At this point, we probably don’t need to tell you that we’re living through a period of sustained inflation. Your grocery bills already tell you everything you need to know. In December 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a 6.8% rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the previous year. Americans are feeling an especially acute impact from this rise every time they check out at the supermarket. Fortune reports that “the prices of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs increased 12.8%, “driven up by strong domestic and international demand, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and high feed and other input costs.”
And forecasts suggest that Americans in need of relief will have to wait a bit longer for a reversal of these trends. A report from research firm IRI warns that the first half of 2022 could witness an additional 5% rise in food prices. Major food distribution companies like Mondelez International, General Mills, and Kraft Heinz have already announced price hikes on food items across the spectrum. Name brand items from these companies could see price hikes as high as 20%. These cost increases have only been exacerbated as rising fuel prices pump up the cost of transportation, shipping, and operation.
And as supply chain issues, labor shortages, and international shipping delays continue to disrupt the availability of staple items from potatoes and celery to beer and wine, Americans can anticipate higher costs from the fresh produce aisle to the liquor store. All of this is occurring against a backdrop in which wage growth is simply not keeping pace with spiraling living expenses. The dangers of food shortage and hunger are becoming more pressing realities for many Americans today.
While we may not be able to control the convergence of systemic challenges currently straining the value of the dollar, there are steps that we as individual consumers can take to minimize the strain on our households. And many of those steps can be easily taken at your local grocery store. So this seems like a great place to begin cutting costs. With that in mind, read on for 10 Ways You Can Save At the Supermarket…
1. Clip Coupons
Ok. We use the phrase “clip coupons” somewhat liberally here. This advice actually applies equally to those who only acquire coupons the old fashioned way from paper circulars and those who generally only benefit from coupons that can be Googled or downloaded with an app. If you fall into the former category, your coupon clipping habits are obviously an excellent way to save money, but this strategy could be supplemented with web-based coupons. Before you shop, search for manufacturer coupons for products you typically purchase as well as coupons specific to your grocery store. If you fall into the latter category, those who generally find their coupons online, it’s time to stop tossing those daily circulars from your mailbox directly into the recycling can. Grab a pair of scissors and start looking for coupons.
2. Look for Sales
Those circulars in your mailbox are actually good for more than just coupons and newsprint stains. They also have all kinds of ads alerting you to sales at local supermarkets as well as discounts on specific food items. Plan your shopping trips around these sales. Identify local grocers offering better deals on items you use. Instead of simply showing up at the grocery store and loading your cart with items, take a strategic approach to targeting both the stores, items, and times of the week that converge to provide you the best bang for your buck.
3. Download a Grocery Store App
Beyond just looking for sales, find out which stores have the everyday lowest prices on items you regularly purchase. And we’ve got good news—there’s an app for that. Actually, there are a bunch of different apps like Basket, Flipp, and Grocery King. Each of these apps offers a different array of functionalities, so it’s a matter of personal user preference. But essentially, each of these apps is designed so that you can compare prices on regular and sale items at the grocery stores in your vicinity. Other features sometimes included are the ability to upload loyalty and rewards cards so that they can be scanned directly from your app at checkout, the ability to compile and edit active shopping lists, and, in the case of apps like Instacart, even the ability to have items delivered directly to your home. Fortunately, these apps are all free to download so you can get a feel for the one that best suits your shopping needs.
4. Meal Planning
Another cool thing about the grocery store app is that it can help you better organize your shopping trips around specific meal plans. This is an extremely important step when it comes to saving money on groceries. Meal planning is one of the best ways to minimize food waste. Start out each week with a set schedule of lunches and dinners, identify the food items you’ll need to produce these meals, and buy only exactly what you need. That way, you don’t end up with a vegetable crisper full of slowly rotting items that you’ve purchased with good intentions but with no actual plan. You can also avoid buying more than you need of certain items. The contrary is also true. You’ll get exactly what you need for the week, which means fewer extra trips to the grocery store during the week. Of course, if you’re a working adult or a busy parent, you know that time is money, so saving time on grocery store runs is obviously helpful. But it also means less money spent on gas and fewer dollars wasted on impulse items at the checkout line. (No judgment…we all do it!) By the way, you don’t even really need the app to do this. My family has a magnetized dry erase board mounted to our fridge. On Sunday nights, we plan out dinners for the rest of the week. We still reserve the right to call an audible if we suddenly decide on a busy Thursday that we’d rather just order in. But the meal plan is a great roadmap for going into a new week.
