If you feel like the price of groceries has gone up lately, you’re not going crazy. Since 2020, the price of groceries has jumped 2.4%!1 While some of those price hikes were COVID’s fault, the price surges are still happening. In March 2021, there was an increase of 0.4% from February.2 That means from just one month to another, it jumped almost half a point—that’s nuts!
There’s no denying grocery prices are going up (and might keep going up), so is there a way to figure out how to save money on groceries in 2021? Yep, pull up a chair . . .
How to Save Money on Groceries
It’s a little too easy to blow your grocery budget, isn’t it? Maybe it’s the fluorescent lighting, those flashy product labels or that squeaky wheel on the cart that messes with your sanity—and your budget. Sorry, we can’t do anything about that wheel, but we can give you some tips on how to save money on groceries.
Spoiler alert: You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg (or starve!). Here are 30 easy ways to go grocery shopping on a budget, plus some tips from Dave’s Facebook fans!
1. Redefine dinner.
If the word dinner makes you picture a big homemade meal with a nice cut of meat, two steaming sides of fresh veggies from the farmers market, a warm loaf of French bread, and a chocolate dessert—chill out and give yourself a break! This isn’t 1952, and supper doesn’t have to be a big feast.
Start budgeting with EveryDollar today!
Your kids and spouse will survive on BLTs, omelets or a big salad several times a week. Don’t be afraid of serving simple meals or doing breakfast for dinner to make your groceries stretch! Believe it or not, kids think it’s fun to eat pancakes for dinner every once in a while. Eggs are inexpensive, and you can whip them up into different dishes like frittatas and quiches if you’re feeling fancy. Or keep it simple with some egg salad sandwiches.
So, by rethinking the most misunderstood meal of the day—dinner—you can shrink your guilt and your grocery budget. Plus, you’ll get a lot of time back by not preparing a three-course meal every night. Freedom!
2. Crunch some numbers while you shop.
If you keep a running tally of how much money is in your cart, you’ll save yourself from any surprises when you get up to the checkout line. Pull out the calculator on your phone and keep track of all those veggies, fruits and other staple items you’re putting in your cart. This might make you stop and ask yourself, Wait, do I really need that fancy $5 sparkling water that isn’t on sale?
“Stick to your list and use a calculator as you shop to stay under budget. We’re under $50 a week for our family (two adults and a toddler). No junk food either. It’s doable!” — Amanda N.
3. Round up your grocery cost estimates.
This is a fun little trick to play on yourself when you’re stumped for how to save money on groceries. While you’re walking around with your calculator, round up each item’s price. The $1.49 product becomes $2, that $7.75 item becomes $8, and so on. If you do this for everything in your cart, you’ll still know roughly what you’re spending, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you’re at the checkout line and come in under budget every time.
“I use tally marks to keep track of what I’m spending, and I always round up every item. Even if the item is $1.29, it gets two tally marks. That way, by the time I check out, I’m both aware of approximately what to expect and surprised to still be under what I wanted to spend.” — Jillian H.
4. Raid your pantry.
Challenge yourself to look through your pantry (or fridge) and see what kinds of meals you can throw together with the ingredients you already have. Who says you have to stock up on more groceries when there are perfectly good chicken thighs shoved in the back of your freezer and a couple unopened cans of black beans and salsa on your shelves? You may still need to buy a few items, but you’ll save a lot by using foods you already have.
“Don’t feel like you need to buy something just because you’re out of it. Raid your pantry and fridge for substitutes first. Make your meal plans around what you already have.” — Carla A.
5. Think before you buy in bulk.
Buying in bulk is amazing . . . when it actually saves you money. Don’t assume that the big bulk buys at the discount stores are automatically the cheaper option. When you’re grocery shopping on a budget, be sure to stop and compare the price per unit or ounce for the item you’re buying.
As tempting as it is to stock up, don’t buy more than you really need—especially when it comes to perishable items. Buying bulk cereal might be a great investment for a family of four, but you should probably skip that 40-count of Greek yogurt if it’s just you and your spouse.
6. Know when to shop.
When it comes to getting a good deal, timing is key. Many experts say it’s cheaper to do your food shopping on Wednesdays. That’s because grocery stores restock their shelves midweek and mark down what didn’t sell from the week before. But because they’re in the process of changing the discounts, they often still honor the price cuts from last week’s sale. If going on a Wednesday isn’t doable, just try to avoid the weekends. Bigger crowds equal fewer deals.
