How to Save Money on Groceries (Guide)

Groceries on a counter top.

It is time to save.

Is your food bill looking a bit too expensive? It is time to get serious and learn how to save money on groceries. Before we begin, I want to plug the long term cost benefits of eating healthy.

You can eat healthy and keep your bill low.

A calculator and a financial notebook for calculating the bills.

When people begin to eat healthier, they quickly discover that quality foods can be very expensive. The plain truth is that it costs more to buy the healthy foods that will help you look better, feel better, lose weight, and stay healthy than it costs to live off packaged, canned, and junk foods. Well, it is cheaper in the short run. The cost benefits of healthy eating in the long run far out way the immediate price tag as you reduce your chances of serious diseases that can rack up hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars in medical bills.

This article is going to be your guide to saving money, and staying in your budget, while also enabling you to eat healthy. I have been following this regiment myself and have saved a ton of money in the process.

 The fact is that are a hundred ways you can save money on groceries. Let’s get started.

Coupons

We will start off with the low hanging fruit (pun intended). The easiest way to save money on groceries is to use produce coupons. They are not hard to find. Here are a list of places you can get them:

Ask the brands:

You can find grocery coupons by asking the manufacturer or brand. Companies like like Driscoll's, Chiquita, Doll, Earthbound Farms all have their own coupons.

You can email them and ask them for coupons. Often, they will send them to you.

Even better, you can find a lot of these coupons on their websites.

Another option is to sign up for email newsletters from these companies and they will send you emails with coupons for their produce.

In the newspaper:

Look for coupons in your Sunday newspaper. Companies like SmartSource or RedPlum will insert coupons into the Sunday newspaper. You can find coupons for frozen/canned vegetables, and coupons for canned/frozen fruits. I have even seen coupons for Cuties, those little tiny mandarin oranges, that everyone loves.

Take a peep at your Sunday paper. Specifically, check the ad for whatever grocery store you frequent. At certain points throughout the year, they will host a fill-a-bag promotion or a buy-one-get-one-free promotion.

In the store:

A grocery store cart.

Some stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts Market have their own coupon booklets available as you walk into the store. Look for those. Both Whole Foods and Sprouts change their coupon book every month. Grab a coupon booklet and use it at checkout.

I also suggest that you review all the available coupons in the book so you know what coupons and sales are taking place that month. That way you can save even more money.

On the Product:

You can find coupon codes on the actual product. If you keep your eyes peeled (another pun), you will find sticker coupons on the product that can save you 50 cents on that item (or sometimes a related product). Stores put these on a ton of groceries, so keep your eyes peeled. Fair warning, sometimes you will see a pile of produce that do not have stickers and a pile that do. Make sure that you look for those stickers as your shop.

If you have children, ask them to help you out; make finding groceries with stickers a game. This will allow you to focus on the important things while your kids enjoy a scavenger hunt in the grocery store.

In Magazines:

Some companies will place coupons in magazines related to their niche. If you subscribe to any magazines, you may find coupon inserts.

These tend to be coupons for cleaning products or other household items, but I have seen coupons for produce and groceries. Keep your eyes peeled for coupons while you flip through your magazines.

Track Prices

Take a minute to think about the items that are staples in your diet. For me that is quinoa, steel-cut oats, chicken, and fish. These are the staple items you buy every week, right? The only way to save on these is to track the prices.

Purchase a notebook, or use a note app in your phone, in which you write the prices of these items every time you go to the store. Once you have collected some data over the course of a couple seasons, you will be able to deduce a base price for that item.

Spreadsheet for tracking expenses and money spending.

Make a spreadsheet that shows the store, the item, the average price, the lowest price you have seen, the unit cost, and the month you saw the low price.

Believe it or not you will uncover patterns that will allow you to buy in bulk when the price is low, freeze the extra, and use it while the prices are high. I know this is a lot of work, so if the savings are not worth the cost, feel free to move onto the next section.

But by collecting this data, you will uncover what constitutes a great price for the items you are always buying. If you use tons of brown rice, or almonds, you will know when to stock up on that item.

If you pay full price for that item every single time you visit your grocery store, you are wasting money. But if you know what constitutes a low price, you will know a good sale when you see it. In that sort of situation, I buy two bags of almonds instead of one. And then you can have enough in storage to last you until the next sale.

This works for dry, packaged, or frozen groceries. It obviously does not work for fruits and vegetables because they go bad.

Grow your own spices and herbs.

A person holding home grown herbs.

Another way you can eat healthy while on a budget is to grow your own herbs. This sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't. A lot of herbs will grow in your house: on your windowsill, in front of your kitchen window, etc. Seeds are very inexpensive, and the cost difference between buying herbs and growing them is enormous.

For example, basil costs about $3.50 per ounce where I live. But I calculated that when I grow it, it costs only 24 cents per ounce. There is a drastic difference between buying and growing costs.

