How to Save Money when the Cost of Groceries Rises 

by | Jan 25, 2024 | Spending

Strategic budgeting and creative shopping strategies can help make the best of constraints – including at the grocery store. With the rising cost of groceries and dining due to inflation in 2022 and 2023, many are looking for new ways to get the most out of their food budget. With some thoughtful planning, individuals and families can make conscious, cost-effective choices while still maintaining a nutritious and satisfying diet. From meal planning and prioritizing essential purchases to leveraging discounts and exploring alternative shopping options, adopting a thoughtful budgeting approach is key for savvy shoppers. 

We’ll dig into the cost of groceries, tips to budget for groceries, and ways to save money on groceries to help you stretch your dollars. 

Cost of Groceries

What do groceries cost, and how much do people spend?  In 2023, the average cost of groceries in America was $415.53 per person, per month. However, how much you spend on groceries depends largely on where you live in the United States. Some markets are closer to food production and have less shipping costs, and regular supply and demand in your local area impact food just like all other goods. 

Honolulu, HI comes in as the most expensive market for groceries, spending an average of $638.57 per person, per month. The least expensive market is Cheyenne, Wyoming at $335.97 per person, per month. Some markets had larger grocery price changes from 2022 to 2023 such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota with an increase of $176.42 per person, per month.  If you’re seeing larger price increases than what the news has reported with inflation, you may be in a market where prices have risen more proportionally. 

For a nationwide look, Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis & Sustainability produces an interactive dashboard based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Price Index to showcase the cost of different food items over time. Using it, we can see for example that ground beef has risen in price since 2020, the price of strawberries is seasonal, and the price of spaghetti and macaroni noodles is fairly flat. Check it out to see the prices of foods that you tend to buy and if you see any seasonal items, make note of when the least expensive time is to purchase them! 

Chart showing the cost of uncooked ground beef, spaghetti and macaroni per pound, and strawberries dry per pint from January 2020 to July 2023.
Source: Purdue University

Grocery Budgeting

If you’re looking to start or strengthen your grocery budgeting, you’ll want to take a broad view of the cost of food in your area, your income, and your lifestyle choices around preparing food.  

First, to accurately budget for groceries, review your grocery spending from the past few months to get an idea of how much you need to allocate. This will help you get a more realistic idea based on the prices of food and household items in your local area.

The next step is to calibrate your grocery budget to your income. It’s always helpful to get a benchmark, but especially helpful if your income has changed recently. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, “U.S. consumers spent an average of 11.3 percent of their disposable personal income on food in 2022.” This includes both food at home and food outside of the home. Food at home and food away from home were each slightly under 6% the net income. You don’t have to spend these percentages, but it can be a helpful starting point.  

Share of disposable income spent on food in the United States from 1960 - 2022, showing a general decline but a recent spike from 2018 to 2022
Source: United States Department of Agriculture

Once you’ve settled on a realistic monthly grocery spending amount, you can build your budget. You may choose to set a monthly spending limit with no further breakdowns. You might want to get more granular with spending limits for subcategories such as fruits and vegetables, proteins, dairy, grains, or things like snacks and prepared foods. This can help ensure you buy a balanced amount of groceries, which can mitigate the need to rely on takeout when you’re suddenly running low on key ingredients. However, if it’s too granular and will throw you off track from budgeting, feel free to skip this step.  

Some households may stick to a regular shopping schedule, such as bimonthly, or weekly. Allocate a spending limit for each grocery trip you make, and plan your list ahead of time. Use the grocery store circular or app to reference prices and adjust accordingly. If it’s helpful, keep a little room for a fun unexpected purchase at the store – it can help budgeting feel empowering rather than limiting!  

Need some help staying on track? Create a Spending Challenge in Milli to help you keep track of how you’re pacing each month toward your grocery budget when you make purchases with the Milli Visa® Debit Card. Milli will send you notifications to help keep your spending in budget. 

Image showing the Milli app creating a Spending Challege; first screen is adding the grocery category and the second screen has the fields to name the challenge, set a monthly spending amount, and showcases spend for the past month and so far this month.

