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- When she’s not travelling, Colorado-based writer Caroline Lupini saves money on food by combining credit-card cash back on groceries and dining with meal delivery services and store-specific loyalty programs.
- One of her favourite rewards cards is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6% cash back at US supermarkets up to $US6,000 a year.
- She also relies on meal delivery services like Hello Fresh to fill her fridge when she’s returning from a trip.
I travel six or more months out of the year and at times, I’ve found myself sinking into a money-draining pattern that involves eating out or picking things up last minute, generally without having enough foresight to plan ahead and save.
To avoid this, there are a variety of things that have worked for me in the past- and may work for you, too.
Because I’m always on the move, the biggest way I save money on my food bill is travel-specific: Instead of always staying in hotels, I make a point to book Airbnbs almost anytime I am staying somewhere for longer than three nights.
Booking an Airbnb is usually cheaper than staying in a hotel to start with, but also generally will come with access to a kitchen (though check the listing before you book). Instead of always having to eat out, I can cook at my Airbnb home and only eat out once or twice per week like I would if I didn’t travel so much.
But when I’m home in the US, here are a few of my favourite hacks for saving money on food.
I’m strategic about the credit cards I use for groceries, restaurants, and take-out
It’s important to remember that the credit cards you use every day might have some pretty important dining and grocery benefits. Whether it’s points, miles, or cash back, strategically planning your dining and grocery trips around optimal rewards can pay off.
If you’re more inclined to dine out than plan to eat in, the Citi Prestige Credit Card may be one to consider. This card is geared toward people who spend a lot of their time on the go because the biggest rewards categories lie in air travel and dining. Not only will you earn 1X ThankYou Points on every purchase, you can earn 3X points on hotels and cruises and an incredible 5X points on air travel and restaurants.
The hefty $US495 annual fee is offset by an offer for $US250 of travel credit each year, plus the value of the points you can earn on everyday purchases. Points earned from this card are most valuable when used for travel redemptions, but can also be redeemed for gift cards. Since I travel (and eat out) a lot, this card is an absolute must in my wallet.
If you are more prone to do a big supermarket run at the end of the week rather than regularly eat out, then the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express may be of better benefit to you.
Cash cards are pretty great because your Reward Dollars can be redeemed as statement credit, effectively functioning as a rebate on every purchase. You’ll get 1% cash back on every purchase, but that jumps to 3% cash back at US gas stations and a pretty decent 6% cash back at US supermarkets.
Note that the 6% cash back reward is capped at $US6,000 per year, but that’s equivalent to $US360 in statement credit which you can use towards more grocery runs, treating yourself at a restaurant, or subscribing to a meal delivery service. This is my top pick for a grocery store credit card.
I use surprisingly affordable meal delivery services when I can’t deal with groceries
You’ve heard of them, but have you tried them? By now, there are a lot of different meal delivery services available and they all do the same general thing: deliver fresh and healthy ingredients to your door along with recipes and creative ideas.
This takes the stress out of food shopping and meal prep, and it’s surprisingly affordable. It’s an especially great option for people with very on-the-go lifestyles. I love that I can order a meal box to arrive at home the same day that I do, so that grocery shopping doesn’t have to be the first thing on my list.
Hello Fresh is one of the most popular meal delivery services, and their meals start at $US6.99 apiece. You can choose from a huge variety of recipes and Veggie, Classic, and Family options to best suit your household needs.
You’ll also select how many meals you’d like per week and when your box arrives, it will include every ingredient you need (except butter), an easy-to-understand recipe, and clear instructions for preparing your chosen dish.
Not only are the meals affordable to begin with, you can get $US15 off by subscribing to the Hello Fresh mailing list. Hello Fresh also interfaces with some popular podcasts, so I try to listen in for the newest promo codes and deals.
Purple Carrot is another option, for people who are looking to move into or maintain a plant-based diet. Each week, you’ll receive three meal boxes that fall under the Quick and Easy plan, the High Protein plan, or Chef’s Choice. Like other subscription boxes, you’ll be able to customise your box before ordering so that you have exactly what you want when it arrives.
This option is a bit more expensive than Hello Fresh at $US12 per serving (that’s $US72 per week) but the flat rate offers some simplicity to the subscription. Purple Carrot does offer a $US20 discount on your first box; just use promo code PURPLE20 to snag that discount and start customising your plant-based plan.
I sign up for store-specific loyalty programs for my groceries
Perhaps the simplest way to earn discounts on food is to sign up for store-specific rewards programs at your local supermarkets. I’m based in Colorado now, but I’ve used many different local programs in the past – how much value I get out of each one depends on how much grocery shopping I am doing at any given time.
For example, Meijer brand stores in the Midwest offer mPerks, Ingles and Bi-Lo in the southeast offer their own discount cards, and Safeway stores offer both gas and grocery rewards programs. Even coffee chains like Starbucks and restaurants like Panera offer their own brands of loyalty programs.
If you’d like to stick with shopping at your local Super Target, sign up for a Target REDcard. This card comes with a 5% discount on all purchases, free two-day shipping for online orders, longer return periods, and special offers just for you.
If you don’t like the idea of signing up for a credit card with Target, they also offer a debit card option that still comes with the same great benefits as the credit card. Keep in mind that if you have a credit card that earns more than 5% cash back at US supermarkets, like the Blue Cash Preferred, you’ll be better off sticking with that.
When I spent some time in Texas a few years ago, I discovered the H-E-B Points Club Rewards program can earn 5x points for every dollar spent, and every quarter, those points are converted to rewards dollars credited to the card. You will also have the opportunity to earn 15x points per dollar during special Triple Bonus Point promotions, so be on the lookout for those.