The cost of groceries is going up, a trend you’ve probably seen firsthand at the supermarket. And while reports indicate this pattern is likely to continue, it doesn’t have to mean a budget-busting trip to the supermarket.

Consider these tips to help you spend less and save more on groceries in 2021.

1. Don’t get sucked in by branding

It’s no secret that generic brands often cost less than their name-brand counterparts, but it may surprise you as to how much. A study by Consumer Reports found that buying off-brand items saved 25 percent, on average, and with national spending on groceries topping $876 million in 2020, that’s a lot of potential savings. The same report also found that most people surveyed – 76 percent – found the quality of the food to be on par, and at time better, than the big brands.

2. Reduce your meat intake

Grocery costs are rising on the whole, but meat, dairy, and egg products are leading the way. Moreover, these foods can have unwanted health and environmental effects, so reducing consumption might be beneficial for you, your wallet, and the planet. Black beans, wild rice, lentils, and peas are all great alternatives to meat as they pack a protein punch while also being some of the most affordable items at the store.

3. Read the label carefully

Price tags are great for spotting sales and quickly scanning prices, and while that seems obvious, these labels offer more insight. Look again and you’ll notice price per ounce, gram, and pound, all of which are great ways at spotting a better deal. This is particularly useful for items available in multiple sizes. While a larger item may be a tad more expensive up front, it can often be a better deal overall.

 4. Plan your trip and route

Your goal as a shopper is to get what you need as affordably as you can get it, and the grocer’s goal is to increase profit. That’s why the industry has come up with numerous tactics to do just that. Everything from product displays to the music is geared toward lulling you into a spending stupor. But don’t be fooled. Plan your meals, budget, and grocery list ahead of time and stick to that plan. Even better, if you know the layout of your local store, take note of the aisles you need to visit and only visit those ones. Remember, cutting down on distractions will cut down on impulse purchases, and in turn, on your grocery total.

5. Know that sell-by doesn’t mean expired

While we’re on the topic of food waste – and there is a lot of it – you should know that the sell-by date doesn’t mean that it’s expired. Rather, the sell-by date is a manufacturer suggestion meant to indicate when the item is supposedly at it’s freshest. That said, there are potential savings to be had by resisting the urge to throw away items that have reached or exceeded their sell-by date. Furthermore, some retailers even offer big discounts on items nearing their sell-by date. Be on the lookout for these, and of course use your best judgement with perishables.

6. Beware of bulk

Shopping in bulk can be a money saver or a huge waste if not done properly. The key to doing it right is to plan your purchases so that you know how much you’ll need and how often you’ll be using it. Non-perishables (canned and dried foods) and often-used staples could yield some savings, but for perishables and items that you need for a single recipe, skip the bulk.

7. Don’t shop hungry

A survey of mall shoppers a few years back found that hungry consumers tended to spend 64 percent more on food and nonfood purchases then their well-fed counterparts. That’s probably not surprising to anyone who has had a rumbling belly while walking past the supermarket donut counter. The brain says no, but the belly says yes, and the belly will always win. Do your brain, belly, and your wallet a favor and eat a meal before grocery shopping.

8. Buck the bottled water

In addition to being terrible for the environment, bottled water is also grossly marked up. In fact, bottled water can cost 3,000 percent more than tap water! Tap water is highly regulated and as a result, just as safe as its bottled counterpart. If flavor is a sticking point, tap filters can help improve taste, and are still lighter on your wallet in the long run. Couple that with a reusable water bottle, and you’ve got clean, tasty, cheap water on-the-go.

9. Clips some coupons (figuratively)

Couponing has been around for decades, but it’s been given a digital facelift in recent years. Third party apps can help you find coupons from multiple sources, helping you save a few dollars along the way. Many supermarkets also have created apps to enhance their reward programs with freebies, points, and digital coupons. Some even allow you to create shopping lists (see tip #4). Just make sure not to get lured into any unnecessary purchases.

10. Maximize your rewards

Most credit cards come with rewards in the form of points, travel miles, or cash back. In some cases, they’ll offer additional rewards in specific spending categories, which can include grocery shopping. If you’re planning on paying with plastic, it’s well worth it to review your benefits and take advantage of any extra rewards for the things you were going to buy anyway.

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