Outside of housing and transportation, Americans spend more on food than any other category. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the average U.S. household shelled out $7,316 on food, including groceries and eating out.
While food is an essential expense (since we all need to eat), many of us could probably stand to spend less than what we’re currently spending on groceries, restaurants, and morning lattes.
Fortunately, with a little planning and some smart shopping hacks, you may be able to significantly cut the amount of money you spend on food but still eat well.
Here are 30 ways you can save more on your food purchases. Let’s start with the grocery store:
Saving at the Grocery Store
1. Having a Plan
Before you craft your grocery list, it’s wise to plan what meals and snacks you want to prepare for the week or weeks ahead. If you write it all down and then create your shopping list, you’re less likely to forget key items for certain recipes and you’ll know exactly what you need when you enter the store.
2. Scanning Your Fridge
While you’re making your meal plan, check your pantry and refrigerator for items you already have on hand. Not only can you avoid buying something you already have, but you may find some hidden veggies in the fridge you’d forgotten about that could otherwise spoil.
3. Going Semi-Vegetarian
Meat tends to be one of the most expensive ingredients in many meals. But there are plenty of tasty recipes out there that use other sources of protein, such as beans, eggs, and tofu. Also, don’t count out using tasty veggies or grains as the star of a dish.
Planning just one or two meatless meals each week can automatically cut your food spending — and also help you eat a little healthier.
4. Sticking to a Grocery Budget
If you don’t include your groceries in your monthly budget, you may want to consider doing so. It can help you track exactly how much you’re spending and where you can cut back (like those cookies or snacks you may not always need but are in the habit of buying).
5. Using Only Cash
Do you have trouble skipping over tasty treats and passing up deals and discounts when you’re at the grocery store? If so, you may want to consider taking only cash to the store to limit your ability to purchase items not on your grocery list.
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6. Outsmarting the Supermarket
Grocery stores use a number of marketing tricks to get shoppers to spend more. These include stocking the most expensive items on the shelves right at your eye level, using end caps to grab your attention, and placing staples like milk, eggs, and bread at the back of the store so you’re forced to pass through several aisles to get to them.
You can avoid falling for these marketing ploys by carrying a list (and sticking to it) and also by keeping your eyes on the upper and lower shelves, as this is where you’ll tend to find the more affordable brands.
7. Going Generic
Brand name products in the supermarket can often cost 35 to 45 percent more than store brands. Yet many store brands offer essentially the same quality as their brand name counterparts, and in some cases are produced at the same facilities (just packaged with a different label).
While not all store brands are built the same, it’s worth trying a few if you’re grocery shopping on a budget. If you find that you can’t tell the difference, you may be able to enjoy some solid savings.
8. Using Store Loyalty Apps
If you shop at a large grocery store chain or mass retailer, you can often get special promotions and additional savings by downloading the store’s app.
Target, Walmart, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and other major stores have apps that offer exclusive coupons to frequent shoppers. Often, taking advantage of these deals is as simply as letting the cashier scan a barcode on your phone as you’re checking out.
9. Pruning Your Produce
Before you put fruits and veggies in the plastic bag, you may want to take a moment to remove any stalks, leaves, or stems that aren’t edible. Since you’re paying by weight, anything that you remove to lower the weight lowers the price.
10. Shopping In Season
Fruits and vegetables tend to be cheaper, and also taste better when they are in season locally. While you may be able to purchase fresh strawberries year-round, they’ll likely be more expensive (and less sweet) in the winter when they’re being harvested and shipped from somewhere far away.
You can check out this seasonality chart to find out when foods are in their prime where you live, and then adjust your menu, planning accordingly.
11. Avoiding Pre-Cut Products
If you just love that bag of grated cheese, you may want to consider comparing it to the price of the non-grated block. There’s a big difference in price, and grating cheese is really not a daunting task. The same goes for pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Sure, they’re handy for snacking, but extra money in your savings account could be nicer.
12. Eating Before You Shop
Yes, this may be a common tip, but it’s a good one. Going grocery shopping while hungry can increase your chance of impulse buying. Shopping after you’ve already had a meal is a great way to keep any hunger pains from adding items to your shopping cart.
13. Keeping an Eye on Unit Price
Comparing price and value can be tough when items don’t come in the same size. When in doubt, you can always turn to unit prices, which are often listed on the shelf tag.
Unit price gives you an apples-to-apples comparison, such as ounce to ounces or liters to liters.
For example, the cheapest bottle of olive oil on the shelf might not be the best value. If you bought a larger one, it might cost a few bucks more, but its overall cost per ounce is lower, saving you more in the long run.
14. Using Rewards Credit Cards
Some credit cards offer extra cash back for groceries and even eating out. If you use one of these cards for your purchase, you could end up saving a pretty nice amount of money each month — sometimes as much as 5% depending on which card you carry.
Saving When Eating Out
15. Dining out for Lunch Instead of Dinner
Cutting down on food expenses doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your favorite restaurants. One way to get that experience for a cheaper price is to go for lunch, not dinner.
Lunch menus often offer many of the same entrees (in slightly smaller portions) for a lower price than dinner menus. You can sometimes also find affordable lunch specials or Prix fixe options.
16. Enjoying Membership Discounts
Some organizations, like AARP, offer special member discounts at many restaurants (and even at some grocery and big-box retailers). If you eat out often, the savings could add up quickly.
