18 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

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STRETCHING YOUR FOOD DOLLAR

The typical American family spends hundreds of dollars on groceries each month, and most of us are looking for ways to get more for our food dollar. Cheapism.com has rounded up 18 simple but effective ways to save on groceries.

LOOK FOR THE BRUISES

Many grocery stores and farmers markets sell almost spoiled or slightly spoiled produce at a discount. Most of the time it's just a few bruises. Simply cut off the bad spots at home and eat the perfectly good produce that remains. Because these fruits and vegetables will just go to waste, stores take as much as 25 percent off the regular price.

BUY IN BULK

Most food products are offered in a variety of sizes, and the more you buy, the more you save. For example, a single box of cereal could cost around $4, but if you buy a six-pack of the same cereal, it's only $3.25 per box. Buy non-perishable items in bulk to store in the pantry and count up the savings.

SCOUR THE WEEKLY SALES

Grocery stores generally offer a weekly flyer that advertises items that are on sale. Going through these with a fine tooth comb can save you big bucks if you stock up on items you use regularly. Use the sale flyers to build your shopping lists and plan your menus around low cost items.

STORE BRAND ALTERNATIVES

You may be tempted to steer clear of off-brand products, but when you look closely at the labels and ingredients you will often find that there is no difference between the brand you know and love and the generic alternative -- except the price, that is. According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, customers who opt for store brands save an estimated $32 billion a year.

DO THE MATH

DO THE MATH Pull up your phone's calculator if you need to, but be sure to check the cost of items per weight or volume to see what the best deal really is. Sometimes the more expensive jar of jelly is actually a better value because it costs less per ounce. Likewise, always weigh your produce on the store's scales to see how much it will cost at checkout.

FIND CHEAPER ALTERNATIVES

When it comes to food it's easy to get set in your ways. If you find yourself regularly buying a high cost item, experiment a little with similar, lower-cost items. Do you always go for the most expensive cut of beef for fajita night? Try less expensive meats to see if one of them works just as well, or even better.

HOP SEASONALLY AND LOCALLY

Eating in-season produce is not only healthy, it's also a great way to save money. Out-of-season produce has to travel from far away and the shipping costs get passed on to the consumer. Many fruits and vegetables have a short season during which they are readily available. While the supply is plentiful stores will sell the items for less to move through their inventory of perishable products.

BECOME A MEMBER

Most large grocery stores have a membership program that offers extra savings. In fact, sometimes you are required to be a member in order to take advantage of weekly sale items. They are almost always free, although some come with a yearly fee. Even when there is a fee, the discounts add up to save you more in the end. Be sure to ask at checkout if there's a loyalty or membership program and how to sign up.

MAKE A LIST AND STICK TO IT

Planning a shopping list will help you home in on how much food you really need and avoid over-buying perishable items. Sticking to the list, and allowing yourself only up to two impulse buys that are not on the list, will ensure that you don't overspend. Grocery stores spend big bucks on strategically planned layouts to encourage extra spending. Sticking to your list will help you resist the subtle but powerful impulse to buy.

KNOW WHAT TO BUY WHERE

It's a good idea to pick a few markets that specialize in different groceries: a farmers market for local and seasonal produce, a grocery store for other food items, and a bulk store for household goods. By knowing which stores have the best prices on different categories of goods, you can create a shopping plan to maximize savings on every item.

AVOID PACKAGED FOODS

When you buy a packaged item, you are not only paying for the item itself but also the packaging and the labor that went into it. The price of a pre-made and packaged sandwich can often be more than the cost of the ingredients to make two or three of the same sandwich. Build time into your weekly schedule to pre-make and package your own food to avoid paying for convenience.

LOOK BEYOND EYE LEVEL

Grocery stores place the highest priced items at eye level so that customers can easily see them. Just by shifting your gaze to the top or bottom shelves you can probably find similar products for lower prices.

NEVER SHOP HUNGRY

media:text>Shopping for food on an empty stomach is a surefire way to buy more than you need. When you're hungry everything looks good, and it's all too easy to grab everything you're craving when you're desperate to eat. Eating before you shop can help you resist impulse buys and expensive grab-and-go items.

CHECK THE RECEIPT

We all make mistakes and the people checking out hundreds or thousands of items every day are no exception. Always take a quick look at the receipt to make sure you were not charged for a similar but more expensive product or denied a discount on a sale item. If you find a mistake just ask the cashier for a refund or store credit.

LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME

Chances are that if you have kids in tow they will constantly ask for extra treats and grocery items. Maybe you just don't want to hear them complain anymore, or maybe they use their expert skills of persuasion, but each extra item adds up. Instead, put a treat for the whole family on the shopping list and bring it home.

GROW YOUR OWN

From herbs and tomatoes to mushrooms and lettuce, it's easy these days to find edible plants and garden kits that anyone can maintain. Herb plants rarely cost more than twice their one-use, pre-packaged counterparts. As a renewable resource, planted produce pays for itself in no time, especially when considering that herbs and mushrooms are some of the most expensive items pound for pound.

DO THE PREP YOURSELF

It can be tempting to reach for the bags of pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables, but it will cost you. These ready-to-go packages of produce can cost up to three times more than their un-prepped counterparts. And really, how long does it take to peel a carrot or wash some spinach?

GET CREATIVE WITH LEFTOVERS

No one likes to eat the same thing every day, but every time you throw away food you're throwing away money. To cut down on waste, brainstorm or check out creative uses for leftovers to get the most out of your weekly meals. Turning last night's roast chicken into tomorrow's chicken salad can make a difference of at least a few dollars a week.