A woman shops for chicken at a supermarket in Santa Monica, California, on September 13, 2022.
Apu Gomes | AFP | Getty Images
Despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to get the cost of living under control, prices just keep climbing — and the uptick is especially brutal at the supermarket.
The cost of food overall climbed 11.2% in September from the year before, according to the latest consumer price index data released Thursday. Prices of “food at home,” aka groceries, soared 13% from the same time in 2021.
Many of the hardest-hit items are ones families can’t do without: Eggs are up 30.5% from a year ago, while poultry is up 17.2% and milk, 15.2%.
Still, there are a number of strategies you can use to reduce your food costs, experts say. Here are some of them.
1. Stock up on staples
Artem Lysanev | Istock | Getty Images
Make sure your kitchen and pantry are always stocked with certain basics, experts say. Having an ample supply of staple goods will allow you to buy fewer new items each week.
Some of the most useful foods to have on hand include eggs, pasta, rice, bread, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables and fruit, onions and potatoes, aid Leanne Brown, author of Good Enough, a self-care cookbook.
Consider buying these products in large quantities, if you have the space, to cut costs over time.
Many meals can be made with these ingredients alone, and they serve as the foundation for countless more.
2. Shop with a grocery list
Don’t show up to the supermarket without a grocery list and some ideas of what you’ll be cooking for the week, said Leanne Brown, author of Good Enough, a self-care cookbook.
“Meal planning definitely reduces costs,” Brown said. “If you stick to it, you don’t waste food that you bought without a plan.”
While you map out your dishes for the week, try to think of recipes with easily repurposed leftovers, Brown said. That will enable you to buy less.
For example, a pot of chili can later be used to fill burritos or as nacho topping.
You can decide eating certain foods on repeat is sad or monotonous or — like so much else with life — you can choose to look at it more positively.
“Having the same breakfast every day for a week can be really comforting and simplify things both wallet-wise and decision-making wise,” Brown said. “Then you can do something else the next week, so you don’t feel bored.”
Meanwhile, shopping with a grocery list probably won’t prevent all your impulse buys, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use one.
“Even if you stick to them somewhat, that is great,” Brown said. “We don’t need to worry about perfection.”
As a treat, she purposefully plans to buy one or two things off her list.
3. Compare stores for the best deals
You can usually browse discounts on a supermarket’s website or app, or find them listed at the retailer, experts say.
Take a look at your grocery list before you decide where to do your buying, said Erin Clarke, author of The Well Plated Cookbook. Then, try to find the store that offers the best value on the particular items you’re looking for.
“If you’re doing a produce-heavy trip, look for a store with frequent produce sales,” Clarke said. “If you’re stocking up on shelf-stable goods, choose a store that has the best value for those, even if other items, like produce, cost more.”
Look beyond supermarkets, too: Billy Vasquez, who runs The 99 Cent Chef blog, said he picks up many of his non-perishable items, including mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, dried pasta, beans and tortilla chips, at his local dollar store.
Timing is everything with food, Vasquez added.
“Buy when fruit and veggies are in season,” he said. “They are often on sale.”
Around St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, you can find steep discounts on items like corned beef, carrots, cabbage, turkey, duck, roasts, ham, boxed stuffing, hamburgers and hot dogs — many of which can be stored in the freezer for long periods, Vasquez said.
Year-round, generic and store-brands tend to be the cheaper varieties, Brown said, adding that, “buying more canned and frozen vegetables when many aren’t in season is another evergreen choice.”
4. Change your menu
Meat and dairy tend to be the more expensive items at the supermarket, and especially of late. In response, aim to make more meals that don’t rely on them as the central ingredient, Brown said.
“Using meat sparingly as flavor, like adding a bit of bacon to a mushroom risotto, is more economical,” she said. Consuming less meat also helps you to lower your environmental footprint, she added.
Buying foods with a longer shelf life can cut your trips to the supermarket all together. Even certain produce may last for more time than others, especially if you store it properly.
“Cabbage, carrots, brussels sprouts and beets can last for two weeks or longer when stored in the crisper drawer,” Clarke said.
Delaying your return is always good for your wallet, she said: “Every time you walk into the store, that’s an opportunity for impulse purchases to drive up the bill.”