The 8 Best Grocery Budget Tips We Picked Up This Year
If there’s one thing that never gets old, it’s finding new ways to save on groceries. While prices have remained stubbornly high for most of the year, these tried-and-true tactics, like how to avoid paying full price, where to spot deals in unexpected places, or even why it’s worth it to grocery shop while on vacation (spoiler: you’ll save hundreds), helped stretch our grocery dollars and keep our budget in check. Here are the best budget tips we’ve picked up from 2023.
1. Understand unit prices.
Learning how to read unit labels is the easiest (and fastest) way to compare prices while shopping. It’s all about that smaller number (aka the unit price) on retail shelf price tags. That number tells you the price per ounce/pound/liter you’ll pay for a package. It’s there to help you compare products when they come in different-sized packages. It basically breaks down the cost per cookie when you’re looking at two packages — say, one with 24 cookies and the other with 12 — so you can find the better buy without doing any math.
2. Buy the store brand (almost) exclusively.
You’ve probably heard us sing the praises of several store brands (looking at you Aldi, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Target, and more). They’re really good and generally less expensive than their name-brand counterparts. For frequent shoppers, like Morgan, store brands now make up the majority of what’s in her cart each week: “I go for the store brand for everything, except milk and bread.”
3. Keep a lookout for cheap storage organizers.
Did you know the grocery store is actually a smart stop for kitchen storage organizers? While it’s easy to spot stacks of zip-top containers in their usual grocery aisle, these storage organizers — snack towers, reusable sandwich bags, sink caddies — are scattered throughout the store and in some of the least expected places. (We’re still wondering why an avocado pod is hanging next to the rice.) Plus, it turns out if you’re patient (or lucky), you can actually snag great buys when storage pieces are on sale.
4. Shop your local bakery for bread.
After this price-conscious shopper noticed bread had become one of the most expensive items she purchased (it quickly traveled from $4.99 to $5.99, to now $6.99), she started brainstorming alternatives. Making bread from scratch each week would be the cheapest swap, but it wasn’t a realistic solution for her busy lifestyle. The next best option, she discovered, was her local bakery. “I save a dollar or two each week, and I love that my money goes directly back to my community and this little bakery that I’ve grown to love.”
5. Create your own price index.
You can learn a lot just by tracking the prices of your weekly staples and creating your own price index. If you shop at multiple stores, you can compare which one has the cheapest prices and make that store your first — or only — stop. After a few weeks, you might even notice a pattern in the markdowns, so you can stock up when items go on sale and avoid paying full price. You can also decide if it makes more sense (cents?) to pass on certain products, like yogurt, peanut butter, and muffins from the store, and make (or grow!) them at home for less.
6. Reconsider the expiration date.
Did you know that most grocery products are generally safe to eat past their “sell by” or “best buy” date? Or that they can be frozen for consumption later? The date printed on food packaging merely suggests when it’s best to consume for quality rather than safety, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). So think twice before you toss that lingering can of beans, jar of sauce, or even nub of cheese. Chances are it’s still edible. And if you’re unsure how long to keep certain foods past their best-by date, refer to StillTasty’s Ultimate Shelf-Life Guide for help.
7. Grocery shop — even on vacation.
Grocery shopping on vacation may sound like the opposite of a getaway to some, but it can save you hundreds of dollars on meals and in-between bites. Take this savvy shopper, who ordered grocery delivery, including breakfast items, snacks, and other essentials, right to her hotel room. It ended up saving her family more than $300 during a recent trip to Disney World. We think Mickey would approve.
8. Never pay full price at Target.
Leave it to a professional couponer to find creative ways to avoid paying full price on a Target run. First up: Download the Target Circle app (it’s your entryway to every deal and discount within the walls of Target — including ones hidden in plain sight!). You can also follow savings hashtags on social media, learn markdown rotations, and create accounts for multiple family members (so you can stack coupons and savings).
Let us know some of your favorite money-saving tips in the comments!