35 Tips to Spend Less on Food
Is your grocery spending consuming too much of your family’s household cash and you want to know how to spend less on food?
You’re not alone.
In the U.S., the average amount a household spent on food at home increased by 3.5% in 2021 from 2020. And from January 2022 to July 2022, the cost of food at home increased by 13.1%.
Tightening the grocery budget is a two-part process: spending less on food and reducing food waste. The equivalent of 1.4 billion tons of food end ups rotting every year.
Learn how to spend less on food with these 35 grocery shopping hacks and tips that save my family hundreds of dollars a month (without using coupons)!
1. Take Inventory
Check the pantry and freezer before you go food shopping to see what you already have.
A stocked pantry is a meal planning strategy that helps save time and money. But storing more food than you can eat before it expires or goes bad is a waste of money. When you quickly take inventory, you’ll avoid buying duplicates of an ingredient you only use small amounts of, like cayenne pepper (I’ve done that).
2. Shop Clearance
Stores mark down food for various reasons, including discontinued items, damaged packaging, or near expiration dates. Clearance is usually at least 50% off, which is better than a regular sale.
You might not find a separate clearance section in your grocery store. So, check the shelves for clearance labels or “specials.”
3. Repurpose Leftovers
People either like leftovers or don’t.
If you’re someone who doesn’t get excited about reheated food, try repurposing leftovers into a new meal. For example, add leftover chicken to a stir fry, top a salad, make chicken pot pies, chicken salad, or pasta with pesto and chicken.
When you meal plan for the week, come up with creative ways to plan for a leftover night. It’s one less meal to buy and cook, saving you time and money.
4. Drink Water
Filtered water will save your family a lot of money a year. Soda, juice, and sports drinks add up. And they’re full of sugar too.
All you need is a water filter if the water where you live is safe to drink. Then, when you go out, use BPA reusable water bottles instead of buying disposable water.
If you like water, you’re probably already drinking it. But, unfortunately, many people don’t like the taste.
Developing a preference for water is like any other habit. Start slowly by replacing a few of the sugar-sweetened drinks. Then, for flavor, add orange, lemon, or lime slices. But if it’s the carbonation that you miss, try mineral water or seltzer. The more you drink water, the more you’ll get used to it.
Tip: Leave water out for the kids all day so they can easily grab it before asking for other drinks. Or, make a rule that water is for in between meals, but they can have one cup of their favorite beverage with dinner.
5. Make a Grocery Budget (And Stick to It)
Saving money starts with knowing how much you have coming in and how much money is going out.
Once you have a budget, you can determine how much money you have for food.
Then you can use grocery shopping strategies and meal planning to lower the grocery budget even more. Saving money on food allows you to spend it on other things like savings, a vacation, home improvement, or paying down debt.
6. Make Your Takeout Favorites at Home
You probably order food to save time, so making takeout defeats the purpose of takeout, right?
Planning and meal prep can save you time later.
But, if spending less on food is your primary goal, cutting down on takeout or going out to eat is one of the best ways to do it. And if you think about it, it takes time to pick up the food or wait for delivery. You probably have time to cook a quick meal while waiting for delivery.
Homemade stir-fries, burritos, tacos, and pizza are easy (you’ll need to plan extra time to make the pizza dough. It’s a yeast bread and needs time to rise).
A big myth is that fast food is cheaper than cooking at home, especially for one person. But, this usually isn’t true when you look at the unit cost of a portion instead of the total cost of the whole meal.
Here’s a comparison of 1 large takeout cheese pizza vs. two medium homemade pizzas.
First, let’s break down the cost of ingredients to make homemade pizza.
|Flour||$2.29/5 lb bag||$1.00/8 cups|
|Shredded mozzarella||$1.99 8 oz x 2||$3.98|
|Tomato sauce (jar)*||$1.49||$1.49|
*Making the sauce from canned tomatoes is a great way to save money. Buying jarred sauce on sale is a good compromise when you want to save on time, but it’s more expensive than making spaghetti sauce from canned tomatoes.
Make the extra sauce and freeze the leftovers in 32 oz BPA-free plastic takeout containers like containers you get from Chinese food.
|TOTAL||COST PER SLICE|
|1 Large takeout cheese pie (8 slices)||$20||$2.50|
|2 medium homemade pizzas (12 slices total)||$6.47||$0.54 per slice|
Even though the slices from the 9” homemade pie are smaller than takeout, two slices are still less than half the cost of one slice from the pizza place.
