How To Save Money On Groceries

While reviewing my budget spreadsheet recently I noticed that our grocery bill has really been creeping upwards lately.  I realize the cost of food has increased and, now there are only the two of us at home, we tend to buy more convenience and semi-luxury items, but it still seems too high.

I’m determined to save money on groceries by cutting at least 25% off our monthly grocery bill, and I have to convince my husband to get on board since he does the grocery shopping.

Related: Ways To Save Money

He’s not usually too co-operative with my money saving plans.

How To Save Money On Groceries

The problem with grocery stores is there are too many temptations.  There are overwhelmingly too many choices.  One store near us has the bakery right next to the entrance another has the floral department.

Then there are the sample tables.  It’s hard to get out without a floral centerpiece, a dozen donuts and a family sized package of delicious “home-made” lasagna.  Then there’s the final battle at the checkout line with all the magazines, chocolate bars and impulse items.  You need to focus!

A major marketing strategy used by grocery stores is the endcap. This is the set of shelves at the end of the aisle used to display popular and flyer-featured items.  One thing you need to be aware of is that these items are often not on sale, and if they are they may not always be the best bargain.

A second strategy utilized by grocery stores is placing a common item – say coffee – in the middle of the aisle, so that you have to walk past the cookies, chocolate syrup and acai berry juice.

Companies pay a premium to get their products displayed at eye level so that customers will see them first.  The problem is that they usually are a higher price.  When looking for the better deal, look high and low for similar products that cost less.

It’s no accident that the most shopped for items are located at the opposite corners of the store.  The purpose is to get customers to walk through the entire store for their three items, inevitably picking up two or nine other items along the way that they don’t need.

Store Flyers

Store flyers are released each week, letting shoppers know what is on sale in the store that week.  One feature that is pretty consistent for all grocery stores is that the products with the best sale prices will be on the front page.  Be aware that not all the products in the flyer are on sale.  They are known as featured products, but they are at the regular price.

Grocery List

Create a shopping list.  The reason is twofold.  The first is that you will forget something that you need if it’s not written down.  The second is that you want to buy only what you need for the week (or month, or whatever time period) without randomly adding products to your cart.  This is essential if you want to save money on groceries.

I make my grocery list based on sales in the store flyer, my meal plan and what I already have stored in the cupboards and fridge.   This prevents me from coming home with the third bottle of ketchup that I forgot I already bought on a previous trip.  It also prevents those quick trips to the store for a single ingredient you need for your meal.  My husband is always running off to the store for something like a bunch of cilantro and it inevitably turns into a mini-shopping spree.

Occasionally I will come up short an ingredient when I’m cooking and it gives me an opportunity to be creative with substitutions – or eliminate it altogether.  I think of a recipe as an inspirational guide.  My husband regards a recipe as a strict how-to plan.

Product Markdowns

All stores have a cycle of when they put their products on sale – often every three months or so.  There’s not really much point in multiple store shopping unless they are all close or you’ll be in the area anyway.  I’ve started a price book so I will know when there’s a good deal.

Look for “product markdowns” on items in every department where the price has been reduced for quick sale.  They can be for meat or dairy close to their expiry date, produce that is getting too ripe, packages that have been crushed or something that’s just not selling fast enough.  I used to be a bit squeamish about it, but now I check the quality of the product and decide whether I can freeze it or use it right away.

To Coupon or Not to Coupon

There are two mindsets about using coupons – well three really:

  1. Some people never use them.  They would rather save money on groceries by buying the store brands and items on sale.  They never see coupons for items they like and they often are on packaged, processed food – often sugary cereal.
  2. Some people will use a coupon if they have one (and remember to use it) but don’t go to any trouble to get them.  This would be me.  There’s not much opportunity in Canada to save a great deal with our prices and store policies.
  3. Some people go to great lengths to find, clip, organize and manage their coupons.  They use them in conjunction with sale prices and stock up and sometimes get items for free.

If you want to check out some coupon sites try Grocery Alerts, BrandSaver.ca and Coupons.ca to get you started.

In Conclusion

One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to know how to cook.  We’ve been led to believe it’s hard and/or time consuming but it isn’t.  A meal of fresh ingredients is much better than the salt, sugar and preservative laden fare you get in packaged meals.  Double or triple some recipes to freeze so you’ll have something on a hectic day.

Use the products you’ve bought previously that are stored in your cabinets and freezer, and then make a list of anything else you may need.  Try to shop around the perimeter of the store where the fresh food is located with only a few forays down the aisles for certain canned or packaged products.

Finally, use only cash.  Then you’ll be sure to not overspend when you are only carrying a certain amount.


26 Responses to How To Save Money On Groceries

  1. Flyers, markdowns, coupons…we have none of them here in Thailand. On the other hand the stores here also have no idea about product placement so that temptation is gone. We also have a multitude of fresh markets for fruits, veggies, seafood and meats so the total cost of food here is much lower than it was in the U.S.

    One funny thing I did find in a grocery store the other day was grapes. How are grapes funny you might ask? The funny thing is when I was living in the U.S. every grape I ever bought (to the best of my knowledge) was a product of Chile. Here in Thailand the grapes are…you guessed it, a product of the U.S.

    • @Money Infant: I would love to live in a place with access to fresh markets. Unfortunately where I live we have about a 2 month growing season and practically everything is shipped in and we pay the price.
      I know what you mean about the grapes. I live in cattle country and our beef is imported from the US or even Australia and South America. When I go elsewhere all I see is Alberta beef at half the price. Go figure.

  2. The prices of some products has been outrageous in terms of increases. They will also raise prices by shrinking product package sizes, so you might pay the same for a basket of groceries, but you’ll have to re-stock on items faster than before, which ultimately in the end will cost you more.

