25 Ways to Spend Less on Food

stockfour / Shutterstock.com

Cutting back on costs is a great way to firm up your finances so you can save for things like retirement. But trimming your grocery bill can be tough — we all need to eat, after all.

In fact, grocery costs have increased during the pandemic, with people eating out less and spending more at the supermarket, according to a recent report from marketing firm Acosta.

If high bills are driving you crazy, take steps to stop the insanity. Keep reading for practical ways to trim your food costs.

1. Use coupons

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

If you want to buy processed foods, definitely use coupons. After all, coupons are most easily found for processed items, and if you combine them with sales, you can get some items practically free.

Try Honey, a browser extension that automatically applies coupons, promo codes and deals at some grocery chains.

2. Invest in half of a hog or a quarter of a cow

Jovica Varga / Shutterstock.com

One of the best ways to use your freezer is to buy a half-hog or a quarter-cow and freeze the meat. Expect to shell out some serious money up front, but your per-pound cost will likely be lower than what you’d pay for a comparable amount of cuts in the grocery store.

Check with your local butcher shop or area farms to see where you can buy meat in bulk this way.

Also, read “7 Ways to Slice the Price of Red Meat, Pork and Poultry” for more money-saving ideas.

3. Make meat a side dish, not the main event

Elenadesign / Shutterstock.com

Regardless of whether you buy directly from the farmer or shop at the grocery store, meat is likely the most expensive part of your meals.

So demote meat from the starring role and use it as a supporting player instead, in casseroles, soups, stews and side dishes.

You’ll find more suggestions in “8 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Meat.”

4. Stockpile the best deals

Jirayu13 / Shutterstock.com

Stockpiling is one of the secrets coupon users use to stretch their dollars. If you buy 50 bottles of ketchup when you can get them for 10 cents each, you’ll never have to buy them at regular price.

Of course, you don’t want to go off the deep end — just how much ketchup will you use? A good rule of thumb is to buy enough to get you to the next sale. Traditionally, sales run on 12-week cycles, so you could buy three months’ worth of an item to avoid having to pay full price next time.

Here are “20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling.”

5. Grab the generics

Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

In the event you need to buy something that isn’t on sale, just reach for the generic.

Generics are cheaper and often just as good as the name brands.

6. Consider a warehouse club membership

Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock.com

Where you shop can be as important as what you buy when it comes to saving money.

Personally, I finally jumped on the Costco bandwagon a few months ago and found it’s saving me a bundle.

Not everyone will benefit from a warehouse club membership. In my case, though, it makes sense because I have a household of seven, including two boys who eat as much as the rest of us combined.

If you’re on the fence, browse the store for free to check out the prices.

Learn to get the best from warehouse clubs, in “10 Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs” and “10 Mistakes That Cost You Money at Warehouse Stores.”

7. Plant a garden

Gardening
Joshua Resnick / Shutterstock.com

One great way to save money on food is to grow your own. Start planning this winter for starting your money-saving garden next spring.

How to Start a Garden to Save Money on Food” helps you going on this fun and frugal project.

8. Head to a stripped-down store

Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock.com

A final store option may be to head to a stripped-down retailer. Aldi may be the best-known store in this category, but Save-a-Lot is another option in my area.

These stores offer a limited selection, might not bag your groceries and might require you to deposit a quarter to use a cart. In exchange, you get low, low prices.

Aldi has a loyal fan base, but I must admit my experiences have only been so-so. Still, if you have a store nearby, it’s worth a trip to see if you can save some money.

9. Sign up for the store loyalty program and e-coupons

Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Even if you don’t relish the idea of clipping paper coupons, sign up for your grocery store’s loyalty and e-coupon programs.

For example, as a Midwest shopper, Meijer is my go-to grocery store. Its mPerks program lets me clip virtual coupons and sign up for personalized rewards. It’s a simple way to save without needing to do anything more than punch in my loyalty number during checkout.

Meijer certainly isn’t unique. Next time you go shopping, swing by the customer service desk and see if your store offers a loyalty or e-coupon program.

10. Learn how to cook

Couple cooking
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

You can also spend less on food if you learn how to cook. Not only will that keep you from heading to the drive-thru as often, it also can help you avoid overpriced, processed foods and make the most of the ingredients you do buy.

If you don’t know where to start, I recommend heading to the library first. You’ll find all sorts of cookbooks geared toward beginners. My personal favorite for new cooks: Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything: the Basics.”

11. Plan menus based on ads or what’s in your pantry

grintan / Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to say you should avoid processed foods and cook from scratch, but whole foods aren’t always cheap either.

Pull a random menu plan out of a cooking magazine, and you may have to pick your jaw up off the floor when you see the total in the checkout lane. It’s a mistake I’ve made. All those strange cuts of meat and fresh herbs really add up.

A better way to make your menu plan is to look at both the ads and what’s in your cupboards. If chicken is on sale and you have rice in the pantry, then you’re having chicken and rice for dinner one day this week.

12. Buy fresh ingredients in season

colors / Shutterstock.com

Cans and boxes will last a long time on your shelf, but fresh ingredients won’t. Fruits and veggies, in particular, can eat up a big chunk of your food budget.

Train your taste buds to like what’s in season.

13. Salvage food about to go bad

Sergiu22 / Shutterstock.com

Regardless of how carefully you plan, you may end up with food that’s about to expire.

You can resign yourself to pitching it in the trash, or you can come up with creative ways to salvage it.

