Ah the holidays! A time for family, fun and giving thanks. Of course, one thing most of us are not thankful for is the increase in food prices. Families have been seeing food prices skyrocket all year, a trend that’s expected to continue throughout the holiday season. But, there’s some good news. With a little strategic thinking and planning, it’s possible to actually save money on your holiday groceries. We spoke to some financial experts who shared insight on how you can save money while still getting what you need to create wonderful holiday dinners for your family this year.
Why is Food so Expensive Now?
First, let’s talk about why food is so dramatically pricey these days. In short—inflation. But there are other reasons, too, such as pandemic disruptions and global and domestic issues. This includes the war in Ukraine, according to Forbes. Russia and Ukraine are huge producers of wheat. With a war going on, it’s hard to produce and export the crop, resulting in a supply shortage. Even floods and droughts here in America have impacted crops and food supplies.
Here’s something to note: As of September, the “food at home” index rose 13% over the last 12 months, according to a recent Consumer Price Index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And be prepared: The price of holiday staples like eggs, milk, bakery products and coffee have all increased. Even your kid’s favorite breakfast cereals are more expensive. (And it doesn’t matter if it’s fancy Count Chocula or good old fashioned corn flakes.)
8 Ways to Save Money on Your Holiday Groceries
So, that was the bad news. The good news is there are some easy ways to help mitigate these rising costs. These expert tips, below, will come in handy whether you’re buying stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, egg nog or other popular items that go into making that perfect holiday meal.
1. Stick to a Budget
You’ve heard it before, but it works. Make a plan before heading to the supermarket. It’ll minimize the stress involved with holiday grocery spending. Data from the National Retail Federation shows that consumers have begun shopping earlier over the past decade. Why? To spread out their budgets and avoid the stress of doing so much in a short window.
“Being in control of your budget and time takes away uncertainty and allows you to focus on fun with family and friends,” Seitz says.
To further save money on your holiday groceries and stick to your budget, ask yourself if you can find a better deal.
“If you’re making a purchase—especially a larger one—do your research,” Seitz says. “Compare brands. Compare product features, like its specs or special qualities. Compare reviews from other buyers. And drum roll…compare prices. Look around at different places to buy so you can find the best bargain for the item you selected. Why do we love sales? That’s extra money right back in your pocket.”
2. Consider Wednesdays
Wednesday is a great day to grocery shop. The stores tend to be less crowded, which could help you focus better on tasks and prices. Of course, everyone is different, but a mid-week shopping trip might be worth a try!
If a Wednesday visit to the supermarket throws you off your routine, Gabrielle Gambrell, a marketing professor at NYU and Columbia University, wants to at least make sure you remember your grocery bags. Why spend money on paper bags when you have your reusable ones at home?
“Every single penny counts, and that includes pennies wasted when I accidentally forget to bring shopping bags and have to pay for them at the register,” Gambrell says. “One way to avoid this is to simply keep a large supply in your car and remember before leaving home for the grocery store to make sure you have bags handy. Spending any amount of money on bags each time you grocery shop is a total waste of money.”
3. Make a Holiday Meal Plan…Then Make a List
Increased food costs is especially stressful for large families. Greenlight data found that 55% of all parents and teens said inflation was their biggest financial stressor. By making a list in advance, you and your kids will be less tempted to buy impulsively.
Get your kids involved to save money on your holiday groceries. Teach them the value of money by putting them in charge of the holiday grocery trip, Seitz suggests. When they understand how far the money needs to go, they’ll learn to think twice about their requests along the way.
“Talk about the grocery budget and what it will cover,” she says. “Get specific: Like how many meals, how long the snacks should last and any health requirements. Then, review all the tips and tricks on ways to save, like store discounts and unit price comparison.”
4. Food for Fuel—Literally
Like food, gas prices have soared. One way to save is by grocery shopping where you can earn fuel rewards. You can even check out a free app like Upside, which helps you get cash back on gas, groceries and restaurant purchases.
Here’s how easy it is to use the app:
#Upside 101 – Follow these 4 easy steps:
– Claim a cash back offer near you
– Pay as usual with any credit or debit card
– Either tap Check In or snap a pic of your receipt
– Earn cash back and cash out whenever you want! pic.twitter.com/mVj6IZe7Ct
— Upside (@upside) May 17, 2022
5. Don’t Overlook Your Credit Card Rewards, Especially During the Holidays
Here’s something to keep in mind when buying gifts on credit this year: Credit card rewards really are helpful. They’re a great way to help offset inflation when the balance is paid in full each month, explains Seitz.
“Make sure you understand your reward program to maximize the benefit, and cash in for the most value,” Seitz said. “Don’t forget about loyalty rewards to get discounts at the register. They’re often free to sign up for, but the savings can add up.”
Gambrell agrees, adding that the right form of payment for groceries can make a world of difference as many cards offer up to 6% cash back on grocery purchases. In fact, you may already have a credit card that is doubling cash back points on grocery purchases. Be sure to look into this money-back and money-saving offering, she explains.
6. Shop at the More Affordable Neighborhood Grocery Store
You definitely shouldn’t save a dollar at your health’s expense. But, oftentimes, what you think is a boutique grocery experience, is just a more expensive one, Gambrell, who’s also a Gen Z and Millennial finance blogger, explains.
“Keep in mind that local eateries, farmer markets chains and organic stores offer different prices and rates. Be sure to learn about the best shop in your area that offers both great products and the best prices,” Gambrell says. “For example, I find many reasonable organic finds at my local Trader Joe’s compared to my much larger well-known neighborhood organic grocery store.”
7. Generic is Often OK
Remember Pathmark’s super-long no-frills aisle back in the 80s? You could get almost anything from beer to toothbrushes! Many people avoiding that aisle like the plague, but generic items have come a long way since then. While we all have loyalty when it comes to certain brands, many times a generic item will get the job done.
“As a marketer myself, I teach my children that marketing is all about making money,” Gambrell said. “I remind my toddler of that when we’re shopping so he knows to look down for a cheaper price. The name-brand and popular brands are usually at eye-level and below are many lower-priced items that usually have the same quality. Remember, cheaper is often the way to go. We’re talking easily 25% to thousands of dollars per year can be saved going generic. It can pay in your favor to be brand disloyal.”
8. Shop With Your Heart
And since it’s the holiday season, why not shop with compassion in mind, too? The ASPCA has a great online tool called the Shop With Your Heart Grocery List, and it’s for anyone who cares about animals. It’s basically a search engine that allows you to find welfare-certified products based on how animals were raised. This includes on pasture, with outdoor access or indoors in an enriched environment. Results are displayed with the highest animal welfare environment available in alphabetical order. You can even search grocery stores’ own brands, which are often less expensive than the name brands.
The ASPCA and other organizations are currently urging the USDA to strengthen farm animal welfare by finalizing organic standards. Learn more about he Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule here.
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