid-priced cut of meat, aim for a cut of meat that is less expensive (here are some tips on how to make it tender).

You may also need to make more drastic changes to your menu. If you have a penchant for buying packaged products like cereal, chips, cookies, granola bars and candy, it might be time to cut back on them. It makes sense (and is budget-friendly) to buy oatmeal, pasta and rice, but produce (fresh or frozen) and bulk goods (like nuts) can be healthier, more budget-friendly alternatives.

Try to designate one night a week where you eat a budget-friendly dinner like a homemade potato and vegetable soup or colcannon with vegetables.

2. Substitute expensive ingredients

Meat is one of the most costly ingredients on grocery lists. Instead of using a full portion of meat for a dish, halve it and supplement with vegetables, beans, lentils or other ingredients.

Here are some practical examples: If you love crispy parmesan-crusted chicken, make some of it and serve it over a bed of greens with other vegetables or with some pasta. That way, you can eat less of it and still feel satisfied. Or if you love beef stew, keep making it and add more potatoes and carrots to make up for less beef.

3. Know whether you should shop in person or shop online

If you are prone to impulse buying, then you could end up saving money if you do grocery delivery (yes, even, after the delivery fee and tip). One of the advantages to shopping online is you can see all the deals in front of you and you can curb overspending by not being exposed to the sight and smell of food that you might want to buy.

In some instances, paying a premium for grocery delivery might be more money, so it just depends on what your habits are.

4. Look for coupons

Those coupon pages still exist, you know. If you pick up your local paper, you might find an insert for grocery coupons. You can also stop by the grocery store and find a weekly coupon book. Planning your meals around what’s on sale can help you spice up your dinner routine (we all fall into habits of eating the same foods, so this can be a positive) and you might save some money.

Plus, say there’s a great deal on frozen vegetables or shelf-stable items or meat, etc., you can pick up extras and properly store them, so you have food on a snowy day or during a week when your wallet is tighter.

5. Go to the grocery store when you’re not rushed

We’ve all been there: Sometimes the experience of going to the grocery store is rushing over after work to grab a few items to cobble together a dinner. But if you can, slow it down and go to the store when you aren’t rushed and can take your time. Taking your time can help you to compare prices and pick the less expensive items.

6. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry

One study found that hungry shoppers can spend 60% more than nonhungry shoppers. To avoid overspending, don’t go when you’re hungry.

7. Don’t deviate from your list (but be realistic about the list)

If you’re prone to pick up takeout on your way home from work, it’s going to be difficult to switch from doing that to chopping up a variety of fresh vegetables for a homemade risotto. The goal is to save money, so any time that happens, it should be seen as a win. When making your grocery list, be frank about your habits.

A $5 grocery store prepared salad or frozen dinner is still less expensive than a $15 takeout meal, so start there. Make a grocery list that matches your lifestyle and is a little aspirational, instead of trying to change your life overnight.

8. Meal prep

Embrace the meal prep, especially for breakfast. If you have developed a little bit of a Starbucks habit where you pick up your drink and a breakfast sandwich every morning, make and freeze some breakfast sandwiches that you can grab and go.

Say that you want to be better about bringing lunch from home. Buy back-up lunches at the grocery store like a salad, a frozen meal or a prepared meal and keep it on hand. Make it something that you like and that you’re excited about, so that you will want to eat it (or at the very least, not be disappointed about bringing it).

9. Make sauces, breads and other items from scratch

In some cases, making items from scratch can save you a lot of money. Flour, yeast and sugar or honey are the upfront costs for bread, but the amount of loaves of bread you can get from a bag of flour is much less expensive than buying that same bread at the store.

Say tomatoes are on sale — why not make them into a sauce? You can even can them yourself, so that you have homemade tomato sauce all year.

10. Stop buying drinks

The cost of buying a bunch of drinks can add up. If you can help it, try to cut back on buying soda, juice and other drinks. Yes, it’s probably healthier for you, but also it’s an easy way to cut down your grocery budget without thinking that you’re missing out on food that you wish you can buy.

11. Be deliberate about eating out

Eating out can be a great experience. A great restaurant can be a fun way to catch up with friends and family. Saving money in this category requires you to really think through why you eat out and what you want to get from it.

If you eat out because you don’t want to spend the time cooking, that’s a different scenario than wanting a really tasty meal. You can curate your grocery shopping to account for your lackluster feelings toward cooking (see this article and this one, too).

But if you’re the type to eat out because you want to experience a really good meal, think about your spending habits here. Do you crave a fancy steak or a pretty expensive pizza and then don’t get it and opt to go out to a couple places during the week eating more budget-friendly options of those dishes?

You could be spending more money than if you were to go out once and get the fancier meal that you really want. Understanding why you spend money the way you do and why you eat what you eat will help you to make the right choices for you to save your bucks.