Buy This, Not That: How to Save Money at the Grocery Store
Grocery shopping: an integral part of cooking at home, but often an errand that can take a huge chunk out of your budget (if you're not careful). You have to eat and you’d rather not spend your whole paycheck to do it, so how do you approach the grocery store to get the most bite for your food dollar?
Besides meal planning ahead of time (which you already know makes the best use of your budget), here are a few more strategies to help you save money at the grocery store and make the best decisions when restocking your kitchen.
1. Buy [some things] in bulk
When you buy canned beans like chickpeas or pintos, you’re often spending more for the packaging, the processing and the water than the value of the edible legumes inside. If you have time to prepare dried beans, hit up the bulk section: not only will you get more ounces for less money, uncooked dried beans will keep in a sealed jar for months. Make only what you need for each meal or week, and keep the rest of your economical haul on hand in a cool dark place.
Know, though, 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. Do the math before you put it in your cart.
2. Shop seasonally
In-season produce will always be less expensive, as will local produce. Buy berries in summer when they’re super cheap andfreeze them for colder months. Root veggies, tubers and squash are your best bet in fall and winter, whereas sprouts and greens are most reasonably priced in spring. Sustainable Table offers a versatile online tool to determine what’s in season during which months. If something is from an exotic location and probably won’t ever be in season where you live, it’s going to be an investment. Decide how often that’s worth it for you.
3. Look and above and below eye-level on the shelves
Brands pay stores to put their product at eye level. Look at 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 bargain.
3. Buy cheese from the dairy aisle instead of the deli counter
Skip the fancy-looking fromage at the deli counter: grocery stores sometimes sell these same cheeses in more generic packaging at a reduced price in the dairy case along the walls.
4. Don’t fall into the “previously frozen” trap
You’ll save a ton by buying frozen seafood, rather than the fresh-looking stuff at the seafood counter marked as “previously frozen”. It’s likely to be the same stuff, just marked up (and more likely to expire soon) than the still-frozen kind.
5. Skip pre-butchered meats
Like the cheese and seafood, you’re likely paying too much for a pre-butchered roast, steaks and chops. Instead, buy a larger cut of meat and have the butcher trim it for you. You’ll end up with a variety of fresh cuts at a much cheaper price point, and can freeze them for future use.
6. Avoid precut and single-serving items
All of those pre-cubed, pre-sliced fruits and veggies that greet you when you enter a supermarket? They do save time, but that comes at a cost. If you’re watching your grocery budget, go for the whole versions in their place and chop them at home.
7. Bundles of fresh herbs
Fresh herbs add lots of flavor, 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 window sill? You’ll get more herbs for the price (and a fun project to boot). Or, use our guide to our favorite ways to use up the rest of what your bought, before it goes bad.