Your Personal Meal Planning Assistant
November 02, 2020 / Nicole Villeneuve

15 Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store

Woman in a blue t-shit and pick backpack pushes her cart around a grocery store next to pineapples.

Grocery shopping is an integral part of cooking at home, but often an errand that takes a generous toll on your budget. You have to eat, but you’d rather not spend your whole paycheck to do it. So, how do you create clean eating meal plans on a budget?

Of course, meal planning ahead of time makes the best use of your budget, but it’s not the only thing you can do. Here are 15 more strategies to help you save money at the grocery store and make the best decisions when restocking your kitchen.

1. Buy in Bulk

When you buy canned beans like chickpeas or black beans, you’re often spending more for the packaging, processing, and water than the value of the edible legumes inside. If you have time to prepare dried beans, purchase them in the bulk section. Not only will you get more ounces for less money, but uncooked dried beans also last for months in a sealed jar. Make only what you need for each meal and keep the remaining dry goods on hand in a cool dark place.

You can also meal plan with recipes that use the same main ingredients you purchased in bulk. Just cook your food on a predetermined day, freeze your meal prep, then enjoy your creations when you’re in the need of a quick and healthy meal.

It’s important to note, however, that not all foods sold in bulk are a better deal than their pre-made or pre-portioned counterparts. Multi-pack produce (like three bell peppers in cellophane) may not be cheaper than individual pieces. Be sure to do the math before you put it in your cart.

2. Shop Seasonally

You’ll find that in-season and local produce is usually less expensive. Buy berries in summer when they’re inexpensive and freeze them for colder months. Root vegetables, tubers, and squash are your best choices in fall and winter, whereas sprouts and greens are most reasonably priced in spring.

If something is shipped from a faraway location or overseas and won’t ever be in season where you live, it’s naturally going to cost more. Decide how often it's worth it to splurge on these higher ticket items.

3. Look Above and Below Eye-Level on the Shelves

Grocery store attendant helps man find groceries on the bottom shelf of an aisle.

Brands pay stores to put their products at eye level. Look to the top and bottom shelves for great brands that may be at a lower price point. For the same reason, approach aisle endcap displays with caution. Prominent placement doesn’t usually mean cost savings.

4. Buy Cheese from the Dairy Aisle Instead of the Deli Counter

Avoid the specialty cheese at the deli counter. Grocery stores oftentimes sell these same cheeses in generic packaging at a reduced price. Look for more affordable versions in the dairy case along the walls. Opting for pre-packaged cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, and Monterey Jack is a high-impact way to save money at the grocery store.

5. Don’t Fall Into the “Previously Frozen” Trap

Buying frozen seafood will also help you cut costs. Although fish at the seafood counter might look fresh, upon closer examination, it can be marked as “previously frozen." To receive the same quality fish at a lower price, opt for the frozen option. One thing to be cautious of: frozen seafood can sometimes have salt added to help it keep longer, so check the ingredients list to make sure your fish hasn't been pre-salted.

6. Skip Pre-Packaged Meats

Much like cheese and seafood, you’re likely paying too much for pre-cut roasts, steaks, and chops that are sold in the cooler section of your local supermarket. If your supermarket has a butcher counter, buy a larger cut of meat and have the butcher trim it for you. You’ll end up with the exact cut that you want, and the price point will usually be cheaper if you buy in larger quantities. You can freeze any additional meat for future use.

7. Avoid Pre-Cut and Single-Serving Items

While pre-cut fruits and vegetables might look appealing, they will not help you save money at the grocery store. They may save you time, but it comes at a price. If you’re watching your grocery budget, select whole fruits and vegetables and chop them at home. By choosing whole produce, you're also helping the environment by cutting back on plastic packaging and waste.

8. Buy Herb Plants Instead of Bundles

Basil, thyme, and mint plants sitting on a windowsill in white pots.

Fresh herbs add a lot of flavors, but when they’re likely to spoil in a few short days, they can be a costly choice. Why not pick out a few whole, live herb plants and start a little garden on your windowsill? You’ll get more herbs for the price and you’ll only have to buy each herb once. If gardening isn’t for you, use our guide to find out what to do with leftover herbs.

9. Wait for a Sale to Buy Meat

Meat tends to be one of the highest-priced items you buy at the grocery store. An easy way to save money at the grocery store is to only buy meat when it’s on sale. Taking advantage of meat specials will have a big impact on your grocery bill, especially if you’re following a keto meal plan or following a diet high in animal protein.

10. Buy Unpackaged Lettuces

Although it’s easy to grab pre-packaged lettuces and salad kits, loose lettuce is much more budget-friendly. Salad kits can cost more than twice what an entire head of lettuce and homemade salad dressing does.

11. Shop with a Smaller Cart or Basket

Man in a gray shirt is standing at the refrigerator at a grocery store holding a can of juice and a grocery basket.

Even something as simple as the size of your basket or cart can impact your bill at the grocery store. If you’re limited to a smaller cart, you’ll only be able to fit the things you really need. This means any temptations that aren’t on your list just won’t fit in your cart.

12. Get Creative with Dinner

All too often, dinner means a robust meal that includes meat for the main dish, a variety of side dishes, and dessert. Changing this preconceived notion is another way to save money and engage in healthy eating.

If you're a meat-eater, try going meatless one or two nights a week. Plant-based meals are almost always cheaper to prepare than a meat equivalent. Try these smoky lentil and cauliflower tacos – you'll be wondering why you ever needed meat in the first place!

You can also experiment with having breakfast for dinner. Eggs are a cost-effective source of protein that makes a great alternative to meat. Spin a classic dinner dish, like bruschetta, and turn it into breakfast bruschetta with tomato and egg for some added creativity into weekly meals.

13. Check Your Pantry

Basing your weekly healthy meal planning on what items you already have in your pantry can be an excellent way to minimize your grocery list and save money. When you select recipes that utilize pantry ingredients, this reduces the number of items you need to buy at the grocery store, saving you time and money.

PlateJoy’s digital pantry keeps track of what you already have on hand and pairs recipes together to minimize food waste.

14. Use Phone Apps to Help You Save

Woman at a grocery store checking her grocery list on her phone while pushing her shopping cart.

Luckily, certain apps are built specifically for saving money at the grocery store. Flipp is an app that congregates ads from stores near you. You’ll find savings and promotions for multiple stores in one place. Individual stores also have their own apps that let you see what’s on sale and find specials for items on your grocery list.

15. Keep Tabs on Your Expenses

Once you have your budget determined, make sure you stay on track. Using a budget tracking app like Mint can help you keep track of your food expenses and other life costs. We suggest reviewing your budget weekly or monthly to make sure you're staying within your financial goals.

The Takeaway

Learning how to save money on groceries and eat healthy is extremely rewarding. Not only will you feel better about your budget and financial future, but you’ll also feel better about yourself and what you've achieved. While it may take some effort and changes to your current lifestyle, these changes will become habits. Your bank account and your health will thank you.

Need a little help with low-carb meal planning and creating your shopping list? Let PlateJoy take care of it. Find out how by signing up for a free trial today.

Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve is a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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