Most of our lives revolve around food and eating. We dream about our favorite foods, share recipes with friends and family and look forward to our next meal. So it’s not surprising that groceries make up a large part of any budget. With good planning, it is possible to save a lot on groceries allowing you to put that money towards a special evening with your spouse, a getaway week-end, a new outfit or anything that is important to you. As always, the idea is to cultivate the spirit of saving to be able to save money without feeling a big sacrifice.
Here are a few tricks I follow to save money on our grocery budget. We spend about 350$/month on groceries for two, which covers all of our food costs as we make all our meals at home and rarely eat out. That comes out to 6$/day each! Read Cost of meals at home vs at a restaurant to see just how much you can save by eating at home.
1. Shop based on the weekly flyer
When trying to save money on groceries, flyers need to be your best friend! As I described in my meal planning post, I use Rebee, a great app for weekly flyers. You can easily look through flyers for all the stores around you. Not only can the flyers give you ideas for meals using discounted ingredients, but you can also search through the various flyers to find where an ingredient you want or need to buy is on sale. For example, if you find turkey on sale, you may want to buy a box of stuffing. Simply search the app for stuffing to see where it is on sale.
Some things to note about flyers is that often, items on the first page are loss-leaders, items on which the stores loose money in an attempt to attract customers. These are often good buys if they are things you usually buy. Another way of knowing if something is a good deal is when stores put a limit on the number of an item you can buy. Finally, it is important to note that just because something appears in the flyer, it is not always on sale. Some stores will show their “everyday low prices” in their flyers, these often appear in the middle pages of the flyer. The more you watch prices, the better you will get at knowing what is a good deal or not.
When shopping using flyer, you may find that to buy all the sale items on your list you have to go to 3-4 stores. That is when you should take advantage of price-matching policies of stores such as Maxi. You can buy all the sale items and simply show the item on sale in a flyer to get the matched sales price without needing to tour multiple grocery stores.
2. Compare the price per weight
When in the store, it’s easy to rely on the package price when looking for an item. It is often misleading because the packages have different sizes. Many grocery stores make your job easier by posting the price per 100g or 100ml at the bottom of the price tag on the shelf. This way you can compare apples with apples when trying to see what the best deal is. Most often the larger packages have the lowest price per weight, but sales may sometimes make smaller packages become more advantageous.
3. Buy in season
Fruits and vegetables that are in season will often be much cheaper and more flavorful, than buying out of season produce that was picked before ripening and having traveled from far away. Local strawberries bought during the summer will always be more delicious than berries bought in January.
Try to inspire your menu with seasonal meals. In the Summer you can indulge on fresh fruits and vegetables at low cost as they can be grown locally. In the winter, turn to hearty root vegetables that are delicious with roasts or stews. Check the seasonal cooking series for inspiration of meals to use low cost seasonal ingredients.
4. Buy in bulk
Buying in large quantities will nearly always lead to lower cost per item or per weight. This is why many people choose to shop at bulk stores such as Costco. You do not however need to pay for a membership to take advantage of bulk pricing. When at the store, simply look for the larger packages. When these items go on sale you will be getting an even better deal than at Costco!
Bulk stores such as Bulk Barn or others where you can buy nuts, grains and other items by weight will often also be cheaper than packaged alternatives at the store, as there is less packaging and less handling by the manufacturer.
Of course, buying in bulk is only advantageous if you use it all. As such, it is more useful for non-perishable foods and household items like toilet paper, soaps, etc. It is also easy to split larger packages among friends or family members to take advantage of the price without being stuck with a year’s worth of supplies!
5. Don’t throw food out
There’s nothing that I hate more than pulling out containers and bags of un-used food from the fridge at the end of a week. Partly because of the smell and ick factor, but also because I am throwing money into the garbage.
If you stick to a proper meal plan, you should not have too much extra food left over at the end of the week. If you do see that there is something that wasn’t used or that there is too much of, there are a few alternatives: eat it, use it or freeze it. For example, if I have too many bananas left at the end of the week, I could either eat them as a snack, use them in baking or freeze them for smoothies or baking at a later date. Most foods can be incorporated into a meal or frozen and kept for a later date. Salads, omelettes, pizzas and stir-fry’s are great ways to use up leftover ingredients.
Last week, I had a bag of beets that had been in the fridge for a few weeks. There were too many to eat before they went bad, so we decided to make pickled beets to enjoy all year long!
