How to save money on food: 12 Counter intuitive ways to slash your grocery bill

This post was most recently updated on December 7th, 2021

With money being very tight in many homes at the moment and food costs rising, and many suggesting that it is going to get worse before it gets better, food is one of the few places many of us have wiggle room to save money. Here are 12 counter intuitive ways to save money buying food and cut your grocery bill significantly.

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How to save money on food

If you search for “How to save money on food” you will find a lot of posts suggesting:

  • Buy in bulk
  • Meal plan
  • Shop less often
  • Eat a meat-free meal

And I am here to tell you the complete opposite! Grocery shopping is one of the largest household expenses after housing, so it is one of the best places to turn your focus if you need to save money fast.

12 Crazy ways to save on your grocery bill

Here are the 12 best ways to save money in your food budget, some of them might surprise you!

1. Don’t buy in bulk (if it doesn’t make sense to)

Buying in bulk is the classic money saving tip given for saving money with food. However, I want to suggest a counter-point (well two actually).

Buying in bulk isn’t always cheaper.

Take a calculator with you when you go shopping and look for the best deal per kilogram/gram or pound/ounce.

You will often find that the items on special that week are cheaper than the non on special bulk bags. Also, there is economy of scale – the more popular size is usually cheaper because they make and sell so much of it.

In our local supermarket the 1kg bags of rice are cheaper per kilo than the 10kg bag. Crazy but true.

This is especially true in the basic food items like rice, flour and sugar.

RELATED: How to properly stock your homestead pantry

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Bulk can go to waste

Only buy the bigger packet or larger amount if you can guarantee you can keep it fresh until you use it. Weevils will happily infect flour, sugar and grains, mice will happily eat (or just pee on) anything you have stored. Ants and other pests are also very destructive.

If you do buy dry goods in bulk, be sure to have pest-proof storage options already.

Perishable items should not be bought in bulk unless you have a plan to freeze or otherwise preserve them. Processed food tends to have a longer shelf life, but they too will go off given enough time.

Having a store of canned food is great, but be sure to use the oldest ones first, this is not a time to buy up large, store them somewhere and never use them.

Bulk bins / self serve small volumes

Use the bulk bins to buy small volumes of spices etc that you might need for recipes if they aren’t items that you use regularly.

If you use certain spices a lot, buy them in big bags and save money that way.

We buy our chili powder from the Indian food market, and paprika in 500g (1lb) bags. But things like fenugreek I buy by the tablespoonful in the bulk bins because we don’t use it often.

Don’t waste your precious grocery bill money on food that you won’t use before it goes bad, no matter how good of a deal it is.

2. Avoid the buy more and save deals

Perishable items like fresh fruit and vegetables will need to be preserved or frozen if you buy more than what you can use in a typical week.

Avoid the three for the price of two deals on things like broccoli unless you KNOW that you will use them. Usually you will find you don’t use them and you would have been better off just buying one.

Getting a great deal on a kilo of fresh berries is great, but you will need to use or preserve them within a few days or else you just wasted the money. Frozen fruit will last a long time if it is in a sealed package, so you can freeze fresh fruit spread out on a tray and as soon as it is frozen, move them to ziplock bags and continue to freeze them.

The buy more and save deals CAN be helpful on non perishable items if they are something that you actually eat regularly but avoid the impulse purchase if you know you won’t eat things before they go bad.

3. Don’t keep a (rigid) meal plan

Meal planning help make dinners predictable and take the stress out of the “what shall we have for dinner” conversation and make your shopping lists very predictable.

However, meal plans do not usually allow for making the most of the weekly specials, seasonal variations, or the bulk foods that you have stored that you need to rotate through using.

If you need a meal plan, try and make it more flexible. Instead of beef burritos, try just making it Mexican night, or soft tacos and then you have the flexibility to use whatever foods fit within that category that fit within your food budget, or that you have in the fridge that need used up.

4. Embrace the leftovers

Instead of making a meal feed exactly the number of people in your house and ending up with little half-empty packets of things. I suggest that you make the full amount, and then utilize the cooked leftovers later in the week.

A large cook up of ground beef/mince can be used in several meals in a row with the addition of different spices.

If you make a big dish of lasagna or bacon and egg pie and only eat half of it it can be used as an easy cook dinner for another night of the week and save you from buying more expensive processed food. Or if there is only a few servings left it can be your lunches for the week.

Leftover soup

Left over soup also known as anything soup was a staple during the depression where any left over vegetables or meat scraps that needed eaten asap were added to a soup.

The good thing about soup is that you can use veggies and other that you wouldn’t want in a salad anymore. Slightly rubbery carrots, or limp cabbage or celery would be shunned if you served them up raw, but in a soup blended together no one will be any wiser.

Leftover night

Sunday night in our house is often leftovers night where we endeavor to use all the leftovers from the week. Either as individual dishes, as a leftover soup, a curry, or an ingredient on top of pizza depending on what we have that needs used up.

5. Shop more often

I know it is suggested that you only shop once a week at the most to save money. However, if you are like me and buy a lot of fresh produce or you have limited capacity to store food then shopping twice a week could actually save you money.

