18 tips to save on your grocery bill

The weekly grocery bill is probably one of the biggest expense items for your household, so how do you cut down on your food costs without compromising on quality and nutrition? Cooking and eating in as much as possible is a great start, but there are many expert tricks and tips for shopping and meal planning that could help you dramatically cut your grocery bill without having to eat poorly.

1. Shop once a week or less

Supermarkets are designed to encourage you to spend more. The more often you shop, the more impulse buys you tend to end up with and the more you are likely to spend. You are likely to spend more if you drop in every few days rather than doing just one big shop a week. You might even be able to stretch it out to eight or nine days between each shop to avoid temptation. Use and serve the items that spoil quickly first and keep the items that stay fresh longer for later in the week.

2. Use a shopping list

Use a detailed shopping list that’s based on your menu plan so that you are not tempted to buy things that you don’t need. However, it’s important to stay flexible even when you are using meal plans so you don’t miss out on tricks such as using cheaper substitutes or using up what’s left in your cupboards.3

3. Plan meals by specials

Stay flexible by planning a few meals each week around the specials that are currently available. Plan meals around seasonal items to save even more. Most recipes don’t need to be rigidly applied, so if there’s plenty of discounted salmon this week in your fridge you can use that instead of the usual chicken for your weekly curry meal. You can end up saving a lot more if you are open to the idea of eating differently.

4. Maintain a replacement list

A running replacement list can also help you save so that you end up buying things when you actually run out rather than buying too much of something you don’t need.5 Keep your replacement list on your fridge and add to it when you notice something’s running low. Then add your weekly replacement list to your shopping list.

5. Shop high and low

In supermarkets, the most expensive items and the ones being promoted the most are always placed at eye view in between shoulder and waist height. Cheaper products will usually be below knee height or set high above eye level.

diagram of groceries based on placement and cost

6. Use substitutes

Review your previous shopping lists and tick the most expensive grocery items. Explore which substitutes you can use instead of these ingredients and add those to your shopping list the next time you are preparing that meal. Just substituting a few luxury or more expensive items can help you save a considerable amount over the course of a year.

7. Watch out for specials

Do a bit of research on the specials in your local area, bookmark the best coupon and special sites and subscribe to specials emails or texts. However, be careful with specials as you can end up being tempted to buy more than you actually need. Some savvy shoppers recommend taking advantage of specials only for long-shelf-life items such as canned foods and dry goods.

8. Try meatless Mondays

Some smart shoppers suggest eating vegetarian a couple of times a week. Meat is usually among the most expensive items in your shopping list and you can save a significant amount of money over the long run just by substituting with cheaper, healthy proteins such as beans and tofu.

9. Choose self-preparation over pre-prepared

Processing and packaging can add extra costs to your ingredients so prepare from scratch wherever possible.4 The more preparation you do yourself, the more money you save. Shopping at markets, buying ingredients rather than pre-prepared meals and washing and chopping food yourself will all help cut down the cost of each meal.

10. Get creative with leftovers and near-expiry items 

Shop your freezer, pantry and leftovers before you head out to shop. With Aussies throwing out one in every five bags of food or $8 billion worth of edible food every year, there’s plenty of opportunity to find savings by getting creative with leftovers and near-expiry items.

You can start by having at least one leftover dinner every week and making it a habit to clean out your pantry and freezer before your weekly shopping trip.3 Use leftover-meal sites or apps to get inspiration and ideas for what to do with leftovers. You can also save more by cooking double portions at least once a week and serving leftovers the following evening.

11. Use the smaller trolley

Research shows that the bigger the shopping cart, the more likely you will buy more, while handbaskets can make you want to buy junk food as an unconscious reward. The next time you are in the store try skipping the handbasket and the extra-large trolley and use a small trolley to carry your goods.

12. Skip the deli

Whether you are buying cold cuts or thawed seafood, you are probably paying more than you have to if you are buying from the deli. A small piece of ham that you slice yourself can end up being 50% cheaper than the pre-sliced ham you buy at the deli, while chicken can be up to a third cheaper.

Look for the larger chunks of prepacked meat and slice the meat yourself at home to save more. Buy seafood from the frozen aisle since it’s likely that the deli seafood that’s been frozen and thawed is pretty much the same product, only sold at a higher price.

13. Familiarise yourself with markdown practices

Get to know the prices of your grocery staples and find out as much as you can about markdown practices in your local area. Often the best times to shop in supermarkets are Mondays and Thursdays because they are the typically times when core items such as laundry powder, nappies and toilet papers are discounted.

14. Shop for fresh items first

As fresh items tend to be cheaper than packaged items, always start with the fresh items on your list before moving to the pre-packaged or pre-prepared aisles.2 Ideally you should be shopping in the order of fruit and vegetables first and then meat, and then dairy.

15. Shop alone

Studies show that the larger your shopping entourage, the more likely you will end up with impulse buys. The next time you head out for a grocery run try shopping alone so you can stay focused on your list.

16. Grow your own herbs

Herbs are healthy and flavoursome ingredients to add to your meals. They are inexpensive to grow and take up little room in your garden, while fresh herbs from the supermarket tend to be expensive. Having fresh herbs in your backyard means you will be able to spruce up a meal without ending up throwing that half a bunch of unused basil out.

17. Eat before you shop

Always eat or snack before you shop so you are not tempted by the snacks aisle or the sight of the hot rotisserie chicken. Some research suggests that eating a mint can help you combat the tempting smells of food in the supermarket.

18. Play your own music

Load up your phone with some upbeat music and listen to it as you shop. Studies have shown that stores will opt for music with a slower beat to encourage you to move more slowly around the store, leading you to buy as much as 29% more.

We often spend much more than we have to on groceries because we shop and cook without a plan. By putting more thought into your meals, getting creative with leftovers and shopping smart at the supermarket; your household can save a lot of money and reduce food wastage.

For more parenting hacks, such as how to warm up a bottle on the go and white noise apps, download our ebook, 50 Hacks For New Parents.