6. Plan your meals
As I described in detail in a previous post, meal planning is an excellent way to save money by carefully planning meals based on specials and prevents impulse buys from multiple trips to the grocery store.
7. Use the freezer
My freezer is probably the most useful appliance in my kitchen. Many people under-estimate the power of the freezer to save money. My freezer is always full! When I do the groceries, I put all the meats I buy into the freezer if I am not going to eat them within a day or two. This prevents waste if my plans happen to change throughout the week. It also allows me to buy meats when they are on sale to have when I want them. I often buy minced beef on sale in bulk and split it into smaller bags for individual meal use. I’ve also bought a filet mignon roast on sale and made 10-15 individual steaks we froze and took out to enjoy on the BBQ all summer! All you need to do is take out the meat you need the night before and thaw it in the fridge.
Once you take your meat out and cook your meal, the freezer’s job is not done. We package leftovers in single serving containers and freeze them. We can then take out a container for lunch everyday without having the same meal everyday. This also prevents leftovers from going bad in the fridge before they can be eaten.
Finally, as mentioned above, the freezer also comes in handy when trying to save items instead of throwing them out.
One thing to keep in mind when using the freezer is that you have to regularly use the items you freeze to avoid frostbite. A smaller freezer helps avoid this by preventing you from stocking it too much. When our freezer gets too full, we’ll plan to make all our meals from items in the freezer for a week!
8. Grow your own food
Although this may not be for everyone, if you have the space and the willingness, growing a garden is a great pastime and also allows you to save on your grocery bills. I typically grow cherry tomatoes and herbs in my garden and then experiment with different other vegetables. Even when in season, cherry tomatoes are on the expensive side at the store. Since we love these tiny tomatoes in meals and salads or even as a snack, we find that growing our own can provide us with tastier and cheaper tomatoes than those found at the store.
Growing herbs is quite effortless for high yields. Basil, for example, can be thrown into sauces, used on a tomato and mozzarella salad or made into pesto to enjoy fresh or frozen to enjoy throughout the year. Excess herbs can also be dried and stored for use until the next summer, or you can bring the plants indoor to continue harvesting fresh herbs for your meals.
I could go on for ages about all the things you can grow on your own, but as long as you grow things you and your family enjoy you will be on your way to saving money!
9. Prepare your own food
As I discussed in The Cost of Meals at Home vs at a Restaurant, preparing your own food is much cheaper than having someone prepare it for you. Taking it one step further, even when making your own food, you can save money by avoiding prepared foods at the grocery store such as frozen meals, pre-marinated meats, pre-cooked BBQ chicken, grated cheeses and pre-washed salad.
Of course, this all depends where you’re starting from. If you are used to eating out, then buying these prepared items will save you money compared to what you’re used to paying at a restaurant, but making your own marinades, grating your own cheese or washing your own lettuce will let you save even more!
10. Match coupons with sales
One of my favorite websites, On Magasine, updates their page weekly with a list of store sales with which you can match coupons to save even more. The site also lists where the coupons can be found, whether it is on tear-pads in store, online or in flyers. Although I do not put much effort towards hunting down coupons, I do periodically scan the online coupon sites and take tear-pad and flyer coupons for items I typically buy and keep them until I can match them with a sale. Although it is rare, it has happened that I’ve gotten something free by matching coupons with sales.
11. Shop the store brand
The store brand is often just as good as the name brand items when it comes to food. It is often the same formulation in different packaging. The lack of name brand, however, lowers the price tag which is beneficial for us all! You may prefer to stick to the name brand for things like peanut butter or Nutella, but for many items, you will not see the difference!
12. Don’t be picky
When trying to save money, especially on groceries, flexibility is key. Being flexible allows you to modify your meals and snacks to include items that are cheaper or on sale.
Bonus: Never (almost!) buy full price
When I was young, I remember someone telling me that you should never buy anything full price. I thought it was crazy and un-reasonable on the spot. Those words have however stuck in my head and with time I have come to understand them. If we are patient, resourceful and flexible, there is not much that we should need to pay full price for. We can stock up on things with coupons or when they are in season or on sale, we can price-match or buy in bulk and we can buy the cheapest brands. There is no real reason to buy the name brands at full price. Keeping this mantra in mind will help you navigate your shopping trips and lead you to save money!
These are many different tips to save on your grocery bill and may be overwhelming when starting out. You may need to pick one or two to start and keep coming back to find new ideas as you integrate these tips into your routine!
Do you have any grocery shopping money saving tricks? Share in the comments below!Share this post!