How the heck can we save money on groceries and still eat three times a day? I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of hearing about inflation and stupid food prices. So let’s walk it back and focus on smart shopping habits that will save money on grocery purchases no matter what the economy is doing. You can’t opt-out of feeding your family, but you can opt-in to simple changes that help reduce stress and inflate your savings. Here’s a list of my favourite ways to save money on groceries to keep your diet, and your bank balance, in the green.
- The obvious ways to save money on groceries
- Use credit instead of debit to save a lot of money on groceries
- When a credit card isn’t an option
- Try the envelope system
- Create a budget that works for you
- Don’t shop with young children
- Always check money-saving apps
- Saving money means making a list, and checking it twice
- Save money on groceries by shopping online
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach!
- Save money on groceries with your calculator app
- Cut back on animal protein
- Buy more frozen & canned goods
- Save money on groceries with livestock, seriously
- Save money on food with meal prep & batch cooking
- Team up with family & friends to save money on groceries
- Save money on groceries when you have the right kitchen gadgets
- Consider hidden costs and your mental health
The obvious ways to save money on groceries
Some money saving tips are kind of a no-brainer, but easy to forget nonetheless. Not every tip requires a deep-dive. Before we get started, here are some common-sense things to keep top of mind:
- Bring your own reusable bags or bins
- Buy generic brands
- Check the weekly flyers
- Use coupons
- Price compare across stores
- Ask for a price match
- Shop at discount grocery stores
- Take advantage of sales
- Join grocery store loyalty programs
Use credit instead of debit to save a lot of money on groceries
Yep! You read that right. The best way to save money on groceries is with a credit card or prepaid card with a rewards program. Not only will you get valuable points or straight-up cash back on all your card purchases, but there are several credit cards on the market that have an extra aggressive earn rate specifically for grocery purchases. Depending on the card you choose, you could earn a return of up to 5%, sometimes more, on your eligible grocery store purchases. Debit cards just won’t do that for you which leaves free money on the table.
Some credit cards reward you with points that have a high redemption value on travel expenses. Others give you actual cash back you can spend on whatever you want, including your next grocery shop. Whether you need extra cash to boost your budget, or you just don’t want to choose between eating or that long-overdue holiday, there is a credit card to match your needs. Here are some of the best credit cards for groceries:
- American Express Cobalt Card
- Scotiabank Gold American Express
- BMO Cash Back World Elite Mastercard
- Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite
- Tangerine World Mastercard
- PC World Elite Mastercard
- Brim World Elite Mastercard
When a credit card isn’t an option
Of course, the credit card hack only works if you are disciplined enough to pay the full balance off in full every month. Otherwise, the interest you pay completely defeats the purpose of your points. Also, you have to qualify for a credit card, so there’s that. When a credit card is out of the question, a prepaid card with rewards is the next best thing. Here are two of my favourite cash back prepaid cards:
Try the envelope system
If using cold hard cash is easier to track your spending, Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover explains the envelope system. This has helped millions of people stay on budget, save money, and get out of debt. Keep the cash for your grocery budget in an envelope separate from the money you have budgeted for other things. Take it to the grocery store with you and leave your debit card at home. That way, you can’t overspend and blow your budget. When the money in your envelope is gone, it’s gone!
Create a budget that works for you
Of course, you can’t save money on groceries without first making a budget. The Hardbacon app is your personal finance coach to help track your spending, make a budget, and take control of your money. It connects all your bank accounts, credit cards, loans, investment and crypto portfolios in one convenient place. You can instantly see what you’ve spent, where, and how much you have left anytime, from anywhere. Hardbacon will also analyze your habits and accounts to make personalized recommendations that help you spend, save, and invest smarter.
Not quite sure how to allocate your money? There are several ways to create a budget such as traditional budgeting, zero-based budgeting, and the 50-20-30 rule, to name a few. For some, not budgeting at all is how they manage best. It includes paying yourself first, then all your bills and basic needs, then spending what’s left on non-essentials while still tracking spending behaviour on an app.
Don’t shop with young children
It’s not always possible, but if you can, don’t bring tiny humans to the grocery store. Clever product placement, fun packaging, and other sneaky moves are designed specifically to appeal to kids. Why? Because a lot of parents will do whatever it takes to keep the peace and prevent a meltdown. I’m guilty of grabbing the candy bar, toy car, or random spice shaker to avoid impending doom and embarrassment. We don’t always have the option to abandon our cart and leave the store mid-shop when a kid loses their ever-loving mind. On the flip side, I am also bad for rewarding good moods and adorable faces with treats. Sometimes I even buy my own kids a treat. It’s a no-win for me, and millions of other parents too.
