How to maximize savings on groceries

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A May 2020 report from North Carolina-based data analytics firm Inmar Intelligence reports that about 79% of consumers have utilized an online shopping service to buy groceries, compared to just 39% of shoppers prior to the pandemic. Inmar published a follow-up study in Dec. 2020 showing that 61% of shoppers were now switching “purchase loyalty to less expensive brands since the start of the pandemic.” 

Indeed, money is much tighter these days thanks to COVID’s crippling blows to the economy, and Americans are looking to save a dollar wherever they can. Inmar reports that 80% actively seek out deals before shopping, while 92% think grocers and retailers should do more to make shopping more affordable during such times of financial hardship. That means more Americans are eating at home than ever before, and not only to reduce exposure but also to save extra money.  

Even though travel may not be a top priority right now, thanks to coronavirus, your travel credit card could be one excellent way to take advantage of extra savings on things you buy every day, including your groceries.

There are a ton of ways to save on groceries — but you’ll maximize your savings by combining multiple strategies. (Image by iStock)

6 tips for saving money on groceries

Before you hit the grocery store or pull up your favorite shopping app, consider these shopping tips to help you make the most of your shopping budget.

Make a shopping list

It’s always better to plan than to go shopping blind. By taking the time to make a shopping list, you can help yourself stay on track and keep focused during your shopping trip.

It happens to us all too often where we walk into a store armed with our meticulously-planned shopping list, only to fall prey to the exciting, new, eye-catching display of a new item. It’s all too easy to go off script, and suddenly, your shopping cart is full of items that you don’t need and can’t afford. Instead, you can help yourself avoid temptation by carefully planning out exactly what you need to buy during your shopping trip.  

Start couponing and join a grocery loyalty program

When you have a budget, it is also much easier to track weekly sales and specials on all of the things you need. Your local circular or newspaper will usually carry the latest sales, or you can subscribe to your favorite store’s mailing list, so you get the first word on sales before inventory runs out.

Most stores, like Whole Foods, Giant, Publix and Wegmans, have free apps that you can download. You can create a shopping list and comb the latest deals with the option to digitally clip coupons. Many of these stores also have loyalty programs of their own, where you can earn exclusive savings and points to save on your next purchase.

Plus, you can also use an app like Ibotta or Checkout 51 to earn cash back on many grocery items — those savings are on top of the discounts you’d get from using a coupon.

Make it a solo shopping trip 

An easy way to watch what you spend is to make your shopping trips a solo venture and leave the kids at home. These days, that is easier said than done when schools and businesses are closed, and children are learning virtually while parents work from home.

Still, your shopping trip is far more likely to be quicker and cheaper if you leave the little ones at home. Children are not likely to understand or appreciate the constraints of a budget, and you will likely appreciate the tantrum-free outing.

Freeze and store

There is a reason why Costco and other wholesale clubs are so popular. The opportunity to buy in bulk can be a saving grace during times of financial hardship, with the price-per-serving significantly cheaper on a larger volume item than a smaller quantity.

You don’t have to have a big family, either. Smaller households can still benefit from these savings by freezing extra portions that can be thawed and used later. A vacuum sealer is a small investment that will pay off over time, sealing out any air so you get fresh-cooked meats every time without any fear of freezer burn.

Simplify recipes

It’s tempting to tackle a complicated new recipe or grab a new spice off the shelf, especially during these times when we are quarantined at home and looking for new projects to take on. However, you could end up wasting your money unnecessarily by investing your money in things that you do not need or may not even like. Instead, look for ways to use or repurpose the ingredients you already have in the fridge or pantry so you can cut down on your overall grocery bill.  

Crunch the numbers

Despite our best efforts, sometimes our planning falls by the wayside when we actually enter the store and become surrounded by tempting buys. While a shopping list is definitely helpful, take things one step further by tallying your bill while you shop. You can use the calendar built into your phone or use integrated shopping apps like Walmart, which lets you scan your items and check out while you shop. By seeing the numbers increase while you shop, you’re far less likely to make impulse buys and exceed your grocery budget.

Additional savings on services

In just the first half of March 2020, Instacart’s app downloads exploded, ballooning to over 200% in about two weeks. That same month, Walmart Grocery downloads increased 160%, while Shipt enjoyed growth of 124 percent. 

Checkout options

With seniors especially susceptible to coronavirus, many shoppers are staying out of the stores and looking for alternatives to traditional in-store shopping. Many are staying home and using delivery services, while others are opting for free curbside pickup or home shipping. When you shop online, most stores will offer multiple options at checkout, such as free curbside pickup, where staff will place your purchases into your trunk or vehicle without any contact with you or your family.

Doordash, Uber Eats and more

For those who don’t like to cook, Doordash can be a literal lifesaver, delivering hot and already-prepared meals from all of our favorite restaurants. It’s similar to other popular delivery services like Uber Eats, GrubHub and Postmates. Due to COVID, Doordash and other delivery companies have made special concessions to their services, automatically defaulting to no-contact deliveries to improve safety standards for its customers and employees.

