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How To Save On Foods: 8 Ways To Lower Your Grocery Bill In The Store

Updated on October 10, 2011


In order to effectively save on foods, you need to first learn some tricks of the trade. Have you ever heard of "Category Management"? Consumer packaged goods manufacturers and grocery stores spend millions and millions on their Category Management strategies each and every year to effectively figure out how to convince you to spend more money. I know this because I worked in the field for some time.

Category Management came about many years ago when stores realized that by simply dropping the price of one brand to increase sales, the competitor's brands sales decreased by that same amount. They had to figure out how to make more overall sales.

You may already know some tricks of the trade, and if you do, put that knowledge to good use and shop wisely. Some strategies that they utilize are:

  • Convenience items go in the back of the store. Did you ever notice that quick 'grab and go' items like milk, bread and eggs are always in the farthest aisle from the doors and are usually in the back of the store? The stores are counting on you to pick up some unplanned items as you run to grab that bottle of milk for your morning cereal.
  • $1.99 is much less money than $2.00. This one drives us all nuts, but it works. Learn how to round up before you decide to buy.
  • Low cost, high impulse items go next to the cash register. These folks are counting on you to start reading the recent issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as you're waiting in line. They know you'll be hooked on some article or dying to give your spouse one of the quizzes and so you'll buy it. Cha ching!
  • There's a reason why expensive brands are called "top shelf". In Category Managment-speak, store brands and cheap items go on the lower shelves. The brands they want you to buy (for whatever reason) are on the "reach" or the middle shelves. they are the items that are easiest to get to -- and most visible to a child sitting in a shopping cart! The most expensive items are on the top shelf.


I am a selective brand snob. My laundry detergent will always be Tide. My bath soap will always be Dove or Oil of Olay. If I do buy a jar of mayonnaise, you can bet your sweet bippy it will be Hellmans. Before I started my career in Corporate America in the Consumer Packaged Goods sector, I would have slashed my wrists before I would purchase any generic or "cheap" product. But then learned the truth.

Years ago, there was one company who produced Johnnie Walker Red scotch. They wanted to bump up the sales but didn't want to hurt the brand image by lowering the price. So...they took the JW Red, put it in a different shape bottle with a different label, named it Scoresby and priced it several dollars lower.

Many of the store or generic brands that you see are produced by premium manufacturers.

All of that said, there are five items in the store that you should ALWAYS buy generic:

  1. Produce - Don't be suckered in by a Chiquita or Dole label. It's all pretty much the same.
  2. Over the counter medications - The FDA requires that all medications with the same active ingredient keep to the same standards. What you're paying top dollar for is the label.
  3. Organic foods - As Teri Gault, Founder of The Grocery Game, put it: "Certified organic is certified organic. There's no need to go for the brand name."
  4. Basic skincare and beauty products - Next time you reach for that bottle of body lotion at the store, pick up the store brand next to it and compare ingredients. Enough said.
  5. Pantry staples - Single ingredient items (flour, sugar, spices, etc.) are held to government regulations for production, packaging and storage.

Let's do a little comparison of current prices at my local grocery store:

  • Aluminum foil: Reynolds 200 sq.ft. $8.49 - Store brand 200 sq.ft. $5.99
  • Paper Towels: Scott 1-ply 100 sq.ft. $1.99 - Store brand 1-ply 100 sq.ft. $1.00


Planting a vegetable garden is an easy and inexpensive way to save on foods throughout the summer months. If you don't have space for a vegetable bed in your garden, look to achieve the same results through container gardening. You will even find some seed varieties that have been specially bred for pots or containers.

A package of tomato seeds will only cost you a dollar or two. That same package of seeds will produce many, many tomato plants that will yield a tremendous amount of tomatoes throughout the season. With vine tomatoes at my grocery store currently going for $.79 each, I'd say your tomato plants will give you a fairly good return.

Stay away from fruits and vegetables that are fragile, hard to take care of or simply aren't that expensive to buy, such as watermelons. Good options for planting are: tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash and peppers.

To stretch the dollar even further, look to your garden to replace prepackaged grocery items such as salsa, or flash freeze or can vegetables to have a summer harvest throughout the winter.


