How to Spend Less Money on Food: 6 Ways to Save on Groceries
To spend less money on food, plan out your meals and your grocery trips. Use digital coupons to save on every grocery bill, introduce more vegetables into your diet, buy in bulk, and stock up on dried food for quick, healthy, and cheap meals.
1. Create a Food Budget
If you create a food budget, you’ll get a picture of how much you really spend on food, and you’ll see patterns in how you shop that might show you where you can make your savings. The best food budget is based on what you eat and how many people you cook for, whether that’s for a family, or just yourself.
To calculate this, keep a record of how much you spend on groceries for a few weeks. Keep your receipts, use a budget app, or just write everything down.
Over time, you’ll be able to create a picture of your spending habits — what you buy, what day of the week you go shopping, and how much you tend to get. This can tell you whether you can afford to buy certain items in bulk, or you can save some dollars by getting a store-brand item instead of a name-brand one.
2. Veggies Save Money
Sometimes, the best food doesn’t even come from a store. Find an urban garden or a Community Supported Agriculture program, where you can purchase produce and other goods straight from the farmer themselves, saving you more than if you went to a grocery store or a farmer’s market. This might also be a good incentive to cook healthier or eat less meat, both of which end up saving you money in the long run. That’s because meat tends to be expensive.
In addition to vegetables being healthier, they can also make a significant difference to your bank account. U.S. News & World Report profiled a woman who changed her diet to a vegetarian one, which resulted in her buying rolled oats, seasoning, chickpeas, potatoes, milk, rice, and kale. She found her meals became “extremely affordable” and “a lot fresher.” The change saved even more money because she lost interest in eating restaurant food.
In 2015, the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that when compared side by side, a vegetarian diet tends to be much cheaper than a diet that includes meat. Researchers discovered that even an economical meat-inclusive diet was $750 more expensive a year than a plant-based meal plan. The co-author of the study, a research dietitian in Rhode Island, told U.S. News that “meat is what kills the budget.”
Changing your diet wholescale is a tough ask, so dieticians and financial experts recommend keeping the changes small. Even going vegetarian one day a week will help your health and your wallet. For a more ambitious goal, some people like to try eating vegetarian on weekdays and then “rewarding” themselves with meat-based meals on weekends.
Whichever works best for you, consider introducing more greens into your weekly meals. Don’t try any drastic diet changes without talking to a doctor or nutritionist first.
3. Dry Goods
A big way to save money on your grocery bill is to always have something in the house you can use to put together a quick meal. Low-cost dry goods like legumes, rice, pasta, or beans will save you from relying on more expensive, unhealthier foods.
Dried goods are not only cheaper to buy, but they also don’t go bad as quickly, so you don’t have to buy a new pack every week. Many people use these ingredients to cook their meals in advance for the week or prep for a quick dinner. This reduces the temptation to buy something more expensive because you know you’ve already got your next few meals sorted out.
4. Time Your Shopping
To make the most out of grocery shopping, know when to go. The middle of the week is when grocery stores usually offer more deals and discounts because they have to turn over their products in time for the weekend.
The longer people are in a store, the more tempted they are to get things that they don’t need. Always have a list and a budget with you when you enter a store, and you won’t walk out with items that you only got because they were on sale, and you were stuck in a long line.
5. Shop Smart
One of the best ways you can save money on groceries is to use coupons, either digital or old-fashioned paper ones you get in the mail. An advantage of digital coupons is that you can pair them with a shopping list that many grocery store apps allow you to create and curate. And as you’ve read above, sticking to a shopping list prevents you from buying things you don’t need.
Make it a regular habit to always check your app for coupons before you head out for a grocery trip. If you don’t have a phone you can use for that purpose, think about scheduling your shopping when your coupons arrive in the mail. Either digitally or paper-based, smart shopping will save you a lot of money every trip.
6. Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk is a big way to save money on food. You don’t need a Costco membership to make this happen. Look for bigger packages and anything that offers a two-for-one deal or buy-one-get-another-half-off. Sometimes, these deals are only available to members or accessible via a coupon, so this is another reason to shop smart. The more bulk buying you do, the less you end up spending on food in the long run.
Again, the simple rule applies: Don’t buy things you don’t need, no matter how attractive the deal may be. Check a product’s expiration date, and ask yourself if you’ll really use the bulk purchase in that amount of time. Even if you’re saving a lot of money with a two-for-one purchase, you’re not actually saving the money if you have to throw unused portions away because they’ve gone bad.
So, buying in bulk can save you money, but be careful how you shop for those deals.
Start Saving Today
If you make one of the above changes today, you’ll begin to see the savings add up in the coming weeks and months. Try to add another money-saving measure every couple weeks, and you’ll find you’re spending much less money on food over time.
15 Quirky Ways to Spend Less Money on Food. (November 2016). Forbes.
Personal Finance Tips for Beginners. (October 2021). Current.
How to Save Money With a CSA. (April 2015). U.S. News & World Report.
How to Save Money by Going Vegetarian. (December 2016). US News & World Report.
Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (September 2015). Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.
8 Reasons to Be a Weekday Vegetarian. (August 2020). Newsweek.
10 Foods You Should Be Buying if You Want to Save Money. (September 2018). Insider.
The Best Times to Go Grocery Shopping — And Other Ways to Shop Like a Pro. (January 2021). Today.
Grocery Coupons Can Actually Save You Money—Here's How. (July 2021). Parents.
3 Tips for Shopping in the Bulk Foods Aisle Like a Pro. (February 2020). KUOW.
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