8 Ways to Spend Less Money at the Grocery Store, According to Budget-Minded Shoppers

published Apr 25, 2022
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At Kitchn, we nerd out over weekly food budgets. We love hearing about how people shop, how much they spend, how they save, what they buy, and what they make with it. We love talking about these things so much, we created a whole series where people can share their weekly strategies. It’s called Grocery Diaries. You may have seen it and you may have even written one, sharing your own shopping list and meal plan. It’s fun to look to see what people are buying and making, but it’s also useful: We often hear about smart tips and good money-saving ideas in these diaries.

While it can feel increasingly difficult to stay within a preset grocery budget these days, Grocery Diaries are filled with time-tested and innovative ways to keep costs down. Some of the best advice comes from personal experience, after all! Here are eight of our favorite tips from Grocery Diary participants, who also happen to be readers (like you!).

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Shop around, starting with your fridge and pantry.

If we’ve learned anything from these shoppers, it’s that there is no one-stop shop for groceries. The first place many of them go, though, is to their own freezer and pantry to see what they have and what needs replenishing. From there, they’ll frequent the stores closest to them, and also make second, third, or fourth stops for sales or because their favorite items are only sold at specific retailers. They also, on occasion (think: once a month or every few months), stop at whatever bulk warehouse is nearby for less perishable items, including dried pasta, lentils, spices, canned items, dried fruit, nuts, and butter. 

2. Keep two lists — one for meals, one for shopping.

“I am the kind of person who cannot go to the grocery store without a list, or I will end up buying too many fruits or veggies that I will not be able to finish,” says Sophie. Who among us hasn’t done this? Make a list of everything you need to make sure you don’t forget anything … or overbuy.

Additionally, track what you’ve made or plan on making. Whether it’s in a Google Sheet, Doc, or a free app, like Whisk, shoppers like Sophie are dedicated to keeping logs. They keep week- or month-long lists of the meals they plan to make (or have made) and an inventory of the items stocked in their freezer, fridge, and pantry. Use your upcoming meal plan to guide your shopping list and the inventory to help out when you need something in a pinch.

Credit: Cambria Bold

3. Organize your shopping list by how you shop the store.

Some shoppers know their go-to stores so well, they actually make their shopping lists in the order they walk through the aisles. Not only is it more efficient, but it also helps them stay focused on the items they need and minimizes the chances of impulse buys. If you don’t have a visual map of the store memorized, Elizabeth recommends categorizing by general sections, like produce, protein, dry goods, dairy, and more.

4. Resist the urge to deviate … or plan accordingly. 

Over and over we hear how important it is to stick to the list. And it makes sense! If you’re like Morgan, your list was crafted with a specific budget in mind. And adding items to your cart that aren’t accounted for will likely have you running over. If, however, you’re someone who likes to try new things or take advantage of an unforeseen sale, we suggest you allot up to three blank spaces on your list (and in your budget) for these items.

5. Download the Flashfood app.

Do you shop at a retailer that partners with Flashfood? It’s worth taking a minute now to go to the company’s website or download the app to find out. Bridget found out about the company earlier this year when she noticed a big industrial-sized fridge wrapped in Flashfood decals. The company partners with grocery stores in different parts of the country to help sell food that’s about to expire for 50 percent off (or sometimes more). “I’ve had some incredible finds, including a box of 15 red, orange, yellow, and aloha bell peppers for $5, rolls of puff pastry for $0.50, and big pieces of salmon for $2.50,” she says.

Credit: Leela Cyd

6. If something is too pricey, try making it at home.

The resourcefulness of some of these shoppers is inspiring. Take Nicole, who recently made yogurt for the first time after the price of store-bought yogurt reached more than $3 (It was $3.29 at the time). She says, “It’s simple and tastes just like the store-bought kind.” She, along with her husband, also makes maple syrup, sourdough bread, everything bagels, and other baked goods at home. Other shoppers make their own snacks, sweets, and more.

7. Skip your weekly trip to the grocery store.

Now this isn’t something we recommend you do every week, for obvious reasons. But, when feasible, it sounds like a foolproof way to spend zero dollars on groceries. It could also be a bit of fun! Sarah and her husband do this every month or so. “We skip our weekly grocery trip and try to eat only from the pantry,” she says. “That’s always a bit of an adventure.”

8. Borrow from next week’s budget if there’s a great deal.

Your weekly budget is a gauge for your overall food expenses. It is OK to spend more than you anticipated, as long as you’re mindful with your purchases. “I’ve learned that it’s worth spending a bit more one week if there is a sale on non-perishable items or other foods that can be frozen,” Nicole says. She stumbled upon a one-day sale on five-ounce steaks (they were less than half the regular price!), and bought a few to freeze and save for another time. She also notes: “In those instances, we typically end up with a lighter grocery bill the following week.”

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