Filling the fridge each week can take a pretty hefty chunk out of your weekly budget. For many of us, groceries can be a tricky item to budget for, since menus change weekly. However, if you shop smart you can cut down on spending and still whip up a tasty, enticing meal that you’ll want to post on Instagram. Even if your culinary skills don’t go beyond ordering through Uber Eats, there are still basic items you need to buy. We’ve rounded up some tips and tricks you can use to trim the fat and master how to save money on groceries in Canada.
1. Make a Meal Plan
Before you head to the supermarket or start shopping online, make a meal plan for what you want to eat this week. That way, you’ll know exactly what ingredients to buy and cut down on food waste. Given that wasted food costs the average Canadian household $1,100 a year, meal planning can save you a wack of cash.
If a week’s worth of meal planning sounds too daunting, start with dinner and come up with a few meals that work for you. Consider cooking in bulk, like a huge pot of chilli, and freeze the leftovers.
Stuck for ideas? Find inspiration online. Type “easy healthy dinner” into your preferred search engine and soon you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
2. Make a Grocery List
Simple, right? Shopping from a list is going to save you time and your hard-earned dollars at the checkout. It cuts down on the need to browse the aisles, which in turn reduces the number of impulse and non-essential items that end up in your cart and onto your final bill. And as we continue to deal with COVID-19, you’ll want to think about what you’ll need longer-term so you can reduce your number of shopping trips.
3. Get a Credit Card that Rewards Grocery Spending
If you’re looking to maximize every dollar that you spend on food, get a credit card that rewards your spending on groceries. Some offer cold, hard cash back for every food-related spend, while others give points that can be redeemed for a variety of things, such as free groceries, merchandise, hotel stays, and more. A few don’t even have an annual fee, so you’re basically getting paid to put grocery purchases onto your credit card.
4. Get a Credit Card That Earns You Cash Back
Given we all have to shop, even if it’s for essentials like toothpaste and toilet paper, it’s wise to make every spend work for you. Use a payment method that puts cash back into your pocket. There are a number of excellent cash back credit cards on the market for Canadians to do just that.
5. Stock Up on Sales
You know those supermarket flyers you see people like your grandparents scan so carefully? Turns out they’re on to something. Most supermarkets have flyers available at the entrance of their store. Take a minute to pick one up and look for sales on items you normally purchase.
If flyers are too old school for you, download an app like Flipp — a free app that delivers digital flyers and coupons from a wide variety of Canadian supermarkets to your smartphone or laptop. It will also help you plan your weekly shopping list. Reebee also makes it easier for you to save money on groceries in Canada. It lets you browse grocery store flyers, compare items, and sync your shopping list.
6. Get a Money-Making App
How about earning some bucks through your everyday spending? Ampli is a free app that automatically rewards you with cash back on your eligible purchases. All you have to do is shop at participating retailers and you’ll automatically be credited with the cash back amount. None of the retailers currently include grocery stores, but if you can put the cash earned on other purchases towards your next grocery shopping trip.
7. Buy in Bulk
You can divide people into two camps – those who love Costco and those who don’t. If a trip to Costco is your jam, then we’re preaching to the converted. If you’re not a card-carrying Costco member, you can still buy larger sizes at most supermarkets. When pantry items with a long shelf are on sale – like canned goods, pasta, or toiletries – it makes sense to stock up and save. Similarly, buying meat, such as chicken breasts or minced beef, in bulk packs then freezing them in smaller portions will help you save on groceries.
Generally, it’s more cost-effective to buy items in a larger size. Look closely at the price label grocers affix to shelves to find the cost per unit and compare. For instance, a 900g bag of rice can cost you 41 cents per 100g, while the same brand in a 2k bag works out to just 20 cents per 100g. That is more than 50% savings. If you want the cost savings but don’t have the storage space or need for bulk items, pair up with a neighbour or friend so you can split larger purchases.
8. Select the Generic Brand
A number of supermarket chains carry their own generic brand of everyday items. And with staples like chickpeas or peanut butter, you probably won’t notice the difference. You may be surprised at the vast range of generic brand products available – from Spanish olives to beer. But don’t assume the generic is always cheaper. A good sale might sway you to go with a big-name brand.
9. Eat Seasonal Produce
Not only is eating seasonally good for our health, but it’s also good for our wallet. Have you ever noticed that buying strawberries mid-winter cost more than a tub of ice cream? Fruits and vegetables, which can add up, are usually cheaper when they’re in season. So it makes sense to buy – and eat – Canadian-grown asparagus in the spring, strawberries and zucchini in the summer, and juicy apples in the fall.
If you’re not sure what’s in season and when, check out the Food Network’s handy guide. Those of us who love spending time in the kitchen can buy seasonal produce in bulk, then transform summer berries into jam, or ripe tomatoes into pasta sauce. Or just blanch and freeze vegetables, like corn and fresh peas.
10. Shop the Freezer Section
Most nutritional experts will tell you to shop around the outer perimeter of the supermarket, including the freezer section. Not only can frozen fruits and vegetables work out to be cheaper than their fresh counterparts, but they’re also picked and frozen at their peak, which translates into higher nutrition content. Skip the aisles filled with junk food and sugar snacks. They can be very tempting, especially if you’re shopping while hungry – never a good idea.
11. Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own food is easy and cheap. Even if you live in an apartment, you can use small planters or raised beds on your balcony to grow herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and other produce. Considering that boxed salad retails for $5/pack or so, you can save some dough if you grow your own.
This is an uncertain time for many of us and having to watch our pennies and save where we can. Be prepared with a shopping list you’ve compiled based on your meal plan for the week. Compare prices by browsing flyers (online or printed copies), or use an app that does the comparing for you. While shopping smart to save money on groceries takes more time than ordering take out, your wallet will thank you.
Looking for other ways to save money? Check out our tips and tricks on the best ways to save money.