What are you supposed to do with all that pizza if you only need food for one person?
Freeze the slices. Now you have a meal that can be ready in minutes when you don’t feel like cooking.
7. Buy Marked Down Holiday Candy
Stores discount holiday chocolate by at least 50% after Christmas, Halloween, Easter, and Valentine’s Day. Stock up on candy for baking and other desserts during the year. Add M & M’s or chopped peanut butter cups to cookies, moose munch, or make an ice cream topping bar for special occasions.
How are you supposed to resist all that chocolate sitting around the house?
Keep it in the freezer!
8. Make Iced Coffee
If you have coffee left in the pot, don’t throw it out. You make iced coffee instead!
Add sugar when it’s still hot for sweetened iced coffee and mix it up, so the sugar dissolves. (Sugar will sink to the bottom of the cup when you add it to a cold drink.)
Then pour the cooled coffee into a mason jar and refrigerate.
9. Buy Day-Old Bread
Grocery store bakeries mark bread, cakes, burger buns, dinner rolls, cookies, donuts, and other baked goods. Store bread in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. But don’t refrigerate it. The texture of bread changes when it’s kept in the refrigerator. It stays fresher in the freezer.
10. Make Your Snacks
Save money on healthy snacks by making granola or granola bars, trail mix, roasted nuts, and muffins.
Batch cook and pack in airtight containers. Muffins can be stored in the freezer. When you want a quick snack, pop one in the microwave for 30 seconds. These also make excellent nut-free snacks for the kids’ lunch box.
Save time with meal prep by portioning snacks into individual-sized portions. Pack single servings in storage bags or small reusable containers so you can grab and go.
11. Buy Value Packs of Meat
The cost per pound is cheaper for the “family size” or “value pack” than the unit cost for smaller packages of meat and chicken.
Whether you’re cooking for one or a large family, these value packs are worth it.
Separate the meat into the amount you need for a typical meal and store it in freezer bags. You can add extra to the bags if you want leftovers, saving time for another meal later. Store the meal-size portions in the freezer.
The bags take up less space, and it’s easier to defrost the bag in cold water for last-minute meals.
Don’t forget to label the bags with the contents, quantity, and date.
12. Shop Your Pantry
If you need to find money in your budget or your pantry is overflowing, take a break from the grocery store and shop your pantry for meals instead.
Take inventory of the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. Then, brainstorm meal ideas using what you have in the house.
Challenge: how many meals can you make this week from the food you have in the pantry and freezer?
13. Cut Your Portions
You shouldn’t go hungry just to save money on food.
But, you may be overestimating the serving sizes and not get the most out of family meals. Or, maybe snacks are busting your budget.
An easy way to reduce the food budget is to reevaluate the family’s grazing habits between planned meals and snacks. For example, are snacks satisfying hunger, or is snacking a habit?
Follow the USDA’s food patterns and cut portions to stretch how many servings you can get out of a meal.
14. Make Smoothies or “Ice Cream”
Don’t throw out overripe fruit. Instead, freeze strawberries, bananas, and peaches to make smoothies or banana “ice cream.”
Smoothies come out thicker when you use frozen fruits. Plus, you don’t have to use ice cubes, which water down the drink.
One of my favorite desserts is banana “ice cream” made from overripe bananas that are sliced and frozen. Then, I whip it up in the food processor with PB2 and unsweetened cocoa powder until it’s the consistency of ice cream.
Tip: clean, peel, pit, and slice before freezing.
15. Rotate Pantry and Freezer Food
Save money by reducing food waste. Stock food like a restaurant or grocery store by moving the older food forward and putting new behind it.
Another hack is to write the expiration date with a permanent marker on the box or can. That way, it’s visible when you reach inside the pantry.
16. Label Freezer Bags
Do you have mystery food packages in the bottom of your freezer?
Prevent forgotten freezer-burned food by labeling freezer-safe bags with the contents and date stored. According to the USDA, frozen food stays safe in the freezer indefinitely. However, the time stored in the freezer affects the quality.
Go through your freezer regularly and plan meals to use up food that’s been in there a few months.
17. Use Meal Prep Containers
Organize meals for the week with meal prep containers so no food goes to waste and you don’t end up spending money at restaurants.
