Plus tips and tricks to help you stretch your shop even further.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
October 04, 2020
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Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

I'm going to be totally honest and admit that I have a problem. I consistently spend too much money on food. Especially now that I'm working from home and cooking all three meals in my apartment, my grocery bill started creeping up to an unsustainable point. I decided I needed to do something about it. This is when couponing entered my life and it is a habit I will happily keep up, since just a few minutes helps save me serious money on my groceries.

I'll admit that I'm still a coupon novice, especially compared to extreme couponers who save thousands of dollars, and I was already doing a lot of things to keep my grocery bill lower—like using a list and shopping for canned and frozen products. But the more I looked into using coupons and sale flyers, the more I found myself wondering why I hadn't started shopping this way sooner. With a little planning, you can easily take advantage of sales and store perks no matter where you shop.

4 Ways to Save Money on Groceries in Under 5 Minutes

From couponing to the apps on your phone, here are tips and tricks to help you save money on food in minutes.

Use Coupons

Several things I do make it clear to me that I am slowly but surely turning into my mother, and this is no exception. Hear me out on this one, you should actually start clipping coupons to help you save money on your next grocery trip. Look through flyers that are mailed out in your area and on the stands in the grocery store. Finding deals on products I already buy, like $1.50 off coffee and $1.00 off a 4-pack of energy bars, has saved me close to $10 a month! Though it may not sound like much, coupon savings add up over time.

I get it, coupons (and really anything on paper) feels a little old school and even once you find them it can be hard to remember to take them with you to the store. Luckily, our Digital Fellow, Alex Loh, has a simple trick that will help you bring your coupons every time. "I always put the coupons I plan to use next to my credit card in my wallet, so I don't forget them," Loh says. Store your coupons in a place you won't forget them on your grocery trip.

Become a Member

Some stores have discounts that are for members only, so it is worth asking at the grocery stores you frequent most. Many stores offer membership for free or for a small fee. Once you are a member, read up on any other perks associated with being a member, because there may be special discounts and rewards.

Once you are familiar with all of the deals, you can plan your shopping trip around the sales that are most helpful to you. To make it even easier, many grocers, like Publix, automatically apply coupons when you check out if you're part of their rewards program. Some stores also offer rewards programs, so you earn cash back on products you buy there.

Download the App

If paper is not your style, several stores have phone applications where you can electronically "clip" your coupons for your next trip to the store. Stores like Whole Foods and Walmart share all of their exclusive deals on their apps, and they are even searchable, which personally I prefer to scrolling through printed pamphlets. Using an app can help you save money as you scroll and allows you to use coupons waste free (plus, as long as you have your phone—you won't forget them).

Be Specific

You shouldn't expect to go from novice to extreme couponer overnight. Trying to take advantage of all the sales and deals can create clutter and make your shopping experience more stressful. Riffling through a million cutouts at the register? No thanks. Instead, make a meal plan around a few coupons for foods you usually buy anyway. Fruits and vegetables are always a good place to focus, as part of the produce section goes on sale every week. While you're at it, why not write up a shopping list to help keep you on track as well? Having a meal plan will save you decision making later in the week, and money at the store. As an added bonus, buying things you have specific plans to use will help you cut down on food waste as well since you won't be stuck with a 50% off loaf of bread you were never going to eat.