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No one really knows why St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of grocers, but a lot of us might want to invoke his aid these days.
A new Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans – 63% – say they are changing their eating habits in response to historic inflation rates and their effects on grocery prices. Hit hardest are women under 40 (73%) and families with children — with 72% changing their habits to accommodate higher prices for basics such as eggs, milk, butter, and bacon.
So we’re dining out less and cooking at home more. And while we’re at it, we’re looking for ways to stretch every dollar at the grocery store.
I’ve been a homemaker long enough to have figured out plenty of tips and tricks for saving money on groceries. I’ve even given presentations on the topic.
So in this time when we’re looking for hacks to save money at the grocery store, I’m happy to share everything I’ve learned with you.
1Choose your store with care
If you know me, you know my love for ALDI. Honestly, I feel grateful for the role this humble budget grocery store has played in my life.
When I became a stay-at-home mom at age 24, and my young family was suddenly living on one income, I had to quickly figure out how to stretch every dollar in our food budget. I joked at the time that shopping at ALDI made it possible for me to become a stay-at-home mom.
But it wasn’t entirely a joke. The prices there are usually the best you can find anywhere, without sacrificing quality. Yes, you have to bag your own groceries and bring a quarter for your cart. But it’s worth becoming an ALDI regular to see your grocery bill drop by half.
2Make a realistic meal plan you can stick to
You’ve probably heard the advice to meal plan, but it’s not that simple. There’s some strategy involved to decide what’s on your meal plan and how it all fits together.
But once you start meal planning every week, it will change your life. You’ll wonder how you ever did without it.
Meal planning just makes life so much easier. I promise. And you save so much money at the store because every ingredient has a purpose in your plan instead of just buying random things that you might not actually get around to using.
So here’s what you need to do: First, look at what you already have. Does that head of broccoli in the fridge need to be used up? Do you have a box of pasta already in the pantry? Start with meals planned around what you have on hand.
Now give some thought to what you have coming up this week and how to fit cooking around that. If you have an evening activity, go for a slow cooker meal or something you can quickly reheat. And remember your energy may wane later in the week. It’s tempting to put elaborate recipes on your meal plan every night, but if you’re anything like me, you are not going to be in a mood to babysit an entree for hours at 6 p.m. on a Friday.
As you choose meals, think about how you can reuse the same ingredients later. Perhaps you are making rice and chicken tikka masala one night. If you make double the rice, you can use half to make fried rice later. And if you use half a pack of chicken for the tikka masala, the rest of the chicken can be used in chicken fajitas another night. You get the idea. Think ahead to save a cooking step later in the week.
When all else fails, always keep a frozen pizza on hand for emergencies. Frozen pizza is much cheaper than takeout on a night when you absolutely cannot cook!
3Shop the perimeter
Have you ever noticed that the healthiest “whole foods” in grocery stores are all around the edges of the store? Fruits, vegetables, meats, etc., line the perimeter, while highly processed foods fill the central aisles.
Whole foods are often less expensive than processed foods, so stick to the perimeter of the store for an easy way to remember to save money.
There is a common misconception that it’s expensive to eat in a healthy way, but many of the cheapest items at the grocery store are also the healthiest. I’m thinking of basic unprocessed foods like apples, potatoes, beans, bananas, rolled oats, canned fish, eggs, and cabbage.
However, there is the real problem that these things often take more time and energy to prepare, and time and energy are in short supply for many people. So it’s not simple. But in general, you’ll save money sticking to the perimeter of the store.
4Eat before you shop
This sounds so silly, but it turns out that hunger makes you more likely to impulse-buy and overspend. Having a meal or snack before you head out to do the grocery shopping really does help you make better decisions!
While you’re at it, this might be the perfect time to say a quick prayer for prudence and creativity. If you get to the store and find that a key ingredient is out of stock, a little creative thinking can help you salvage the meal plan with a different idea.
5Compare prices between stores and brands
The idea of comparing prices used to seem overwhelming to me. How was I supposed to remember how much things cost at different stores?
The truth is that comparing prices starts to become second nature after a few weeks of thoughtful grocery shopping. After buying your regular items several times, you get an almost intuitive sense for what they usually cost.
And even if you can’t remember prices from store to store, you can compare within the store itself. Often, generic brands and store labels are much cheaper than “name brand” products, without any difference in quality. It’s a savvy move to fill your cart with generic brands!
6Consider doing drive-up or store pick-up
So you’ve got a good thing going with your meal planning and price comparing and maybe even ALDI shopping. But then you walk into the store and see that they’ve got a crazy deal on some last-chance items. And next thing you know it, you’ve walked out with a six-person camping tent, two air mattresses, and a dozen decorative lanterns.
The easiest way to prevent these impulse buys? Pick up your groceries without going into the store. Most stores offer some kind of drive-up or pick-up or delivery service. These options can save you a lot of money if you or your spouse is prone to unfortunate impulse buys.
7Make as much from scratch as is reasonable and cost-effective
You often hear advice to “make food from scratch!” as a way to save money. But it’s not that simple; some foods are actually cheaper to buy ready-made (butter, for example). Most meats and vegetables are cheaper to make for yourself, though, so this is a great place to start.
8Buy some produce frozen and the rest in season
Frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh and just as healthy, so they are a nutritious and cost-effective option. They’re also super quick and easy to cook! I like to use frozen spinach in soups and frittatas, and frozen broccoli mixed in to stretch Korean beef bowl.
For everything else, buying produce when it’s in season allows you to get the best possible deal. You might also consider signing up for a CSA box, a monthly subscription for seasonal fruits and vegetables directly from the farm. CSA boxes can be a very cost-effective way to get high-quality produce.
9Stretch your meat
Quality meat is delicious and healthy, but let’s face it, it’s often expensive. It might help to think of meat more as a side dish or condiment and less as an entree.
Stretching your meat with beans, lentils, mushrooms, and other less-expensive foods helps save money (and gets more vegetables on your plate!). You might also try meatless versions of foods you already love. I’ve had success with lentil bolognese, lentil curry, and mushroom burgers.
I hope this helps! Happy shopping, cooking, and eating!