Over 50 Million Americans are already getting free money for groceries every month.
Millions more qualify, but don’t even know it.
Check your eligibility for free grocery programs with the Grocery Money form below and you could be looking at a much cheaper grocery bill next week.
You can also explore more ways to save money on groceries in our Grocery Savings Guide.
A trip to the grocery store can put a huge dent in your household budget for the week, especially if you have many mouths to feed. Even if you’re shopping for a small household, it can be easy to get discouraged by the rising costs of basic necessities, but there are some simple steps you can take to help keep your budget out of the red while keeping your family well-fed and happy.
The First Step—and Probably the Most Important One—is Planning
Before you set foot in a grocery store, you should have a clear plan of action. Plan a menu for the week and make a list of what you’ll need.
Without a good list, you can wander aimlessly through the aisles and end up retracing your steps as you remember items that you forgot in another area of the store.
A well thought out list should be built around a menu plan for the week to make sure you get all of the ingredients you need, and none that you don’t.
Take notes on items you already have on hand so that you won’t end up buying anything you don’t really need, and organize your list according to the layout of the store (when possible) so that you can work your way through without facing the temptation to buy more stuff that’s not on the list.
Cross off items as you select them to ensure that you don’t miss anything. Return trips can be budget killers.
Oh, SNAP — Get Free Money for Groceries through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
According to USDA data, about 52 million people in the United States receive SNAP benefits each month to help with food purchases.
While it’s not for everyone, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (originally introduced during the Great Depression as the Food Stamp Program) helps individuals and families with limited income to buy food.
A lot of people qualify and don’t realize it. Part-time or otherwise low income workers, families with limited income, college students, elderly or disabled people without financial resources, homeless individuals and families, welfare recipients, veterans, and those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), are often eligible for SNAP benefits.
You can easily check your SNAP Eligibility using the free groceries tool above. Most households who received food stamps last year had at least one child, or a disabled or elderly family member, but many individuals can qualify too.
On average, each qualified SNAP applicant receives $246 in monthly food assistance that can be used to buy groceries at nearly any store in the U.S. that carries food items.
As soon as you’re approved, you’ll receive an EBT card, which works in the same way as a debit or credit card. Money will be deposited each month into the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) account and can be immediately used to pay for food at grocery or convenience stores.
The list of places you can use your EBT card includes Walmart, Kroger, Winn Dixie, Amazon,
Stick to a Budget
One of the worst mistakes you can make is going to the store without a budget in mind. No matter how much or how little money you have, sitting down and crafting a budget is vital. Doing so might not make sense if you hardly have enough money in the first place, but you might be surprised when you discover how far you can make your money go when you try.
So take a few minutes to add up your monthly income and expenses to see where you stand. After you deduct all of your essential bills (rent, mortgage, utilities), you’ll then divide the amount you can spend each month by four to see how much you can spend each week, which gets you off to a good start.
If your budget just can’t work, a small personal loan can help as a temporary fix. Just make sure you know all the costs beforehand.
Plan Your Meals
Planning your meals allows you to eat the foods you enjoy without breaking the bank.
When you have a moment to sit down without distractions, make a list of each meal you and your family will eat over the next week.
Breaking your weekly budget down into a daily budget will get you started.
Once you get in the habit of watching your spending and checking the prices of every item you purchase, you can easily calculate how much each meal will cost.
You can then look for ways to save even more without giving up the meals you love.
Creating a meal plan, though, is the easy part of this task. The hard part is sticking to it, but a little willpower goes a long way.
Shop with Discounted Gift Cards
A lot of people have balances left over on gift cards that they no longer have a use for, or they receive a gift card as a gift that they just don’t want.
Buying these discounted gift cards for places you already shop can be an excellent way to lower your costs even more.
Take the Time to Compare Prices
Take time to compare your weekly grocery circulars to identify great deals. In fact, you may want to use those deals as the inspiration for your menu plan for the week, using those cheaper cuts of meat and in-season vegetables as a nutritional foundation.
