Nutrition Articles

15 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Healthy Groceries

Beyond Clipping Coupons: Real-World Strategies that Work

Have you ever experienced a feeling of sticker shock when the grocery store cashier announced your total? Do you wonder how such a large percentage of your paycheck fits into a few measly bags? Groceries are expensive, especially these days, when many of us are struggling to make ends meet and food prices continue to rise. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Fortunately, there are many ways to save money on your grocery bill—without giving up on your desire to eat healthier. We all have a variety of challenges and circumstances, so select the suggestions below that will work for you and your family.

Don’t shop on an empty stomach.
The cardinal sin of grocery shopping, hitting the store when you're hungry, will put you over budget faster than you can say "junk food." If you have no choice but to go to the store without a meal, buy an apple and some nuts (or another snack rich in protein and/or fiber) to munch on while you’re shopping.

At the very least, make a list before you shop. At the very best, plan your weekly menu or list a few main dishes that you can eat throughout the week. This will save you not only money on your grocery bill by preventing you from buy (and possibly pitching) food you don't need, but also time and fuel savings, from fewer trips to the store for essential ingredients.

Buy generic.
Held to the same standards as name-brand versions, store-brand products are usually just as good, and less expensive. Generic products are available for nearly every product you can think of, so be on the lookout for them (and watch your savings add up).

Shop alone.
Sometimes this just isn’t possible, but if you can shop solo, you’ll be able to focus on finding the best deals and taking as much time as you need to make it through the store. In addition, no one else will be begging for items that aren't on your list.

Bring your calculator.
Sometimes the largest container of, say, tomato sauce, isn’t actually the best deal. Unless you like to do long division in your head, consider toting a pocket calculator when you head to the supermarket. It’ll make figuring out the real prices for items a lot easier. As long as you can afford it at the time, buy the brand and size of a product that has the lowest per-unit (per pound, ounce, etc) price to get more for your money.

Make smart substitutions.
This one may be hard for some of us, but it has the potential to save you a great deal. Think about what you eat, and then think about what may be a cheaper—at equally healthy—substitute. Like breakfast cereal? Oatmeal is usually cheaper. Love soda? Try sparkling water with a little fruit juice mixed in. Snack on chips? Pop some popcorn kernels on your stovetop instead. Be willing to make substitutions on brands and specific ingredients based on sales, too. You may find that a different brand or flavor of yogurt, for example, is a better deal one week. Snag it!

Buy whole foods.
Sometimes, the less processed a food is, the cheaper it is per serving. Apples may cost less than applesauce or apple juice. Canned black beans will be cheaper than refried beans. A block of cheese costs less than shredded cheese. Whole grains like brown rice and oats will be cheaper than processed cereals. Think about the original, whole food that a product is made from and decide if you can eat that whole food as-is or use it to make your own sauce, cereal or juice—instead of paying food manufacturers to do it for you.

Buy in bulk.
Long a staple of natural food stores, bulk or “bag and weigh” sections are now appearing in traditional supermarkets. Items like flour, beans, rice, nuts, and dried fruits are available for less than prepackaged versions of the same foods.

Don’t get stuck in the middle (of the grocery store).
Packaged foods have been condensed, salted, refined, sweetened, or otherwise processed. They may seem like a good deal, providing more calories for less money, but those calories usually aren't very nutritious. Resist the lure of the middle aisles and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store; you’ll save money and wind up with bags full of whole foods. When you do find yourself in the middle aisles, aim your gaze toward the top or bottom of the shelves, where the prices are usually lower. Grocers strategically place higher-priced products at eye level.

Eat your protein without the meat.
Try substituting one meat meal per week with a vegetarian meal to save money and benefit your health. Beans, eggs, and tofu all provide high-quality protein for a fraction of the cost of meat. Find more meat-free protein ideas and inexpensive meatless meal ideas.

Read ads and clip coupons.
A “loss leader” is a sale item that a store is actually selling at a loss in order to get you in the door. Take advantage of these deals when you see them, but remember, a good deal is only good if it’s on something you’d normally buy, not just something you’re buying because it’s on sale. Many sales and coupons are on less-than-healthy processed foods, so look for special deals on healthy items like yogurt, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, and similar staples that have a longer shelf life.

If you’re really craving a special treat, make it from scratch. You can make it from healthier ingredients and spend less. Tell those muffins in the bakery case that are calling your name to hush and whip up a batch of some with whole grains, blueberries and honey at home that would put the store-bought ones to shame.

Eat seasonally.
In-season produce costs less, thanks to the law of supply and demand. You might miss having tomatoes in the heart of winter, but the fresh, perfect tomatoes of summer taste better, cost less and are more nutritious anyway. Check out sales flyers and base your menu off fresh foods that are available right now (instead of foods that have to travel across the country or an ocean to make it to your store). Make a trip to your local farmers market to get some great prices on local produce.

Carry out—from your kitchen.
Packing your lunch, snacks, drinks, and other meals are usually less expensive and healthier than eating out. It will require more planning, but the dollars you save will be worth your time in the end. If necessary, invest in some reusable lunch bags and containers instead of buying disposable sacks and baggies for your food week after week.