Time of day plays a big role with bargains too. Early bird gets to hit the clearance shelves first! But if you’re slow to rise, shopping right before closing time when the deli and bakery counters are trying to sell off the rest of their stuff is another great way to score big sales.
7. Start freezing and storing meals now.
Need to figure out how to save money on food fast? Say hello to freezer meals. There are a ton of freezer meal recipes online. Look them up! You can set aside a Saturday to make a bunch of freezer meals and then reap the benefits later on down the road. Not only will you save money but you’ll also save time. And you won’t have to eat the same meal every day out of fear your ingredients will go bad. Can’t beat that!
“Cook big meals and divide leftovers into portions and freeze them. Freeze as much as you can from your shopping.” — Anthony R.
8. Pay with cash.
It’s like Dave Ramsey always says: Cash is king! The best way to be sure you’ll end up with a lower bill is to stick to your grocery budget and pay with cash. When you go to the store with cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend—because once the cash runs out, that’s it!
Plus, it’ll help you prioritize the meat-and-vegetable necessities rather than the ice-cream-and-cookie impulse buys. Those little extras are okay if you plan for them!
If you find that you’re eating like royalty at the beginning of the month and then scraping by at the end, take out cash for groceries every week instead of once a month. That way, you’ll have a better picture of how much you can actually afford to spend on every grocery trip.
“Use the envelope system and put unnecessary items at the end of the counter. I would tell the cashier I only had a certain amount of money to spend and to stop when I got to that point. Instead of it being an embarrassment, it was a bonding moment for me and the cashier when I made my goal, or even if it didn’t work out.” — Jan B.
9. Make a plan and stick to the list.
If you’re wondering how to save money on groceries, this is one of the easiest ways. Make a meal plan and grocery list before you leave the house. When you get to the store, stick to the list. Don’t give yourself any room for budget-breaking surprises. If you go shopping as a family, let your kids help plan the meals and find the items (it’s like a grocery store scavenger hunt!). It’s much easier to stay on budget when you’re shopping with a plan and working as a team . . . and when you get comfortable saying no to candy.
“Our grocery store offers ‘scan it.’ You can walk around with a scanner and scan your items as you shop. It keeps a total for you so you’re never surprised at the register—and you can decide if you really need certain things.” — Jamie M.
10. Order curbside pickup.
If it’s too hard to say no to the candy (whether the kids are with you or you’re talking to yourself—we don’t judge), order your groceries for curbside pickup. It’s a lot easier to avoid the temptations when you can type everything you need into a search bar.
Shopping online is also an easy way to compare brand prices, see what’s on sale, and watch the total tally up in real time without the calculator! No more getting up to the register only to discover that family-size box of cereal isn’t on sale after all. And no more buying rolled oats just in case you’ve run out at home (you can walk to the pantry to see for yourself—mind blown).
Another bonus of grocery pickup? You’ll save a ton of time avoiding the store altogether. Take that, squeaky shopping cart! This is a great budget hack if you don’t mind letting someone else do the shopping for you. Most grocery stores offer their own curbside pickup services for free, but others may charge a small fee. Just make sure you include any extra expenses into your budget.
11. Shop in season.
When you’re grocery shopping on a budget, it’s super important to live by this rule. Buying a pomegranate in mid-July will cost you way more than average—and it might not even taste good! So, throughout the year, make it a point to only buy fruits and veggies that are in season.
12. Ignore eye-level items.
Have you ever noticed that the most expensive items on the grocery shelves tend to be right at your eye level? That’s no coincidence. Grocery stores are smart. They want you to reach for the splurge items!
Instead of falling for those marketing tricks, look up and down as you shop. The more affordable brands tend to be higher or lower on the shelves. Think of it as a treasure hunt for the best price.
13. Try different grocery stores.
Why did you pick this grocery store to shop at? Is it the friendliest? Is it the closest to home or most convenient to your commute? If we’re being honest, most of us probably shop where we do out of pure habit.
We know it’s hard, but it may be time to break up with your go-to grocery store. It’s not you, it’s their overpriced produce.
In the U.S., some of the top cheapest ranked grocery stores are Aldi, Market Basket, WinCo Foods, Food 4 Less, Costco, Walmart and Trader Joe’s. But keep in mind, things might stack up differently near you, so if you’re not sure which grocery stores are worth your time and dollars, ask around and compare prices.
Also, if you want to save money on food, be sure to check the weekly ads in your area for what’s on sale at competing grocery stores. You might find that shopping at the store down the street is costing extra money in the long run.
