If it seems like your trips to the grocery store are costing you more lately, it’s not your imagination. Spending on food increased 7.3% for 2017 from 2016, making it the third priciest part of the typical household’s budget behind housing and transportation, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The good news is there are easy ways to cut costs without feeling deprived. Saving money can be about shopping strategically; it doesn’t have to be just about buying less stuff.
Frozen produce is typically cheaper: At FreshDirect in New York in June, for example, a container of fresh organic blueberries was priced at $1.08 per ounce, while the store-brand frozen organic blueberries were $0.45 per ounce.
Frozen produce can be more nutritious, too, says Nikki Dinki, author of the cookbook “Meat on the Side.” Fresh produce is picked before it is ripe so it can fully ripen during transit—which means it has less time to develop vitamins, minerals, and natural antioxidants. Frozen produce, though, is harvested at peak ripeness and quickly chilled, which preserves the nutrients, according to personal health and wellness website Healthline.
Although it will save you some meal-prep time, pre-cut produce will cost you substantially more. For example, pre-chopped yellow onion can go for $4.99 per pound at Whole Foods in New York City during June, but the unchopped version is $1.29 per pound.
So hone your knife skills and you can save some cash.
Every time you pause at a grocery store, “impulse buying takes over,” says Melissa d’Arabian, host of Food Network show “Ten Dollar Dinners.” In other words, the less time you spend browsing, the better. Even if you believe Costco’s legendary samples are part of the experience (which they are!), it’s best for your bottom line if you abstain.
An American household of four loses, on average, between $1,350 and $2,275 because of food waste, according to a 2012 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. So think ahead: Do you really think you’ll eat that yogurt or entire jar of pasta sauce before it goes bad?
Grocery store shelves are stocked so that items that expire later are positioned behind items that expire earlier. So, if you’re buying a jug of milk, it’s probably best to take the second or third one back. It can last longer.
If your grocery store has cart-size options, choose the smaller one. Studies show that bigger carts lead to larger totals at the register, according to Martin Lindstrom, the author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.”
Take advantage of your freezer and buy meat when it’s on sale. Once it’s on ice, uncooked meat stays good for anywhere from one month to one year, depending on what kind of meat it is, according to the USDA.
By purchasing meat when it’s on sale, you can cut down on spending and have a reservoir of different proteins at your disposal. For example, at one Dallas Kroger, a late June sale has bone-in pork loin chops at $1.77 a pound, a savings of 50% to 70% off regular prices.
D’Arabian also suggests “going meatless” at least once a week, as meat is usually the most expensive part of your plate, and making tasty vegetarian entrees instead. “For instance, I will make quiche,” she says. “Eggs are a really inexpensive protein so I can make quiche once a week and feed my entire family for five bucks.”
Load up your smartphone with supermarket savings and coupon apps. Shopkick allows you to collect points, or “kicks,” while you shop and then redeem them for gift cards from a variety of stores including Target and Amazon.
You can also check whether your local grocer has a coupon-dedicated app, as many do. Schnucks, for example, provides the Schnucks Rewards app, which aggregates deals and allows customers to redeem them via the app.
Vanessa Lumby, of the financial advice website Cash Cow Couple, uses the savings app Ibotta. “We use that one the most because they have the widest selection of stores,” she says. On the app, you can select deals you want to redeem, upload a picture of your receipt, and then get cash back.
No matter your strategy, if you’re a savvy shopper, you can fill your belly without emptying your wallet.
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