3 ways to keep costs down at the grocery store (and make meal planning fun)

January 05, 2023

If your grocery bill is taking a bigger bite out of your weekly budget than you’re used to you’re not alone. But there are ways to cut costs so you can keep more cash in your pocketbook.

There’s no getting around it, you’re spending more at the grocery store today than you did last year. In fact, according to the USDA food price outlook, grocery store purchases jumped more than 11 percent in 2022. What can you do? There are lots of strategies to keep costs in check. Here are just a few:

 

1. Go digital for deeper discounts

While the number of printed coupons is down due to a decline in newspaper circulation, supply chain issues resulting in lower stock on hand that has kept manufacturers from offering deals, and a growing gap between coupon value and rising inflation making the coupons worth less than they used to be, coupon use (digital deals) is still big business – you just need to know where to look for them.

  • Know where to shop: The price for products varies greatly between stores, so consider using a comparison app or website like MyGroceryDeals.com or Baskt.com. 
  • Take advantage of store deals: If you have a favorite store (or two) where you regularly shop, sign up for their app for deep discounts. For example, the CVS ExtraCare Coupon Center offers coupons, exclusive deals and rewards. 
  • Get manufacturer coupons online: Use a coupon app or website like KrazyCouponLady, Coupons.com and lozo.com or go directly to manufacturer websites like Kellogg’s or Proctor & Gamble for print-at-home coupons. 
  • Shop stores that maximize digital redemptions: Some stores will let you coupon stack which is using a manufacturers coupon along with a store discount for double the savings. Also, some stores – but not all – will double your coupons. 
  • Follow an extreme couponer: Another great place to look for deals is on social media. In particular, TikTok is becoming the go-to place to find great last-minute deals from influencers.

 

2. Change the way you shop

We all know that it’s a bad idea to shop when you’re hungry. When you do that, you are more likely to impulse buy. But there are other ways you can change the way you shop that can help cut your costs.

  • Do what works for you: For example, one shopper told us that using a virtual shopping cart keeps her from impulse buying while another shopper said it does the opposite because she doesn’t “see” how full her cart is getting until checkout. Try various strategies and don’t be afraid to mix it up to see if something else works better. 
  • Consider how you move about the day: Instead of making a daily run to the grocery store, try clustering your shopping trips into one outing a week to help save on gas. And if you realize that you’ve forgotten a key ingredient, instead of running to the store think about substitutions you may already have on hand. For example, Greek yogurt can be substituted for heavy cream in many recipes. 
  • Make different selections at the store: Before you grab a name brand product, look to see if there’s a comparable store brand. Consider swapping out cheaper ingredients, for example, if beef and chicken prices are running high one week, turn to beans, eggs or sweet potatoes for your tacos instead. Avoid buying items that spoil fast unless you have a plan for them. Pro tip – buying from the salad bar is a great way to get just the right amount of a perishable item. Conversely, whenever possible, buy in bulk.

 

3. Make meal planning fun

Before you head to the store, plan what you want to make in advance — and write it down. It sounds so simple but it’s an often-overlooked step that helps reduce impulse buying, food waste and extra trips to the store for a forgotten ingredient.

  • Spice up your meal planning: Make planning fun by following a new chef and playing with new flavors. Come up with a theme for your weekly meals like “Meatless Mondays” or “Soups on Saturdays.” Crowdsource a recipe by asking your friends what they like to cook and make sure to poll your family too. Kids are more likely to eat healthily if they help choose the meal. 
  • Take inspiration from your pantry: Look to see what you have on hand and plan your meals around it. If you have a lot of one item, consider cooking up extra and using it for multiple meals. For example, maybe you make a batch of lentils and add some to soup one night and use it as a side dish the next. 
  • Make it a family affair: A big way to save money is to buy and cook in bulk. You can turn this into a fun family event by picking a recipe everyone loves and divvying up tasks like chopping, mixing and cooking. Put extras in your freezer. And if you run out of freezer space, invite friends over for dinner or gift a meal to a neighbor in need. 
  • Plan for dining out: It may be more expensive to dine out but if you budget for it, it’s an important part of meal planning. Make sure you enjoy cooking by taking some time off from doing it. Going to your favorite restaurant or picking up food to go is also a great way to support local businesses.
     

How much you spend at the grocery store should be part of your overall budget. Make it a habit to do a monthly budget – then review it weekly when you do your meal planning – and you’ll start seeing savings right away.

 

If you’re new to creating a budget or you want tips to do it better, we can help. Explore how to create and stick to a budget with our banking basics resources.

 

U.S. Bank and U.S. Bancorp Investments are not affiliated or associated with any organizations mentioned.

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