How to Spend Less On Groceries

[ This article is part of our series of articles on the price of food and how to save money on groceries ]

With the price of groceries rising, trips to the grocery store have become increasingly unpleasant. Gone are the days of casually strolling the aisles, calmly perusing product offerings with a slight sense of excitement to determine exactly what might titillate your taste buds this week. Instead, sticker shock has become the norm. While the extreme inflation of 2021 and 2022, which saw the price of eggs up 31% over the course of a year, dairy products up nearly 16%, and meats, poultry, and fish up around 9%, has slowed substantially, grocery shopping can still feel like a struggle. Each price label is yet another punishing blow. Low cost alternatives are few and far between, offering little reprieve from the grocery shopping battle.

Americans already spent 10% of their income on food in pre-inflationary times. Now, this burden has increased for many. For individuals and families making less money the challenge is of course more severe, with households in the lowest 20% of the income distribution spending an average of 27% of their hard earned money on food. Given these seemingly dire straits it’s encouraging to know that some relief can be realized and it doesn’t require complex calculus, starting a side hustle, or winning the lottery. Meal planning can save you a hefty chunk of change.

Meal Planning: A Simple Solution

Meal planning saves you money in 3 main ways. First, as we discussed in our article on food waste, it helps you use up the food you buy. Second, it prevents you from buying unnecessary groceries and helps reduce impulse purchases. Finally, it makes it much more likely that you’ll eat at home more often, which reduces the amount you spend on eating out and ordering in. We’ll walk through each of these in order:

  1. Meal planning reduces food waste. We won’t belabor the point here since we’ve already covered the ways in which meal planning helps reduce food waste. The main mechanisms through which this is achieved is by reducing spoilage (food going bad) and over-preparation (cooking or serving too much). Given the average American household wastes around $1,800 of food per year, the savings can really add up.
  2. By making a thoughtful meal plan at the start of the week you’ll head to the grocery store armed and ready with your grocery list. While the sky-high, inflation-fueled prices as of late might make the grocery store feel more like a warzone, being equipped with a list of exactly what you need helps you strategically choose your battles. You’ll buy only what you need and nothing else. When you make the meal plan you also check which ingredients you already have on hand, so it’s less likely that you’ll accidentally purchase something that was already in your inventory. On top of that, a grocery list acts like a shopping sherpa, guiding you to your predefined meal plan and preventing you from going astray during the shopping journey by the allure of impulse purchases. With studies showing that up to 62% of supermarket sales can be attributed to impulse purchases, that’s a helpful tool to have as you brave the grocery store battlefield.
  3. Finally, meal planning helps you eat at home more often, which saves you money. On average Americans spend over $3500 on “food away from home” per year. Home cooked meals will almost always be more economical than food eaten outside the home. Since you’ll enter the week with a clear plan in hand it’s much easier to execute on mealtime without the ever so common and stressful “what’s for dinner” head scratcher. You’ll have all the ingredients required and can even do whatever prep is needed, so many of the common barriers to cooking at home are removed. With even a meal at a fast food restaurant now easily costing north of $10 per person, eating at home will save you more than ever before. As the saying goes “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” so stop all the last-minute grocery trips, stressful evening fretting about what’s for dinner, and night’s spent giving into your take-out, take-away, or dine-out impulses simply by doing a bit of meal planning.

When you add up all the benefits, meal planning can generate substantial savings. Assuming you cut both your food waste and “food away from home” in half, that’s a saving of $2,500 per person for the average American. With a family of four you’re looking at nearly $10,000 extra per year. That money can be used for extra vacations, to put toward a college fund, to make the holidays especially exceptional, or whatever you might like. And it’s all due to a bit of extra meal planning.

Other Ways To Spend Less On Groceries

While meal planning is likely going to be the most effective way to save money on groceries there are other tactics you can employ as well. These include:

  1. Always make a shopping list: Preparing a shopping list before going to the grocery store helps avoid impulse purchases. It also helps you be more planful about what you’re buying, so you can ensure you’re not loading up on higher priced items.
  2. Use the latest apps: There are an array of apps intended to help you save money on groceries. These include apps that offer rewards and rebates in return for submitting a picture of your receipt, couponing apps, and price comparison apps. If you’re motivated to save money it’s worth giving them a try to find out if there are any that work for you.
  3. Choose generic brands: Store-brand products are often cheaper than their branded counterparts. Many of our shopping habits are driven by momentum. We buy a certain brand simply because we always have. When was the last time you tried the lower priced alternative? Getting in the habit of comparing alternatives will lead to savings. Many generic products are just as good, or even better, than the branded counterparts. The generic brands don’t spend on sales and marketing, so you pay less at the store.
  4. Shop sales (carefully): Sales can be a great way to save, especially for staple items and items that will last a long time. Just make sure you have a plan for using up the item, since sales often lead to over-purchasing and food going to waste.
  5. Shop Seasonal: When produce is in season it’s usually more abundant, which means there’s more supply, which often drives down prices. While these days lots of produce is available year round, prices do still tend to change based on when fruits and vegetables are in season. Plus, you’ll often find in-season produce is tastier too!

With a bit of motivation and know-how you’ll find that realizing savings at the supermarket is achievable. While meal planning is the most surefire way to save, implementing only certain meal planning practices, or focusing on other tactics can yield great results as well. Once you find what works for you, it’ll be no time before you achieve your goal to spend less on groceries.

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Are you interested in reducing your food waste, saving time, and money? Check out our app. We create personalized meal plans that consider your budgetary, dietary, taste, and cooking preferences, incorporate ingredients you have on hand, and generate easy to use grocery lists that don’t break the bank.

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