Learn how to rescue your food budget and keep your sanity! These are the best ways to save money on groceries without coupons.
We knew that we wanted to one day transition to a one income household. That meant we had to stick to a budget, and one of the first things to get was eating out. As a newlywed, this meant that my very poor cooking skills were about to be put to the test. No problem, I thought. This will be fun.
And so I went to the grocery store and got whatever caught my eye. Exotic produce, fresh deli meat, and some baking supplies. Cooking will definitely save money over restaurants, right?
But my heart rate went up with every beep of the cash register, and when it was all over, I was actually shaking as I handed over my credit card. My innocent grocery trip had sent us way over our monthly food budget. Again.
If this sounds like you, don’t despair. There are simple and practical ways to save money at the grocery store. And you don’t have to start the insanity of extreme couponing, or give up the foods you love.
Make a list
And stick to it! Going into the grocery store unprepared is a recipe for disaster.
The more detailed your plan, the better! Try writing out your list and organizing it be sections of the store. This saves you time and also saves you money because you aren’t tempted by items as you wander around.
Don’t be picky about brands
Most of the time, at least. We all have those certain groceries where only the brand name will do, and that’s fine. But if you are like that about everything, you’re setting yourself up for a huge bill.
Most store brands offer a money back guarantee if you don’t like them. And although you might feel awkward about taking someone back and saying you don’t like it, you shouldn’t! If the store has that policy, take advantage of it. But most of the time you’ll find that generic food items are just fine.
Make a budget
This can be painful. You need to set how much money you are going to spend per trip. Only you know the answer to the question, what can I afford to spend on groceries? The important thing is that you know that number and you stick to it.
Of course, this can be difficult to add up as you put things in your cart. You have a few options:
- Set a monthly budget rather than a weekly budget. If you go over one week, go under the next. (This doesn’t work for me. I’ll just keep going over, week after week!)
- If your total is unexpectedly high, tell the cashier you longer want certain things. It’s a little embarrassing. But to be honest it’s not that embarrassing. People do it all the time because they simply change their mind, or notice something wrong with one of their groceries.
- Use a pickup service so you can watch that total closely and edit if you start to go over.
Consider grocery pickup services
This might sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes a service you have to pay for will actually save you money. By pickup, I mean service where you order online, pull up to the store, and have them load up your car for you.
There are two major cost-saving advantages to grocery pickup:
- There is no impulse shopping. NONE.
- You know exactly what your total is and you can add or delete things to hit your budget.
And of course, it’s convenient!
But there are some downsides as well. In our area, one of the grocery stores that offers it is generally overpriced, so I tend to avoid them except for certain sale items. If grocery pickup is forcing you to shop an expensive store, its costing you more than just the pickup fee.
I do love Walmart’s pickup service and I find it’s worth it to do one order a month of items that I only buy there. (I’ve recently signed up for Walmart Plus and actually find it worth the money. You can read my Walmart Plus review here.)
Grocery delivery to your home is almost always much more expensive. If it’s worth it to you, that’s great! But know that you are definitely paying a premium for convenience.
Take advantage of seasonal specials
There are cycles that grocery stores follow year after year that dictate when certain foods will be on deep, deep discount. It’s very predictable, and if you plan ahead, you can take advantage of them.
Often you will find manufacturers coupons at the same time, but this is still a great way to save money on groceries without coupons.
For example, baking supplies like flour and sugar are deeply marked down in November and December as shoppers stock up for holiday baking.
Frozen snack foods and pizzas get marked down in January as they compete for shoppers around Super Bowl season.
And picnic supplies like condiments, paper plates, and hamburger buns get marked down every Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Take advantage of these sales! Stock up within reason when they come around.
Look for manager’s specials
Manager’s special vary from store to store. They are mark downs of things that they want to move off the shelves quickly. Sometimes this is meat that needs to be used up quickly, produce that is bruised, or day old bakery items. And sometimes its just holiday stuff that didn’t sell well that the store is eager to get rid of.
But whatever the marked down items are, they are almost always a very good deal! Make sure it’s something you will really use. And if it’s meat, eat it or freeze it that night to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
Avoid convenience food
As a general rule, the easier something is, the more expensive it is. Bummer, right? And there is definitely a time and a place for things like granola bars, precooked bacon, and ready-to-eat frozen meals.
Just keep in mind the more prepared something is, the more it will cost. Deli meat and breakfast cereal, while convenient, are some of the most expensive things per pound in the grocery store.
If you’re really looking to stick to a food budget, that’s going to mean doing a lot of cooking from scratch.
Buy canned and frozen instead of fresh
I know, I know, fresh produce is supposed to be the best. But here’s the thing… sometimes it’s not! It can be past its peak, or bruised in shipping, or just criminally overpriced.
Frozen and canned produce, however, is picked when its at its most fresh and then is preserved right at that moment. It holds up really well on its way to the grocery store and on its way to your house. And it’s usually way, way, more affordable.
Some excellent choices for frozen foods are:
- berries (try them in this amazing berry cobbler!)
These are always very fresh and affordable as frozen foods.
Buy in bulk
If done carefully, bulk shopping can be a huge money saver. The biggest problem with bulk buying is when people buy something they have never tried before and they end up not liking it.
But as long as you stick to tried and true grocery items, buying the bigger package is almost always cheaper. The best bulk deals are found at Costco or other warehouse chains, but the regular grocery store will often have them as well. Look for general brands marked “economy size” or “family size”.
One big exception to this rule: sales are often on the smaller sized item. Look for the unit price on the shelf to see which is the better deal.
If you consistently buy in bulk, you’ll have a well stocked pantry that saves you money day after day.
Find a credit card with grocery store bonuses
If you use credit cards and can use them wisely, you can find ones with great programs for cash back. If you’re like me, and groceries make a big part of your day to day spending, look for one that’s specifically tailored to save you money on food.
My favorite card is from American Express. It has an annual fee, but gives you 6% back on all groceries, which is a lot of money and pays for the fee many times over. You’ll have to do some quick math to see if its a good choice for you.
Shop at discount grocery stores
I saved the best for last. With one very simple change, you can drastically reduce your grocery bill even if you are buying basically the same things. If you have a discount store like Aldi or Lidl in your area, give it a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the customer service and the quality of the food.
Getting your grocery budget under control isn’t rocket science, but it can be hard to actually stick to. Just keep in mind that it gets easier as you get used it and as you become more comfortable with cooking frugal meals.
You can do this!