I find groceries to be one area where I have a hard time controlling costs. We want to eat well, buy healthy foods, good cuts of meat, etc. and limit eating out. I find it hard to know what is a reasonable amount to budget...or end up going over what I plan.
For a while I tried shopping multiple grocery stores, checking fliers each week from three different stores and then making the trip to all three stores to save ten cents on each item. After a couple months, I decided it just wasn't worth it. So, I picked my favorite store. I shop once a week, after reviewing the flier and making a list. I clip coupons and try to only buy what's on my list. (I confess that coupons sometimes get me to buy a brand or item I wouldn't have otherwise... it's my weakness!)
The biggest place that we save money though, is by paying attention to meat prices. I know that chicken and pork go on sale for $1.99/lb every 4 to 6 weeks at my grocery store. When it does, I buy a enough to last until the next sale, and freeze it in single-meal portions. Steak and fish are special treats, but on the rare occasion that they're less than $4/lb, I'll buy those. We also try to limit our meat consumption to every-other-day.
It's not worth it for me to obsess over the price of ketchup that I buy twice a year, but on expensive items like meat, and items we use daily, I become familiar with their regular prices and sale prices, and buy extra when it's on sale. If, like me, you don't have room in your brain to keep track of the prices of everything, stick with the things you spend the most on, either because they're expensive, or you buy a lot.
Probably my biggest cost saving is to make my own sandwiches for lunch. I take this one step further by buying joints of meat to roast and slice for the filling. This not only tastes better but is quite a bit cheaper.
For example today I roasted a 5 kg ham (about 11 lbs), it cost me £16 to buy (around $25), but I've sliced it, wrapped the slices in foil and frozen them. I've made around 20 packs, each pack has enough ham for sandwiches for me and my wife for a day.
I also do this with beef, chicken and turkey and just get a pack of whatever we fancy out of the freezer the night before so it's defrosted enough to make sandwiches in the morning.
Cooking cheaply is time consuming. We cook cheaply, but we take more time to do it. May be hard for a busy family. If you cook everything from scratch, it's usually a lot cheaper. Also pre-planning meals helps. If you can coordinate your ingredients, you can save money. Saving money takes time and practice.
I find that when we're rushed, we waste a lot more food than when we properly take the time required.
Set aside the amount of grocery money you want to spend in a week in cash. Then buy groceries only from this money. The first week make it a generous amount so you don't get rediculous and give up. And stick to it when you are out of money (make sure you have some canned goods or something around if you run out of money a day short).
And do not shop when you are hungry.
All excellent answers. Scott W. already mentioned to look out for sales and many other answers are ways to be smart with portions: don't overbuy, or be smart with bulk buys.
But, I'm surprised nobody mentioned one of the things I'd consider obvious about saving money on groceries: coupons!
Coupons can save cash. We'll sometimes use coupons for brands we'd be buying anyway, or other comparably-priced brands that we're willing to try. The thing to be careful of with coupons is when the manufacturer is attempting to up-sell you to a premium brand, or trying to get you to buy a product you'd never have bought anyway.
Anyway, we especially like the coupons that Costco sends in the mail once in a while, or those they hand out at the warehouse entrance. What better way to save than to:
- buy in bulk,
- at a warehouse club's low cost,
- plus get a discount with a coupon!
All the better if the items aren't perishable. When we have the space and those grocery savings stars are all in alignment, we load up on such items as paper towels, oatmeal/cereal bars, soap, etc.
If you are willing to use one main credit card for shopping, use a grocery points rewards card like PC Financial Mastercard.
Pay for the groceries using the card to earn points and use those points to reduce costs. The only limitation is that you must shop at Loblaws, Superstore, No Frills, Zehrs, Fortinos.
It works out to $1 = 10 points and 20,000 points = $20. So that works out to spend $1 to earn back $0.01.
This may not help with the overall grocery issue, but I find that there are items that I can do without the name brand version of. A handy rule-of-thumb is to start with the least-expensive brand and work your way up, until you find one that your family likes. For instance, I've learned I can do without French's mustard in favour of no-name, but there's no way I can live without Kraft peanut butter.
Keep a notebook. (or spreadsheet, etc. whatever works) Start to track what things cost as few can really commit this all to memory. You'll start to find the regular sale prices and the timing of them at your supermarkets. I can't even tell you the regular price of chicken breasts, I just know the sale is $1.79-1.99/lb, and I buy enough to freeze to never pay full price. The non-perishables are easy as you don't have to worry about spoilage. Soap you catch on sale+coupon for less than half price is worth buying to the limit, and putting in a closet. Ex Dove soap (as the husband, I'm not about to make an issue of a brand preference. This product is good for the mrs skin in winter) - reg price $1.49. CVS had a whacky deal that offered a rebate on Dove purchase of $20, and in the end, I paid $10 for 40 bars of soap. 2 yrs worth, but 1/6 the price.
This type of strategy can raise your spending in the first month or two, but then you find you have the high runners "in stock" and as you use products from the pantry or freezer, your spending drops quite a bit. If this concept seems overwhelming, start with the top X items you buy. As stated, the one a year purchases save you far less than the things you buy weekly/monthly.
Please stay away from snakes.
Don't use a credit card to buy your food. Those credit companies will eat you alive. Those are reward points they're giving you. It's like the casino giving you a free $50 to start out with. They designed the game. They are going to win.
As for groceries, if you are a coupon clipper, check out thegrocerygame.com:
"Teri's List is a weekly publication of the lowest-priced products at your supermarket or drugstore matched with manufacturers' coupons and specials - advertised and unadvertised. Teri does all the hard work and research, and presents it to you in a straightforward format. Log in each week and print your list!"
Nathon HouseholdBudgetNerd.com Family Budgets for Both of Us
You may use an app called Flipp (or one that serves your area) to check fliers while in the store.
If your preferred store has a price match policy, this can save you a few bucks every trip. Just look up at the app what you are buying and price match it over the cashier. It may or may not work on your store, always ask first.
Try to learn some of the products you always buy regular prices. That way you can tell a real special from a fake one, like I write here about the 2/$5 specials.
Buy generic brands for things you don't care that much, like bleach and other cleaning products that does not have a real quality difference from the branded ones. Try different cheaper brands until you find one that is ok for you.
There are lots of ways to save money on groceries, you just need the will to do so ;)