Always check money-saving apps
Your rewards credit card and money-saving mobile apps are better together. Coupon and rewards apps offer exclusive discounts, cash back, and other perks you can bank on in addition to the rewards earned on your credit card. Use both to double-dip the savings. Popular apps to save on groceries in Canada include Rakutan, CheckOut 51, Flipp, and Save.ca.
However, there are many others with cool features like cash back just for scanning your receipt or filling out a survey. Some manufacturers even have their own apps that offer rebates and exclusive discounts on their own products, for when you’d rather eat dirt than no-name yogurt. Check out our list of the best coupon and rewards apps on the Hardbacon blog.
Having said that, the absolute best app to instantly save money on groceries is Flashfood. The app is partnered with Loblaw’s banner stores like Superstore and No Frills to offer super deep discounts of 50% or more on food that’s about to expire. Don’t turn your nose up at this! You can score stupid cheap meat, dairy, bakery goods and other items that you can freeze for future use. Use Flashfood with your PC Financial Mastercard to get PC Optimum points on your purchases that you can redeem for free groceries and other stuff.
Pro Tip #1: The Flashfood app offers boxes full of produce on the verge of spoiling (but not quite, there’s still time!). We all know how quickly fruits and veggies can be fine one day, and the next they look like a science experiment gone awry. My sister and I have joined forces to grab great deals on Flashfood produce boxes. Then we split the cost and divided the food up between us so it doesn’t go to waste.
Here’s an example: I recently snagged a box of about 12 mixed bell peppers for $5; way too many peppers for me to use up within a day or two. My sister and I split the haul and paid $2.50 each, putting the cost of each pepper at about $0.42! I did some batch cooking with mine and put it in the freezer.
Pro Tip #2: You can also contact manufacturers directly by phone, mail, or email to request coupons not typically available to the general public. Consider doing this for brands you buy often and prefer over the generic version.
Saving money means making a list, and checking it twice
You’ve heard the saying: a goal without a plan is just a dream. If you want to actually save money on groceries, you need to have a list. It’s non-negotiable. Without a list, you’ll blow your budget on stuff you don’t need and forget the stuff you do. Then you’ll end up wasting time, energy, and expensive gas heading back to the store to get the stuff you meant to get the first time.
Clean out the fridge and de-clutter your pantry before you leave. In the process, you’ll discover things you need that aren’t immediately obvious just by scanning the shelves. You also get an inventory of what you already have that may have been shoved to the back of a dark corner. Not to mention, it’s a heck of a lot easier to put your groceries away when you get home, leaving you more energy to prep your produce asap.
Pro Tip: Organize your grocery list by department like produce, meat, dairy, etc. Then plan your route to get everything on your list as quickly as possible and without wandering down unnecessary aisles. The less time spent and ground covered in the store, the less likely you are to make impulsive purchases that blow up your bill.
Save money on groceries by shopping online
Better yet, nip temptation in the bud and don’t even step foot in the building. Many grocery stores across Canada like Superstore, Walmart, Costco, and Save On Foods offer online grocery orders for pick-up or delivery in select cities. Visit the website of your preferred grocery store to see if there are any delivery or pre-order pick-up options available to you.
If your favourite grocery store doesn’t offer anything, third-party delivery services like Instacart and Inabuggy will deliver groceries from participating stores right to your door. Beware of pricey delivery or pick-up charges that can kill your savings. Make sure you know exactly how much it will cost to pick-up or deliver your groceries then decide if it’s worth the cost to prevent impulse purchases and food waste.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach!
I learned this the hard way when my husband went grocery shopping hungry and alone. He spent the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a small country on all-the-things. I died a little inside when I saw the receipt. When you’re hungry, everything looks delicious so you’ll overfill the cart and absolutely annihilate your budget. Please, eat something before you go. Your wallet will thank you.
Save money on groceries with your calculator app
My high school math teacher can eat crow. Everyone has a calculator in their pocket these days and it’s time to use it to save money on groceries. The total weight or volume of a good is almost always indicated on the price sticker or somewhere on the packaging so you know how much you’re getting. When you’re having a tough time comparing the price of a certain product across competing brands, divide the price by how much you’re getting to find the cost per unit of measure. That will tell you which brand is giving you the most bang for your buck.
Be careful though, units of measure vary among producers. It’s not uncommon to see meat products priced by the pound (lb) or by the kilogram (kg) depending on the brand. Or dry goods priced in grams (g) or in ounces (oz). If you need to, use your phone to Google a conversion calculator to find the true cost per unit across competing brands.