    • @Money Beagle: I wrote a post on the Incredible Shrinking Package a while ago. Judging from the comments some people think I’m a few grams short of a basket.

  3. Great post. Cooking ahead is a great idea – I try to do one big meal each weekend, and it lasts for 3-4 weeks (eating it once a week). I appreciate the coupon links, I’ll have to check them out. I completely agree that we don’t have the coupon opportunities in Canada that exist in Thailand (I read some American blogs too, and am always amazed at notes like “I haven’t paid for toothpaste etc. in years).

    • @Ellen: The problem is our prices are so high in Canada so I don’t think you save much with coupons. For example, if you get a 50 cent coupon for Colgate toothpaste, the regular price in the States is $1 and here it’s $3 so even if the grocery store doubles or triples the coupon value (and I’ve never seen that here) we’re still paying more and will rarely (if ever) get it free.

    • @Marianne: Thanks for the link. I recently heard that March is frozen food month and the Lenten season (the period roughly before Easter) has reduced fish prices, so I’m going to check that out this month to see if it’s true.
      It’s a good idea to regularly check the pantry and freezer for those items we’ve long forgotten about.

  4. Being a determined, and ‘pescatarian’ (is that the word for fish meat only?), healthy eater for years, it is easy to avoid the bakery, prepared and junk aisles. I would recommend that people read up on factory farming, and trans fats, and other dangers of putting bad fuel in your engine. Totally brainwash yourself into healthy eating! Read Fast Food Nation, Diet For a New America, Righteous Pork Chop, and take a good hard look at any factory farming videos you can come across. They will cure you of your expensive meat habits. A great book for figuring out what TO eat once you are not eating all that garbage, is ‘World’s Healthiest Foods’, by George Mat.. can’t spell his last name. It has fast easy recipes for each of the 100 or so healthiest foods in the grocery store. I had it open last night as I cooked up some herring for the first time ever. Now, as for paying cash, I would recommend getting an MBNA Dividend Mastercard – the very one that was recommended by B&E a few months ago. I got one and am still on my 6 months of 6% back on groceries, then it goes to 3%. Have not received my first $50 cheque though, and that should be coming soon. Lastly, watch for cash back rewards for spending and do your big shopping them. Up here it is $25 back for spending $250, when the deal is on. Good luck and healthy eating to you all!

    • @sr: Even without going vegetarian (or pescatarian) North Americans could reduce their meat consumption drastically. Both US and Canadian Food Guides recommend an average of 6 oz of meat (and alternatives) a day – not this, and more, per meal!
      You can find a guide for personal daily recommendations by plugging in your age, weight, activity level, etc at Health Canada – Canada Food Guide – http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  5. Thanks for the mention! We enjoy using coupons but we really don’t use coupons for many pre-packaged foods.

    I also agree with you in terms of making more food at home (i.e. freezer cooking).

    With our baby scheduled to arrive (next month), we have started to make freezer meals to save us from using pre-packaged foods.

    We also find the slow-cooker to be a great tool. It lets you make larger meals and you don’t have to slave over the stove to prepare. It is incredible some of the results you get with a slow cooker.

  6. I choose to coupon. Since I began couponing almost 2 years ago, I have increased my savings by 30-40%. I watch grocery store sales and look for coupons to go along with the items on sale. This way, i get double savings. Also, I refuse to buy a $3 newspaper on Sunday because I get so many coupons that go to waste. Instead, I take my $3 and shop at a coupon clipping service where I can get numerous coupons for the items I want at a fairly cheap clipping fee. I use Palmetto Coupon Clippers…

    http://www.PalmettoCouponClippers.com

  7. What I’ve found helpful in making my shopping trips count, is to print out my own grocery list, using the same store layout as the supermaket I shop at most. This way I shop the perimeter of the store and avoid the trap set by wandering into the pop/popcorn aisles.
    During the week I circle the items that I need, thus avoiding the cache of 6 bottles of ketchup at home!

  8. I never thought to keep track of the cost so to know when to buy more when it is cheaper or on sale, great idea.

  9. I totally agree that the best way to save your food shopping dollars is to learn how to cook. There’s a big conspiracy out there to convince YOU that cooking is difficult and horribly time consuming. NOT true! I get so angry when I see commercials that show woman chopping potatoes in the middle of a Board meeting – message being that preparing potatoes takes too long. Ridiculous! Or the tiny packages of rice and food additives, ready to pop into the microwave. Cooking ordinary rice takes what? 12 minutes at most.

    When looking at food at the store – think in terms of paying for the food itself, NOT for a bunch of so called value added labour. Ask yourself if this is the most “basic” form of this food that you can buy. Plain rice, pasta, etc. are not that expensive – it’s all the silly little add-ins that bring up the cost. Plain vegetables, meats, are also not out of reach – it’s the extra labour that costs!

  10. Did you perchance listen to the terry O’Reilly, age of persuasion episode, 3 foot marketing? I love his show so much and he talks about all three grocery store aspects you mentioned.

    • @Emma: I don’t know the program you mention. I’ll admit that these ideas are not new by any means. They just don’t seem to be implemented by many people.

  11. I like the website http://www.mrsjanuary.com
    She gets the flyers, and the coupons that are available via the internet (for Ontario/Canada), then matches them up. So you get the best deals and which coupons to use with them for even more savings. This is posted on Thursday so we get a heads up before shopping on Saturday.

    I really like it when she does her shopping at Walmart, takes a picture and explains her out of pocket breakdown.

    The price matching used to make me nervous when I was at the cashier. But I see from the comments on her blog that everyone feels that when when starting out. DH’s seem to be the last to convert to coupon using.

  12. I don’t cut coupons but I do look for sales and stock up when I see them. It does lead to some significant savings. But, my insurance for saving the most money is buying in bulk and making staples at home.

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