How to save money on groceries, no matter what you buy

Lena Mirisola/GettyNo matter how much you spend on groceries, it pays to use a cash-back credit card.

We’re all guilty of occasionally (or in my case, frequently) dropping too much money at Whole Foods, Costco,Trader Joe’s, or your friendly neighbourhood supermarket.

While it may be easy to justify spending a lot on groceries – I, too, convince myself it’s definitely cheaper than dining out, regardless of how much I’m buying – there are several ways to save money without compromising quality, preference, or your own sanity.

Here are some tips to help save money on groceries, no matter what kind of shopper you are:

How to save money on groceries

1. Make a meal plan

The Money Wizard, a blogger who is tracking his way toward early retirement, says writing up a weekly meal plan on Sundays helps him and his girlfriend spend less than $US150 a month on groceries. That gives them enough to make dinner at home five nights a week, plus a few lunches made from leftovers.

By keeping a running list of all their favourite meals on his phone, they choose five for the week and make an ingredient list before hitting the store. Their haul notably consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, rice, and meat. Avoiding pre-packaged meals and snacks cuts down costs considerably, he said.

2. Sign up for a cash-back credit card

No matter how much you spend on groceries, it pays to use a cash-back credit card. Writer Holly Johnson prefers the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, which offers 6% back on up to $US6,000 spent at US supermarkets each year (after that limit, it drops to 1%).

Johnson calls the Blue Cash Preferred card “an absolute game-changer” for families, despite its $US95 annual fee. She said by spending at least $US500 a month on groceries (which is close to her normal spending amount), she’s able to hit the max, netting her about $US360 in cash back annually. Plus, the card comes with a $US250 statement credit after you spend $US1,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Another favourite of Johnson’s is the Chase Freedom card, which has a rotating list of bonus cash-back categories that change every three months. She uses the card when supermarkets are on the bonus list, netting 5% cash back on up to $US1,500 spent at grocery stores during that quarter.

Frequent Whole Foods and Amazon shoppers may also consider the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, which offers 5% back on all purchases at both places.

3. Try Instacart or Amazon Subscribe & Save

Insider Picks editor Jada Wong swears by Instacart and Amazon Subscribe & Save for grocery and household supplies. Instacart offers monthly Express memberships for $US9.99 or annual Express memberships for $US99, both of which grant you a 0% service fee and free delivery on orders over $US35. (Using Instacart as a one-off will cost more).

Amazon Subscribe & Save will regularly deliver your own custom subscription box of household and pantry items, like dish washing soap, toothpaste, contact solution, matcha powder, and batteries, Wong explained.

“I really like the fact that both services give us our time back and help us save money in the long run,” she wrote. “I no longer spend 30 minutes browsing through aisles at the grocery store or pharmacy for things I don’t need or picking up three boxes of pasta because they’re on sale for $US0.79.”

4. Reconsider your Costco membership

Costco is no stranger to fanfare, and for good reason. The wholesale warehouse has some unmissable deals, a surprisingly delicious food court, and a growing auto program that has sold cars at a discount to more than 1 million Costco members.

All that to say, Costco’s $US60 Gold Star membership or $US120 Executive membership may not be totally worth it for everyone. The ability to buy food in bulk may be a boon for big families, but it often doesn’t make much sense for a single shopper, or even a couple. Not every good grocery deal has to come in bulk.

“Determining whether a Costco membership is worth it comes down to two things: lifestyle and shelf life,” Jenna Coleman of Particular Pantry previously told Business Insider. “If you are shopping for a one- or two-person household, beware of perishable items. Anything from giant bottles of OTC medications to two-pound packs of strawberries has an expiration. And no matter how good the deal is, it is wasted if you can’t consume it all before it expires.”

5. Buy organic food at a discount from Thrive Market

Organic food is generally more expensive than non-organic food, which can present a problem for a health conscious shopper with a frugal streak. It becomes all too easy to skip the healthier version when it comes with a markup.

If you have restrictive diet, spend a lot of time researching healthy foods, or consistently buy organic or non-GMO products, you may want to check out Thrive Market, writes Insider Picks reporter Mara Leighton. The online marketplace carries 4,000+ healthy, mostly shelf-stable products spanning food; beauty; bath and body; health; babies and kids; home; pet supplies and more.

For a $US60 annual membership fee, you make selections online – you can browse by category, by values (ie. gluten-free, paleo, raw, vegan, for mums, etc.), or by current deals – and get your items delivered right to your door (shipping is free on orders over $US49). Best of all, Thrive Market guarantees the membership will pay for itself in savings – if it doesn’t add up at the end of the year, they will automatically give you the difference in Thrive Market credit after you renew.

6. Try a ‘no-grocery challenge’

If all else fails – or you really want to make progress on your big savings goal for the month, and something’s gotta give – try your hand at a “no-grocery challenge.”

Writing for Business Insider, Sarah Li Cain explained how it works: “The no-grocery challenge was where my family and I would commit to using up everything in our fridge and pantry before buying anything else. We were only allowed to purchase items we ran out of and would actually use. We also committed to no eating out for two weeks so we would be forced to use up what was in our house.”

Not only were they able to cut their spending on food that month from $US700 to $US500, but they cut down on waste and realised how much money you can save being organised and mindful when it comes to grocery shopping. Now they do a “no-grocery challenge” one week out of every month.

Related coverage from How to Do Everything: Money:

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How to open an Ally high-yield savings account

How to invest in a Roth IRA

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