If you have children, get your kids involved. Ask them to help you grow the herbs. Put one in charge of watering the plants every day. Make that their chore to help around the house.  

I am not a huge gardener. I know other people love it and treat it like a hobby, but I hate doing the work. But I can handle growing herbs inside the house.

After your herb plants have matured, freeze them. I freeze mine in baggies and use them throughout the year. Because you can freeze herbs, you are not wasting anything you produce.

Learn how to garden.

For those of you (not me) who like the idea of gardening, planting your own garden will save you a ton of money. Think about what it costs to purchase a seed verses what the grocery store charges for mature produce.

Obviously, this is another situation in which you can get your kids involved.

There are tons of vegetables that grow in all sorts of climates. The most popular garden items are:

  • lettuce

  • garlic

  • tomatoes

  • winter squash

  • bell peppers

  • strawberries

A person holding vegetables they grew in their garden.

We grow all of those up here in New York, but these plants grow just about anywhere. However, you do want to purchase strains developed for your climate. For example, certain tomatoes grow better in a humid rather than a dry climate. This is not that complicated; do not let it stop you from starting your own garden.

Seeds do not cost much. You can find seed packets for 25 cents at the Dollar Store. Hit up a Dollar Tree, if you do not have Dollar Stores. Walmart sells seeds for super cheap. They sell heirloom seeds that are not hybridized or genetically modified. I guess you could call these pure-bred seeds. If you care about the genetic makeup of your produce, Walmart has all nature seeds for super cheap.

Takeaway: it is a lot cheaper to grow than to buy.

Buy in season.

One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is to only purchase the foods that are in season. Have you ever considered that every single produce item is either in season or not in season?

If an item is not in season, the producer must grow it in a greenhouse. Some companies set up farms in a different part of the world that have a suitable growing season. These companies then have to ship the items to your grocery store.

 What do you think happens to prices? The prices get jacked up. I do not know if you have taken a basic course in economics, but you should know that when there is less of a product, such as grapefruit, but the demand for those items is still high, producers will raise the price.

A bunch of tomatoes.

And, as we already mentioned, the producer’s costs are high.

The stores want these items in their aisles, but the producers charge a higher price. This means that the store must charge you more money.

When grapefruit is in season, there are tons and tons of different farms growing. What happens? The competition drives down the price of grapefruit. The grocers get better prices, which means they can give you better prices.

Grocery stores love to sell items that are in season because they can promote them as on sale in their ads. And this encourages you to visit the store because you want cheap groceries. See how it all works?

It's not that complicated. Sometimes, it pays to understand how the marketing works.  I hope I explained the system well enough so that you understand the system.

I am writing the article at the end of December; the season is currently winter. You may be surprised to know that there are foods in season during the winter. And if you go to the grocery store right now you will see that most of these foods are on sale.

Plan your meals, your snacks, around these in season foods and you will not pay an arm and a leg for healthy foods.  

Examples of items in season during the winter:

A few items in season during the winter are Brussels sprouts, clementines, dates, grapefruit, kale, mandarin oranges, regular oranges, passion fruit, pear, pomegranate, sweet potatoes, tangerines, turnips. All of these are in season right now. Plan some meals around them, head down to the grocery store, and save some cash.

How to figure out if a grocery item is in season:

If you are not sure whether an item is in season, check the front page of your grocery store’s coupon/sale newsletter.

I call items on the front page of a grocery ad loss leaders. These are the items that the grocery store is marking down to entice people to visit the store. This is another marketing tactic. If you checked, I would bet that you would find that grapefruits are on the front page in December. Why? Because they are in season, so the store can sell them at a great price. That is why these items are on the front page.

Takeaway: If you want to find items that are in season and aren't sure what those items are, check the front page of your weekly ad.

Foods that are always in season:

Certain foods are always in season. These foods include:

  • apples

  • avocados

  • bananas

  • bell peppers

  • celery

  • cherry tomatoes

  • coconut

  • lettuce

  • lemons

The prices of items that are always in season fluctuate up and down depending on what that specific store thinks will be a successful marketing strategy. But you can always find a store that has these items on sale.

Search around for these items until you can find the best deal. Try to incorporate these into your meals to save as much money as possible.

Is learning how to save money on groceries worth it?

I bet you are wondering whether trying these strategies is going to save you enough money to justify the effort. You are probably wondering, is shopping in season worth it?

The answer is, yes it totally is!

A girl holding strawberries.

Let’s look at a great example. Everyone loves strawberries. When strawberries are in season, I have bought them for $.99 a pound. When they are not in season, the price can rocket up to $4-$6 per pound. You are looking at a 400-600% markup on strawberries because they are out of season.

How can you get around that? When strawberries are in season, stock up and freeze them. Then you can use them throughout the year.

Saving money requires some extra planning, but when you're trying to eat healthy, lose weight, feel better, and the food bills seem a bit steep, remember that there are things you can do to save money on groceries.