We’re living through some seriously strange times right now. Many people are choosing to shop for the bulk of their groceries online. If you’re an easily distracted grocery shopper, you might have noticed that buying groceries online has saved you money. Why? When you shop for groceries online, it requires you to plan meals and make decisions based on what you’re searching for specifically, rather than what looks yummy to you in the store. You’re far less likely to impulse-buy this way and because you can see the total cost at any point, you stay more mindful of your budget. If this is working for you, keep it up!
I prefer to shop in-store for a number of reasons. I have to see what’s on sale and then bust out my calculator app to make sure it’s worth it. Also, I am a bit neurotic about my produce. I have to do a little inspection with each piece of fruit and veg that involves smelling, tapping, squeezing, shaking, whispering, etc. I’m am a nightmare to shop with. There are many advantages to shopping in the store and you can find amazing savings that way. I learned years ago that my short stature (short king!) actually makes me really good at finding bargains. By looking at the lowest shelves at the store, you can generally find the best deals.
Whether you are shopping from home now or venturing out to your local market, here are some practical tips to help lower the cost of your groceries. No coupons required!
5. Buy from Ethnic Grocery Stores
The best thing you can do to save money is to find an ethnic grocery store you like. This will not only save you money, but it will also broaden your culinary horizons. I am very fortunate to live in Chicago where there’s an abundance of these treasured stores. They have motivated me to try recipes I never would have thought of. I made my own kimchi with ingredients purchased at an Asian market. I now cook the majority of my beans with epazote, an herb I did not know existed until going into a cute bodega.
Just a few blocks from my house there’s a grocery store that caters primarily to the Latinx community. I have found more savings at this small store than any other place in the city. It has become my go-to grocery store for 99% of the things I cook. And, there are tons of piñatas hanging from the ceiling! What a perk! Produce at ethnic markets is almost always cheaper than at big-box stores. Visit your local Asian grocers and compare prices. You’ll be shocked at the difference. This is especially true for produce pantry staples like onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, etc.
4. Go to Speciality Stores
Don’t limit yourself to large grocery store chains. Find small, specialty stores to help you save. Now, I know there are fancy butcher shops and cheese shops in most larger towns and cities. Those are great for some occasions, but if you’re really trying to save, find a mom-and-pop butcher shop. These are not as prevalent as they used to be, but if you can find a no-frills butcher shop you can save a ton of money. Ask the butcher about specials, deals, and meat preparations for cheap cuts. My butcher helped me learn to love the modest beef shank.
If you don’t have a butcher nearby or the time, the meat counter at the big box grocery stores is your friend. It’s always cheaper to buy meat from the counter than the prepackaged meat in the cooler.
3. Eat Less Meat
I know I just told you to go to a butcher shop, but another tip for saving on groceries is to buy less meat. Meat prices are going up right now because of meatpacking plant closures. But, meat was already expensive before this all began. My family generally eats meat about 2-3 times a week. I realize we’re not the norm! But, if you can cut back on meat by doing a “meatless Monday” you can save about $75 a month.
2. Frozen or Dried Over Fresh or Canned
The one area I have found that chain grocery stores accel is frozen fruits and vegetables. Many people think that fresh is better for you than frozen, but that’s not the case. Using frozen fruits and vegetables is almost always cheaper than fresh and it’s just as healthy.
Canned beans might be the most convenient beans, especially when you’re throwing together a soup. But, buying dried beans is astronomically cheaper than canned. If you’ve got the option to buy in bulk, purchase a bunch of beans, dried fruits, and grains at one. Carla Lalli Music a chef and writer at Bon Apetit talks about the joys of bulk bins often. They’re not sexy, but they will help you save on pantry staples. Many grocery delivery services also offer the option to buy bulk.
1. Be Adventurous, But Plan Wisely
If you’ve decided to follow my first tip and go to an ethnic market, research recipes that incorporate lots of ingredients you’ll find at that store. For instance, before you go to an Indian market find a curry recipe and/or daal recipe. Make a list of all the ingredients you need before going to the store. You’ll love trying new, exciting dishes while making the most out of beloved ingredients. Meal planning and sticking to that plan while shopping is the most important thing you can do to save money. Think of it, not as meal planning, but meal spanning!
Tiffany Jordan wrote an amazing article for us all about strategies to help you plan better: Expert Tips on How to Organize Your Grocery Shopping and Finding Budget-Friendly Recipes
Try new (inexpensive) things you’ve never cooked before. A new recipe forces you to refer and adhere to a list. A new recipe can help you stay focused and only purchase what you’ll need for each meal. There’s nothing worse than having a spare bit of produce you bought without knowing what to do with it withering away in the back of your fridge. Stick to that list!
I’m all about low effort for high reward. A lot of these tips are easy to follow and put into practice. The only thing it might cost you is extra time. When you go to a chain grocery store, you’re also paying for convenience. Keep that in mind if grocery delivery has been working out for you. If you go to a chain store: buy in bulk, do the store’s rewards program, go to the meat counter, and avoid the inner aisles as much as possible. Happy saving!