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11 ways to save money on food without using coupons

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Live on the cheap.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grocery shopping for a family of four with young children will cost an average of about $1,100 per month in the first half of 2022, not including takeout and restaurant meals. It’s a big chunk of change.

But there are ways to spend less on food while still eating a healthy, nutritious diet. And you might be pleased to know that you don’t even have to cut the coupons. In fact, experts say, other tactics can save you more money.

“I really challenge the assumption that coupons are the number one way to save money,” says Carrie Rocha, founder of Pocket your dollars and mother of two in Minneapolis.

What could be more effective than using coupons? Make strategic purchases or buy the things you use when they’re on sale, she says. Ideally, you’ll buy enough of these basic items to last until the next sale. If done correctly, smart shopping should save you more than buying at full price with coupons.

Stephanie Nelson, who manages the website mom and is the author of “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Halving Your Grocery Bills,” agrees. “Coupons aren’t the #1 way to save,” she says.

Here’s what they suggest you try instead.

Buy what’s on sale

Juice
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This is the best advice for most buyers. Meat, bread, produce, condiments, coffee, cereal, pet food – almost anything goes on sale from time to time. Many products go on sale at regular intervals. Find out when your favorite grocery items are on sale and try to buy just enough until you can get the next discount.

Buy what’s in season

Woman shopping
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This applies to both produce and non-perishable food. Don’t plan a dish that calls for fresh mango in winter, when the fruit is more expensive. Instead, focus on oranges as they are in season.

Use what you buy

woman chopping vegetables vegetables
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Many families end throw away large amounts of food, either because they’re tired of leftovers or because they don’t use items until they spoil. You can freeze or reuse leftovers. Rocha recently used leftover mashed potatoes to make shepherd’s pie. You can also freeze most things that aren’t going to be used right away, including many fresh fruits and vegetables. If you’re faced with a pile of broccoli and a bag of potatoes, Rocha recommends using the “search by ingredient” section of allrecipes.com to find meal recipes with what you have on hand.

Don’t buy more than you need

Hesitant buyer in a grocery store
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A good sale is not a good deal if you end up throwing away half of what you bought. If you find yourself regularly throwing away produce, bread and meat, then you are buying too much. Also, not all items last forever, even if unopened, as Rocha learned the hard way when she bought a quantity of olive oil on sale and got caught. is damaged before opening it. “I learned early on that overbuying is expensive,” Rocha says. Cereals and crackers won’t last long in humid climates, and family tastes can change as well.

Use store loyalty programs

Customer using a smartphone in a grocery store
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Many stores require you to have a loyalty card to take advantage of sale prices. The cards are free and generally issued on site. Some programs give you bonuses, such as gas discounts, for using your card. Many allow you to “cut” coupons online and store them on your card, giving you an automatic discount at checkout.

Shop at discount grocery stores

Aldi grocery store at night
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ALDI and Save-A-Lot are expanding to more cities, and these no-frills stores can offer great deals on staples, including produce. And some of their private label products are also very good. “You can’t argue that the quality is inferior because it’s at a discount store,” Nelson says. (Read our article on How to buy and save at ALDI to know more.)

Try alternatives to your usual store

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Most people have access to at least two grocery stores, plus Walmart, Target, and maybe a discount grocery store. Visit other stores from time to time to see if they offer your favorite items at a price that’s worth the occasional special trip. Nelson’s brand of coffee, for example, costs $6 at her supermarket and $4 at Walmart, so she occasionally stops by Walmart to stock up.

Learn the sales cycles of your favorite products

Woman buying fish
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If you live in an area with multiple supermarkets, the same products will go on sale, but not at the same time. If you missed the half-price Cheerios at Kroger last week, you might find them at Safeway this week. If your family eats a lot of yogurt, pay attention to how often your favorite brand goes on sale for the best price and stock up. Calculate the unit price of larger containers vs. individual containers – you can easily create individual portions at home using your own food containers.

Ask about markdowns

grocery store workers
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Talk to your store’s department managers for meat, dairy, seafood, and baked goods to find out if there’s a time of day when unsold items are marked down.

Find the store clearance rack

discounted groceries
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Discontinued products are often sold for half price or less in sales bins. And you can use coupons to save even more on these items.

Buy Private Labels

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Store brands of canned vegetables, cat food, paper products and many other items are often the same products sold under brand names. You are unlikely to notice a difference in taste between one brand of beans and another.

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