Inflation may have started to cool, but the price of food and other necessities remains much higher than last year. Since everyone needs to eat despite rising prices, many people are getting creative about how to save money on groceries. You may be familiar with tips about clipping coupons, using a shopping list and buying generic over name brands to help save cash.
While those tips are helpful, there might be a few you’ve never thought about that can help you keep more cash in your pocket. Keep reading for ways to help you make the most of your budget.
Why are groceries so expensive right now?
If you feel like food prices are out of control, it’s not all in your head.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, food-at-home prices rose 7.1% from April 2022 to April 2023. This is on top of an 11% rise in retail food prices from 2021 to 2022, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the most significant increase in 40 years.
While inflation does have a part to play, it’s not the only factor. Other reasons include:
Increased labor costs: The cost of producing food is rising as the labor market tightens. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a tight labor market means wage increases, which have increased the costs of production, labor and distribution. Those rising costs have been passed along to consumers through higher prices.
Animal and plant disease: The avian influenza outbreak in late 2022 into 2023 caused a dramatic increase in the price of eggs and poultry. The USDA reports that in December 2022, egg prices were the highest ever recorded, averaging about $5 a dozen. That’s 200% higher than prices in 2021. Additionally, citrus greening, a plant disease that impairs a tree’s ability to grow fruit, has impacted citrus production.
Fighting in Ukraine: Typically, Ukraine exports 9% of the world’s wheat, 12% of its corn and 17% of the world’s barley. The GOA says that combined with the U.S.’s reduced supply of wheat and other grains due to drought, the conflict in Ukraine may mean increased prices for bread and cereal products.
Wildfires and droughts: Throughout the country, these have damaged crops, producing a lower yield of food for consumers. In California, for example, extreme weather has led to a delay in planting, which means produce shortages are more likely.
How to save money on groceries
Your spending will vary based on where you shop, what you buy and how many people you have to feed. But with some simple changes to how you shop, you can stretch your food budget further.
1. Cook at home.
Making food at home, rather than going out to eat or ordering takeout, is a no-brainer when it comes to saving money on groceries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices at restaurants rose .4% between March and April 2023, while prices on food at home fell .2% over the month.
Cooking your own meals also helps you ensure the quality of what you’re eating. When you go out to eat, you don’t always know what went into preparing your meal. At home, you decide what ingredients to use and control the quality and quantity of what you use.
2. Develop a meal plan.
Use a meal plan to help you create your grocery list. While some people like to make just one dish and eat it for the next several days, you don’t have to go to such extremes. Pick some ingredients you like (bonus points if they’re on sale), and develop multiple recipes around them.
It can be as simple as finding chicken at a good price and cooking a pound or two on Sunday. Then, throughout the week, make tacos or barbecue, add leftover plain chicken to a slow-cooker meal for a busy weeknight, and use the rest for salads or quick dinners. Use spices and condiments to help you change the flavors, so you don’t get bored.
3. Use what you already have to save money on groceries.
If you love a good deal, you may have been stocking up on non-perishable items like canned goods and cooking staples whenever you find a sale. If you have a stocked pantry, plan a few meals a week around what you already have and supplement with your weekly grocery trips instead of the other way around.
Not only will you save money on groceries, but you’ll also prevent food waste by using the items you’ve stocked before they can go bad. Do you have space in the freezer? Frozen fruits and vegetables can be great staples, and you can take advantage of sales on meat and freeze it for later. Canned goods often make an easy and filling meal, especially when you mix them with spices and sauces.
4. Review the unit price.
As you go down the store aisles, grabbing the brand and size you’re most familiar with can be tempting. But doing so might lead you to spend more than necessary. Review the unit price of each item instead of just the retail price posted on the shelf sticker.
The unit price is usually next to the retail price in smaller print. It can help you compare the price of an item across different sizes and brands. You may find that one brand offers you the same amount for a lower unit price or that buying the larger size, even though it costs a little more, is a better value since you’ll get more at a lower price.
Remember to also look at items on higher or lower shelves to save money on groceries. Retailers often put the most expensive items at eye level, making them easier to grab. Search around to find the best price that you can.
5. Use cashback or loyalty rewards.
Many stores offer loyalty cards or points you can redeem on future orders or at the gas pump. Some credit cards offer cash-back options for groceries, gas and other household categories. Saving those for future use on a big restock can be a great way to stretch your food dollars.
While the amount you earn varies, you can help offset rising costs by using a card that gives you a little back after every purchase. Just be sure to pick a card with no annual fee, a low interest rate and one that provides you with a decent amount of cashback. Some cards offer anywhere from 1% to 6% back on various categories, including groceries. You may even find an introductory bonus that further adds to the savings. Do your best to pay off the balance monthly to avoid paying interest.
6. Use a rebate app.
In addition to cash back, you can use a rebate app like Fetch or Ibotta to help you save more. Using an app can help you find deals when you shop in-store and online, and you can earn cash back or points toward gift cards on various purchases.
Rebate apps work with stores like Target, Walmart, CVS and Costco, among others. Users can choose a retailer, add offers on products they need and then take a picture of their final receipt to earn additional cash back. You can also link your store loyalty information for extra savings.
7. Consider joining a wholesale club to save money on groceries.
Using a wholesale club like Costco can help you save money if you have a large family. You can also split bulk items (and how much they cost) among extended family or friends. Although most clubs come with annual membership fees, they could be worth it. If you have the room to store items and know you will use them before they expire, you can save a lot of money buying in bulk instead of buying smaller amounts more frequently. Remember: You’ll likely spend more upfront than usual, so be prepared and ensure you have the funds available.
Grocery prices are starting to come down, but it will likely be a while before we see any relief. Save money on groceries by taking advantage of store sales, cashback offers and rebate apps. These tactics will help you get what you need without breaking the bank.
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