Back when I first moved off campus, I thought shopping for one was about buying for one, not planning too far ahead, and eating whatever I wanted—especially unnecessary, expensive foods that my parents wouldn’t let me buy when I was a kid. (Looking at you, Lucky Charms.)
When I graduated college and was flat broke and unemployed, I finally educated myself about all the ways I could save—including at the grocery store.
Most of what a grocery store sells is semi-prepared and designed for busy people. So, if you put it even just a little effort, you can save a lot of money there.
Here are 10 easy things you can do to cut grocery costs.
1. Buy a big bag of regular sized carrots and cut them up yourself! Did you know that baby carrots are a lie? Besides that, they’re also expensive. On peapod.com, a 5-lb bag of carrots costs $3.49, while the regular price of baby carrots is $2.89 for a 2-lb bag. When you work it out, that’s 70 cents/lb vs. $1.45/lb—or more than double the cost for the same amount of “baby” carrots.
2. Make your own marinara sauce. It’s easy—all you need are two 28-oz cans tomatoes (they cost about around 75 cents a can, on sale), one 6-oz can of tomato paste (50 cents), and about 50 cents worth of onions and garlic. You’ll have a batch more than twice the size of jarred sauce and at less the cost. Just freeze some for later in freezer-safe bags.
3. Invest in a water bottle with a filter. Instead of buying bottled water, get a reusable bottle. At about $10, It costs the same amount as about 2-3 cases of bottled water, depending on the brand.
4. Purchase a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts/thighs/wings. Cook it all, then portion out the different meats and freeze with rice and vegetables for microwave meals. For a popular brand of chicken (not sketchy store-brand meat), the cost of whole chicken meat per pound is around $1.99, while breast meat on its own is $5.69/lb.
5. Buy lettuce heads not bagged pre-washed baby lettuce. The heads cost about $2 each, while bagged greens are $2.99 and up. The size of the lettuce head clearly varies, but I’d say from experience that the average bag and average head of lettuce contain the same number of servings. I’m pretty sure the bagged lettuce goes bad faster, too.
6. Use blocks of cheese rather than shredded cheese. I usually buy cheese when it’s on sale—$2.50 for an 8-oz block of cheddar ($5/lb). By comparison, shredded cheese is about $3.50 for an 8-oz bag ($7/lb). If you buy it by the block, you also get to choose whether you want cubed, sliced, or shredded cheese.
7. Avoid Easy Mac. Pick up a bunch of boxes of macaroni and cheese when it’s on sale. If you’re not going to eat the whole box at once and dislike mac and cheese leftovers like I do, then only cook half the box at a time. A single Easy Mac serving costs $1, while you can get a whole box of real macaroni and cheese for $1.50.
8. Get a large container of instant oatmeal rather than instant oatmeal packets. Pre-portion packets in Ziploc baggies by adding brown sugar, cinnamon, and optionally, dried fruit. The box of 10 single servings of oatmeal costs $3.99, while a 42-oz can of quick oatmeal is $4.99 and contains 30 servings.
9. Make a habit of buying large bags of produce you eat frequently, rather than individual pieces. This applies to onions, apples, potatoes, peppers, citrus fruits, etc. As long as you know you’ll eat it all, buy it in bulk. Just for one pricing example, a Granny Smith apple costs $1.09 at peapod.com, while an entire 3-lb bag of the same kind of apple is $5. You’ll definitely get more than five apples in the bag, so this is worth it.
10. Build a collection of microwave- and freezer-safe Tupperware containers and Ziploc bags. To be extra thrifty, you can wash and reuse the bags and collect Tupperware and jars from other food items you’ve already finished, such as takeout containers, sauce and jam jars, sour cream containers, etc.—just be sure only to microwave or freeze if the material is designed for it!
How do you save at the supermarket? Share your tips in the comments.
(Photo: Rob Stinnett)