6 Smart Ways to Save on Groceries

Sabah Karimi
October 7, 2013

Rising food costs and a lack of time to shop for the best deals at the grocery store might be driving up your monthly grocery bill. The average monthly cost to feed a family of four runs between $553.40 to $1,075.20, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Whether you're on a tight budget or just want to be smarter about food spending, these six grocery spending strategies can help you pare down the grocery bill each month.

1. Don't use your coupons right away. Jill Cataldo, consumer coupon expert and founder of Super-Couponing, says clipping coupons from Sunday newspaper inserts and shopping with them that same week is a waste of time. "Stores know weeks ahead of time what product coupons are coming out in the inserts, and they may leave the corresponding products at higher prices intentionally," Cataldo says. To get the most value out of your coupons, hold on to them until your supermarket drops its prices. Cataldo says the lowest sale prices at supermarkets and drugstores occur one week every three months. If you have coupons in hand, that week would be the ideal time to stock up on sale items for a few weeks or months.

2. Stop buying bottled water. Even when those cases of water are on sale, you could be spending much more on drinking water than you realize. Daniel MacDonald, president of Filter Savings Club, advocates for people to use filters. He points out that one filter in a water pitcher lasts through 40 gallons of filtration, which is the equivalent of 13 cases of bottled water. "The average cost of a case of bottled water is $6, which means an average household would spend more than $75 to get the same 40 gallons of filtered water that we deliver for $5," he adds. If your household goes through a few cases of bottled water each week, making the switch to filtered water will not only save you money but will also help the environment by eliminating plastic bottle waste.

3. Maximize your couponing efforts. Another way to get the most out of coupons is to use multiple coupons for multiple items on the same trip. Monica Knight, co-founder of FabulesslyFrugal.com, says many people are confused by the wording "one per purchase," thinking that they can only use one coupon on each visit to the store. "What it really means is that they can only use one coupon for each item that they are buying," Knight says. "If you buy five packs of gum you can use one coupon on each pack for a total of five coupons." You also need to make sure you understand the terms of the offer listed on the coupon. "Be careful to read the fine print on the coupon," Knight says. "Sometimes one coupon is good for two items or more." This means you won't save a penny until you buy two or three items listed on the coupon - and some might be for products that you don't even need or want.

4. Shop by unit price. Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, a personal finance expert known as The Money Coach, says it pays to shop by unit price. "The unit price tells you the cost for an item per pound, ounce or quart of food," she explains. "You might see a gallon of orange juice for $3.20 and a 1/2 gallon for $1.92. Don't assume you're getting the 1/2 gallon for less because it has a cheaper price." The same rule applies when buying dry goods like paper towels or toilet paper. When buying these items in bulk, calculate the price per roll to determine the unit price. This will help you get the best deal when comparing brands.

5. Use a recipe and ingredients delivery service. If you like to cook gourmet meals but dislike buying pricey specialty items and ingredients that spoil easily, skip the grocery store run and have ingredients delivered right to your door. Antonio Evans, FriendsEAT.com CEO and founder, says he saves money and enjoys a variety of gourmet-style meals by using delivery services like Plated and Blue Apron. "They send me the recipe and premeasured ingredients - $24 for two people - it's cost-effective and there's no waste," he says. Both Plated and Blue Apron send their subscribers portioned, packaged meats and boxed ingredients along with recipe cards to prepare a healthy gourmet meal. As a subscriber, you can save money and time shopping at the grocery store for ingredients you might not otherwise stock in your pantry and minimize food waste by cooking only what you will eat.

6. Limit your time at the grocery store. If you spend more than an hour browsing the store, it can be impossible to stay within your budget. In her book, "The Family Manager Takes Charge: Getting on the Fast Track to a Happy, Organized Home," author Kathy Peel writes that it pays to "Get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. For most people, the more time spent shopping, the more money spent as well." Even when you shop with a list, taking extra time to explore the store from aisle to aisle can result in impulse buys. Limit the number of stores you visit for your grocery run, and set a time limit for each store to avoid milling through the aisles longer than you planned.

Sabah Karimi writes for the consumer blog Wise Bread, where you can more ways to trim your grocery bill.

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