17. Splitting the Entree
A lot of restaurants serve portions that are far larger than what most people really need (or sometimes even want) to eat. So, instead of getting a doggy bag for your leftovers that may end up sitting forgotten in the refrigerator, consider splitting a big entree with a dining companion. Even if you start with an app or a salad, you’re probably going to see some significant savings.
18. Skipping the Cocktails & Dessert
At the end of every meal, the waiter comes back around and asks the dreaded question, “Will there be anything else?” Unless you’re going out for a special occasion and you want to splurge, you can end up saving a lot of money by skipping the alcohol and dessert, and simply requesting the final bill.
19. Looking for Special Restaurant Discounts
Restaurants sometimes provide online coupons or special deals during events like restaurant week. So, if you’re eager to try a new eatery, you may want to check out their website first for any special deals they may be offering. And keeping up with your city’s restaurant week deals and other special events can really pay off, too.
Saving When Cooking at Home
20. Cooking More Meals at Home
Restaurants typically charge around a 300% markup on the foods they serve. That means spending $30 eating out would only cost you $10 if you made it at home. Just swapping one or two restaurant meals with a home-cooked meal and/or brown-bagging lunch a few days a week, can add up to significant monthly savings.
Also, grabbing a cup of Joe every morning from the local coffee shop adds up. Consider brewing your coffee at home a few times each week to save a few dollars.
Recommended: Examining the Price of Eating at Home vs Eating Out
21. Learning How to Meal Plan
Eating out less is easier said than done. If you don’t plan meals ahead of time, you may find yourself struggling in the kitchen during mealtimes, and thus even more tempted to simply order out. To save both time and money, meal planning could be the way to go.
Meal planning entails thinking ahead and creating a menu for the week, then using your menu to create a shopping list. You don’t have to plan every meal to the letter, but picking a few simple recipes you can whip for dinner can save you from having to get take-out after a long workday.
Recommended: How Much Should I Spend on Food a Month?
22. Prepping in Advance
Bagged salads, pre-made pizzas, and cut-up fruits and vegetables can be enticing on a busy weeknight, but these conveniences come at a high markup.
If you don’t have time to slice and dice raw ingredients in the evenings after work, you may want to consider doing some meal prep for the week on Sundays.
Having your ingredients ready to go also makes it easier to throw meals together, and eating out or ordering take-out becomes less tempting.
Recommended: Does Buying in Bulk Save Money?
23. Reducing Portion Sizes
Many Americans eat more than they actually need. The average person needs about 4 ounces of protein at any given meal, so if you’re consuming more than that, you could save a lot on your overall grocery expense by cutting back.
More Ways to Save
24. Reducing Food Waste
The average household wastes 31.9% of the food it buys, according to a study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics . The total annual cost of the wasted food was estimated to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household.
Food waste is often the result of food spoiling before the household can eat it. One way to reduce how much food — and money — gets tossed into the garbage each week is to only buy what you need for the week (by meal planning and making a list). Another way is to make sure you’re storing your fresh foods properly so it lasts.
For example, you can increase the lifespan of lettuce by wrapping it in a paper towel to absorb moisture while it sits in your fridge. Also, placing herbs in a jar of water can help prevent them from wilting quickly, giving you more time to use them.
25. Taking Advantage of Rebate Apps
When you’re searching for easy ways to save money, it’s worth checking out all the many grocery rebate apps that are now available.
Apps, such as Ibotta, Receipt Hog, Checkout 51m and Fetch Rewards, will often give you cashback for things you’d purchase anyway. While rebates don’t give you a discount upfront (like a traditional coupon), you should see savings in the long run.
Some apps send checks once you reach a certain cash-back amount, such as $20.
26. Starting a Kitchen Garden
Fresh herbs at the grocery store can be expensive, and often, recipes call for only a few sprigs or leaves, leaving the rest of a purchase to go to waste.
To avoid having to buy fresh herbs at the store, you may want to consider setting up a window sill garden containing the herbs you reach for most often, such as parsley, mint, thyme, or basil.
Start-up costs are minimal, and these plants tend to be easy to grow — no green thumb required.
27. Hitting the Farmer’s Market Later in the Day
If you love shopping at the local farmer’s market but don’t enjoy the dent it makes in your wallet, you may want to consider showing up near closing time.
At the end of the day, farmers often don’t want to pack up their food and take it home with them. If you walk around and make a reasonable offer on a box of produce they have left, you might score a great deal on fresh (and delicious) fruits and veggies.
28. Watching for Seasonal Deals
After major holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Easter, you can often get good deals on holiday-related items like candy. If you don’t care about themed wrappers, you can save a nice chunk of change.
29. Shopping Online
Buying dry goods and other non-perishables online instead of at the grocery store can end up saving you a lot of money, especially if you buy in bulk sizes and get those items delivered on a regular schedule. For example, Amazon offers up to a 15% discount for consumers who schedule auto-shipments for their products.
30. Consider Subscribing to Meal Kits
If you already don’t like cooking and the cleanup that comes with it, meal kits can be a great option. And if you’re spending money eating out because you just don’t feel like cooking, they can be a great way to stick to your food budget.
With a little planning and just a few habit shifts, you may be able to slash your food bills without sacrificing quality, taste, or nutrition. The cash you free up can then be put towards savings or another financial goal.
You may find that setting up a monthly food budget — and target spending amounts per week — can also help you spend less on food. Using a money management app can help you stick to your food budget.
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