How to Save Money on Groceries - Part One

It's a worthy goal – perhaps essential – to reduce the cost of food in our households. But before we save a dime or a dollar, we first need to wrap our heads around some basics. Here are some ideas to consider. I hope they'll provoke hard thinking in a money-saving endeavor.

How to Save Money on Groceries ♥, a multi-part series packed with practical tips and ideas.
If you're new here, you may want to start at the beginning of this series, see How to Save Money on Groceries: The Introduction.

Frugal Eating Starts In Our Heads

Frugal food shopping starts inside us, not in the grocery store parking lot, not phone in hand click-clicking an online order. It takes thinking, adjusting and planning before we're even ready to cross the threshold into an actual store or open an app.

For some, the motivation starts with the reality of our paychecks and our bank balances. For some, the idea is to live below our means while working toward a goal, maybe school, a house with a backyard or a special vacation or capital for a small business. For some, there is reward in living more simply with fewer possessions and more experiences. For some, it's just who we are, it comes naturally. For many, it's harder, it's scarier, it's unknown territory – and financial necessity.

You see, it takes a frugal frame of mind to manage and – if we're good – to reduce a family's food budget. For many of us, it takes breaking old habits and honing new skills.

  • Accept that rising grocery prices are likely permanent. Economists cite a perfect storm when identifying the factors that force a greater share of family income be spent on food. Food prices are up. Real wages are down. And that was before the Year That Is 2020. Food prices spiked early in the 2020 pandemic but now that the global supply chains are getting sorted out, are mostly returning to a higher but more stable spot. Still, it's an incredibly tight, rigid and imperfect system with short-term (think wildfires in the West and the hurricane-force derecho in Iowa [source), near-term and long-term risk from climate change that burdens the food supply with higher costs and lower yields.

  • Food insecurity is on the rise. But even before 2020, some 14.3 million American households (about 11.1%) were already food insecure in 2018, the most recent year with available data. [source] In 2020, 2021 and 2022? Instinctively, we know the numbers will increase dramatically: we've all seen the long lines at food banks and recognize that school interruptions affect not just education but food vulnerability for children.

  • Think "food" not "grocery" List all the places where we buy food. The grocery store and restaurants. But don't forget the soda machine at work, the popcorn counter at the theater, the morning coffee stop, the bottle of water from the c-store when buying gas. We buy and consume food in many locations, they all contribute to total food expense. To save money on food, eliminate or limit all except the essentials. Think, "Do we need this or simply want it?" If you track food expenses, keep track of these incidental expenses separately: they add nowhere but up and nearly all can be eliminated.

  • Eat less. Honestly, "eat less" should lead this list because it just might be the easiest to accomplish and might well accomplish the most and the most quickly. Nearly all of us carry excess pounds. Our health would improve simply by dropping 10 or 15 or even 30 percent of our body weight. If it's economic factors that finally move us, as a people, to improve our health by losing weight, so be it. Start with the non-essentials, empty calories such as the obvious soft drinks, candy bars, potato chips. Cut out all foods eaten between meals. But then move on: Replace breakfast cereal with oatmeal. Make one-egg omelets and open-faced sandwiches. Serve meat in smaller portions, less often, or not at all. Reserve sweets for a special occasion. Do avoid the temptation to eliminate entire meals: breakfast is important, so is nourishing our bodies throughout the day.

  • Cook. After that, the best way to save money on food expenses is – let's face it – to cook it ourselves. Think of it this way: if someone cooks the food for us, how is it much different than hiring a cook or a house cleaner or a lawn mower or a clothes washer? Some times the "cook" is Del Monte or Kraft and the food is carried home in our grocery bags. Other times, the "cook" is McDonald's or Pepsico and is passed through drive-up windows or delivered to our doors. All ways, always, the cost of that labor is included in the prices we pay.