Use containers to prep ingredients ahead of time, so they’re ready to go for quick weekday meals. When vegetables are cleaned, peeled, chopped, and even cooked in advance, you’re more likely to cook at home. Take one morning to prep lunches and snacks for the week.
Do you work from home? Use meal prep containers to prep healthy lunches so they’re ready to grab in between meetings.
18. Batch Cook
Cook extra so you have food for a few meals that week instead of running out to the store for convenience food you don’t need.
This is also a money-saving strategy because the unit cost is usually cheaper for a large quantity of one item rather than for small amounts of various foods.
For example, the unit cost of a large value pack of the boneless chicken breast may be less than a small pack of chicken breasts and a small pack of ground beef.
Batch cooking streamlines the cooking process and saves time. Why grill chicken twice this week when you can do it once and plan a few meals with it? And cooking once means prepping and cleaning up only once. That’s even more time saved.
Plan to double the recipe when cooking sauces, soups, chilis, or casseroles. You can freeze the extras in individual freezer-safe containers for last-minute meals.
19. Weekly Meal Planning
Meal plan for the week to prevent food waste and last-minute trips to the food store. Paying full price for unplanned groceries and ordering takeout adds up. Making a meal plan ahead of your busy week allows you to buy food on sale and plan meals from what you have in the house.
Meal planning tips streamline the shopping and cooking process and reduce food waste and shopping stress.
There’s a small time investment up front, but having food prepped and meals planned pays off at the end of the busy day.
20. Stock up on Sales
Buying food only when it’s on sale is the number one groceries savings tip that saves me almost $2,000 a year.
Look for loss leaders of food you like or are willing to try. Loss leaders are usually on the front page of the weekly sales ad, and it’s usually the lowest prices you’ll see those items selling for. You’ll save over a hundred dollars a month by stocking up when food is at its lowest price.
This tip goes hand in hand with meal planning. Once you’re spending less on food, you need a plan to cook it so it doesn’t go to waste (see #19 and #34).
21. Shop for Holiday Meals Early
Are you hosting a holiday or party?
Make your menu and shopping list at least one month before (see #20) so you can buy everything at the lowest price (see #21).
Once you have the main list of food and supplies, decide which stores have the best prices. For example, you might shop at two grocery stores for food but find that it’s better to buy paper goods and supplies from another store.
Review weekly grocery sales ads and look for your holiday meal ingredients. Then, add it to the list! In a few weeks, you’ll have a bargain holiday.
Or, see #34 and apply that strategy to hosting a large gathering.
22. Stick to the Grocery List
Plan to go through the weekly sales ads for your local grocery stores. Make a list from the sales and stick to the list.
What if you need something that’s not on sale?
Until you have a stocked pantry and supply closet, you’ll need to buy things as you run out. The goal is to get ahead and anticipate what you’ll need. One method that works is making two lists: “this week” and “can wait.”
If you run out of something you don’t need immediately, add it to the “can wait” list. And, wait for a sale, then stock up.
Challenge: put your grocery list in the order of the store’s aisles, and you’ll be surprised how much easier and faster shopping is.
23. Know When to Shop
Know your store’s policies and routines for stocking food, putting up and removing sale tags, and marking down meats, fresh bread, and vegetables.
Here are a few things to know before you go:
- Extra discount days (ex: double coupon day, senior discount day)
- The day of the week the sale cycle begins and ends
- When the store discounts clearance meat and day-old bread
- If the loss leaders are advertised as “while supplies last” (get there in the first few days)
- The quantity limit on sale items
24. Use a Grocery Savings App
Grocery savings apps like Ibotta and Fetch work more like a rebate system than a discount. It takes time to accumulate points to redeem, but you can rack up points faster if you plan to buy the products the apps promote.
Before you make a shopping list, review the items that come up for your store on Ibotta and select them. You’ll get credit for purchases when you upload the receipt later.
Fetch gives points for receipts from various stores, not just for food.
25. Use the Store’s Loyalty Savings Card
Many grocery stores offer advertised sales through loyalty savings cards. The savings cards don’t cost anything and are easy to sign up for. Once you have the card, present it to the clerk or provide your phone number when checking out.
Be sure to use your card so you accumulate the rewards. For example, some stores offer holiday promotions where you can redeem your points for a free turkey or ham.
Don’t skip this simple step, or you’ll miss out on saving hundreds of dollars a year.
