12 Smart Ways to Trim Your Grocery Bill and Tame Inflation

If you’ve watched the news, been to the grocery store recently, or are getting an earful from the shopper in your family, you know that inflation in the United States is at an all-time high. What began in January 2022 as slight inflation has now spiraled out of control as the war in Ukraine continues, disrupting oil prices and availability. Gas prices are at the highest rate in world history and food prices are also increasing daily to the tune of 4-10%. Depending on what state you live in, you may be seeing increases closer to 20-30%. It’s nuts. So, what can we do, you might be asking? Here are 14 smart ways to trim your grocery bill during inflation.

#1 – Track Spending to Trim Your Grocery Bill

The first order of business in trimming your grocery bill is to start tracking your spending. If you use a credit card or your bank has built-in finance software, chances are you can pull up your transactions from last month to see roughly how much you’ve been spending on food. Personally, I lump paper goods into my grocery bill, while others omit this and want to know what they are spending on consumable food items alone. In my mind, I have to run the dishwasher and wash my family’s clothes, and these products are purchased where I buy food. So, these go into my overall grocery budget.

Once you pull your credit card grocery transactions, pull out a notepad and write each one down: write down the date, the store, the amount, and any notes about what was purchased (if you remember). We go through Diet Coke like water and that means there are several transactions a month for this product wherever it’s on sale, so I can tell a $20 CVS transaction was most likely for three 12-packs of Diet Coke. I use the Flippa App to search “Coke” and find where it’s on sale. Then I call my husband and ask him to stop by on his way home from work.

Tracking your grocery spending is important for the following reasons:

  1. Tracking your spending forces you to review each transaction and see just how many times you go to the store each week (savings hint: the more frequently you go to the store, the more you spend).
  2. Writing down your transactions might cause you to remember that you spend too much on alcohol, ready-made deli dinners, or take-out pizza.
  3. Whatever you focus on brings awareness. Having awareness about what and where you are purchasing to feed your family will help you figure out where you can trim the grocery bill.

#2 – Track Prices to Tame Inflation

I’ll be upfront: not everyone cares what each item costs and I don’t want you to get bogged down in the weeds. But, it is helpful to have a general idea of how much monthly staples like milk, eggs, flour, meat, and bananas retail for. I used to think that all products were cheaper at Costco. This is not true. It’s not true for any grocery establishment. Grocery businesses are competitive and constantly vying for your attention, your devotion, and your allegiance. I adore Costco, but I know better than to purchase everything there. I do purchase milk in a two-pack, butter, eggs, tortillas, and a few other items there each and every month. But over the past six months, I’ve noticed Costco’s prices ticking up just like everyone else’s. Eggs aren’t always cheaper there. Butter has gone up $4 for a four-pack so sometimes is cheaper if it’s on sale at a normal store.

When you start tracking prices, you notice prices and become a smart shopper. Smart shoppers don’t get pulled in by “purchase three for $7.50.” Smart shoppers who track prices pay attention and have a running list of how much their staples cost. Compare prices as much as humanly possible BEFORE you head out to the store. The Flippa app is fairly good at tracking prices based on the store circulars. Basket is another app that tracks prices as users input the information.

#3 – Spend Time Meal Planning to Trim Your Grocery Bill

Not everyone enjoys meal planning. Some people would rather get a root canal, I get it. As the mother of four teens, meal planning is absolutely essential to our survival. Hungry kids are not pleasant to be around. What I did to make things easy on myself was to set up a weekly meal plan that basically stays the same each week.

Here’s my weekly meal plan:

Monday: Asian food night
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (aka, Mexican night)
Wednesday: Chicken Night
Thursday: Pasta Night
Friday: Burger Night
Saturday: Wild Card (husband usually grills)
Sunday: Pizza night

Now, for each given night, I rotate a bunch of different recipes so that it doesn’t get boring. Stir fry, orange chicken and rice for Asian night are some favorites; Taco Tuesday can mean carnitas burritos, turkey tacos, or chicken enchiladas; you get the idea.

As the saying goes: If you fail to plan you plan to fail. This is true with feeding a family. Having a plan – even if your plan is breakfast for dinner or leftovers on purpose (LOOP), it’s still a plan. I’m just sayin’.

#4 – Buy in Bulk, Cook in Bulk

Earlier this week, I cooked about 4 pounds of chicken breast in my Instapot with about two cups of chicken broth. I let it cool then shredded the chicken using tongs into a large plastic container to chill in the fridge. Then, I made delicious chicken enchiladas with flour tortillas. Later that night, I used some of the shredded chicken to make three of us Chinese chicken salads for to-go lunches, then the next day, I made a stromboli using the remainder of the shredded chicken. That’s two meals for six, plus lunch for two from a $10 package of chicken breast. At my local Winco, chicken breast is still $2.19 per pound, praise the Lord.

When you buy large amounts of meat, consider prepping it and cooking it, then either freeze what’s left to pull out another week, or make several meals from the same main ingredient. This is a lifesaver both in time, energy, and financial savings.