Save Money on Groceries

Ready to elevate your grocery shopping game? Let’s dig into some ways you can save money on groceries. 

First, let’s talk coupons. Clip, print, or load them onto your favorite grocery store apps for instant discounts. Stock up when you see items on sale. Check out our blog about couponing for all the specifics about the best ways to get started. 

Next, shake up the routine and explore various grocery stores, if you have multiple in your area. From weekly specials to hidden gems, shopping around allows you to cherry-pick the best prices and promotions. Some stores may have better deals on produce while others have better prices on pantry goods.  It can take more time to go to multiple stores, so instead of going to two in one shopping day, consider alternating each time you shop, and stocking up on the items that are a better value from each retailer. 

Meal prepping is also a simple and easy way to save money and time. Plan your weekly meals, make a detailed shopping list, and stick to it. By buying in bulk and preparing ahead, you’ll sidestep pricey impulse purchases and the need to rely on takeout when you’re short on ingredients and time. You don’t have to meal prep everything you’ll eat in a week – start with batch cooking one or two meals. 

Another valuable element of meal prep is having the building blocks of simple meals on hand. Think about the pantry staples that can make meals your household will always enjoy like pasta and sauce, rice and beans, chickpeas or lentils and coconut milk. Make freezer space for your go-to proteins and veggies. Combined with different spices and sauces, the same ingredients can have a totally different flavor profile which can help keep things tasty and interesting. Stock up on these items when they are on sale to save money on your grocery bills and skip ordering takeout because it’s easy to whip something up at home. 

Even with the best of meal planning and pantry-stocking, sometimes we have leftovers or odd portions of ingredients, and making the most of these can help stretch your grocery dollars. Supercook is a helpful resource to give you meal ideas. Input the items you have on hand, and it’ll generate recipes using just those ingredients. This can help keep cooking at home interesting by expanding beyond the meals you might think to make. To make it fun, pretend you’re on an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped” where you face a challenge to make a meal including four random foods in the mystery basket. Except at home, you aren’t expected to impress judges and compete with three other chefs! Win/win. 

Another tip? It may sound silly, but embrace the “girl dinner” trend that popped up last summer where people eat a plate full of random low-effort foods as a meal. Pretend it’s a charcuterie board. It’s okay if it doesn’t go together as any form of recognized cuisine – there’s always another chance to make an aesthetic meal after your next trip to the grocery store.

Convenience and Grocery Spending 

The last thing to consider when trying to cut down on grocery spending is the inverse relationship between convenience and saving money. The more convenient to you, usually the more it will cost. For many, that’s worth it because of their lifestyle. For those exploring ways to trim their grocery budget, their biggest potential to save on the cost of food involves giving up convenience in some way. That might mean trading in some dining out in favor of cooking at home.  

If you’re making an active effort to swap dining out for cooking at home as a way to reduce how much you spend on food, you could benefit from stocking up on groceries. One option is to buy in bulk and make fewer grocery trips. This involves some advanced planning and your transaction cost will be higher, but some people find they spend less overall by making fewer bigger shopping trips than many smaller trips.  (That is, so long as you use the items you buy in bulk!)  

Another option would be to try a grocery or meal delivery service. This could be more cost-effective for your overall food budget even if the meals cost more per portion compared to buying all the ingredients at the store yourself. For those who are pressed for time, or whose hurdle is transportation, this could be a solution. Many of these grocery and meal delivery services used to operate on a subscription-only basis which made it a bigger commitment to try them out; now more and more are offering an à la carte option which makes it easier to try or supplement with in-store shopping.  

Conclusion

Saving money on an important and discretionary cost line item in your budget like groceries involves understanding the cost of food, realistic budgeting, planning, and shopping. If you’re looking to trim how much you spend on food (whether groceries or dining out), take some time to be intentional and plan and it can pay off. However, there’s no shame in finding ways to make preparing food easy on yourself; truthfully, you’ll find it easier to stick to your budget instead of spending money for convenience! 

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