Understand Your Finances
5 smart ways to stretch your dollar at the grocery store
Thanks to these smart tips, grocery shopping has never been easier
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Between organic meats, fruits and vegetables, and the occasional bag of chips, your grocery bill can add up quickly.
The United States Department of Agriculture reports the average American spends nearly 6 percent of their annual income on groceries, and an additional 5 percent dining out. And when you factor in all the expired groceries you throw away and unnecessary takeout orders, you could be spending more.
Why spend the extra money on expensive produce or perishables when it could go into your vacation fund?
Knowing how to properly shop for food not only saves you money at the grocery store, it can decrease how often you dine out. Play your cards right, and you can save more than $2,000 on food a year.
Here are five smart ways to make the most of your grocery budget:
1. Schedule smaller, strategic trips
Buying all your groceries in one fell swoop seems efficient, but it'll cost you.
"People have good intentions, but don't use everything they buy," says Amanda Li, registered dietitian and founder of nutrition coaching practice Wellness Simplified.
Small, frequent trips to the store forces you to use what you have, and only make trips when you need to replenish supplies.
Many people buy duplicate ingredients, which is why Li recommends making a grocery list ahead of time.
She estimates making several trips to the grocery store—and taking stock of what you already have—can save you $20 per week.
2. Eat seasonally
It's not your imagination: The price of fresh fruits and vegetables fluctuates throughout the year.
Nutrition coach and author Maria Marlowe says produce is more expensive when it's out of season, and estimates eating seasonally can shave 30 percent off your total.
So what's in season? Take a hint from Mother Nature. Juicy fruits that cool you down—think berries and melons—are popular in the summer, while winter brings an abundance of beets and sweet potatoes.
If you're craving a strawberry smoothie in the middle of winter, Marlow says frozen produce is about 25 percent cheaper and usually more nutritious than the fresh variety, as it was frozen at peak ripeness.
3. Buy in bulk
The next time you need nuts or grains, head to the bulk food aisle.
Marlowe estimates you can save up to 50 percent on your nonperishables—and keeps your food waste to a minimum.
Though buying bulk is usually cost-effective, Marlowe recommends checking the unit price for good measure.
"You can find it right by the label on the shelf," she says, "It tells you the cost per pound or ounce, so you can find the best price."
4. Reconsider frozen fish
Before you buy that seemingly fresh—albeit expensive—slab of salmon, take a closer look at the label. If it says "previously frozen," you're better off going to the freezer aisle.
"About 70 percent of the seafood in the store is frozen," Marlowe explains. "Stores often defrost fish and lay it out over ice, so you're paying more money for fish that will go bad faster."
She adds frozen fish is about 15 to 20 percent cheaper, plus it lasts longer.
5. Switch up your protein portions
When it comes to picking out a juicy steak or chicken breast, quality is key.
"Eating organic prevents you from consuming harmful hormones and pesticides," Marlowe explains.
Meats are worth the investment, but they're expensive. Strike a happy medium by adding plant-based proteins to your diet.
"Supplementing some of your animal protein intake with your plant protein intake can balance out your bill," she says. "Even if you choose to spend a little more on meat."
Beans, lentils, and quinoa are packed with nutrients, but available for a fraction of the cost.
Kelsey Mulvey is a Chase News senior editor, overseeing leadership and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, and more.