Saving Money on Groceries

One of the questions I’m always hearing is, “How much should I be spending on groceries?” I don’t know. How many people are you feeding? Do any of them have special dietary needs? Do you make a lot of money, or are you barely putting food on the table?

There are so many variables involved. People who are determined to eat organic will pay more for their food. People who survive on pasta will pay less. If you’re a big meat or fish eater and only like the best, your grocery bill would stagger the single mom of three making her own pizza at home.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian family spends $9,630 a year on food, which would work out to be about $185 a week. And that’s just food. It doesn’t include personal care, household cleaning, tobacco, alcohol or lottery tickets – things we often add to our carts.

There are 11 ways to trim your food costs.

  1. Buy in bulk: Know what stuff costs so that when you see a deal you can buy in bulk. When salmon hits 99¢ a tin, when coffee goes on sale, when toilet paper is a bargain, stock up. It’s not going to spoil so buy more than a week’s worth.
  1. Compare per unit costs: Since companies use different sizes and formats for their products, it’s easy to get confused about which package offers the better deal. Just think of all the different versions of laundry soap out there. Whew! If you don’t calculate the per unit cost, it is virtually impossible to tell what is a deal and what isn’t. Just because the package is bigger doesn’t mean the cost is lower.
  1. Get a raincheck: If you go shopping and something you’re looking for that’s been advertised is not in stock, make sure you get a raincheck so you extend the sale and get what you wanted at the best possible price.
  1. Shop in less-expensive stores: Do most of your shopping in a discount grocery store. Did you know that you can save up to 30 percent off your grocery bill just by switching your supermarket. That would be $45 in savings on a $150 weekly bill. Over a year, that’d be over $2,300. That sounds worthwhile, doesn’t it?
  1. Take your own bags: Are you still paying for your grocery bags every time you go to the store? What’s wrong with you? Why would you build the price of shopping bags into the cost of your food? Make a habit of putting your bags back into your car after you unpack them, or fold them all neatly into one bag if you’re hoofing it.
  1. Look for deals: Cuts of meat at 30-50 percent off are a great way to save; just take them home and throw them into the freezer. If you buy big on sale, then cook up what you’ve bought and divide it into individual portions for the freezer. Not only will you save money, you’ll save time by batch cooking.
  2. Reward yourself: Take full advantage of the rewards programs offered by grocery stores to convert food purchases into gifts, travel savings or money off future grocery purchases. I even buy my gas at a station associated with my grocery store so I save 2¢ on my gas, which I immediately apply to my groceries.
  1. Shop with coupons: Speaking of coupons, collect and use them. You don’t have to be rabid about this, but at least collect coupons for the products you usually buy and use them to save. Improve your odds of saving by visiting sites like,, and to check for coupons that match your shopping list. I particularly like to use the coupon when the item is on sale since I feel I’m getting even more bang for my buck.
  1. Get in the groove: Most folks don’t realize that stores don’t drive sales, manufacturers do, and items typically go on sale in 12-week cycles. Smart shoppers keep track of sales cycles to stock up with enough to last until the next great sale.
  1. Take advantage of price-matching. No one wants to have to drive all over hell’s half-acre to get all the deals in the fliers that come to the door. And you don’t have to. Simply shop at a store with a price-matching policy and you can show any store’s flyer and get the best deal going.
  1. Shop with a list. This is the single best way to manage your food budget and not give into the temptation to overspend because you see things you want to throw into your cart impulsively. Over and over I’ve assigned the “shop once and with a list” challenge to people on my TV shows and they are gobsmacked to see how much they save.



15 Responses to “Saving Money on Groceries”

  1. I do all those things and it does work. No Frills now has a “4 only” price match policy which sucks if something is a really good price, but I get it. I use PC Points and with personalized points I’m getting plenty of points, and my next shop I will save $80 – just from being persistent with points. Besides, it’s for items I use anyway. Thanks for the tips and reminders, Gail!

  2. Adding more beans, veggies and legumes, and eliminating meat, fish cheese and other dairy really made an impact on our food budget. 52% because I ran the numbers. Even if this is too extreme to eliminate animal products completely, give it a try on most days. I promise it will take you less time to cook and clean up and your budget will thank you.

  3. I use the FLIPP app to save money at the grocery store. It allows me to see all the flyers in the my area and find the best deals on what I need. I “clip” the deal I want by tapping it and the item is saved. I then can price match at my local Frechco. No collecting and carrying around flyers and you can save a lot! I usually plans my meals around what is on sale.

  4. I shop with cash so I carry a calculator. Don’t want to be caught short & red-faced at the check out.
    That means I weigh my produce.
    It also prevents all those “add-ons” that I might be craving when I’m shopping!
    (Learning to make meals from scratch also helps!!!)

  5. I stay away from the pre-packaged fresh foods like veggie trays, salad kits, cut up fruit in containers, etc. and make my own. Stores can charge GST on those items, while they can’t on whole food items. Also, I add the money I get from the bottle depot back into the Food jar, as those deposits had originally been paid at the checkout counter.