14. Learn the sales cycles.
Are you ready to do a little detective work? Start paying attention to when your favorite items go on sale and how much the price drops. Jot it down in a small notebook or on your smartphone and see if there’s a trend. Soon you’ll be able to predict the sales before they hit!
Nope, it’s not what you think.
It’s time to bring your own bag to the grocery store. Lots of stores will give you a discount off your total grocery bill just for bringing in a reusable bag. How easy is that? Your savings will usually run somewhere between 5 and 10 cents per bag. Five bags could save you anywhere from 25 to 50 cents. Hey, savings are savings! Keep some reusable bags in your car so you don’t forget them at home.
16. Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
People do a lot of silly things when they’re hungry. They say things they don’t mean, eat all of their roommate’s chips, and aimlessly stroll the grocery store aisles like zombies.
And while your best friend might not hold you responsible for what you said when you were “hangry,” your grocery bill won’t let you off the hook so easily. Step away from the 48-count of frozen waffles, and put back that pineapple upside-down cake from the bakery.
Walk into the grocery store with a full stomach, and you might be shocked by how much lower your grocery bill is.
17. Don’t buy more than you need.
We love a deal. Everyone loves a deal. But if you get suckered into buying stuff you don’t really need, did you really get a deal at all? Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or because you have a coupon. If it wasn’t part of your planned grocery list, then you still spent more money than you were intending to—deal or no deal.
“Just because something is marked two for $5, four for $10, etc., doesn’t mean you have to buy that many items. You get the same discounted price if you buy just one.” — Stacy H.
18. Test out your green thumb.
This might not be for everyone, but if you can grow your own tomatoes, bell peppers and cauliflower in your garden, you won’t have to buy any at the store. You can just go out and grab them from your garden, Little House on the Prairie style.
Don’t have a garden in the yard? No problem! There are plenty of indoor garden kits out there. Start small by planting herbs like parsley, cilantro and rosemary right there in your kitchen windowsill. If you can’t use your harvest right away, puree and place it into ice cube trays to freeze. How awesome is that?
19. Use apps on your smartphone.
When you’re searching for ways to save money on groceries, don’t forget about all the rebate apps out there!
Ibotta, Receipt Hog, Checkout 51 and Fetch Rewards are just a few of the great apps that can help you save. While rebates don’t give you a discount up front (like a traditional coupon), you should see savings in the long run.
20. Try going meatless for a meal.
Look here, carnivore, don’t be afraid to branch out and have a meatless meal once or twice a week. No one is saying you have to become a vegetarian, but buying large quantities of meat can make your grocery bill skyrocket (especially when the meat isn’t on sale). So instead, find some meatless recipes to whip up on Meatless Monday—or whatever day of the week you choose!
“We do a meatless meal one to two times a week. We budget $500 for a family of five. Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s the perfect amount. If we don’t spend it, we put it toward our debt snowball.” — Holly M.
21. Buy meat only when it’s on sale.
When it’s not Meatless Monday, bring meat back into your diet by learning how to become a savvy meat shopper. Be on the lookout for great bulk deals on meat. Don’t worry about it going bad before you can use it all, because you can always stash it away in the freezer. Also, look for cuts of meat that are cheaper alternatives to what you usually buy. Instead of chicken breasts, opt for chicken thighs. Skip the sirloin and grab ground chuck. Pass on the pork chops and pig out on the pork loin.
22. Eat leftovers for lunch.
We all know this—going out for lunch will seriously eat into your food budget. If you’re dropping $10 just twice a week, that’s $80 a month being spent on going out to eat (and we’re not even talking a nice dinner out with friends on Friday night).
Don’t waste your money when you can take leftovers and save a ton!
“We almost always have a nice dinner every night and are really good about taking the leftovers for lunch. No matter what you cook, if you consistently eat at home, it’s way cheaper than going out all the time.” — Cindy N.
23. Buy generic.
You know generic pasta is cheaper, but you’re still not convinced it won’t ruin your grandmother’s lasagna recipe. Are generic brands really as good as the name brands?
Consumer Reports found that most store brands measure up to the name brands in taste and quality—and they’re usually 20–25% lower in price too!3 And if that isn’t enough to sell you, a family of five can save up to $3,000 a year just by making the switch to store brands.4 In other words, your less expensive lasagna will taste just as delicious as Grandma’s (assuming you can cook just as good as Grandma, but we can’t help you there).
Still not sold? Get this: When buying staples like salt, sugar and baking soda, a lot of chefs buy generic too. And they’re the food experts! So, listen to the pros when it comes to how to save money on groceries. With that kind of money on the line, it pays to be brand disloyal.