For example, slightly stale bread makes great French toast. You can also use it for croutons and breadcrumbs.

Turn overripe bananas into banana bread. If you have vegetables you know you won’t get to in time, blanch and freeze them.

14. Make the most of your freezer

279photo Studio / Shutterstock.com

A freezer is your best friend when it comes to saving on food. You can freeze practically anything, which means you can buy extras of dirt-cheap groceries and not worry about them going bad.

At our local bread outlet store, I buy all sorts of breads, bagels and muffins to freeze. Thaw them on the counter overnight, and they’re as good as new.

When berries are practically being given away in the spring, I place them in a single layer on a pan to freeze before transferring them to baggies in the freezer.

I’ve even frozen milk and used it later in baking.

15. Make a list and stick to it

wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

When you go to the store, take a list with you. Don’t be swayed by impulse purchases. If it’s not on the list, it stays on the shelf.

16. Don’t walk up and down the aisles

Haveaniceday Photo / Shutterstock.com

Some of us like to wander the aisles to scope out any great deals. True, there might be unadvertised sales in some aisles, but the chance is slim versus the likelihood you’ll be persuaded to buy something you don’t need.

Every extra minute spent in the store is time when you could give in to impulse-buy temptation. Get in and out as quickly as possible.

17. Look high and low

Dan Groy / Shutterstock.com

Another way to find the best deals is to look high and low on the shelves.

Grocery stores may place the biggest profit-generating brands at eye level. Stretching or stooping leads to cheaper brands and leaves more money in your pocket.

18. Check the ethnic foods aisle

Kiryl Padabed / Shutterstock.com

If your store has an ethnic foods aisle, take some time to get acquainted with it.

I find some spices, beans and canned goods are cheaper there than they are elsewhere in the store.

For that matter, if you cook a certain cuisine frequently, see if there is a dedicated ethnic market in your area where you can stock up on essentials at a low price.

19. Go to the store alone

man buying food for a stockpile
Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

This should go without saying, but you will spend less money at the store when shopping without a spouse, children or friends to convince, cajole or coax you into buying extra items.

20. Fill your stomach first

Bobex-73 / Shutterstock.com

You’ll also spend less money if you eat something before heading to the store.

Shopping on an empty stomach may guarantee that everything looks delicious, leading you to fill your cart with food you don’t need.

21. Shop for food in unexpected places

wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to groceries, don’t limit yourself to the grocery store. Sometimes, deals are to be found in unlikely places.

Drug stores are one place where you can occasionally find nearly free groceries if you combine coupons with sales. You don’t want to buy at regular price, but keep an eye on the sales circulars for CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens. All have a couple of great buys each week.

Dollar stores and online retailers such as Amazon are other unexpected places for deals on some of your groceries.

22. Check out outlet stores

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

If you throw stuff out the day before the expiration date stamped on the label, this option probably isn’t for you.

However, for everyone else, look and see whether you have a salvage store or other outlet nearby. These stores sell items that are either imperfect — think dented cans — or nearing their expiration date. It’s hard to find cheaper groceries than what you’ll see at these stores.

I’m not lucky enough to have a scratch and dent store nearby, but I do have a bakery outlet that practically gives away baked goods.

23. Eat less

Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock.com

Finally, one of the best ways to spend less on food is, quite simply, by eating less.

Yes, I know those of you with teens think I’ve gone mad. I have teens myself, so I’m well aware how hard it is to rein in the appetites of growing kids. My strategy has been to put enough of a main course or meat on the table so everyone can have a serving.

Then, I make sure to have a large amount of rice, potatoes or another inexpensive side dish available for when the chorus of “I’m still hungry” begins. And if they don’t like it, well, then I guess it’s tough being a teen in my house.

24. Skip serving-sized items

spafra / Shutterstock.com

Serving-sized portions are convenient. Individual yogurts, cheese sticks and chip bags make packing lunches so easy, but it also makes them more expensive.

Rather than buying small packages, buy bigger portions and break them down. Invest in reusable containers to dole out yogurt from a big tub. Buy chunk cheese and cut it up. Get the big bag of chips and pretzels and divide them up in baggies. It doesn’t take much time, and it will save you dollars.

25. Skip buying processed foods

alexkich / Shutterstock.com

If you really want to make a dent in your budget, lay off the processed foods entirely. They typically provide poor value.

A box of macaroni and cheese might not seem expensive when you can buy it for a buck, but portion sizes are dwindling and that box likely won’t get your family very far. You might be better off investing that dollar toward the ingredients for homemade macaroni and cheese. You might pay a little more upfront, but you’ll get a meal that will feed the family and maybe even leave you with leftovers.

Christina Majeski contributed to this post.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
Eat This Food If You Want to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease
Eat This Food If You Want to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease

One type of food associated with the Mediterranean diet offers especially large benefits.

9 Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Look Expensive
9 Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Look Expensive

These products from Amazon add elegance to your home without the expense.

9 Things You Should Never Pay For With a Debit Card
9 Things You Should Never Pay For With a Debit Card

Use your debit card for one of these expenses, and you could risk your bank account balance, your credit score or even identity fraud.

29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day
29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day

Sometimes, you’ve got to spend to save.

8 Things I Always Buy at Costco
8 Things I Always Buy at Costco

From bacon to birthday cakes, here are my favorite deals at the popular warehouse store.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

17 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
17 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.