How to Spend Less On Groceries

With inflation running at historically high levels, 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. With the price of eggs up 31% over the prior year, dairy products up nearly 16%, and meats, poultry, and fish up around 9%, grocery shopping has become more akin to being on a battlefield. Each price label is yet another punishing blow. Low cost alternatives are few and far between, offering little reprieve from the inflation warfront. The era of a high grocery inflation rate is here.

Americans already spent 10% of their income on food in pre-inflationary times. Now, this burden has increased. 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 prior post, it helps you reduce your food waste. 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 in a prior post. 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 wastes around $1,800 of food per year, a family of 4 could save $7,200 simply by keeping their hard earned food from ending up in the trash.
  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 $3000 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 your food waste and “food away from home” by two-thirds each, that’s a saving of $3,200 per person for the average American. With a family of four you’re looking at nearly $13,000 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.

We know, given we’ve now covered how meal planning can both help you fight the gargantuan food waste problem and save you money, it’s a done deal. But, there are other benefits to meal planning that deserve special attention as well. For many, these will actually be the most important and persuasive aspect of the practice. Meal planning will allow you to eat tastier and healthier meals - that’ll be the topic of our next post.