Learning how to work with cheaper cuts of beef and poultry is a sure way to save on foods. There is quite a spread between the cheapest and most expensive cuts of beef and poultry at the grocery store, leaving many options in the middle:

  • BEEF: beef liver $1.79/lb - filet mignon $16.99/lb
  • PORK: picnic shoulder $1.69/lb - tenderloin $8.99/lb
  • CHICKEN: roaster $.99/lb - thin-sliced cutlets $6.59/lb

The cost differential isn't always about the quality of the meat, as there are hidden labor costs as well. You pay more per pound for boneless and skinless chicken breasts than you do for whole chicken breasts that you can debone and skin yourself.

Working with cheaper cuts of meat and poultry may take special handling, particularly when buying cheaper cuts of beef which generally need to be marinated for several hours up to overnight to help break them down and make them tender. Here are a few recipes and ideas to get you started:


Most people don't realize how much money they throw away every day in the kitchen. Here are a couple of tips to show you how food can also be recycled:

  • If you've purchased or cooked a whole chicken or turkey, don't throw away the bones. Use them to make a giant pot of chicken stock that can be used in other recipes or become the basis of a future soup. The same goes for beef bones, etc.
  • Leftover vegetable bits will also come in handy as you make stock. Toss in carrot tops, that half an onion in the fridge that's starting to dry out or the bottom of the celery stalks that you have no use for.
  • Think compost. Lots of things that you toss out every day make wonderful fertilizer for your garden like egg shells, coffee grounds, etc.
  • Many times I find myself making a recipe that calls only for egg whites or the yolks. Those egg whites are perfect for making meringue cookies, and the egg yolks will make a delicious creme brulee for dessert.
  • Stale bread has a whole host of uses. You can make homemade croutons, bread crumbs or stuffing for a chicken or turkey.


Beans are an affordable way to give your family good, healthy protein and still save on foods. If you purchase canned beans, they will generally run you about $.05 to $.06 per ounce. Dried beans are sometimes slightly higher at $.10 per ounce. If you're not a vegetarian and love your meat and poultry, use the beans to stretch what you're preparing -- less meat, more beans.


This one isn't as tough as you think unless, of course, you want to duplicate Cinnabons or Krispy Kreme doughnuts. There are several websites who have made a business out of visiting popular restaurants and duplicating everything from their main dishes to their beverages. Try Top secret Copycat Recipes' site for starters.


I'm not suggesting here that you should start baking bread every week (although it really is very simple and inexpensive if you have a bread machine). But there are a few things that we instinctively reach for on a store shelf that are simple to make and will save you some money by making them yourself.

If you're going homemade to save money, be smart in choosing what you will make. A can of whipped cream at the store will cost you about $2.50. A pint of heavy cream to make homemade whipped cream will also cost you $2.50. The quality might be better, but you're simply not saving yourself anything.

Mayonnaise, on the other hand, is a perfect example of improved quality and less money. A 16 ounce jar of Hellman's will cost you approximately $3.50. The same amount of homemade mayonnaise will cost you closer to $2.00.

A 20 ounce bag of frozen french fries will cost you $2.50 to $3.50 or more. A 5 pound bag of potatoes will run you about $3.00. Do the math. If you're a carboholic, 5 pounds of potatoes will make a heck of a lot of french fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes and potato skins! And if you're health conscious, you can make baked french fries to cut down on the oil.


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    • profile image

      sellhousefastusa 6 years ago from Sell house for cash in new york , brooklyn, queens, long island, bronx & nationwide !

      Thanks for your helpful tips

    • profile image

      Daniel Buckle 6 years ago

      Very interesting post, I agree with you that category managers need to coordinate the company’s business for the success with customers. Knowing more customer segments and helping them satisfy their needs for the right sales methods with proper planograms is important. I work for a company called Toolbox Solutions, and we specialized in category management and planograms with large retailers like Loblaws and Petro Canada. Take a look at our website if you'd like


    • HikeGuy profile image

      Bryce 6 years ago from Northern California Coast

      Good, useful tips. I grow organic herbs and make many things from scratch, including salad dressings, salsa, mayonnaise and sauces. Good points about stretching the budget by making soup stock.

