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Here are 5 tips for grocery shopping on a budget now that prices are going up

Select spoke with two budget food bloggers to get their best money-saving advice.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

You've probably gone to the grocery store recently and noticed you're paying more for many of the items you purchase regularly, like bacon or cereal. Across the country, food prices have been on the rise, with the Bureau of Labor statistics reporting a 0.3% increase in grocery store and supermarket foods prices from July to August 2021. 

The rising price of groceries is the result of a number of different factors, from extreme weather events to increases in global shipping costs to shortages in materials used for packing food. In fact, food companies like Tillamook and General Mills have already announced they're passing price increases on to consumers. 

For many Americans, increased prices across the board — on groceries, gas, cars, homes and electronics — means they need to become savvier when shopping. Select spoke with two budget food bloggers and compiled some of their best tips for saving money when grocery shopping.

1. Be aware of 'shrinkflation'

Food companies have a few ways of dealing with rising costs, and one tried-and-true tactic is "shrinkflation," where the company makes the packaging smaller while keeping the price the same. On the Reddit thread r/shrinkflation, complaints abound about shrinking maple syrup jugs and cereal boxes. In fact, Tillamook announced that it would be reducing the size of its ice cream carton without changing the price.

Since most consumers pay attention to the price of an item and not the price per weight, you might be spending more on food but getting less without even noticing.

Erin Chase, a blogger at $5 Dollar Dinners, recommends that people pay close attention to the price per ounce or per pound that's listed on the store label so you don't just assume the biggest item or store brands are always cheaper.

People should also be aware of other marketing traps that companies use to sell their products, says Chase. Items placed at eye level are often more expensive because companies pay a premium for that space. Don't go into the grocery store with a plan to purchase the first items you see. Take the time to compare prices before dropping items in your cart.

2. Buy less meat

There has been a dramatic increase in the price of meat, poultry and eggs, which has risen nearly 16% from August 2019 to August 2021. Rising meat prices have been caused by many different factors including severe heat and droughts that have killed the hay that cattle eat and wage increases for employees at meat processing plants.

If you're spending more on meat than on other food categories when you go grocery shopping, there's a simple way to trim your bill: Buy less meat. 

Meat is often the most expensive component of the meal, says Chase. Cutting down on your meat consumption can be as simple as implementing a few meatless days a week or using less meat in your recipes.

You can use half the amount of meat that's called for in recipe or substitute in cheaper ingredients, suggests Beth Moncel, a blogger at Budget Bytes. For ground beef, sub in beans, lentils and/or mushrooms. For chicken, sub in white beans and extra vegetables

If you're not interested in cutting down on your meat consumption but still want to save money, you can also find meat sales at your local grocery stores and build your meal plan around what's on sale that week, says Chase. 

3. Plan ahead

Grocery stores are laid out to encourage people to spend more and to spend impulsively — from the seasonal goods you pass by when you enter to the cheap chocolate bars and chips lining the checkout aisles. In order to avoid those impulse purchases, you should make a plan for what you want to cook that week and what you need to buy. 

"Pick out at least one or two recipes you know you're going to make that week, put them on your schedule so that you can hold yourself accountable and actually plan to have time to make them," says Moncel.

Then when you head to the grocery store, make sure to have a list of what you need and stick to it. When you have a meal plan in mind, you're less likely to wander around aimlessly trying to figure out what to buy. And make sure you never shop hungry.

4. Use an app to save money

Cutting coupons that you receive in your Sunday newspaper seems like a thing of the past, but thanks to apps like Ibotta and Rakuten, consumers can receive rebates or cash-back on their grocery purchases.

Both Ibotta and Rakuten offer rebates on grocery items purchased from national chains like Walmart and Target. You can receive rebates on items purchased in-store or online, so you can use it regardless of how you're grocery shopping. 

Moncel and Chase both recommend the Flipp App, which allows customers to enter their location and find coupons and sales for grocery stores in their area. 

Ibotta

On Ibotta's secure site
  • Cost

    Free

  • How to save

    Activate cash-back offers and clip digital coupons to get cash back on purchases.

  • How to use it

    Download the Ibotta app or the browser extension.

  • How to receive your savings

    Redeem cash back once you reach $20 as a deposit into your bank account, PayPal account or for gift cards.

Terms apply.

Rakuten

Information about Rakuten has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the company prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Free

  • How to save

    Get cash back on eligible purchases, automatic coupons and price comparisons.

  • How to use it

    Shop on Rakuten.com, the Rakuten app or install the browser extension.

  • How to receive your savings

    Cash back is awarded every 3 months by check or PayPal payment.

Terms apply.

5. Use a grocery rewards card

By using the right card when checking out at the supermarket, you can end up saving a lot of money on groceries. There many credit cards that have higher rewards on groceries such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® .

The Blue Cash Preferred offers cardholders 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and there's no annual fee for the first year (then, $95). (See rates and fees)

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

  • Annual fee

    $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

If you're looking for a card with no annual fee, you might consider the Freedom Flex or the Freedom Unlimited, as both offer a grocery benefit for the first year of card membership. 

Cardholders can earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

If you want a card with rotating categories, you should opt for the Freedom Flex, but if you want a card with a flat cash-back rate, the Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% back on all eligible purchases.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstore purchases and on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 24.74% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstore purchases and on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 24.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

For rates and fees for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.