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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

  • Great reminder of good habits
  • Don't forget grow your own herbs. Basil will have to be kept inside during cold weather or replanted, but sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme peppermint and lavender can survive outside for many years (and will keep new stock coming in if you do let a seed head or so develop). I do shift pots up close to the house in very cold weather and cover with tarps - as well as covering planted areas with tarps when there is very cold (teens or lower) forecast. I'm sure some other have raised others not on my list. I do have some friends who only grow herbs inside. Whatever works for each individual.
    Thanks for sharing
  • Is recommend shopping online if possible in your area.
    The first time will take a LONG time as there are an immense number of products you'll want to buy, then find the cheapest version of, then prioritise etc but it gets quicker every shop, especially if you tend to buy the same products and your store has a 'favourites' or 'regulars' section.

    Shopping online means you can shop anytime, so shopping hungry or with perfume isn't an issue... You can watch tv while you do it too! It's easier to see what you're spending and on what, it's easier to plan ahead, it's great if you sieve enough to have it delivered rather than collect, as you get it when you want it without spending money on fuel and time on travel.

    Also, buying sticky labels to stick on your open/cooked food means you can see even you need to bin things and you'll end up binning less. You can get plain, write on stickers, stickers with information sections or good old day dots so you just see what day to bin it. :)
  • I buy some items in brand names because they taste better, 2 of the items are French's regular mustard and Heinz ketchup, French's has come up with a recent mustard that does not taste as good as heinz, French's mustard is sold in a $1.00 store where I live, the same with the basic canned soups, I prefer campbells, I buy them on sale, in the more expensive heartier soups there are many brands I like that come on sale.I also make my own at times. I buy many brands of fancier mustards because there are many kinds on sale, I bought 1 yesterday made in germany with large mustard seeds,wine vinegar and spirit vinegar & other spices in it. It costs $2.50, I also bought a different brand of dijon barbeque sauce that has wine in it and cayenne pepper added, it was $2.50. I find that many of the flavourful sauces have a small amount of alcohol or flavoured vinegar in them.Real dijon mustard has wine in it, that is where the name dijon comes from, it is the type of wine in it,without it it is artificial. In the bulk section it is a fact that there factory health standards are lower and many large rodents get in the food and are ground up in the food, this is toxic because of the many diseases they have in the wild. I do buy store brand products like rice,dried beans in bags that are the same price as bulk as long as I get them on sale. I do not like the idea of eating large rodents, there are more in foods like flour,grains, spices,rice as they like these foods more. I do not buy organic but all fruits & vegetables are soaked in 1 cup of vinegar and 2 cups of water in a bowl for 15 minutes before drying thoroughly. I scrub everything before I do this as this will get rid of many toxins. Also lemon juice kills botulism so it is good to use in jams and salad dressings or other homemade sauces so you do not get sick. I am allergic to many foods, but try to buy many grains & different types of flour to do more of my own cooking cheaper. In a store I shop rice flour is sold for .89 for 1 pound and $1.69 for a 2 pound bag, they had a small bag of mixed ...
    Thanks for sharing
  • Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it. - Benjamin Franklin
  • hmm, some good suggestions but honestly food is just plain out expensive. not all generic are created equal and for some of us, lactose free, gluten free must have's, are killer on the wallet!! I do think less meat is a great idea ( no, not a vegetarian, just stingy with the grocery money). I think its insane that food that is suppose to healthier cost triple of that of junk food. we live in a backwards world.
  • All good suggestions. Thanks for sharing.

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.