This does need some caveats. The idea behind shopping less often is that you avoid buying things that you don’t need on impulse.

This is still something that you need to watch.

Going in to the supermarket twice a week will expose you to things you don’t need more often. You need to stick carefully to your grocery list UNLESS you spot a really good deal on something that you KNOW for sure that you will eat before it goes off, or it is a super good deal on something that will store well.

Some people also like to shop around, this can be a great way to see what is on special in different stores, and you will get used to knowing what items are cheaper and where and it can help your grocery budget go further.

6. Buy short dated stock if it is cheap

The upside to shopping more often is that you are twice as likely to see a really good deal.

Real food is fresh food and this means it doesn’t last on the store shelves and you can often pick up clearance items for very cheap. I always check for clearance or short dated stock when I am in the grocery store.

Often they are on things like dairy or meat, both of which can be frozen until you need them. Use by dates only apply to the product how it is now, so if there is one day until its use by date and you freeze it that pauses that until you unfreeze it.

Fresh fruit and vegetables don’t always act the same when they are defrosted, they are best used for cooking after defrosting, most are texturally unpleasant to eat raw after being frozen.

RELATED: How to freeze milk in jars

RELATED: How to freeze meat without plastic

It is worth noting that best before and use by dates are a suggestion, you have a much better rotten food detector – it is your nose and eyes. Use by dates always have a few days of leeway built in, give it a sniff, if it smells OK it is fine.

Our sniffer has kept our species alive a lot longer than printed use by dates have been around!

7. Can, freeze or cook bulk deals

If you get a super deal on something, take it home and set aside some time to preserve it somehow. Preserving perishable food doesn’t need to be difficult, and some are really easy skills to learn. Check out some of the ways to keep food edible for longer:

Canning vegetables

Dehydrating vegetables

Canning and using up excess milk

Make beef jerky

Canning fruit

Canning beets

8. Eat meat and fat

Meat free meals are often touted as a cheap alternative way of saving money. However, have you priced up tofu or free range eggs recently?

You would probably find a cheap meat on special that is cheaper than meat-free alternatives. Cheaper cuts usually need slow cooked, perfect for making soups and stews (or curry!). Add dried beans, canned tomatoes or some vegetables that need used up and you have a cheap but filling dinner.

Veggie based meals are usually carb heavy, which will leave you hungry again in a few hours. Adding plenty of healthy fats to your meals will help you feel full longer, and fat is a very cheap calorie source and will reduce how much other food you want to eat.

9. Don’t have a set budget

Now this is not a free-for-all option to buy whatever you like. It is however a different way to shop. Instead of focusing on week to week shopping, we are looking to save money overall.

If there is a really good deal on something that you know that you will eat before it goes bad, you need to have the flexibility to buy it within your budget.

If you have to have a set budget, allow an extra $5-10 per week as specials money, and if you don’t spend it that week tuck it away to save up for the following week. Having a small buffer to allow you to buy the really good deals will have you money in the long run.

Having flexibility in your budget allows for variations in grocery spending from week to week, while still ultimately saving you money on your food.

10. Don’t stick to the list

Having a shopping list and sticking to it is touted as a way to save money by avoiding buying things you don’t need.

However, once you have some cooking skills and you know what you can do with items, if you go in to the store with a list of what you need, plus some rough ideas of what meals you would like then you can look at what is on sale and construct a bit of a meal plan for the week while you are there.

This might take longer in the store. If you want to you can shop online and use Google to also find recipes that will use the items that you find on special.

11. Don’t shop online

Doing your groceries online is sold to consumers as a way to save money, but in reality if you are not there in person you can not make on the fly decisions to save yourself money.

Substitutions done by an personal shopper might not be the choice that you would make if you were there in person. And sometimes what you see online is not the size that you actually get.

This is especially true if you are buying per-item fresh produce like avocado, celery, spinach, fresh herbs etc. They might be smaller, less ripe (or more ripe) than you were expecting, and maybe if you had seen it in person you would have chosen to not get that item any more.

The online only specials are often snack foods, less often will you find the basic meal items advertised as they make less money on these items.

When shopping online you also cannot check the clearance sections or short dated stock PLUS you will probably have to pay for delivery as well.

12. Don’t buy store brand (automatically)

If you are like me, you automatically assume that the store brand product is cheaper. But it is worth checking the dollar per weight price, as they are also often in smaller packets.

If it is something that you are likely to mind about the quality of, just buy one of the store brand items and test it first.

Usually (though not always) they are made of the second or third grade produce, so they might be less flavorsome, an odd shape, or more watered down. Other items are made in the exact same factory, in the exact same recipe, but given a different label.

BONUS TIP – Grow your own food

If you are serious about saving money, growing your own garden, maybe some meat rabbits or chickens for eggs and to eat your veggie scraps might be worth it for you.

Gardening is a great place to start – my ebook will show you everything you need to know to start a successful garden, and you can check it out here.

If you are looking for unconventional ways to save money at the supermarket, this list will hopefully have given you some ideas to help you on your journey.

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counter intuitive ways to save money on food bill

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