5 Mistakes You're Making When Trying to Save Money at the Grocery Store
Whether you've made a resolution to eat more veggies in the new year or are just trying to eat a bit healthier, there's a common misconception that eating healthier means you're doomed to spend more money at the grocery store. While there are lots of delicious specialty foods, expensive grass-fed meats and fancy drinks that can send your grocery bill skyrocketing, some of the healthiest foods at your local supermarket are actually the cheapest.
We talked to Beth Moncel, founder of the popular recipe blog Budget Bytes, about her personal experience with budget-friendly grocery shopping. We also picked the brains of the EatingWell editors to find out how they keep their grocery bills down while buying plenty of nourishing food.
Here are the five mistakes they say to avoid making to get the best deals while grocery shopping.
1. You Don't Meal-Plan
While meal prepping can take up a few precious hours of your time (although it's so worth your while), meal planning is an easy way to help ensure you and your family will be eating healthy all week without wasting food or money when you're short on time.
"It really all comes down to planning," Moncel says. "Planning helps you prevent over-buying at the store, over-serving yourself at mealtime and take better advantage of sales or seasonal deals."
Moncel advises checking out a few of your favorite grocers' weekly sales before shopping (she likes the Flipp app) and selecting your recipes for the week based around current deals. Between checking out local sales and planning your meals accordingly, Moncel says this should take no more than 30 minutes and could save you so much time, money and food throughout the rest of your week.
Plus, going in with a plan will save you money by avoiding impulse purchases and filling your cart with extra food you don't need—especially if you're breaking the cardinal rule and going to the grocery store hungry!
2. You're Not Choosing the Most Economical Options for Healthy Foods
Pre-cut fruits and veggies, pre-portioned nuts, oatmeal packets and pre-made salad kits are great options if your focus is strictly convenience, but they aren't going to make things easier on your wallet. Buying the whole fruit or vegetable, container of oats or bag of whole almonds will save you money, even if that means taking a few minutes to prep when you get home. Plus, many foods, like garlic and strawberries, taste way better when you take a little extra time to chop them up yourself.
The exception to this rule is the frozen section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as what's in the produce section, are often an affordable pre-cut option and are great choices when shopping out of season. Shopping for your seafood in the frozen section is also often much cheaper.
Additionally, if you're interested in saving money and plastic, check out the bulk bins at your local supermarket. They can be a gold mine for grains, nuts, seeds and other items that are often pretty pricy in other grocery aisles. Shopping the bulk section also allows you to measure out exactly how much of an item you will need for the week—and you can load them in reusable containers to be a little greener.
Related: 12 Tricks to Slash Your Food Bill
3. You Don't Take Inventory of Your Kitchen Before Going Shopping
"When I'm picking out my recipes for the week, I browse my kitchen to see what needs to be used up," Moncel says. "If you base your menu on what you have on hand, less goes to waste and you'll have less to buy."
It's worth taking stock of your freezer, fridge and pantry before heading to the grocery store to be mindful of meals that are already almost ready to cook and may just be missing a protein or a few vegetables.
And don't listen to that old adage about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store—some of our favorite easy and nourishing dinners come together with mostly pantry staples. Whole grains, nuts, beans and other healthy pantry staples are some of the most nourishing foods for the money.
4. You're Missing Out on Affordable Protein Sources
Especially when it comes to feeding a family, meat can take up a huge chunk of your grocery bill. Simply thinking outside the box a bit for weeknight dinners can make all the difference in keeping your bill down while enjoying delicious, healthy food.
Try adding legumes, canned fish or eggs as the star of your dinner. Whether it's a big bowl of fried rice, burgers made with canned salmon or a hearty vegan chili, swapping out meat once or twice a week could do wonders for your wallet—and even your health.
Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and black beans are a great way to get in extra protein while also offering a major fiber boost. Canned salmon, tuna and other fatty fish still offer the omega-3 benefits that you'll find with fresh options, and eggs bulk up a meal (and your vitamin and mineral intake) without bulking up your grocery bill.
5. You're Wasting Your Money on Specialty Products
When it comes to saving money at the grocery store while still eating healthfully, opting for the store brand of products you need will help you do both with ease. You're getting the same quality stocks, milk alternatives and cheeses as the name brands—and don't have to pay as much money for them. It's that easy!
Additionally, it might be worth spacing out when you buy certain specialty products that your household can't live without. Whether it's chia seeds, grass-fed beef, seeded crackers or kombucha, it might be worth prioritizing just one specialty item in order to get more for your money. You'll still get plenty of nourishment from the other healthy foods in your cart.
Related: 7-Day Meal Plan to Eat on the Cheap