The more you study these circulars over time, the more familiar you will become with sale patterns and everyday pricing in your favorite stores.
You may also want to build comparisons into your time at the store. Per-unit pricing is now commonly displayed on shelf tags, making it easy to identify the best deal. In many cases, larger containers tend to have lower per-unit costs, but this is not always true.
Study items that you purchase regularly so that you can spot a great deal quickly. Make similar comparisons on a store-by-store basis so that you know where to get the best deals.
Use a Price Comparison App to Find the Cheapest Groceries
You probably already know that not all stores sell things for the same price but don’t have time to check each one. Driving to each store in your area to see if you can save money is not always worth the time, so most people don’t bother. You can still see where you can get the best prices without wasting too much time or gas.
There are a lot of price comparison apps available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. These apps use the camera on your phone to scan the barcode of the products you buy, and they will then give you a list of other stores in the area that sell the same item and the price for which each store asks. You will know in an instant if you can save money and if the amount is worth the extra trip.
Don’t Forget the Calculator
Although creating a budget is a smart step in the right direction, sticking to your budget is another matter.
Even with a thoughtfully planned budget, you can still end up spending more than you’d planned.
Bring a calculator or use the calculator on your phone to make sure that everything on your shopping list is adding up the way it should.
Keeping track of everything you place in the cart will help avoid any unpleasant surprises in the checkout line, and you can preemptively put things back if you find yourself over budget.
Check Prices at Dollar Stores and Other Specialty Discount Stores
You may be surprised to discover excellent pricing on snacks, condiments, certain frozen foods, and other basic household items at a dollar store. But it’s important to stick to only what’s really needed.
It can be tempting to grab more of your groceries at once, but while these smaller stores may have great prices on specific items, they tend to make up for it with higher prices on the big brand-name products and impulse buys, like toys and candy.
Buy the Generic Brand as Often as Possible
Supermarkets know people tend to buy the food that’s at eye level, and that is where name brands and the most expensive items go. If you crouch down to the lowest shelve and take a look, you will find a lot of the same foods at much lower rates.
If you don’t mention the switch to your children or other family members, they probably won’t even spot the difference.
Each generic item you pick up will save you between 50 cents and $1, but that is no small amount when you consider how much you can save over the next few weeks, months and years.
Even if you have some name brands with which you are unwilling to part, you can still save money by replacing a few items in your cart with the cheaper alternative.
You can even run a simple test. Try buying the name brand of your favorite item and the generic version. Have a family member give you a blind taste test to see if you can spot the difference. If you can, decide if it tastes good enough to justify the difference you pay.
Leave the Kids at Home (When You Can)
If you have children, allowing them to come to the store with you can be tempting, but it’s rarely a good idea.
Kids grow bored and restless very quickly, which adds an unnecessary disruption to your shopping plans.
They’re also prone to grabbing everything they see and begging to put it in the cart. This can throw a wrench in your budget right away.
Bringing the kids along will ultimately cost you a lot more time and make it even harder to stay within your budget.
Shopping alone, or with a friend or significant other, will make it much easier to stay focused and within your budget.
Take Advantage of Free Coupons for Groceries and Loyalty Cards
Many stores provide lower prices on advertised items when a loyalty card is used. Coupons can be used to lower these costs even more, but your coupons are typically available only for brand name goods.
In many cases, generic items will trump the pricing of brands. However, loyalty cards may offer digital coupons and other incentive programs that include store brands.
Coupons.com is a great place to start looking for downloadable or printable coupons that can be used in the same way as the ones you find in the paper.
Sunday newspapers are also a fantastic source of coupons you can use to save money on the things you buy each week. You can find discount vouchers and two-for-one specials that let you keep even more money in your pocket.
While some people overlook the benefit of using newspaper discounts, they are leaving a lot of money behind. You can look at gas stations and convenience stores for Sunday papers full of great coupons that will let you get a lot more food for the money you spend.
