We often don’t consider how much we’re spending at the supermarket because food is a necessity. But many of us are spending more than we have to.
“I call the food budget the silent killer of budgets,” said Kumiko Love, owner of personal finance website The Budget Mom.
If you’re looking to make cuts to your food spending, Love recommends doing it in baby steps.
“Make small incremental steps. Don’t go from $1,000 to $400 — that’s a big change,” she said. “Do it in $75 increments. If you stick to it, then drop it again by $75. Over time, you decrease it enough to a realistic amount you can stick to.”
But where do they savings come from? Here are some tips on how to reduce your grocery spending:
Always start with a list
Don’t enter a grocery store without a list. Think of it as protection against the temptation that abounds, with eye-catching displays and deals for items you don’t need.
Before shopping, take the time to plan your meals. Browse the store’s deals and base your decisions on what’s on sale, if possible.
“Set a dedicated time to meal plan,” said Love, who does it weekly. “That allows me to also assess my food budget to know how much I have to spend during these shopping trips.”
Once you have your list, the first stop before your grocery run should be your pantry. It’s easy to forget what’s sitting on your shelves and waste money on products you already have.
“We’ve all put away a can of tomato paste to realize you have six already,” said Love.
Having a list isn’t enough: You actually have to stick to it.
One way to do that is to avoid the grocery store altogether. Shopping online can make it easier to avoid straying from your plan.
Online shopping also helps you keep track of your total tab as you add items to your cart. It’s much easier to delete items from a virtual cart if you are over budget, than to ask the cashier to remove them with a long line waiting behind you at checkout.
Some grocery and big box stores, including Kroger, Albertsons, Target and Walmart, offer online shopping with free pickup.
Amazon Prime members can shop at Whole Foods online and also get free pickup.
Don’t just look at the price
The lowest price doesn’t always mean it’s the best deal. Pay attention to the price per unit — that will show you which item offers the most for your money.
So let’s say you need ketchup: A 32-ounce bottle could cost $2.79 while a 38-ounce bottle is $2.99 The bigger bottle costs nearly 8 cents an ounce while the smaller one is almost 9 cents.
Not all stores will do the math for you, but it’s pretty easy to do it yourself: divide the total price by the number of units. The smaller quotient is the better deal.
Put in the elbow grease
With so many choices on the shelves, it’s easy to get lazy about cooking. But convenience comes at a price.
Yes, it’s nice when the fruit is already sliced, but you you will spend less if you buy the whole fruit and do the work yourself.
And prepackaged meals and prepared items also tend to come with a heftier price tag. For nights when you know cooking time will be limited, try and prepare a meal ahead of time and freeze it until you need a quick dinner.
Use a loyalty app
No one wants to sit home clipping coupons. But getting discounts is less time consuming than it used to be. You can join your grocery store’s loyalty programs, follow them on social media and download their apps to find coupons and other deals.
“Check apps and websites for daily deals,” said Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot.com. “It’s a great way to get savings on what you are looking for.”
Get cash back
You might have some money saving help already in your wallet — some credit cards offer higher rewards for food shopping. And free apps will pay you for your shopping.
American Express’s Blue Cash Preferred Card offers 6% cash back at US grocery stores on up to $6,000 in spending a year. That card has a $95 annual fee, but Amex’s Blue Cash Everyday card, offers 3% cash back on your first $6,000 of purchases a year at supermarkets with no annual fee.
Tools like Ibotta, which offers cash back and Fetch Rewards, which allows you to accumulate points to earn rewards, can also help save you money.