5. Make a Reverse Shopping List
Pure Wow offers a pretty innovative tip for saving money on your groceries. Make a list of the things you already have so you remember not to buy them again. Hey, we’ve all done it. I have three unopened bags of Jasmine rice. It takes a year just to finish one. Why do I always think I need more rice? Don’t feel like you have to actually write down every single item in your pantry before hitting the supermarket. The idea is simply that you should take inventory of your food supply before you go shopping. Know what you don’t need. Getting a strong sense of where you are sufficiently stocked can prevent overlapping purchases, lower your grocery bill and, in the long run, minimize food waste.
6. Get a Grocery Rewards Card
With the right credit card offer, you can get cash back on every grocery purchase you make at participating stores. Some credit card offers are actually designed around these benefits for grocery shoppers. In fact, says NBC Select, you can get as high as 6% back on your purchases at top grocery stores like Whole Foods and Krogers. If you do choose to make purchases using a grocery rewards card, find one that starts at low- or zero-interest, and be sure that you pay your full credit card bill off every single month. Be sure that fees and interest repayment don’t cut into the margin of your savings.
7. Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
Most supermarket chains offer access to Loyalty Programs. When you swipe your loyalty card or enter a phone number associated with your account, you’ll accumulate points toward purchase discounts, you’ll have the ability to access immediate discounts, and you’ll receive targeted coupons after your purchase based on your personal shopping history. It’s absolutely worth the 2 minutes required to join this loyalty program during your next check-out.
8. Shop at Wholesale Clubs
Wholesale Clubs like Costco, BJs and Sam’s Club are a great way to save by buying in bulk. These big-box stores sell economy-sized packages of common household items from paper goods and frozen foods to beverages and household cleansers. Ultimately, when you shop this way, you pay less per unit of each item and you insulate yourself against even further price fluctuation. Bear in mind that buying economy sized packaging often means you’re spending more upfront in order to secure long-term savings. Moreover, joining a wholesale club typically requires an annual membership fee. This will usually come in at under $100 for a standard membership though you may be able to access additional savings and benefits by paying up front for a premium membership. If you have the cash flow (and household storage) for it, joining a wholesale club and buying in bulk could create long-term savings on the grocery items that you’re constantly restocking.
9. Get a Deep Freezer
As long as you’re shopping at wholesale clubs, and therefore buying items in bulk, you’ll need the storage to make the most of every trip. Obviously, you can store your economy-sized nonperishables, canned goods, dry snacks, and paper goods anywhere that you’ve got the space. But what about the frozen stuff? Among the food items most deeply impacted by current inflationary trends and supply chain challenges are meats and poultries. The cost for these items has risen precipitously in just the last two years. Further price hikes appear more than likely in the short-term. In this sense, buying frozen meat and poultry in bulk is actually a pretty sound investment. In order to make the most of that investment, consider purchasing a deep freezer. If you have a garage or a basement where you can keep a modestly sized and energy efficient chest-freezer, this is an excellent way to truly stock up on meat. Every type of meat or poultry has a slightly different frozen shelf-life. The deep freezer can lengthen that life for just a few hundred dollars. This means that you can buy enough meat in one shot to feed your family for a year, even as prices continue to climb.
10. Buy Generic
In addition to buying in bulk, you should keep an open mind about the generic brands packaged by and affiliated with your supermarket. In most cases, generic brands on basic staple items like flour, sugar, canned beans, dry rice, paper goods, dairy products and ketchup are fairly similar in taste and ingredients to the name brand items you’re accustomed to buying. In most cases though, you are paying for the brand familiarity. Save a few pennies on every dollar by trying the version offered by your supermarket. Of course, some of these generic brands may indeed be inferior. But others may be indistinguishable from their more costly brand-name counterparts. Be sure to read the ingredients to determine that the generic versions meet the quality and dietary standards of the brands you’re accustomed to. As long as there’s nothing suspicious lurking in the ingredients or production process, try the generic stuff and see if you can make the switch.
11. Don’t Bring Your Kids to the Grocery Store
This one sounds kind of like a joke. But if you’re a parent, you get exactly what we’re saying here. Look, sometimes you don’t have a choice. It’s just you and your kids and the shopping must be done. But if there’s a way around it—like shopping when the kids are at school or out on playdates—do it then. Why? Kids demand things—junk food, toys, impulse items. As a parent, you must walk a fine line between not spoiling your child and choosing your battles. A few dollars for one of those stuffed plushies with the giant eyes can buy you 30 minutes of peace while you shop. Go to the grocery store alone and you could save that few dollars, maybe even put them into the kid’s college fund.
And if you’re looking for ways to save money that are also greater for the environment, check out our look at Five Ways to Save Money and Help the Environment.