  • Avoid the vicious cycle of the Empty Fridge. It's seven o'clock, you're just home from work, you're hungry. The fridge is nearly bare, just a few cups of yogurt, some slimy lettuce, a nearly-empty milk carton. So you eat some yogurt, then a bowl of cereal. The next night, same story, except that you know the fridge is even emptier so you stop for carry-out on the way home. The next night, same. (It happens to me, too, my own risk points are just before leaving on vacation and just after, it can go on for days.) When the fridge is empty of real food, it's just too easy to fall into "let's just order out" mode, perpetuating the cycle. Be prepared for days when this happens: have a really fast, really tasty recipe that can be on the table in minutes after a quick grocery run. At my house, it's this Quick Cauliflower or Broccoli Soup which can be made with either fresh or frozen vegetables.

  • Make frugal food consumption a personal challenge. It's us versus the food companies and yes, we're Davids and they're Goliaths. Every time a food company takes a commodity food (think "real food", the underlying ingredients) and cuts it, cooks it and packages it, it's all to tempt us to pay several multiples for the "added value" the company brings to a commodity product. It's all to make us buy more, pay more and therefore, work more and save less.

  • Get good at shopping for food frugally, a week, a dollar at a time. Don't expect to change everything at once. But if a few of these tips make sense, print them out and work the list, one week at a time, one item at a time. To build confidence, start with the low-hanging (ahem) fruit, the stuff that's easiest to incorporate into your own habits and practices. To make the most difference, determine where there's the most to save in your family finances, work those first.

  • Time is money. So it is. And many of these tips involve getting a firm grip on grocery expenses in order to exact the most value from the dollars spent. This means time: analyzing, comparing, tracking. Here's an example. What's the price difference between the bag of dried beans that sells for $.89 and the can of beans that sells for $.99? Just a dime? No. The bag yields 7 cups of cooked beans, $.13 per cup. The can yields 1-1/2 cups of cooked beans, $.66 per cup. The canned beans, as relatively inexpensive as they are, are five times more expensive than dried beans. Both are protein-rich, an inexpensive source of protein. How easy is it to cook dried beans? Check my recipe for Creamy Slow-Cooker Beans, no soaking required.

  • Consider self-sufficiency. In the past century, we've become a people of consumers, not producers. Think. What would it take to plant a garden? raise a few chickens? For many of us, these skills have been lost for a couple of generations. What resources would it require for communities and families to increase their self-sufficiency?

  • Think "home economics" for the long-term. We're a resourceful, adaptive people. We can do this, we can eat well, we can eat healthfully, we can manage to eat within our resources. But saving money on groceries is likely a long-term endeavor not this year's "project". It may well be a life-long study: something we all need to become good at, that we internalize, that we build into our decision-making – and skills that we teach our children.


Feeling motivated? Good! Here are some ways to get started now, for a week or a couple of weeks, by arming yourself with information and tools that reflect your own household's spending habits.

  • Consider why you'd like to save money on groceries, why it's important, what you'd like to gain besides, of course, lower food costs. Is it important enough to invest time, to change habits, to consider harder choices?
  • List all the places where money is spent on food, focusing especially on repetitive purchases like Friday night pizza or grabbing a coffee every morning or an afternoon pick-me-up soda. Which expenses are essential? which are nice to have but might offer immediate savings? which can be let go to serve a higher purpose?
  • Track food expenses for a week, to start. Consider three categories: groceries (food only, not dog food, paper supplies, etc.); prepared food (for food/meals that could be made at home but weren't plus grocery-store prepared foods, carry-out, drive-through, etc.); and special occasions.

Your Best Tips

Your Two Cents = Two Dollars = Two Hundred Dollars = Two Thousand Dollars = Two Million Dollars. Collectively Kitchen Parade readers must have thousands of money-saving tips. Please! Do share them, either in a comment or via I'll collect your tips for a special post to close this series. Your two cents, multiplied by thousands of readers, can really add up.

Bloggers! You know you want to chime in! Write your own post about how you save money on food and groceries, then link to the introduction post of How to Save Money on Groceries. I'll collect your posts to share with readers at the end of the series. Together, we can make a difference!

How to Save Money on Groceries ♥, a multi-part series packed with practical tips and ideas.