Pro Tip: This is especially handy to evaluate sale prices to determine if you really are getting a good deal. I often compare the price of a discount or no-name brand item to that of a premium brand that’s on sale. Sometimes the sale price on the premium brand beats the no-name price by a mile (or 1.6 kilometres) and sometimes it doesn’t. Not to mention, bulk items are not always the better deal.
Cut back on animal protein
Now’s the time to lean into a plant-based diet, or at least more plant-based meals. Start with Meatless Mondays and work your way up from there. Protein-rich foods like beans, lentils, and tofu are less expensive, have a longer shelf life, and fill you up. They can be consumed on their own or incorporated to reduce the amount of animal protein you need for a recipe.
As a die-hard meat-a-tarian, I cannot get enough of the Chipotle Black Bean Veggie Burgers from Costco. And there are tons of vegetarian recipes online that are absolutely to die for. Another family favourite? Taco salad with chipotle baked black beans. Vegetarian meals are only as boring as you make them.
Buy more frozen & canned goods
Depending on where you live, fresh produce isn’t exactly a budget-friendly purchase. In that case, you can save money on groceries with frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, and only buy fresh produce that’s in season. Canned and frozen goods aren’t just cheaper, they last a heck of a lot longer which reduces food waste. If you are worried about additives, read the label to make sure there is no extra sugar or other things you don’t want. More grocery stores are introducing full product lines of organic, health-conscious packaged foods.
Pro Tip: The dollar store is a great place to find dirt cheap canned goods and other dry packaged food items. But don’t expect to find anything certified-organic.
Save money on groceries with livestock, seriously
No one is giving anything away for free, so yes, we want to buy the cow. In many cases, it’s a lot cheaper to buy a whole cow or pig directly from a local farmer or through a butcher than it is to buy individual cuts from the store every few weeks. It’s a huge upfront cost and requires a lot of pre-planning, but the long-term savings can be significant. And of course, you need the appropriate freezer space because this hack is for the long haul.
In western Canada, this is a growing trend among large families. But smaller households can team up together to split the cost and share the meat. You can have it butchered to your cut preferences for cooking and grilling, and they’ll put it in freezer-safe packaging for you too.
Alternatively, many butchers offer bulk meat boxes with various pre-selected cuts, or an option to customize your own. Call around to see which local butchers offer this service and compare the prices per weight or cut. This is a happy middle ground between the budget-busting buy-as-you-go at the grocery store or purchasing an entire farm animal.
Save money on food with meal prep & batch cooking
The only thing I hate more than meal prep is throwing money away, so I try to suck it up. If you can, plan grocery shops so that you have the time and energy to prepare fresh food as soon as you get home. You’re less likely to waste fruits and vegetables that are washed, cut, and ready for snacking. Make a meal plan for the week and do some prep ahead of time like pre-chopping vegetables, pre-mixing spice blends, and portioning meat. On the nights you’re tired or stressed, you can avoid ordering take-out instead of cooking if the prep is mostly done. Save your sanity and get the family on board by assigning each of them ongoing meal prep and planning responsibilities. After all, these are essential life skills.
Next, cook meals in large batches and freeze the excess. I like to make double or triple the amount of meat sauce on spaghetti night and freeze what I don’t need. When I am overscheduled or dead-tired, I can throw the frozen sauce in a crockpot for the day, or heat it up on the stove in a pinch. Other things that freeze well are soups, chilis, cooked leftover vegetables like carrots, and so much more. You can even freeze homemade mashed potatoes as long as you put enough fat in them like butter or sour cream. If you’re unsure if something will freeze well, consult the almighty Google. You’d be surprised how much stuff will actually freeze and reheat nicely.
Team up with family & friends to save money on groceries
I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but it bears repeating. Sometimes, it takes a village to save money on groceries. Team up with other households like family and friends to share the cost of bulk purchases that you can split amongst everyone. You’ll extract even more savings on big sales if you can buy more than you normally could on your own. This hack only works if everyone is cooperative and trustworthy when it comes to squaring up. If you have even a mildly difficult, strained, or toxic relationship then avoid this method like the plague.
Pro Tip: Many credit cards offer free supplementary cards for authorized users, sometimes up to 9 cards, and some even let you make kids as young as 13 an authorized user. In most cases, purchases made on supplementary cards earn the same rewards at the same rate as the primary cardholder. Consider adding a spouse, partner, or even a child as an authorized user. You’ll accumulate even more points or cash back rewards, and it could be the boost you need to reach the minimum spending requirement for bonus rewards.