    • profile image

      Beth 6 years ago

      Thanks for the tips, very helpful with rising costs of everything!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great post..nice

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 7 years ago from Burlington VT

      Long been a follower of those methods...(must be the CT Yankee roots). One distressing thing we've just found, being retired and panicking about inflation, is the jon paper comparison. Always used Scott's one ply by choice. It's been getting thinner by the month. Went generic recently and bought 24 rolls of Price Choppers. There is NO comparison...cheaper, yes, but it's so thin it doesn't tear cleanly, and on a new roll, the glue goes through 4 layers, so you lose all that paper. Re Mayonaise: I can't tell the dif between Hellman's and Shaw's brand...would swear Shaw's is made by H. Not true of others. Right idea though - read the unit prices. Luckily, as you age your appetite shrinks!

    • Abbasangel profile image

      Abbasangel 7 years ago from Australia - The land down under

      Hmm doing a garden again? I think I would have to wait until we move in to a permanent address again. :) Maybe next year.

    • IdeaMorphist profile image

      IdeaMorphist 7 years ago from Chicagoland

      Definitely some great hints for saving cash at the grocery store. I was just thinking about writing a hub about what meals to make throughout a week to spend minimal money .... might not need to do that with all this helpful info on here already :)

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks Abba! I think you should give that veggie garden another go this year. What do you think? :)

    • Abbasangel profile image

      Abbasangel 7 years ago from Australia - The land down under

      This is brillant!! And my husband coming from a farm environment now doesn't like "meat heavy meals" since I have been force feeding him beans since the day we were married!! This is FANTASTIC advice! It goes further than the shops which is the part that is most important!! Used to have a veggie garden but for some reason the veggies were on the ground when I wanted to use them... :S

    • profile image

      Jazzy L 7 years ago

      Very Helpful Article. Thanks! I heard about a new site at Church. It compares prices at the 4 top stores here in Atlanta. From what I’ve read, it updates every week and shows where the lowest prices are on a few hundred items. You can print out your shopping list or have it sent to your phone. (I’m not savvy enough for that though). I email them since their not up yet, and they told me they will be up in January in Atlanta and Birmingham AL. then other cities. I can’t wait to try it.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Glad you feel that way, NanaDeb! :)

      And thanks everyone--hope the hub helped!

    • profile image

      Nanadeb 7 years ago

      Love to see younger people finally embracing cutting cost measures. Was really losing hope with the whole "throw away" mentality, young people of today seem to have. Thank you for renewing my faith.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Your methods of reducing costs are truly great ideas. When I'm in the grocery store I look at the things in other people's carts and I'm amazed. After I retired my husband got laid off and we really had to look carefully at our expenses for some time. The only place we routinely spent money was at the grocery store. We found all kinds of creative ways to save on store brand items, coupons and sales. Meal planning helps too.

    • profile image

      Contrice 7 years ago

      This an excellent hub...I going to share this with my little sister who just moved out on her own and can't stop complaining about her grocery bill :)

    • Katelyn Weel profile image

      Katelyn Weel 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very good ideas, as pennypincher said the rounding up concept is always good, and if you can round up with tax, it's even better!

    • pennypincher profile image

      pennypincher 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love your "round up" concept... that is so true. Forever I saw $199 as $190 not $200... and $10,999 is really only $10,000 right... I have learned to round up and it really helps! Great Hub.

    • sagebrush_mama profile image

      sagebrush_mama 8 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

      Great tips!

    • rmcrayne profile image

      rmcrayne 8 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      Irohner I think this piece would be a good compliment to one or more of my Super Fast Cheap and Easy recipes hubs. I'd like to link.

    • rmcrayne profile image

      rmcrayne 8 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      Great ideas. Some I already do and some new. Definitely into the chicken scraps and vegetables for making stock, and recently all about the composting. My fav for leftover bread is making strata. Great read.

    • E. A. Wright profile image

      E. A. Wright 8 years ago from New York City

      I'm working on getting better at #5. Too much gets thrown away.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Chloe!

    • Chloe Comfort profile image

      Chloe Comfort 8 years ago from Long Island

      Great tips, useful information. Kudos!

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Smith. Yes, in this economy we can all stand to find ways to save a little bit!

    • 02SmithA profile image

      02SmithA 8 years ago from Ohio

      Good tips. The current economy requires some cost cutting somewhere, and grocery shopping is an area it is very possible for most!


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