Many rewards credit cards actually offer memberships to food delivery services. Select Chase cards get complimentary access to Doordash’s DashPass delivery service, which gets you free delivery on orders over $12 and reduced service fees. If you have the right American Express card, you may be eligible for a complimentary year-long subscription to Uber Eats’ Eats Pass. Uber Eats Pass gives a 5% discount and free delivery on orders of $15 or more at eligible restaurants. You must enroll with the card by 12/31/21 and Uber Eats Pass will auto-bill starting 12 months from initial enrollment in this offer, at the then-current monthly rate.

Many credit cards offer complimentary membership to food delivery services that can save you money on delivery and service fees. (Photo by Yuriy Golub/Shutterstock.com.)

Meal kits like Blue Apron

If you prefer to cook at home but don’t love meal planning and grocery shopping, Blue Apron could be the perfect solution for you. Every week, you get several recipes to choose from, and your selections are shipped to you in perfectly-portioned packaging with everything you need, from your proteins and veggies to your spices and sauces. There is also a market and wine club option for a more fully-rounded meal. Even Martha Stewart has gotten onboard, launching her own yummy meal kit called Marley Spoon.

Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Freshly and Home Chef each offer a very similar service to Blue Apron. Many of these services, including Blue Apron, offer the first few weeks of meal kits at a steep discount. So if you’re trying to save some money, take advantage of each service’s intro offers, and you’ll also be able to sample each box and see which you like best.

Instacart

Finally, Instacart is your pick when you have your own recipes but just need someone to shop the ingredients for you. In some places, Instacart can deliver groceries in as little as an hour. It’s not just groceries, either. Instacart has also partnered with tons of other stores like Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Costco and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Recently, Instacart has expanded its initiatives to offer dedicated senior support along with EBT SNAP payments for Aldi orders.

Instacart consistently runs promotions where you can save anywhere from $10 to $100 off per order — promotions are usually tied to making a purchase with a specific retailer. It’s always worth googling “Instacart promo codes” to see what’s out there before you place an order. You can also receive credit towards your next delivery if you refer a friend to the service.

Here’s why you shouldn’t cancel your travel credit card

An oft-overlooked way to save money on your groceries is to use a travel or cash back credit card when paying the bill. There are several fantastic options for travel credit cards that can earn you major points or cash back on purchases that you already make every day. 

Though not all cards will reward you for your grocery purchases, our picks for the best grocery credit cards offer a myriad of benefits that are all easy on the budget, such as these:

  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: With this cash back credit card, you can receive 6% cash back on purchases made at U.S. supermarkets, up to the first $6,000. After $6,000 in purchases per calendar year, cash back rewards change to 1% back on eligible purchases. You could potentially earn $360 back a calendar year from grocery spend at U.S. supermarkets alone.
  • American Express® Gold Card: With the Amex Gold, you can receive 4x American Express points on the first $25,000 that you spend at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year. After you surpass $25,000 in purchases, you receive one point per dollar. Amex points are worth 1.8 cents each when redeemed for travel, meaning this card gives a 7.2% return on grocery spend. Plus, the card comes with a year long Uber Eats Pass membership, a monthly up to $10 dining credit and will add a monthly up to $10 in Uber Cash starting in 2021. Annual fee $250 (see rates and fees)
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: With Citi’s no-frills cash back card, you can receive 2% cash back on all purchases. You’ll earn 1% back when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill. This card has no annual fee and you’ll be guaranteed a solid return on every single purchase. Plus, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of any bonus categories.

Offers are always changing, especially in light of COVID-19, so be sure to inquire about the latest deals and incentives for your travel credit card. Each card has different perks and benefits, making some better suited to your lifestyle than others, consider all your options before making a decision.

There are currently some massive welcome bonuses on travel credit cards, our Bonus Tracker tool keeps track of the card bonuses that can bring you more than $1,000 in value by signing up for just one card.

The best part about these cards is that you can use their rewards for incredible vacations when travel restrictions are lifted again. Travel credit card points and rewards can easily be redeemed to book flights, reserve a rental car and confirm that gorgeous hotel you can’t wait to visit.

You can transfer Amex points to Hilton and book an awesome stay without any cash out of pocket, like at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki. (Image courtesy of Hilton)

In the meantime, you can turn your kitchen into an exotic culinary delight as you explore new cuisines and recipes from the comfort of your own kitchen.

Bottom line

Coronavirus has brought tough times for families all across the country as layoffs and business closures cripple financial budgets and bring sweeping hardships. Your groceries will always be an essential expense for your household, but it is also one major expense where you can find ways to lighten the burden on your family’s finances. 

Even though you may not be traveling right now, there are still tons of benefits that accompany travel credit cards. They can earn you cash back that you could redeem now, or give you the ability to earn travel points and miles for that post-COVID vacation. With a little careful planning, your regular grocery shopping could bring you that much closer to the vacation of your dreams and all by purchasing the usual staples for your family but with the right credit card.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click  here

Click here for Uber Eats terms and conditions.

Lena Borrelli is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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