You may also want to consider giving supplementary cards to the members of other households and using the accumulated points or cash back on bulk purchases for the group. It’s a risky move because it’s your credit score on the line. Everyone will need to be honest and cooperate to settle their purchases in full each month. But if you all have strong, healthy relationships with each other you could all save money on groceries. Like, a lot of money.
Save money on groceries when you have the right kitchen gadgets
The right kitchen appliances can also help you save money on groceries. The InstantPot has been a total game-changer in my house. I can buy the cheapest, absolute worst cuts of meat and they come out beautifully tender and delicious in record time! I cannot tell you how many times I forgot to plan for dinner and had nothing on hand but frozen meat at 5:30 pm. In 30 minutes, I can turn that frozen-solid block of beef into a crowd-pleasing taco night. It has saved me a ton of money on last-minute take-out orders and waste from unused groceries. There are entire Facebook groups and Pinterest boards dedicated to InstantPot hacks and recipes to save money on food.
Of course, no kitchen would be complete without a classic slow-cooker. Remember those batch-cooked freezer meals I talked about earlier? Save time and energy by tossing them into a slow cooker. A little pre-planning will help you save money on groceries by reducing food waste and last-minute take-out orders.
Pro Tip: If you are OK with not having a return policy, don’t buy these gadgets new. You can score gently used and even new-in-box items on Facebook Marketplace at a fraction of the cost. At the time of writing, there were several pages of InstantPots, pressure cookers, and slow cookers for sale in my area. Creep the seller’s profile and only buy from highly rated people to lower the risk of getting junk.
Consider hidden costs and your mental health
Meal subscription boxes, like Hello Fresh or Chef’s Plate, are not a good money-move for everyone, especially if you enjoy cooking or live within walking distance of a grocery store. You will pay more money per serving than if you bought all the ingredients yourself, that is true. But for someone like me, a busy working mom, Hello Fresh is a game-changer that saved my sanity and my money in an unexpected way.
Generally, meal subscription boxes can save a lot of time and energy that you might rather spend with loved ones, on personal development, self-care, or even a side hustle to make more money. Cooking requires a lot of moving parts that increase your mental load and impact your mental health in ways that could affect your finances too. Each family should consider the opportunity costs involved to find the right solution for them. Here are some things to consider if you’re unsure about meal kits:
- Less food waste: ingredients are perfectly portioned for the number of servings. You won’t end up with too many leftovers that will spoil because you couldn’t finish them fast enough.
- Less fuel consumption: meal kits are delivered to your home with everything you need. They can reduce the size of your grocery list, and number of trips to the grocery store.
- Less labour intensive: while there is still some prep involved, everything you need is in one box and the ingredients are pre-measured. Cooking a meal from a subscription box is generally faster and easier. You are less likely to waste food simply because you were too tired or busy to cook the groceries you bought. You choose the recipes in advance from categories that fit your needs like 30-minute meals or kid-friendly, for example.
- Less time consuming: you are spending far less time planning meals, searching for recipes, creating a shopping list, commuting to and from the store, shopping, putting groceries away, and prepping for meals. There is also far less clean-up involved which saves time and energy as well.
Meal kits have significantly reduced our food waste and regularly save us a lot of time and energy. I have noticed a drop in how often we order take-out, which is a big money saver right there. My children are now eating new and healthy meals I would have never made otherwise. Now, I plan our grocery shops based mostly on lunches and snacks, which has brought down our grocery bill too. On the few days a week we don’t have a meal kit to make, I put a freezer meal in the crockpot or make something in the InstantPot with enough leftovers for lunch the next day.
And that’s how I like to save money on groceries!
About The Author: Heidi Unrau
Heidi Unrau is the senior Finance Journalist at Hardbacon. She studied Economics at the University of Winnipeg, where she fell in love with all-things-finance. At 25, she got her first bank job as an entry-level teller. She moved up the ranks to Credit Analyst, Loans Officer, and now a Personal Finance Writer. In her spare time, you'll find her hiding in the car listening to Freakonomics podcasts, or binge-watching financial crime documentaries with a pint of Häagen-Dazs. When she's not chasing after her two little boys, she's in the hot tub or arguing with her husband over which cash back card to use for date night. She’s addicted to coffee, crypto, and obsessively checking her credit score on Borrowell.
Fun Fact: Heidi has lived in five different provinces across Canada, loves her free Tangerine bank account, and will never cut back on Starbucks. Like ever.
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