  6. Great list Gail. I would also add meal planning. This will greatly help with making an accurate shopping list.

  7. avatar $unnyoutlook Says:
    March 14, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Meal planning in combination with shopping the sales is my standard routine. I first review what’s in the freezer, fridge and pantry and see what meals can be made from those. Then I go through the flyers to determine if any of the sale items can be added to what I have to make a few more meals, after that then I base the rest of the meals completely on items on sale that week. If there is something on sale that we use regularly I’ll also stock up so that becomes the “stuff I already have” on next week’s plan.
    Eliminating waste is also a great way to cut grocery costs. Checking the sale prices and making a list only to throw out items that weren’t used in time is just dumb. Our meal plan usually involves cooking extra of something nearly every night and using the excess the next night. Extra pasta one night becomes the base for a casserole a night or two later. Leftovers from tonight’s whole chicken become chicken enchiladas and the carcass becomes soup. Of course it saves time to have some component of the meal precooked, but at the price of hydro I refuse to waste $ cooking more of the same item several nights a week.
    Last night we cook a large ham (on sale). Later this week there will be a casserole, a quiche, omelets and of course sandwiches. Then the bone will turn into pea soup. I expect that $11 ham will be the basis of at least 5 meals, with absolutely no waste.

    On the choosing your grocery store thing, I agree it makes a huge difference. I do our main shopping at Food Basics. I skim the flyers for Sobeys, Independent and Metro and mid week I’ll pop in there to get just 2 or 3 items on sale enough to make it worth the extra stop (FB doesn’t price match). I’m always stunned to see people loading up their carts at the prices in those places – not the sale stuff, just their regular groceries. Food basics is a 30 second drive from two of these stores so it’s not a big inconvenience. Metro and Food Basics are owned by the same company – I often see the Metro trucks backed up to the loading dock at FB so it’s the identical products. It’s just the prices that are wildly different. Oh, and the lighting is more flattering in Metro and a bit harsh at FB.

  8. I use my pc plus card and save up my points for Christmas gifts! last year I earned over $750 in plus points and purchased visa gift cards. Christmas was paid for! I love it. my only issue is we recently got a walmart supercentre and the cost of some items are actually half the price they would be at superstore so now I’m torn between saving now or saving later!! luckily they’re only about two minutes from each other (you can see both parking lots from either one) so I can shop both for the time being! but 3 months into the year I already have $200 in rewards! also while I don’t shop with cash ( use my Avion for travel points, I have no annual fee for it and I transfer the money as soon as I get to my car so no interest) I DO use my phone calculator for every item I put in the cart. if I’m over my alloted budget something goes back and I have to refigure my meal plan!!

  9. great list, Gail, and same for the comments! Things I do to save money on groceries:

    -FLIPP flyer app
    -avoiding shopping while hungry
    -PC points & shopping at no frills which also does price matching
    -Buy cheaper types (i.e. not as much beef) + cuts of meat & freezing it into smaller portions
    -Portion controlling meat
    -buying almost all frozen fruit instead of fresh (which, is argued to be possibly more nutritious anyways)
    -stocking up on certain things when there is sales
    -**trying to shop only once every week/week and a half. It helps to prevent impulse buys + it means if I run out of a few things, I will usually “suck it up” for a few days until the next grocery shop instead of constantly replenishing, which ultimately saves money because I’m buying less.
    -trying to avoid prepared meals/take out. I just freeze dinners I make myself in glass containers and if I need a quick meal, I can microwave that.

  10. Karen M. I totally agree with going vegan. It’s saved me a ton of food and I’m not hurting any animals in feeding myself. RiGHT ON!

  11. avatar Anne Russell Says:
    March 15, 2016 at 11:16 am

    You hit the nail on the head with this one, Gail! In my family of five, we are down to $235 a week from $400 a week two years ago. I use coupon apps, coupons, price matching, drive to different stores to save and cook differently (all done at home, some ahead.) It’s been a challenge to finesse everything, but my family is better served with fresh cooked meals as opposed to store bought packaged meals. The extra money goes directly to my debt repayment and that feels mighty fine.

  12. Kristal – great list! I have a question – you said you only buy frozen fruit — what do you do with it? is it just for smoothies? I find the texture funny for defrosted fruit if you try to eat it whole. just looking for ideas!

    My kids won’t eat defrosted fruit and I’d say that fresh fruit and veggies are actually one of the highest costs on my grocery list.

  13. I use the Checkout 51 app all year and then get a cheque for about $50 every December.

  14. We use a grocery store with a “To Go” service. You make a list in their website and tell them when you’re coming and they pack it up for you. No wandering the aisles = no impulse spending. as long as your bill is high enough it’s free, so we use it about every 2 weeks and supplement fresh stuff once in between.

  15. avatar SimpleRyan Says:
    March 16, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Great points Gail!!

    You’re absolutely right! Your grocery budget will depend on
    “How many people are you feeding? Do any of them have special dietary needs? Do you make a lot of money, or are you barely putting food on the table?”

    There isn’t a “one size fits all” number for this. If you’re single and make $200k a year, your grocery budget is going to be drastically different than a family of 4 where the household income is $100k/year.

    I think the key here to remember is: your grocery budget should be in line so that you’re NOT over spending in your total monthly budget.

    Always keep your eye on the main goal – which is spend less than you make each month.

    And @Kristal – why not go shopping while you’re hungry? I thought that’s what the food samples in Costco are for? Free food and buying in bulk – can it get any better? LMAO!

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