As we enter Summer 2022, with inflation at an all-time high and the cost of fuel setting new records daily, we are constantly looking for ways to save money on our most predictable costs. One of the most consistent expenses for any family is grocery shopping. Here are the top 5 ways to save money at the cash register when shopping for food.
1. Know what to buy.
The first and easiest way to save money is to have a list of what you’re shopping for. This sounds easy enough but can require a lot of thinking. Be sure to include regular items your family needs, like toilet paper or breakfast items, as well as the food you want them to eat this week for meals and snacks. Meal planning can be daunting, so start slowly. Plan simple meals you know your family loves, or simple low-prep foods. Having a list will help you know what to purchase, curb impulse buys, and help cut down food waste.
2. Know where to buy.
Once you know what your family wants to eat, it’s important to know where you want to shop. Some stores are more expensive than others. Know what items are the best in each of your favorite stores. For example, as a family of 5, I know we can reliably get the majority of our produce from a big discount store like Costco or Sam’s. Lower-cost stores might not always have the same quality in items like produce and meat. With grocery costs being at an all-time high, be intentional about using your dollars for quality items, otherwise, the dollars you save might buy food that goes in the trash in two days.
3. Know when to buy.
Learn what’s in season in your area. Typically, foods like melons or berries are better in the spring and summer. Apples and pumpkins are ripe in the fall. Cranberries are best during freezing months. Shopping for out-of-season items is a sure-fire way to hike the price of your grocery bill. Depending on where you live, you may be able to grow some of your products or even shop from a local farmer’s market. You can even buy some in bulk for some items and then preserve them (think canning, drying, or freezing) for use later in the year. The more you know about how, when, and where different foods are from, the better prepared you’ll be for choosing budget-friendly options at the store. In addition, pay attention to sales on your favorite items. We once had steak go on sale from $13.99/lb to $5.99/lb., better believe we found a way to put the steak on our menu that week!
4. Which to buy.
Food companies have marketing departments too, and their job is to get you to buy their product. It’s not personal, it’s business. However, food marketing can get very confusing when there are so many terms being used: non-GMO, organic, no sugar added, gluten-free, dairy-free, no artificial sweeteners, low fat, low sugar, high in fiber… the list goes on. Take the time to learn about some of these terms, as well as where they fit in your family’s health goals. For example, organic produce from another country has traveled farther and caused more pollution than say, a conventionally grown item at the local farmer’s market. Know what causes you’re willing to spend more money on, and then make those decisions with confidence. Don’t be fooled by fancy marketing or higher price tags. Educate yourself, and vote with your dollars.
5. How to buy.
In addition to the tips above, explore different options for some of your favorite recipes and food items. For example, chicken thighs are often higher in iron and cheaper than chicken breasts, but cook up very similarly in a dish. If you’re adding vegetables to casseroles or soups, consider buying the frozen, and usually significantly cheaper, varieties. Fruit added to smoothies can be frozen instead of fresh as well, you can even thaw overnight in the fridge or for 30 minutes on the counter if you prefer a softer, juicier texture. Many cuts of meat have comparable, budget-friendly alternatives. Quinoa is a popular grain lately, but the nutrition facts for quinoa are very comparable to a cheaper option like brown rice (like, $1 vs. $6). Amazon offers a subscribe and save option, with a discount, which is a great choice for recurring purchases like granola bars or diapers. Sometimes even buying a store brand of an item can help save money for a comparable item. Pay attention to what items are costing the most, and start looking for budget-friendly alternatives.
Bottom line, if you’re feeling the weight of the elevated grocery prices, start exploring what changes you can make. Start with any one of these tips, even in a small way, to make a big difference in your family’s finances. Continue layering on small changes that feel achievable, and before you know it, it’ll be a regular part of your family’s routine.
Heather Campbell, RD, founder of Glory Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian, mom of 3, military spouse, and a family and child nutrition expert with over a decade of experience in the field. You can learn much more from Heather on her website.