Groceries are one of the trickiest parts of personal finance. You want to eat healthily but feel like sometimes healthy is expensive. You want to cook at home and save money, but often don't have everything we need at hand to make that recipe that you just saw in a video. You want to make something at home, but the ingredients you have don't make sense together. And there you are, month after month, throwing away food you paid for and spending more and more on groceries.
Because groceries are one of the most flexible areas of personal spending, it also means that just like there are opportunities to spend a lot, there are opportunities to save a lot. Here are some easy tips you can start using right now to save some money on your next grocery bill.
1. Take inventory of what you have before going to the store
Check your freezer, fridge, and pantry to check what you already have in hand and are not overspending on things you don't need. When you know what you have, and build your shopping list based only on what you need, it's easier to stick to your plan and your budget. Taking inventory is also a great opportunity to check expiration dates and toss out anything that is expired. If you build the habit of taking inventory of your groceries, this will happen less and less often, because you'll always be aware of what's in your fridge, freezer, and pantry that might be close to going bad.
2. Plan what you're cooking - and what you're not
Now that you know what you have available, you can start thinking about what you'd like to cook for the following week: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Get the family involved and take note of what the rest of the family wants to eat and what you can make based on what you already have. When you make meals that the entire family wants to eat, you waste less food and spend less money trying to second-guess what "sounds good". If you know you'll be eating out one day, or want to add a day of takeout to your schedule to give your family some variety (and yourself a cooking break), schedule it as part of your meal plan so you can make sure the money is on your budget for the week or your pay period.
3. Keep count of what you are shopping while at the store
Paying your bills the day you receive them is often as simple as setting up automatic payments online. Investopedia recommends immediately paying any bills that come in as long as you have money to do so in your account, or as soon as that money comes in to avoid overdraft fees. Additionally, pay attention to paper statements that you usually receive online, and double-check whether it's a duplicate or if you have another payment to take care of.
4. Use cash for your groceries!
When you use cash to pay for your groceries, you are well aware of how much you can spend. Cash removes the safety net of credit and debit cards that make it easier to overspend. Using cash for your groceries and other flexible expenses can also add a fun challenge to your finances to see just how much you can save. That money that isn't (over)spent on groceries can turn into an extra debt payment, a travel or Christmas fund, or an emergency fund.
5. Shop seasonal and local
If your groceries are coming from close by, shipping and other additional costs are not built into the retail price, which means a cheaper price for you. Shopping for local produce also means you're getting fresher fruits and vegetables and supporting the local economy. If you want to buy the absolute freshest, and most abundant (which will also mean cheaper) fruits and vegetables, shop what's in season and plan your meals accordingly. This chart from the US Department of Agriculture is a good guide to get a general idea of what's in season all year long.
Saving on groceries doesn't only make sense for your wallet - planning your meals can also result in healthier eating for your family, and less waste going into the environment. How else do you save on groceries?