8 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away on Food

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With the cost of groceries soaring at a rate unseen since 1981, the pressure is on to save money at checkout. Alas, that is easier said than done. As of 2020, the average cost of grocery spending per month was $412, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that was before the inflation spike that surged in 2021 and contributed to driving up the cost of food

Find Out: 11 Things You Should Never Buy at Walmart
See: 50 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away

We shouldn’t feel guilty about spending money on sustenance. It shouldn’t be a splurge to survive. That said, we can accomplish the goal of feeding ourselves and our families by being just a little bit proactive in the supermarket — and not making the following classic mistakes that lead to needless overspending. 

List-Less Grocery Shopping

“If you aren’t making a grocery list before shopping, you should be,” advised Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. “Lists can keep you on track so that you can make more efficient trips, as well as sticking to your budget, but even beyond that they’re good for ensuring you don’t forget anything. If you manage to forget something, that means another trip to the store later on, which opens you up to spending more because you’re having to make an unplanned trip. 

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“The best thing you can do is try to group your shopping by areas in the store,” Ramhold continued. “So for instance, when making your list, put all the produce together, as well as all the pantry items, dairy, etc. That’ll make shopping easier because you’ll be picking up things that should be near each other so you won’t have to run back and forth to check items off your list. If you aren’t sure about your store’s layout, see if they have a map in the app like Walmart or note what aisle to find the items on like in the Target app. Then you can note these when you’re making your list and streamline your trips. You can also make lists in these apps if you want to go that route, as well.”

Delivery Surcharges  

“Grocery delivery is super convenient but it comes with higher prices on items as well as fees for the shopper, delivery and even fuel surcharges right now,” Ramhold said. “However, if you don’t want to do the shopping yourself, you can get around these charges by opting for pickup. A lot of stores started offering curbside pickup when the pandemic first started but they’ve continued to do so even as things open back up. Often these are totally free if you use something like Target’s pickup service, but even things like Instacart offer them now and can provide an average savings of $30 choosing pickup over delivery in some cases.”

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Not Using Coupons

“Clipping coupons isn’t something a lot of people do anymore, but the truth is that plenty of stores still offer them — you just don’t have to browse physical circulars to find them anymore,” Ramhold said. “Instead, you can download a store’s app or even just check their websites. Some grocery stores will offer loyalty programs where you just sign up with a phone number and then punch that in during checkout to redeem digital coupons. Usually these are also accessible in the apps, so you can browse and save offers and then use the app during checkout to redeem those offers.”

Throwing Away Leftovers

“Cooking your own meals can save a fair amount of money compared to constantly getting takeout,” Ramhold said. “You can save even more if you opt for meal planning around weekly sales. But if you’re throwing out leftovers because they’ve gone bad, you’re also throwing those savings away.” 

Ramhold recommends that savvy consumers consider cooking smaller portions overall. 

Make Your Money Work for You

“This may mean you don’t have any leftovers to worry about and if you find it hard to finish them, this may be a good solution,” she said. “However, another way to ensure you don’t have them go off is to immediately freeze whatever you don’t eat the night you make them; that way, you have the leftovers for when you want them in the future and you don’t have to worry about anything going off before you can eat it.”

Shopping Only at Supermarkets 

“Shoppers need to be flexible,” said Mackenzie Shand, deals and savings expert at Offers.com. “Local supermarkets near you might be smaller and not have the buying power of a huge chain, causing prices to be slightly higher. Instead, try to shop at stores like Aldi, Market Basket and Trader Joe’s, which are known to be great places to shop for budget-friendly prices. A few other great options are warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club where you can sign up for memberships and receive exclusive discounts and member savings.”

Sticking to Brand Names 

“Store brands can save you around 30% on food so don’t grab the name brand without looking for a cheaper option,” said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch.

“Keep in mind, some foods and ingredients are a complete waste to buy from name brands like sugar and flour which are single ingredient goods that can’t be produced any differently. Not to mention, grocery stores and big box retailers are more likely to run sales and offer coupons on their own brands so there’s more opportunity to save.” 

Choosing Strictly Organic Produce  

“According to the Environmental Working Group, the Clean 15 refers to 15 vegetables and fruits that are safe to buy non-organic because they have tough inedible peels,” Woroch said. 

Ruling Out Online Shopping 

“Although there may be a small surcharge for groceries when shopping online or you may face a delivery fee, buying food online could end up saving you more,” Woroch said. “That’s because you won’t be tempted by any tasty looking food displays, ensuring you stick to your shopping list and buy less food on impulse. To cut delivery fees, look for coupons from sites like CouponFollow.com which is currently offering $20 off your first order at Vons, 15% off Kroger grocery shipments and $10 off your first delivery of $20 at Instacart.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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