#3 is almost too easy.

By Betty Gold
Updated August 03, 2020
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From adjusting to working from home (or not at all) to facing difficult future budgeting challenges, planning emergency funds, and navigating an uncertain economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a financial challenge for everyone. The last thing we need to blow the bank right now? Grocery shopping.

Indeed, no matter how tempting takeout can be in busy seasons like summer, making homemade meals is always going to be more affordable than eating out. You’re already saving big just by getting yourself to cook at home, so give yourself a pat on the back. But if you really want to make your food shopping wallet-friendly, stock up on these genius tips and tricks from Lauren Greutman, the savings expert for Flipp. We guarantee you’ll wonder, why didn’t I think of this sooner? after reading a few. No time like the present.

First things first, you need to come up with a strategy before you shop. Figure out what meals you'll make during the week, then write a grocery list in your phone and organize it aisle by aisle. You'll dodge unnecessary impulse purchases, waste less food, and get in and out of the store faster. Also, make enough so that you have leftovers for another meal—if you plan right, you can stretch your food and your savings for days. “Planning ahead, you can save yourself hundreds per month” says Greutman. 

Do you already have three bottles of coriander? It’s easy (and expensive) to forget about food items and ingredients you might have tucked away in the freezer, fridge, or pantry that you can build a meal around.

The price premium can be huge on snack-sized items. Instead, buy the largest size available (which is typically the best deal) and make your own snack sizes. For example, ounce per ounce, a regular container of Jif peanut butter costs 40 percent less than Jif To Go singles. Make your own singles with tiny plastic containers. You can use the same method with yogurt, cheese, and fruit cups. Also, use little baggies for chips, pretzels, candy, and other snacks that are often sold in single-serve packaging at a big premium. (Even better if they're reusable snack bags.)

“A big mistake that people make is that they shop on autopilot,” says Greutman. Many of us don't look at the sale flyers to plan around what is on sale. “I like to plan my meals around what items are on sale that week. If salmon is on sale, we eat salmon. I stock up on items when I can get them for less, and plan around what I have in my pantry and what is on sale.”

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You'll dodge the I-can't-possibly-face-the-line-at-Whole-Foods-right-now dread that coerces you to give into the takeout temptation. Grocery delivery services like Instacart let you do your shopping while you're working away—within two hours, you'll have everything you need to make a week's worth of meals delivered to your doorstep.

Yes, even in supermarkets. They might look like a jumble of stuff you don’t need, but stores are always clearing out inventory to make room for new products and the markdowns can be 50 percent or more. Just be sure to check expiration dates.

Remember, it’s possible (and cheaper) to get creative with basic ingredients rather than focusing on specialty items. It’s also a lot easier to stick to your budget. Instead of buying an ingredient you can only use for one meal, buy a bunch of basic, affordable ingredients and think of all the ways you can use them.

“Foods like rice, grains, and dried fruit in bulk can save you anywhere from 30 to 96 percent,” Greutman says.

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To keep mornings stress-free, make batches of muffins, pancakes, and waffles on the weekends and freeze them. In the mornings, simply get them out and zap them in the microwave—breakfast comes together in seconds.