Go through the paper and cut out all the offers you find, and you can organize them for easy access. Only buy items for which you have a coupon when money is especially tight, and you will be glad you did when you see the savings add up.
As a bonus, keep in mind that stores throw away the papers they don’t sell by the end of the day, so you can go to a gas station or store right before they close and take the remaining Sunday papers from the machine.
Loyalty Rewards Programs
Shopping at the same stores lets you save money by taking advantage of reward programs, and if you don’t know if the stores in your area have reward programs, ask the employee when you check out at the register.
Employees hand out books when people join the reward program, and it’s in your best interest to read it so that you can maximize your savings.
The book reveals what in-store items are worth the most points, and you might be shocked to discover the amount you can save when using reward programs.
You should get a rewards card you can use and information on how you can make an account online.
The account has your membership details and lists the number of points you have earned. You can also review the things for which you can redeem your points.
Since some stores automatically apply discounts when you have enough points, make sure you know the terms before moving forward.
Use a Warehouse Membership to Get Cheap Groceries in Bulk
Getting a warehouse membership is another smart way anyone can save money when they go grocery shopping.
Even though you will need to pay an annual membership fee to shop at these stores, the savings are more than worth it if you use your membership on a regular basis.
A lot of people only go to these stores once or twice each month because warehouse stores sell bulk supplies of food.
You can save up to 50 percent or more when you use this option, and the savings add up faster than you likely think. You can put your food in a pantry or closet if you use warehouse stores.
Divide your food by the number of days you go between visits so that you won’t run out before your next trip.
With a little bit of long-term planning, warehouse memberships can make a big difference in your budget from the first time you use them.
Work With What You Have
It’s easier to plan your shopping around the meals you want to make, but you don’t always have that luxury when getting your groceries on a budget.
Plan your meals based on the food you already have to trim your grocery bill and avoid wasting food.
Take inventory of the food you have in your cabinets and refrigerator, then look for some creative recipes for making use of those ingredients online.
Imagine, for example, that you want to bake a pizza but don’t have any pizza crust. Rather than making a trip to the store, try using french bread, biscuits, or even tortillas, in place of a traditional crust. It’s not your typical pizza, but it will taste almost the same.
You may even find that your family actually prefers these more creative (and often cheaper) alternatives.
Make Use of Leftovers and Leave Nothing to Waste
You can put in every effort to cut your spending at the grocery store and still spend more money than necessary by wasting food. Whether you toss out your leftovers or let food expire, you’re washing money down the drain each time you make that mistake.
Do some research to learn how long certain foods can stay good when you place them in a sealed bag or the freezer.
If you’re serious about saving money and making your budget go as far as possible, pay attention to the amount of food you eat and always save the extras after your meals.
The meat that only stays good for a few days in your fridge can last for several months if you seal it and put it in the freezer, and things that don’t need to be refrigerated, like bread or fresh fruits, will keep much longer in the fridge than they will on a shelf.
If you’re preparing food for a family who won’t eat leftovers, try incorporating your leftovers into a new dish, or freezing them for next week or even next month. A little variety can go a long way with picky eaters.
Get Groceries for Other People for Added Savings and Maybe Even a Little Extra Money
If anyone close to you has trouble with grocery shopping or just isn’t as skilled a shopper as you—grown children, elderly parents, or friends who are too busy to make a trip to the grocery store, combining your shopping lists can be a great way to get deep discounts by buying in bulk.
In economics, this is known as increasing your purchasing power. You can get the same things, but pay less per item by buying in larger quantities.
If you’re looking to make some extra money for your time at the store, you can even add on the shopping lists of total strangers.
Whether or not this is something you can fit into your routine will be a matter to consider when planning out your grocery shopping.
Keep at It
With a little planning, and sticking to a budget, you can save a lot of time and money on your groceries.