1. Do some meal planning
The secret sauce behind saving money on groceries is doing some meal planning, says Brenda Hiscock, a certified financial planner and adviser with Objective Financial Planners in Ontario, Canada.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) even offers tips and tools to get you started. And Hiscock adds that many grocery store chains also provide some easy plans.
“There are so many free weekly meal plans online and they'll often have rebated ingredients and shopping lists, which can save you a lot of money,” she says.
Buying in bulk and freezing what you don’t need right away can also help reduce your household’s food waste, she adds.
One retired chef says meal planning saves him $1,600 a year compared to what the average person spends on groceries.
2. Stop letting those leftovers spoil
Another easy win Hiscock has identified with is reducing food waste — which pairs nicely with meal planning.
A 2020 study in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that food waste costs the economy $240 billion a year.
What does that mean by household? Dividing that $240 billion worth of waste by 126.8 million American households translates into about $1,892 lost every year. That comes out to roughly one-third of all the food families buy ending up in the garbage.
“It really is quite shocking,” says Hiscock. ”That's $2,000 going down the drain for every family every year. And you know, you can buy a lot with $2,000.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers some helpful tips on reducing food waste — varying from the way you store your ingredients, to suggestions on how to repurpose food past its prime.
3. Shop the season — and cut back on expensive extras
When you’re looking for free weekly meal plans, opt for more plant-based options. That doesn’t mean you have to go vegan, but giving meat a supporting role instead of a starring role in your diet will go a long way in cutting your grocery bill.
Prices for meat — especially pork and beef — have been steadily getting more expensive since 2020. The USDA’s analysis shows that beef and veal had the highest annual price increase (nearly 10%) in the food-at-home category.
Farmer’s markets are also a great way to get fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables at affordable prices, while supporting local farmers. Not to mention it’s far more environmentally friendly to buy fresh produce that’s grown nearby as opposed to across the country — or even the world.
The USDA provides a handy guide on what’s in season at different points of the year, along with links to recipes and tips on cooking with each fruit and vegetable listed.
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4. Shop around for deals or perks
While farmer’s markets are great for most of the year, it is generally still cheaper to buy your staples at a traditional supermarket.
But you can still find savings on these necessary items by making sure every dollar you spend does double duty. When you go to pay for your haul, why not use a points credit card that rewards you for every dollar you spend on groceries?
Many stores, including Target, Walmart, Albertsons, Kroger, Publix and Meijer, also have free rewards or loyalty programs that offer personalized discounts and rewards you can redeem at the register.
To find a little extra savings, as part of your meal-planning process, compare prices on the ingredients you need any given week in your area. The USDA offers a tool designed to help consumers find budget-friendly healthy options in their area.
5. Find more room in your budget elsewhere
Hiscock says taking a look at what you’re actually spending money on month to month might reveal some fat you can trim.
“Another place that I'm really finding people are sort of bleeding money right now is they signed up for a whole bunch of subscriptions during the pandemic … and all these things they're no longer using, but they're still paying for,” she says.
A recent study of 1,000 consumers of subscription streaming services showed that, on average, people underestimate their streaming spending by $133 a month. Over 70% had their bills on autopay, and 42% of respondents admitted they stopped using a service but forgot to turn off the charges.
Ultimately, Hiscock says if your finances are causing you stress, the best thing to do is tackle it head-on. Avoidance only makes these situations worse.
“The reality is, if we don't know about something, we can't change it,” says Hiscock. “And so we can continue to fly blindly through life and not know what we're spending and have all of this underlying stress in the background that is sort of undefined.”
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