It wasn’t until I lived on my own in college that I actually discovered how much food costs. Since my college had no meal plan and there was no cafeteria that served food at the dorms, I had to get all my food myself.

For over two years now, I have done my own grocery shopping, and I must say that my shopping methods have definitely evolved over time. I cringe at how I used to be so bad at budgeting and literally just buy stuff without looking at prices.

Nowadays, I do not play around – I make sure I get the best value for my dollar. I would say my grocery game is pretty strong. 

While I do think it’s very important to buy enough food for the week, I think it’s a great thing to minimize the cost of these grocery items – to save some extra cash that I could use for, say, going for a fun night out, or even a new pair of boots.

Seriously, who doesn't like coming home with over a week's worth of groceries without spending a lot of money, and feeling like this lady: 

Here are some tips I use to help minimize my grocery bill:

1. Shop at farmers' markets (just not the Union Square Farmer's Market)

I live in Queens, and there is a plethora of farmers' markets here that are insanely cheaper than the supermarkets. They are easy to spot too, with their colorful outdoor display of produce in wooden crates, usually with signs indicating the price per pound. I’ve found prices to be especially cheap in places like Flushing, Jackson Heights, and even my neighborhood, Whitestone. I shop at a place called Raspberry Farm (pictured below); it's cheap and close to my house.  pumpkin
Christina Valente

However, I know that there are cheap farmers' markets in the other boroughs too, even Manhattan (Chinatown in Manhattan has some of the cheapest produce I’ve seen; just read these reviews). The Union Square Market sells a lot of specialty foods, like tri-colored carrots and stuff, which personally I don’t feel are worth the higher price. In general, the prices there are pretty high because it’s so famous, it’s a tourist trap, and they’re known for local, non-GMO, and organic foods.

tea, coffee
Jocelyn Hsu

Small farmers' markets are awesome because lots of them get their produce from small wholesalers, or from large supermarkets’ overstock, which almost always means lower prices for us, the consumers!

Just be careful not to pick rotten or overripe produce, which unfortunately may lurk behind the cheapest deals at farmers' markets. This is where the art of picking good produce comes in handy! 

2. Look at price per pound instead of overall price

This is probably the easiest way to save money. It may involve pulling out your phone’s calculator while grocery shopping, though.

For items sold in containers, it may help to divide price by ounces, to compare price per ounce, but lots of price labels state the price per ounce (or pound) in the corner. For example, if a store sells an 8 oz jar of tomato sauce for $2.99 and a 16 oz jar for $4.50, you’d bet I’m buying the larger jar. My farmers' market sells loose Idaho potatoes for 79 cents a pound but then also sells a 5 lb bag for $2. Of course I buy the 5 lb bag.

corn, meat
Christina Valente

3. Buy what's on sale, use coupons, or just buy what's plain cheap (the store brand)

To be honest, I don’t use coupons much because the places where I shop don’t have coupon pamphlets. However, I love to buy things that are on sale during a particular week. For example, the other day I bought 4 avocados because they were on sale for an astonishing 50 cents each. 

pasture, vegetable
Christina Valente

I also save money by buying things that are consistently cheap. At my farmers' market, Red Delicious apples and Macoun apples are always $0.99/lb, which is cheaper than the other types of apples they sell. So I buy Macoun apples, because to me, apples are apples, and Macouns are pretty good to me. 

Also, for non-produce items, it helps save by buying the store brand rather than the generic, more well-known brand. For example, instead of buying Quaker oats, I always buy the store-brand oats because it’s always cheaper and tastes pretty much the same. 

4. Select your grocery store(s) carefully

I had to visit a lot of grocery stores near me before I found the ones with the best prices. I recommend going to several different places and comparing their prices on all the kinds of foods you generally get, then picking a winner. You don’t have to buy everything at one store, though – I sure don’t.
File:SAS Supermarket - interior- 4.jpg

Image from WikiCommons

5. Only buy what you will definitely use before it spoils (or freeze it!)

I go grocery shopping once a week, so I don’t usually have a problem with food going bad in that one-week span. However, I tend to keep foods that go bad quicker in the front of my refrigerator – that way I remember they’re there. Other than that, I just keep a real good idea of what food I have so I use it all.

Freezing foods is a great way to extend the life of lots of different types of foods. When things go on sale, I tend to buy a lot of it, but knowing that I can’t use it all before it spoils, I freeze most of it. I have found lots of success in freezing fruits, vegetables, cooked grains, pasta, and beans (note: it is not a good idea to freeze dairy products or eggs – meat, however, should be fine).

I have probably saved hundreds of dollars just by freezing food, so I really really recommend this.

6. Try not to buy pre-made anything; cook/prepare foods yourself 

I don’t really buy pre-made or pre-cooked meals because I save tons of money buying the ingredients separately and preparing everything myself. Yes, it takes more time, but if you personally like to cook and find it therapeutic like I do, I think it’s worth it. 

7. Buy in bulk, but only certain things

My rule of thumb: If I know I’m going to use all of it before it goes bad, it pays to buy in bulk. Last year, I bought a 25 lb bag of uncooked quinoa online, for less than $50 (including shipping). Call me crazy, but since I know quinoa in the grocery stores is like $5.99 per pound at least, and I love quinoa, I think I made out good with $2 per pound for my quinoa. cereal, millet, wheat, quinoa, condiment, corn, sesame seed
Jocelyn Hsu

The bag lasted me about a year, and I recently bought another 25 lb bag after I ran out. Aside from online bulk-buying, grocery stores typically offer a better value for larger portions of things than the smaller portions. Just be sure that if you bulk-buy, it’s something you really like and will use all of. 

I use a combination of all these tips when I grocery shop, and I typically spend between $20 and $40 per week, depending on what I get. Since I prepare nearly all of my meals at home, I do have to buy a ton of groceries. Ultimately, the last two years have taught me many skills in grocery shopping, which has led me to not only saving tons of money, but also develop a passionate hobby – cooking. Not to mention I can afford to treat myself to a night out every once in a while.