How to Save Money at the Grocery Store, While Still Eating Well

With rising food costs, it's worth learning how to shop more frugally.

man carrying grocery bags in a parking lot

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Food costs have risen dramatically across the United States and Canada in recent months. Most shoppers will have noticed the higher price tags and inflated bills at checkout—the result of supply chain disruptions, such as bottlenecks at processing points, border delays, labor woes, too few truck drivers to haul produce, and pandemic-induced restrictions. 

In September the Washington Post reported that meat prices were up 5.9% over last year and 15.7% over August 2019. The New York Times suggests an even bigger increase, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says prices of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs in U.S. cities are up 10.5% since January 2020.

It's the same in Canada, with chicken costing 10.3% more in September, and beef and dairy products up 13% and 5.1%, respectively. The Star writes, "The price of bacon, up 20%, saw the largest year-over-year gain since January 2015." And that stalwart staple peanut butter, which has stayed at roughly the same price for two decades, has increased by 3%.

Shoppers are feeling the pinch at checkout, and that's only going to become more noticeable as the holiday season progresses, with all its related expenses. So it's a good time for a refresher on the old-school Treehugger topic of how to save money on groceries. While some of these tips may be familiar to you, it can be helpful to revisit them to remind oneself of just how effective good grocery and cooking strategies can be.


Shop the sales. Buy what's on sale and build your meals around that. Look at flyers in advance so that you can create a meal plan, or plan once you get home from the store, based on what you've bought.

Buy in bulk when prices are good. Pretty much everything can be prepared in such a way that it can be stored for future use, including fresh produce, so don't hesitate to buy large quantities.

Shop the clearance section. Most grocery stores (and convenience stores, too) have a spot for reduced items. Go there first and buy whatever you know you can use. This is especially useful for canned and dried pantry goods.

Ignore expiry dates. Take advantage of last-minute offers on perishables that you should "enjoy tonight!" Even if you don't want to eat it that day, put it in the freezer. Don't worry if products are close to expiring; those dates are notoriously arbitrary and it's better to use your own senses to determine an item's edibility.

Shop at a discount grocer. Even if it means traveling further to get there, it's worth the effort, as this can reduce grocery costs by 15-30%. Shop once per week to save the cost of gas (also high right now) or ride your bike several times a week.

Buy "sturdy" vegetables. These last longer in the pantry or fridge, and cost less per pound than lighter, leafier, and more fragile vegetables. They'll fill you up faster, too. Shop the frozen aisle for produce that would typically spoil faster if bought fresh, such as spinach, berries, peas, etc.

Buy seasonal produce. The less distance it's had to travel, the cheaper it usually is. If you live in a colder region, the seasonal produce will likely be longer-lasting than foods imported from a warm climate or faraway greenhouse.

Avoid pre-made/packaged foods. Try to make your own instead. Things like muffins, cookies, granola bars, spiced nuts, energy bars, and more are significantly cheaper when you make them from scratch and can be frozen for future consumption.


Use alternative proteins, such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, and ground soy. These are so much cheaper than meat, highly versatile, and packed with protein and other nutrients. 

Set aside time to cook, whether it's during weeknight evenings or a weekend afternoon. You may need time to navigate new ingredients, recipes, and techniques that center around cost-saving efforts.

Eat simply. Great food can be made from simple combinations of lower-cost ingredients. Think of a creamy cauliflower soup, a lentil dal, a mushroom risotto, a bean-and-cheese quesadilla, a baked potato, fried rice. Avoid recipes with long ingredient lists that require you to buy lots of extra things. Seek out cookbooks and food sites that make this easy, such as Budget Bytes.

Eat at home to avoid the restaurant mark-up. You'll have leftovers, too. If you do go out, eat something ahead of time so you're not overly hungry. Choose the cheapest item on the menu (often a vegetarian choice). Consider splitting an appetizer and main with your partner; some restaurants will plate shared orders separately, so you hardly notice the difference.


Learn how to store food effectively. Fresh produce can be blanched or washed, trimmed, and chopped, then frozen on trays and/or packed into freezer bags. Prepared food can be frozen in yogurt containers and marked with the contents and date. Many soups, curries, stews, and sauces will keep for a week or more in a mason jar in the fridge. You might be surprised at some of the foods that can be frozen, like hardboiled eggs, citrus, cheese, and more.

Eat leftovers. Designate one night per week when you go through the fridge and eat whatever's left from previous meals. Or use lingering ingredients to create a few smaller dishes that are enough to fill you up. (Treehugger writer Sami Grover calls it "Wing-It Wednesdays" in his house.)

Consider getting a specialized device, based on your cooking style. One Star reader swears by her vacuum sealer machine for freezing meats and cheeses. She says it's "one of the greatest things I ever bought!" Another loves her dehydrator, using it for both individual ingredients and making full dehydrated meals for future consumption. I'm an Instant Pot fan, as it allows me to "set and forget" large quantities of food, including items that take a long time (e.g. beets, dried beans, stock).

This list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it can offer some encouragement at a time when the grocery bill may feel utterly demoralizing. Be strategic and careful, and you'll reap the rewards eventually.

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