9 Small Changes Shoppers Are Making to Keep Their Grocery Bills in Check

published Feb 25, 2023
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Woman checking the bill when paying at a supermarket
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Have you made any adjustments to your grocery shopping lately? Maybe you have a new go-to grocery store, or you changed how you meal plan. Maybe you stopped buying items with higher markups and started making those items at home. Maybe you only shop online now.

As grocery prices remain (stubbornly!) high, even some of the most budget-minded shoppers — and recent Grocery Diaries participants — are searching for fresh ways to save money and stretch their dollars from week to week. Fortunately for all of us, they found some! Here are nine ways these shoppers are keeping their budgets in check.

1. Shop meat for the freezer.

Elizabeth noticed her nearby grocery stores regularly have buy-one, get-one-free sales on meat like chicken breast and ground turkey or beef. These deals don’t happen every week, as she points out, so when she spots them she takes advantage. So she’ll buy two and freeze one to use in the near future. “Even if I didn’t plan to use ground turkey that week, I’ll still buy it and get the second free, and then just freeze them both,” she says. It helps cut down on the next week’s bill. And to keep up-to-date on what’s actually in your freezer, use this super-simple freezer inventory system.

Credit: Patty Catalano

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 and, for Morgan, they 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.” Elizabeth also started buying more store-brand items, including oats, cereal, chicken, and beef.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. Double the recipe.

“I’ve started planning every dinner to be eaten twice,” says Bridget. She and her boyfriend “don’t mind eating leftovers,” and, she adds, “it’s so much easier to make four servings of everything — cooking for two can be an absolute pain.” As a bonus, she’s not making dinner every night and has more time (and energy!) to make basic staples she’s stopped buying at the grocery store (more on that below).

4. Make the same thing twice.

Speaking of doubling up! Elizabeth has been rotating her “common meals” more frequently to use up the rest of the ingredients. She used to make taco bowls once a month, but she’s now upped that to twice a month. That way items like flour tortillas, cheese, and more don’t end up in the trash instead of in her taco bowl. She also likes that she doesn’t have to think about making a whole new meal that may require her to buy more ingredients.

5. If something is too pricey, make it at home.

Bridget has been making her own yogurt for a long time to stretch her grocery budget. (It’s way less intimidating than it sounds! Just ask Nicole.) And recently she added other staples that she used to buy “out of convenience” to her make-at-home list, like peanut butter. “I have a Ninja Blender and I just throw peanuts in there; it takes three minutes and then I have peanut butter,” she says. In the last few months, she’s also started making sour cream and baked goods, like English muffins and scones, to stash in the freezer.

Credit: Thomas Hoerup

6. Shop when it’s the least busy.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Merlin is the former camp, which is why she shops early on Saturday. “It gives me more time to look at things and I’m not dealing with the stress of having to stay out of, or getting in, people’s way,” she says. She’s able to pay closer attention, so she’s not accidentally purchasing organic, which is more expensive, adding a carton with cracked eggs to her cart, or missing out on savings opportunities. Not sure when your store is the least busy? Here’s an easy way to find out.

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7. Stick to the one-store strategy.

Do you shop hop from store to store? If so, you might want to consider picking a single grocery store for your weekly shops. Bridget has cut back on visiting multiple stores as much as possible (she’ll occasionally go to a second store when she gets coupons sent to her in the mail for items she knows she needs). Not only does she spend less time (and gas!) driving around, but she’s also way less likely to add eye-catching odds and ends into her cart.

Credit: Getty Images | Westend61

8. Stay out of the grocery store altogether.

Another way to keep impulse buys at bay? Don’t enter the store in the first place! It’s been working for Morgan, who stopped going into her local Safeway. Instead, she orders her groceries in the store’s app and then picks them up. “I think that has saved me money because I’m not just grabbing things off the shelf.” (Just remember to be mindful of “the convenience of clicking” and give your cart a final look before you check out.) She’s also been accumulating rewards and redeeming them for cash discounts and even freebies. 

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9. Seek out deals while running other errands. 

Sticking to one store is one strategy. Kristen has taken the opposite approach; she shops at several stores a week, but she does this while she’s crossing other things off her to-do list, like walking her dog or filling up her car with gas. She’ll pop into the pup-friendly bodegas in her neighborhood — she’s gone to every one within a mile of her house to compare their selection and price — for heavily discounted produce and meat (she’s scored 16-ounce Dominican sausages for $5!). She also does a quick look at gas station marts to see if any snacks or drinks are on sale. Think of this as her very own two-for-one!

What are you doing to stay within your grocery budget? Tell us in the comments below.