How to Save Money on Groceries (and Eat Healthy)
Anyone who has ever been on a tight budget has probably figured out how to save money on food. But knowing how to save money on healthy food can be more challenging. Sometimes, ingredients that are great for our health (like lean cuts of meat and high-priced fish) aren’t the best for our household’s bottom line. But if you plan ahead and arm yourself with these tips and tricks, eating well and inexpensively can go hand in hand.
Having a plan should top any list of tips for saving money on groceries. The better you plan, the more likely you are to make healthier, smarter food choices. Grab a pencil and paper and start saving on groceries:
- Take an inventory of your cupboards, fridge, and freezer, and make a list of staples and favorite foods that are running low. By avoiding last-minute trips to the store to snag a depleted ingredient at dinner-crunch time, you’ll save on gas money and prevent impulse buys.
- Take a little time to plan some meals for the week. Review a few favorite healthy-food cookbooks or cooking websites. For delicious inspiration, try our healthy dinner recipes under $3 a serving.
- Have your list and stick to it.
Related: Download our free printable grocery list. Print it out and use it again and again.
Not a list-maker? You can still save money on food and eat healthy. Take a screen-shot three or four of your family’s favorite healthy recipes on your smart phone. When you’re at the store, you’ll have a list of what you need to make something you know your family will love.
Buy Staples on Sale
On the busiest days, it’s tempting to toss the weekly grocery store circulars in the recycle bin. But when you do that, you miss out on one of the best ways to save money on groceries. Often, healthy items with long shelf lives are in those pages. Buying these items on sale—even if you don’t need them right away—can save you money in the long run. Stock up on ingredients like these when they're on sale:
- Whole grain pasta
- Brown rice and other whole grains
- Whole grain breads (most breads freeze well)
- High-fiber cereals
- Canned and dried beans
- Canned salmon and tuna
- Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Lean meats and fish to freeze and thaw later
Also look for apps that help you save money on groceries, such as this free Flip Flyers and Weekly Ads App from Amazon.
Clip Coupons, But Don't Go Coupon Crazy
While coupon clipping can help you save money on groceries, coupons are only good if you actually spend less than you would without them. Here’s how to make sure that’s the case:
- Compare the price of brand-name foods on the coupon with generic brands. The latter may be the better deal.
- Never buy something with a coupon you wouldn't normally buy without one.
- Don't let the lure of a little savings persuade you to buy items that are high in sodium, cholesterol, or fat. Saving money doesn't justify undermining your aim to eat well.
Shop the Freezer Aisle for Fish
Fish and shellfish aren’t usually low-budget items, but they can find their way onto a cheap grocery list if you look in the right place—the freezer aisle. Frozen fish and shellfish are usually less expensive than fresh, and thanks to today’s flash-freezing methods, the flavor is often just as good as fresh.
The American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish, such as salmon or albacore tuna, at least twice a week to get the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish that can help keep your heart healthy. Stash these varieties in the freezer, then learn how to thaw fish safely, and you’ll easily hit that twice-a-week target.
Buy In-Season Produce
Though you can usually find blueberries in winter and sweet potatoes in spring, you can save money on groceries by buying what’s naturally in season. Here’s a list of a few good-for-you fruits and veggies by season:
- Spring: asparagus, rhubarb, apricots, spinach
- Summer: tomatoes, green string beans, nectarines, berries
- Fall: sweet potatoes and yams, cranberries, apples, and pomegranates
- Winter: winter squash, cabbage, snow peas, citrus
Make Your Own Snacks and Snack Packs
It's tempting to put energy bars, granola bars, breakfast cookies, and other healthful prepackaged snacks in your shopping cart. But avoid them if you truly want to save money on groceries. Instead, make your own healthy versions for less. Try these options:
- DIY Snack Mixes: By making your own snack mix to take on the go, you can control the ingredients and the portions. When picking what to put in your mix, check the sodium and fat content of each item so you can better assess the total nutrients. Good choices include whole grain cereal, dried fruit, and light popped popcorn.
- DIY Granola Bars: Make a batch of Granola Bars or No-Bake Energy Poppers. They’ll be fresher, tastier, and cheaper than the prepackaged variety. Plus, they freeze well, making them easy to have on hand.
- Breakfast Cookies: Look for a filling breakfast cookie recipe that will keep you energetic and satisfied until lunch.
It's a dilemma figuring out how to save money on groceries and still eat the healthy beef, chicken, or pork recipes your family loves. These proteins are almost always cheaper when purchased in large quantities, so add a big package of them to your cheap grocery list or your wholesale club store list.
You can cook only the amount you need for a recipe and freeze the rest uncooked, or an even better strategy is to cook a double-size batch of your recipe and freeze the leftovers. These bonus batches—ready to thaw in the microwave and reheat—will feel like a gift on those I-can’t-even days. Follow these easy guidelines for freezing and storing food and it's a breeze.
Skip the Beverage Aisle
Here’s how to save money on groceries in the beverage department: Skip it! The best way to stay healthfully hydrated is to drink water from the tap.
True, tap water can be boring, so make flavored waters. Keep a pitcher or two in the fridge so you always have something cold and flavorful to drink. Have kids dream up some of the flavor combinations, then and add the fruits and vegetables they like most to your cheap healthy grocery list. Use our flavored water ideas to get started.
If you find you love the flavored-water route, it’s worth investing in water carafe with a built-in infuser.
Tip: If you do prefer to drink bottled water, buy a reusable water jug; many grocery stores offer inexpensive refills of purified water at the fraction of the price of a new jug.
Sit down and take a few minutes to make your grocery plan for the week, or try this two-week healthy meal plan, and implement these budget strategies to start saving money on healthy groceries.