26. Buy In-Season Produce
Fruits and vegetables are at their lowest price when they’re in season. “In season” isn’t the same as locally grown.
There are certain times a year when fruit and vegetables are harvested in the region they grow naturally. Since there is an abundance when fresh food is harvested, the price is low.
So, you want to shop according to seasonal availability to save. And, produce is fresher and tastes better when it’s in season.
For example, you might not want to buy a watermelon in January or apples in June. However, some fruits and vegetables are cheap and available year-round, such as bananas, lettuce, celery, carrots, broccoli, and celery.
27. Try a New Brand
Brand loyalty can cost you a lot of money. If you’re like me, there are some things you’re not willing to change brands to get cheaper. I’m loyal to my coffee brand and can taste the difference.
But, you’ll save more money if your family is flexible and willing to try the store brand or a sale brand on most foods. Make a list of your family’s non-negotiables and use strategy #20 to save money on those.
Then experiment with other brands of household products and food to find acceptable alternatives at a lower price.
28. Find a New Recipe
Throwing out food is a huge money-waster.
Frequently take inventory of the freezer and pantry contents. Then find a creative way to use what’s inside. Search for a recipe that uses the ingredients you have. For example, you could Google: ingredient 1 + ingredient 2 + recipe.
Then, find a recipe you like that you already have most of the ingredients for. If you’re missing an ingredient, see #35.
29. Shop More Than One Store
Shopping at a few nearby stores gives you access to more sales and prices that are usually lower at one store than another.
So make one store your primary store that you can depend on for having most of your food in stock. And shop at 1 or 2 stores like Walmart, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s to fill in the gaps.
If food stores are miles away from your house, you’ll spend gas money and valuable time looking for savings. So you might want to skip this tip.
30. Eat Perishable Foods First
Prevent food waste by planning to use the most perishable foods first.
For example, leafy greens and berries go bad faster than fruits and vegetables that can be stored longer, like carrots and apples.
31. Use Produce Bags
Keep your fruits and vegetables fresh longer so they don’t end up in the garbage. I use Green Bags to store produce in the refrigerator. They’re reusable and can be washed up to ten times.
It’s a good meal planning strategy to buy only the fresh food you can use within the week unless you plan to freeze it. But, using Green Bags takes the pressure off of needing to eat all the greens in the house within a few days.
32. Know When “Kids Eat Free”
The best way to save money on food is to cook at home.
But sometimes you want to go out for a meal, and when you have a large family it can get pricey. Some family-friendly restaurants have “kids eat free” promotions where a kid’s meal is free with the purchase of one adult entree.
Make a list of restaurants that offer the “kids eat free” promotion and include the days of the week and the restrictions so you can have this information at a glance.
Websites like Mommy Poppins and local papers do roundups of restaurants with “kids eat free” days in your area.
33. Mid-Week Specials
Another takeout hack is the mid-week special. Local takeout restaurants sometimes offer specials during the week when they’re slow.
For example, a pizza place by me offers a 2-for-1 large cheese pie special on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. While making pizza is still cheaper (see #6), this is a money-saving alternative if you don’t have time to make homemade pizza.
If it’s more than you need, wrap the leftovers for a quick lunch. Or, wrap each slice in foil and freeze it.
34. Plan Meals From Sales
This tip goes hand in hand with stocking up sales (#20). Buying and planning meals from sales will supercharge your grocery savings.
Make a list of the advertised sales and brainstorm meals for the week using those items. Then, shop your pantry for other ingredients you need.
35. Substitute Ingredients
Making a shopping list from a recipe can add up, especially if you pay full price for everything or buy ingredients you only need once.
Psst–you don’t have to follow the recipe.
Instead of rushing out to the store or abandoning the recipe if you don’t have the exact ingredients, find substitutions to create the same flavor or texture.
Be creative in the kitchen!
Tweak recipes according to your preferences and use ingredients you usually keep in your pantry. Sometimes recipes get better over time as you make them your own.
Wrap It Up
Save money by shopping the sales and stocking up when food and household products are at their lowest price.
Incorporate as many or as few tips into your cooking and meal prep routine that work for you. The savings may seem small, but it adds up. And the more money-saving strategies you use, the less you’ll spend on groceries.
What tips do you have? Let me know in the comments below!
About Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD
I’m a food loving Registered Dietitian. I help families plan meals, reduce food waste and save money on food!