When it comes to budget planning, any 101 course on saving money will tell you to first trim your extraneous expenses. That weekly or daily cup of coffee, subscriptions like Spotify or Audible, and even gym memberships are often some of the first items to hit the chopping block. But one regular expense that’s hard to cut back on is food. While feeding yourself is mandatory, breaking the bank at the grocery store is not. Here are a few simple tricks and strategies for lowering your at-home food costs.
Prepare in advance
Going grocery shopping on an empty stomach is an obvious but common mistake. If you’re on a tight schedule, have a quick snack before you head to the store; taking the edge off that hunger can radically change your choices (e.g., you won’t be as tempted to buy that bag of chips in the checkout line).
Another practical strategy for cutting your total grocery bill is making a list and sticking to it. This involves a little bit of meal prep and planning, but formulating a well thought-out list can help you avoid buying too much—which wastes money and food. Also, plan your weekly meals around what is on sale at your local store to save the most money. Most, if not all, grocery stores put out a weekly flyer or ad that outlines their best deals on produce, meat, and other popular items.
Look for discounts
Don’t make the rookie mistake of paying full price for items that are discounted through a loyalty program. Most grocery chains make it easy to enroll for their discounts by requiring little more than your phone number. Most of you are probably already doing this basic first step, and you can stretch your dollar even further with a coupon program. Ibotta is a Denver-based company and app that gives you cash rebates after you shop. Just look up deals on certain products at the nearly 300 participating vendors before you go, make your purchases, and then upload your receipt to be reimbursed. Saving a few dollars with a coupon app every time you shop can add up to hundreds of dollars saved per year.
Set some boundaries
In addition to coming prepared with a list, it can be helpful to go with a budget in mind. Consider shopping with only a handbasket and calling it quits when it gets full. Also, before you ever walk through those sliding glass doors, tell yourself your budget is X amount. If you’re not sure what your total is before you get to the register, set the nonessential items farther back on the conveyor belt, and ask the cashier to tell you when you reach said number and to remove those items; most are happy to help you stick to your budget.
Consider other options
Sure, meal-delivery services like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Sun Basket, (and countless others) might seem like a luxury, but the truth is that those services are constantly offering discounts to get new customers in the door (and though you might have to input your credit card information, it’s easy to cancel a recurring charge and order). The best way to find each service’s latest deals and first-timer discounts is by looking on their website and social media accounts. If you have a friend that uses a particular service, you can see if they can share a referral coupon with you. This will often times save both you and your friend some money off of future deliveries.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
You might also consider getting your food from a CSA. The system connects consumers with local farmers and vendors to get local, seasonal produce in your kitchen. Check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s CSA directory to see your nearby options. The CSA system can be pricey up front, but over time it actually saves money. Since you’re at the whim of what’s available and in season (similar to a farmer’s market), bundles of fruits and veggies are often cheaper than if you were to buy them separately in a store. Not only does it support local agriculture, fresh fare is also better for you—plus CSAs help prevent food waste. There are also many CSA-style programs that funnel food that would otherwise be thrown away into a box that can be picked up or delivered straight to your house. The GrowHaus, which has more than a dozen Denver locations, is one great local option.
What tools or services do you use to save money on groceries?