#5 – Always Carry Snacks, or “ACS” to Curb Spending

Chick-fil-a, Wendy’s, In and Out, Burger King, Jamba Juice–these are all wonderful, but if you want to stick to a food budget (we actually budget a few hundred dollars in a dining out budget), ALWAYS CARRY SNACKS, or “ACS.” I’ve also been known to “BYOV” or bring your own vegetables (out with us to a restaurant when my kids were smaller). It happened to me today running around finding all the grocery deals – I GOT HUNGRY. But, I had a granola bar and a bag of chips with me. The hangry ogre was tamed and I didn’t succumb to fast food (for today, at least).

This rule is especially true for smaller kids – don’t leave the house without a bag of grapes, a dish of Goldfish crackers, and some cheese sticks. You will regret the mayhem that ensues at the grocery store checkout when you’re kids are melting down over their candy options in front of them. Pull out that leftover Easter pack of M&Ms and you won’t be sorry.

#6 – Compare Prices in the Store and Buy Generic

Listen, we’re all laughing with Tim Hawkins and his hilarious bit about “Toasted Holes” but I’m afraid it’s true. The generic doesn’t taste bad and it’s like way cheaper because the companies do not spend money on marketing. Try the generic Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you won’t be sorry. Pasta noodles, soup, flour, macaroni and cheese, and many other products taste exactly the same as name brand. I’ve tried a lot, but you be the judge.

#7 – Cutting Back on Meat and Using Lentils or Dry Grains

Meals go a long way when you make soup from ham hock with lentils like I did after Easter. I save Chinese soup containers and fill these up to freeze soup or stew. A nice beef stew with carrots and potatoes makes one to two pounds of beef go much further. Barley is a nice grain, and so is quinoa. Dice vegetables, saute onions, and throw together a fancy veggie risotto, add a salad and bread, you won’t miss the meat. This is one great way to trim the budget. Beans are also a great way to save. Red beans and rice, or black beans instead of meat on Taco Tuesday are great options.

#7 – Avoid Processed Foods to Tame Inflation

You already know that processed foods are bad for your health. Skip the Lunchables, skip the prepackaged cookies. The more items you can make from scratch, the better. Buy your baking ingredients in bulk and keep them in those reusable grapefruit containers. White flour, wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, buttermilk powder, and many other baking ingredients cost pennies to buy. Then, pull out that cookbook or check Pinterest for a tasty cookie recipe. Your family and your wallet will appreciate it. I like to take things a step further and make bread, muffins, and pizza dough from scratch. It’s fairly easy in my KitchenAid mixer.

#8 – Shop Around for the Lowest Prices

Shop the store circular that comes in the mail for the meat lost leader. a “lost leader” is a sale item that is meant to draw the consumer into the store, with the intent that most people will just do all their shopping at this one store. DON’T SHOP at just one store. If you use discipline to build your meal plan, then shop the sales, you can come home with lots more foods you’re family will thank you for. If something’s on sale (like pork chops for 88 cents a pound – WOW) buy A LOT. Bring them home, marinade them, then package them up for the freezer.

#8 – Invest in an Extra Fridge or Deep Freeze

Buying in bulk and shopping sales is only possible if you have an extra refrigerator to store things in the freezer so that they don’t go to waste. Search Craig’s List or a local used appliance store to get an inexpensive second fridge. You won’t be sorry. Do check the seals on the fridge as a leaky fridge seal could cost you quite a bit more on your electric bill.

This small 7 cubic feet chest freezer from Midea can be a great way to gain extra freezer space for all the great deals you find.

#9 – Minimize Food Waste

Minimize food waste by having a leftover night or weekend lunch. Another option is to make a casserole or “hot dish” from the leftovers. There are LOTS of ideas on Pinterest. I typically send a container of dinner leftovers with my husband for lunch. He’s the envy of all his friends when he warms up chicken marsala. Everyone wants a dinner invite. Encourage your kids to eat what they take, but don’t force the clean plate. When my kids were small, I’d intentionally take less food on my own plate because I know I’d end up cleaning theirs.

#9 – Use Cloth Napkins and Placemats

If you can, purchase a bulk set of simple cotton cloth napkins for around $20. Since each person in my family sits at the same seat each night, I refold the napkins and we get two to three uses out of each one. They look at feel nice, don’t waste, and don’t cost a lot. Placemats that are easily washable are a great way to dress up your decor while saving money.

#10 – Take the Free Lunch

In California, post-Covid, schools offer free lunch. Encourage your kids to take the free lunch and promise them a big after-school snack if they don’t like it. Many times, my kids will come home reporting that it was quite good. Other times they fed the birds or gave it away. Every little bit helps.

#11 – Shop the Pantry Staples

Sometimes canned goods slink to the bottom of the shelf or hide behind that Costco-sized box of cereal. I found three cans of tuna and make tuna salad for lunch the other day; if you have Cream of Chicken Soup, you can make easy Poppyseed Chicken, one of my family’s favorites. Pop a can of olives for your evening’s vegetable. Check for canned beans and corn to see if you can throw together an easy veggie chili. Use what you have, especially if you’ve gone through your budget and it’s the 23rd of the month.

#12 – Learn to be Content

It’s hard when you look around and often see abundance, to think that it’s okay to run out of grocery money. But, it is what it is. I find that dwelling on the flour I can turn into bread or the frozen block of ground beef I can saute with onions for a simple ground steak dinner given me joy even in the hard times.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” – Philippians 4:11