Grow your own food.
Plants are cheap, and seeds are even cheaper. You can grow your own fruits and vegetables—tomatoes, peppers, squash, garlic, onions, broccoli, herbs, and many more delicious crops—right in your very own backyard (or in containers on your balcony) with a minimal amount of effort. They’ll save you money and taste far better than store-bought. If you’d like some instant gratification, consider sprouting, which you can do in a few days right on your kitchen countertop. Alfalfa, sunflower, broccoli or bean sprouts add a nutritious crunch to sandwiches, wraps, and salads.

When it comes to saving money on food, you often have to sacrifice more of your own time—planning, cooking, growing and clipping coupons—but most people agree that it's worth the time they put into it. All of these tasks will become easier and more efficient after a while. You may find that shopping, cooking and eating will become that much more rewarding, and not just for your wallet!

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Member Comments

  • Again - an article last commented on 1/2 a year ago. The absolute best way to save money on shopping - for anything - NOT JUST FOOD - is to know what it costs and do a little homework to save legwork later.

    Prices in California are 60% higher for produce than they were in Virginia where we moved from - talk about a shock. We are a produce eating family - especially me.

    We never buy bulk since there are only two of us. Mealy bugs find their way into everything even jars.

    Subtitling legumes for meat is great - and we do it all the time but to do it right and get compelte protein and some flavor takes work.
    Sometimes fresh produce is not the best buy, so look in the frozen foods! They are just as healthy, healthier than canned, and frequently on sale. I only buy certain cuts of meat, and when my store has it on sale, I stock up, and freeze the extra. Example - last week lean ground beef was on sale, so I bought several pounds, made about two dozen meatballs, and froze them in bags. Also, prepackaged chicken breasts are $4.99/ pound, but the same chicken is $1.99/pound in the butcher case... I never buy pasta sauce, I buy cans of crushed and diced tomatoes, cook a Crock Pot full of sauce, and freeze 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags (lay the bags flat to freeze them, and they are easier to store). My husband loves blueberries year round, so over the summer, when they are cheap, I buy extra and freeze bags of berries too...
  • Also missed the comment of avoiding organic, which helps me save a lot of money. But good article overall.
  • " products are usually just as good, and less expensive."

    My mom used to say that. Any kid who grew up poor knows it's a dirty lie.
    Growing your own wound up not being a savings at all, it cost too much to build up the garden area, price of water, time wasted to take care of it, and frankly the stuff homegrown really didn't taste better after all of that.... And the family was sick of salad, didn't want to see a tomato ever again.
  • If you can, grow some of your own veggies. All I have is a patio and I'm growing like crazy, all things salad! See how you can freeze certain seasonal fruits/veggies and learn to can (and dehydrate) and you can store up for the winter months. I'm lucky enough to live near a farming community so I do U-pick blueberries, strawberries, corn, and so on...this is SO much cheaper than anything you'll find at your local grocery store. Also at the end of the season some farmers have programs that allow you to come out and pick anything left over for FREE. Farmers markets can be a big savings too and typically much fresher. Also buying bulk on things like brown rice, flower, and beans. Yes, they take more time to prepare but the price per serving is typically much lower.
    i already do all this and its still waaaaaay expensive to eat healthy . normally a person can survive spending five dollars on fast food to live . to eat healthy your spending at least 2.00 on lettuuce 1.00 green pepper 1.00 tomato 1.00 avocado , .2 egg , .5 apple .5 cereal , ........... its at least like 12.00 a day to eat healthy and not be loaded with carbs . any healthy low carb cheap recommendations ?
  • This is a great article! I don't buy canned beans any more. It is so easy to cook dried beans and lentils from scratch and then freeze them. The best thing besides saving money is that they have little to no sodium, unlike canned goods.
  • We try to buy generic a lot but sometimes I find generic quality not as good as some brands - canned whole kernel corn and green beans are some of our "picky" areas. In some cases, as well, Ican't find generic for what we need - for instance sodium reduced or salt free products like Rotel tomatoes. For that, I try to watch for specials. In fact, I often buy regular name brand when same price or lower than generics - you have to read advertised specials, etc a lot.. Also, I often find the price of bulk unshredded cheese to be the same/# as the shredded.
  • LOL! If I'm not hungry when I'm shopping, I end up grabbing just a couple of staples (bread and milk) so I can get out of the store quickly. Shopping only works for me when I have an interest in food.
  • Its odd because most of the stores I shop at have the price per unit so its easy to figure out the best price.
    My biggest problem is buying too much food and having to throw it away. I will try to follow some of these suggestions so I don't waste money. I especially like the idea of planning what I'm going to eat, and buy only those things.
  • I always take my calculator one because i am on a budget and two cause i can totally buy bad things if i dont.
    I find that I am now pretty good at buying the best foods at the best prices. But sometimes I buy too much, and I waste money when I have to throw away food. I am now trying to work on using everything I buy.
    I always cook a pot of (dried) beans in the crockpot every week and use them for hummus, refried beans, salsas, pasta, salads, and even to make bean burgers or sandwich spreads.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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