The financial squeeze of inflation is no joke – and neither is its impact on your food budget. Rising food costs, from a $12 hamburger at a diner to a $7 jar of pickles at the supermarket, might make you wonder if you can find cheaper alternatives.
The average cost of groceries plus dining out varies from $4,875 to $13,973 per year based on income.1 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the price tag of food has shot up by over 10% in the past year. Breaking it down even more, the cost of groceries has increased by 11.3%, while the cost of eating out has increased by 8.3%. 2
Looking for ideas on how to save money on food? Here are 10 ways you can save on groceries and restaurants:
1. Set a grocery budget
Set a limit on your grocery budget. Can you buy a week’s worth of groceries for just $50? How about $100? Turn it into a ‘how low can you go?’ game. Scour ads to see what’s on sale before you enter the store. Plan your meals and snacks around what you can get at a discount that week.
You can also save a chunk of change by shopping for generic brands. Many major grocery chains carry non-branded versions of food staples that are cheaper. Before reaching for the brand-name version of an item, see if you can find the generic brand and make a cost comparison.
Feeling the financial squeeze of inflation on your food budget? To help you save, sign up for Chime and grow your savings automatically with Round Ups and Save When I Get Paid.3
2. Be wary of sales tactics
Be aware of clever sales tactics and marketing ploys. Retailers spend tons of money researching different ways to get you to spend more. For instance, limited-time specials, promos, and bulk sales can have you going over budget. Other marketing sales strategies include employing psychological tactics, like:
- Anchoring. This is when the sales price is strategically priced next to the regular price, making you feel like you’re getting a bargain.
- Placing impulse buys at the end of each aisle and checkout counter. You might drop something into your shopping cart you don’t need.
- Loss leaders. These are advertised items at super low prices. While you might be getting a deal on the sale item, the intent is to get you to step foot into the store and buy more items at regular prices.
Steer clear of these sales tactics by not shopping when you’re bored, tired, or hungry. Research shows that we tend to spend more when we’re in any of these less-than-ideal cognitive states.4 Shop when you’re well-rested and alert, and stick to your shopping list.
3. Use coupons
Modern-day couponing isn’t about scouring through your mailers, clipping paper coupons, and stashing them in a coupon binder – unless that’s your idea of a good time. Tons of great coupon apps and browser extensions can help you score savings.
For instance, Honey is a free shopping browser extension that automatically applies promo codes, discounts, and sales when you shop online. Plus, you can earn cash-back rewards. Along the same lines , Dosh and Ibotta are popular savings apps that can help you save. You can find and apply coupons at checkout, link to store loyalty accounts of your favorite retailers, and rack up rewards.
4. Only buy essentials in bulk
Buying 10 pounds of strawberries on sale only for half of it to end up in the trash doesn’t save you money. Instead of purchasing bulk quantities of perishables – produce, dairy, and other food items you can’t freeze or store – buy must-have household items in bulk.
Stock up on necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, baby diapers, and anything else you and your family use regularly. Memberships to discount warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club could be worth it if you go often and take advantage of the sales and discounts. You might be able to snag a seasonal discount on a membership during the holidays, so keep an eye out.
5. Check grocery store clearance racks
Clothing stores aren’t the only ones with bargain bins and clearance racks. Check your local supermarket for discount bins, often in the back of the store near the restrooms. Sometimes you can find heavily marked-down food in the meat department or produce section.
True story: my mom has often found perfectly good meat for $1 or $2 a pound in the clearance section of the butcher department.
6. Check your pantry
Ever dash to the store to grab a stick of butter to bake some cookies, only to find several unopened boxes hidden at the bottom of your fridge?
Before you make another grocery run, check to see what you already have in your fridge and pantry. Then, come up with dishes you can create. If you have a surplus of food at home, skip that week’s grocery trip and use as much of what you already have before heading to the market.
Get creative and use what you already have before spending more money. Apps like Tasty let you search for recipes based on an ingredient or two.
7. Use apps to save money on food
Apps such as Too Good to Go allow you to buy leftovers from bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, pizzerias, and grocers at a fat discount – anywhere from 30% to 50% off.
If you’re up for a surprise, these grab bags you pick up within a designated time frame could delight your tummy and wallet. Combatting food waste and saving money is a win-win.
Misfit Markets, Imperfect Foods, and GrubMarket sell less-than-perfect food or grocery surpluses at a discount.
8. Dine during lunch or happy hour
Many bars and restaurants offer happy hour or lunch specials. If in doubt, check the restaurant’s website, Yelp, or Google Business page to see if they offer a discounted lunch menu. You can enjoy the ambiance and joy of dining out and get more for your buck.
Another perk? If you opt for happy hour, you can beat the bustle of the dinner crowd.
9. Scale back on eating out
Those late-night trips to the drive-thru of your favorite fast food chain can seriously damage your food budget. Instead, aim to eat out once or twice a week. Make it count by carefully choosing where you want to eat and why.
To avoid throwing down dough at fast food places out of convenience, try to meal prep if you have the time. Meal prepping could seem difficult when you’re busy, but it can help you reduce food waste, eat healthier, and save money.
Carve out a few hours a week to focus on batch cooking. Lean on your slow cooker and easy recipes when you can.
10. Spread out grocery trips and pick one store
If you’re a grocery store addict, you might head to different markets several times a week.
Instead, wait until you’ve gone through most of your food before heading to the market. Plus, pick a single grocery store for your trip. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing you spent less on groceries for the week, but $30 spent at each place adds up quickly.
How can I spend $60 a week on groceries?
You can start by shopping sales, creating a shopping list, and staying with it. Curb impulse buys and buy generic brand-name items.
How can I spend $100 a week on groceries?
Turn it into a game by doing some comparison shopping and buying generic. Stick to your budget. If you’re prone to impulse buys, consider getting food delivery. While delivery and service fees and tips are required, it could help you from making last-minute purchases at the checkout counter.
How can I make my grocery bill cheaper?
Some ways to make your grocery bill cheaper include buying sale items, shopping clearance racks, and only buying what you need. And consider taking fewer trips to the grocery store.
How much does the average person spend eating out?
In 2021, the average person in the U.S. spent roughly $250 a month eating out, or roughly $3,000 a year. 5
How much should you spend on restaurants per month?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. How you should spend on restaurants each month depends on your budget, lifestyle, and what you value. If you’re unsure, look at your past bank and credit card statements to see how much you spend eating out on average. Does it sit right with you financially? If not, make some tweaks.
Save money on food despite inflation
Whether cooking at home or eating out, you can put more dollars into your pocket and save on overall food costs. And while you can’t control inflation, you can find ways to save. Watch your food spending go down without feeling deprived by employing a few simple tips and tricks.