It’s not your imagination. As gas prices rise this summer, so are prices on many of the foods and other items we buy at supermarkets and wholesale clubs. The average monthly cost of groceries in March 2021 increased 3.3% from March 2020, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.
Add to that other 2020 price increases fueled by the pandemic and it’s safe to say your grocery bill is moving on up. While it’s unclear when food prices may level out a little, there are a number of ways to save money when feeding your family. Consider these tips before your next grocery outing:
Join free loyalty programs
If you haven’t signed up for your favorite grocery store’s free rewards program, you could be missing out on potential savings on foods you buy every week. Earlier this year, Newsweek teamed up with global data research firm Statista to report on America’s best loyalty programs, naming H-E-B, Country Market, Schnucks Markets, Redner’s and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. as the top five retailers in the supermarket category. The top five U.S. superstore and warehouse clubs were Costco Wholesale Corp., Sam’s Club, Meijer Inc., Target Corp., and Walmart Inc. More than 4,000 American loyalty club members were surveyed to determine the top companies in each category.
Even if your preferred store isn’t on the list, go online to your grocer’s website to see what specials they offer for loyalty members. If you don’t want to have your shopping habits tracked by using a store reward card, some supermarkets such as Winn-Dixie, allow employees to use a “courtesy card” at registers for customers who ask. At Target, customers with a RedCard save 5% on all store purchases, including groceries. You need a checking account to sign up, because the card is linked to your account and funds are withdrawn when you make a purchase.
Take stock of your pantry and freezer
Before you shop again, have a look inside your freezer and pantry to see what you have already that can help you stretch your budget. It’s also a good idea to remind yourself of what’s in there so you don’t double up or waste food when older items pass the sell-by date.
Make a list and stick to it
Before shopping, head over to your grocery store’s website or app to check out the sales. Note the buy-one get-one offers and whether you need to buy two of an item to get the deal. Plan your meals for the week using the sales as a guide. Don’t forget to bring the list and a pen into the store or text the list to yourself.
Switch to store brands
Many times, you can save a bundle on your shopping bill by replacing name-brand items with their generic counterparts. Staples such as dry pasta, canned soup and even fresh milk are produced in the same plants and factories as their name-brand competitors and often cost much less. Costco shoppers sing the praises of the retailer’s Kirkland brand olive oil, vodka and even laundry detergent.
Don’t forget to do the math
Because grocery stores change prices constantly, don’t expect something you bought last week to be priced the same this week. Which means that jumbo jar of spaghetti sauce is not always the best deal. Make sure to check out the price per ounce (or unit), usually located on a label directly below the item on the shelf. The lower the price per unit, of course, the better. If you are in a hurry, use the calculator on your smartphone to double check your calculations.
Eat before you shop
Research shows that people who are hungry spend more (especially on unhealthy foods) at the supermarket than those who shop when they are full. People who have gone four or five hours without eating before shopping, say between lunch and dinner, also spend more on non-food items, several studies show. Do yourself and your wallet a favor. Have an apple, a handful of nuts or drink a full glass of water before heading out to buy groceries.
Consider farmer’s markets
A visit to your local farmer’s market for produce in summer is a great way to save money on fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown close to where you live. It’s also a great way to shop local and support small businesses in your community.
With reporting by Casandra Andrews