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11 tips for saving money at the grocery store

Americans spend an average of  $5,174 a year, or roughly $431 a month, on groceries, according to the latest spending data available from location intelligence firm Esri.

And because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this cost is only going up. Since the onset of the pandemic in February, the cost of food staples, like meat and eggs, rose the fastest in over a decade.

Of course, the amount you spend on groceries depends on where you shop, what you buy and the number of people in your household. But regardless of how much you spend, there are simple actions you can take to save money — whether it’s using the right form of payment or clipping coupons. The savings can add up each trip and help offset the increased cost of groceries.

Here are 11 tips you can follow to save money on your next grocery run.

1. Pay with a grocery rewards card

Using the right form of payment at checkout can help you earn rewards that can be used to offset your bill. While a generic cash-back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card can earn you 2% cash back (1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill), there are specific grocery rewards credit cards that can earn you up to 6% back.

Here are CNBC Select’s top picks for credit cards offering supermarket rewards:

2. Sign up for the loyalty program

Most grocery stores offer loyalty programs that are free to join. By signing up, you can benefit from member-only discounts that automatically deduct at checkout — without the need to clip coupons.

3. Clip coupons

After you’ve signed up for your favorite grocery store’s loyalty program, maximize your savings by clipping coupons for additional discounts. Look out for the weekly circular in the mail and sift through the pages for deals that matter to you. Cut out any coupons and save them for your next grocery run.

There are also now digital options that are just as easy to use. Download your favorite grocery store’s mobile app, browse available discounts and click to load coupons onto your digital loyalty card. Then when you checkout in-store, the discounts will automatically be applied.

4. Join a wholesale club

Wholesale clubs like Costco can help you rack up savings for buying in bulk. If you have a large family, joining a wholesale club can be a good idea. But remember that buying in bulk isn’t for everyone since you’ll have to spend more money upfront, even though you’re saving overall. This may not be an option depending on your cash flow.

Also note that clubs come with membership fees. Currently, the cost for Costco membership starts at $60 for Gold Star and doubles to $120 for Gold Star Executive. The cost can be worthwhile if you frequently stock up on items. Plus you can optimize savings by using the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi (which has no annual fee, but requires an active Costco membership). (Read our review of the Costco Anywhere Visa Card.)

5. Go in with a list and stick to it

If you go to the supermarket without a list, it can be easy to grab things that aren’t needed. And even if you have a list, it can be hard to follow it if you bring your kids and/or shop on an empty stomach.  The next time you go to the grocery store, make sure you have a list and stick to it so you don’t wind up raising your bill. You may also want to consider eating first or leaving the kids at home to avoid spur-of-the-moment items.

6. Buy items on sale

Supermarkets are always running various promotions that can help you save on everything from staples, like milk and eggs, to sweets, like ice cream and cookies. Consider buying items on sale whenever possible, especially if the cost is normally high. Sale items are often displayed in prominent locations throughout the store, such as at the entrance and ends of aisles.

7. Avoid pre-packaged items

While buying pre-cut veggies or pre-shredded cheese can save you time while cooking, stores often charge more for the convenience. Opt for whole items, like fresh or frozen veggies and block cheese, to save money.

8. Compare prices between stores

If you live near various grocery stores, consider shopping at a few and comparing prices. You can learn which store has the items you need for less and also look at the sales they run. If it’s not too much of a hassle, you may want to grocery shop at two stores to optimize savings.

9. Buy generic brands

Supermarkets put the costly, name brand items at eye-level, which can tempt you to spend more money on high-cost items. But if you look at the top or bottom of the shelves, you’ll often find generic brands, like the store’s own brand, that are cheaper and often taste just as good. Next time you go shopping, opt for a generic brand to save money.

10. Bring your own bag

If you bring reusable shopping bags to the store, you can often receive a discount on your order total. Stores like Whole Foods Market can give you a 10 cent discount per bag you bring.

11. Use a rebate app

There are a handful of rebate apps, such as Ibotta and Rakuten, that give you cash back for buying groceries. You can register for free with one of these services to save more on top of loyalty benefits and credit card rewards. Depending on the app, you may need to link a loyalty card or submit receipts to receive a rebate.

Source: CNBC / Featured image by freepik

Joseph Tanner

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