“We shop at a great grocery store known for their low prices, and most stuff we buy is generic. We no longer buy desserts or junk food, which cut probably $200 from our budget.” — Erin A.
24. If you buy it—use it!
Nothing is worse than discovering funky fruits and vegetables floating through the abyss in the back of your fridge. What’s even sadder is that those rotten cucumbers and moldy peaches are dollar bills going right in the trash. Ouch!
Try your best to actually use what you buy at the grocery store. Put a list of inventory on the front of your refrigerator if that will help jog your memory. Whatever you do, just don’t let those items go to waste.
25. Shop the farmers market at the end of the day.
Okay, heads up—not everything at a farmers market is going to be cheaper. But by the end of the day, most farmers don’t want to take their food home with them. It’s to their advantage to get rid of the items, even if it means they barely break even.
Walk around your local farmers market toward closing time and see what kind of deals you can score. Make a reasonable offer for the box of produce they have left. Chances are, you’ll get a great deal on delicious fresh fruits and veggies!
26. Ask for a deal.
The first key to getting a big bargain is to negotiate everything—yes, even at the grocery store! It’s like Dave Ramsey says, the sticker price is the starting point, not the final price. Everything is negotiable. You just have to ask.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should stand at the checkout line and shout new prices at the cashier for each item they scan. But if you notice the yogurt you’re about to buy only has two days before it expires, ask for a discount!
27. Preserve and store away.
When ingredients are overflowing at the farmers market (or in your garden), buy in bulk and preserve them for the winter. Yeah, it may seem like you’re spending more during the summer between the extra produce and canning jars. But think of each one of those jars of tomato sauce or pickles as an investment.
You can buy a box of pasta for a couple of bucks and pull a container of your homemade “summer in a jar” tomato sauce off the shelf in the winter. You’ll have created an affordable dinner. Plus, think about how gratifying it will be to eat sauce you made. Grandma would be so proud!
And speaking of sauce, you can save yourself time and effort if you invest in a vacuum sealer. Plan a day where you make big batches of sauces—like curry, tomato, cheese, etc. Vacuum seal and freeze them for when you want all the comfort of a flavorful sauce with minimal effort. All you need is some simmering water or a slow cooker to revive the sauce. Bon appétit!
28. Shop the outside aisles of the store.
The inside aisles of the grocery store are mostly made up of processed food that can derail your budget (and, let’s be honest, your diet). Shop the outer edges of the store to find fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and beans. Look for nutrient-dense items and fresh, seasonal food. Your food budget (and your jeans) will thank you later.
29. Skip the packaging.
A prepackaged bag of lettuce with a dressing packet and fixings will cost double what a head of lettuce with some simple, homemade dressing would. Go for the unpackaged fruits and veggies whenever you can. They’re cheaper and usually healthier too. Yes, you’ll have to spend a little extra time chopping and prepping, but it’s more money back in your wallet.
30. Leave the overspenders at home.
A word to the wise—if you find that your kids are the culprits of adding all those not-on-the-list items to your cart, you might want to leave them at home. Yes, we’re looking at you with the box of cookies, little Jimmy. On the flip side, maybe it’s your spouse who needs to stay far away from the grocery store.
“My #1 [grocery store hack] is banning my husband from going to the grocery store! We saved at least $300 a month by him not going.” — Melissa W.
How Much Do Most People Spend on Groceries Each Month?
Around here, we recommend spending 10–15% of your take-home pay on food, which includes both groceries and eating out. But—big shocker here—most people spend a lot more than that. The average cost of monthly groceries for one person ranges from $167–385.5 Married couples clock in at spending somewhere between $382–800 each month.6 And when it comes to a family of four, the average cost for their monthly grocery bill shoots up to $588–1,344.7 Yikes! Guess they just haven’t figured out how to save money on groceries yet.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
A few new habits can help you lower your monthly grocery bill, stick to your budget, and meet your money goals faster. That means more cash to pay down debt, invest for the future, or save for something fun—like a babysitter and a nice meal out where someone else cooks and cleans up!
Now that you know how to save money on groceries, try one of these grocery budget hacks on your next trip down the aisle. You may be surprised by how much cash stays in your pocket. Who knows, you might also get a lot more creative in the kitchen too.
And hey, if you want to learn how to budget your absolute best for groceries—and everything else in life—get the premium version of our budgeting app, EveryDollar, with a free trial of Ramsey+ today!