How to Save Money on Groceries: The Series

The Introduction
Part One – Frugal Eating Starts in Our Heads (you're here)
Part Two – Frugal Food Shopping Requires a Plan (read this next)

Part Three – How to Shop Wisely for Groceries

Part Four – Investing in the Future (coming soon)
Part Five – Reader Tips & More Resources (coming soon)

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"How to Save Money on Groceries" is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg, author of the recipe column Kitchen Parade which features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a money-saving tip that other Kitchen Parade readers might find useful? Leave a comment below or just send me a quick e-mail via If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade
2008 & 2020

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Anonymous7/13/2008

    There is so much to think about here, my mind is swirling with it all.

    I didn't realize that food prices were going to keep going up, it seemed like they might reach a plateau and stay there.

    You're really making me think. This is good!

  2. Anonymous7/13/2008

    Eat less. So obvious and yet no list I've seen before has ever said it so directly. Good work -

  3. Cara ~ Excellent, that's just the reaction I hope for, helping people really think about this issue seriously.

    Anonymous ~ Thank you!

    Jules ~ You make the excellent point how important it is for each of us to find our own rhythm that works for US, not for someone else. I'm not a "by the week" person either but I know people who live and thrive by their system. Thank you for chiming in, I hope you'll write a post of your own to participate.

  4. Excellent series! I think you've hit the mark and hopefully people who have been struggling will be able to make a plan that works for them.

  5. Anonymous7/14/2008

    I lost my full time job in January of this year, and have been temping since then. (Yay Michigan and their highest unemployment rate in the nation). Since my income has been cut in half, I've been squeezing my pennies at the grocery (and everywhere else!).

    Luckily, I am as frugal as the day is long. I have not eaten in a sit down restaurant once this year. I have eaten take out (pizza & chinese) on maybe 4-5 occasions since January, because...hey...I'm no saint! No fast food. No sodas at the gas station. No coffees.

    I agree that a well stocked pantry is the key to frugal eating. In fact, about every 6 weeks, I declare it a "Pantry Week," and eat meals out of my pantry or freezer. I love the challenge of throwing open the cupboards and just creating something yummy from what is already there. Beans usually figure prominently.

    I am looking forward to the rest of this series!

  6. My favorite - eat food, don't throw it out! Of course, that requires the plannng and cooking part...

  7. I'm a huge fan of shopping once a week, and cooking as often as possible. I go to Trader Joe's, a 45 minute walk from my apt. I turn it into an adventure and make it my exercise for the day. This way my fridge is full of wholesome food the whole week. I feel healthier when i eat in, and good about my savings choices.

    For those who don't have time for a big grocery trip once a week, I work for a Consumer group called Consumer United ( and we offer $10 off grocery delivery when you sign up for Peapod by Stop and Shop. I hope this helps. Noelle

  8. Anonymous9/19/2008

    I like how you write "Increasing worldwide affluence, especially in China and India, is increasing the worldwide demand for food ..." without so much batting an eye-lid when I've see so many "western world" people waste food that would feed entire families elsewhere in the world. Please try to realize everyone is entitled to a nutritious meal, not just you rich Americans!

  9. Anonymous ~ No argument, all people are entitled to a healthful diet. Whether a Western-style diet is more healthful is questionable, even if it's one that's desirable.

    No argument, the Western world consumes too much meat and wastes far far too much food. You'll see in the subsequent pages to this post that I advocate against waste.

    Please know: I think we're in agreement. I apologize if I've suggested otherwise.

    Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. Legacy Learning Systems6/28/2010

    Great post. I'm always looking for more and more ways to save some money. Especially these days. I estimate I save about $2,000 per year using coupons and buying things on sale. Not bad for an hour or two's worth of work a week!

  11. "eat less".. lol tell that to my family. but nonetheless these are great ideas... empty fridge happens to me at least twice a month. arggh!

  12. I would love to cut down on the amount of food I throw away each week. It's mostly "leftovers" that were good one or two times, but then no one wants to eat them again. We are a household of 3 adult women (all would love to lose weight) and I do most of the cooking. So -- it's obvious -- I'm cooking too large! But a bag of beans yields 7 cups of beans at a reduced cost? Who wants to cook 7 cups of beans and then what do you do with all of that? I do try to cut recipes in half -- but. Also, one won't eat onions (I sneak in onion powder), one doesn't like anything but pasta, one is diabetic -- I will TRY, but I haven't much confidence that I will be successful.


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna