Groceries are one of the primary expenses of every household, just as unavoidable as utility bills, insurance payments, and taxes.
But unlike other mandatory expenses, there is a lot of leeway in grocery shopping, and several ways to bring the cost down.
As a foodie, I was always very generous with my grocery expenditure. But once I prepared a proper budget, I understood how much I could save on groceries.
So I’ve prepared this article for those who want to learn how to save money on groceries in Canada.
Canadians, on average, visit grocery stores more than five times in a month, and spend about 32 minutes grocery-shopping per visit.
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How Much Do Canadians Spend on Groceries?
An average Canadian family is likely to spend $12,667 a year in groceries, which is an increase of $487/year from 2019.
That includes both grocery expenditure and eating out. If we look at the pattern from previous years, restaurants, and eating out, makes up about 30% of Canadian households’ average expenditure.
It’s increasing year over year. But for a conservative estimate, let’s say a Canadian household spends 30% of its food budget eating out at restaurants. That means that for 2020, an average household is expected to spend around $8,867 on groceries purchased from stores. This is a significant increase from previous years.
This, of course, varies significantly from area to area. In 2017, households in British Colombia spent $1,611 more on food than an average household in New Brunswick. For the sake of simple calculations in this article, let’s assume the average grocery spending of a Canadian household to be at $9,000/year.
How to Save Money on Groceries Canada: 22 Tips
There are numerous ways to save money on groceries, all the way from using coupons to preparing your own broth and stock. Not all tips may work for all of you, but even incorporating a few in your routine grocery shopping and cooking habits can save you a fair bit of money.
1. Collect/Request Coupons
Potential Annual Savings: 10% or $900
Coupons have been part of the grocery game for a long time. They used to be part of the flyers, or grocery stores offered physical coupons to their customers. Now digital coupons are the norm. Many of the old ways of getting and redeeming coupons are still viable, but a better idea is to subscribe for the newsletter of the grocers/marts you frequently visit. They often send coupons to people who subscribe to them.
You can also find coupons on some websites and promo codes if you prefer to shop online. The only problem is that the coupons sometimes aren’t accepted when there is a sale.
2. Price Matching (Apps or Competitor Flyers)
Potential Annual Savings: 10% or $900
It’s easy to save about 10% of your grocery expenses by price-matching and looking for retail stores that are selling the same items at a lesser price. You can produce a flyer of the competitor’s prices, or you can use an app that offers price comparisons for different retailers in your area. Either way, you have a chance to get the lowest price in your favorite store.
Be sure to check the inventory of the store/competitor you are using for a price-match. If a store’s competitor doesn’t have that exact-something in stock, the store you are trying to price-match at will not entertain you.
3. Grocery List
Potential Annual Savings: 23% or $2,070
Helpful Link: Out of Milk (grocery list app)
When people don’t make a grocery list, or make one but don’t stick to it, they tend to over-shop. That’s something we all know. But a study revealed just how much you could overspend if you don’t prepare a grocery list: 23%. That’s almost one-fourth of your total expense, and it’s something you can easily take care of just by being more organized and preparing a grocery list.
It won’t only help you save a lot of money, but also a lot of time. If you know what you need to buy, you won’t be tempted to browse and will probably finish your grocery run in half the usual time.
4. Leave Kids At Home
Potential Annual Savings: 25% (between 10% and 40%) or $2,250
Helpful Link: N/A
A study suggests that when you are out grocery shopping with kids, you can spend anywhere from 10% to 40% extra. That’s mostly because kids have a hard time exercising self-control at markets, and ask for a lot of unnecessary stuff like a special cereal or candies, which parents are obliged to buy.
Supermarkets and stores are aware of the fact that kids can help them bump their sales numbers up, which is why they employ a number of tactics to entice kids. It includes arranging kid’s cereals and candies at the eye-level for children and putting attractive things at the checkout counter.
Related Reading: Frugal Living Tips in Canada
5. Shop on A Full Stomach
Potential Annual Savings: Varies from Individual to individual
Helpful Link: A Study
This has been a practice of homemakers for decades now, that you shouldn’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Later on, studies were conducted to prove this hypothesis, and there is a correlation that if you are hungry, you are likely to spend more on groceries. However, the effect can be mitigated by staying within your budget or sticking with your grocery list.
A good idea is simply to get a quick (but satisfying) snack before grocery shopping. If you are a morning person, you may want to plan your trip right after breakfast on off-days.
6. Use Cash For Grocery Shopping
Potential Annual Savings: 12% to 18% | $1,080 to $1,620
Helpful Link: Mint (Budgeting app)
If you are buying groceries using your credit card, and you are not in the habit of paying off your credit before it incurs a debt, you might be spending a lot of additional money on interest pile up. The situation might even be worse if you are in the minimum payment trap.
If you can set aside a pre-determined amount of money for groceries from every paycheck, you won’t have any problem going grocery shopping with cash or simply your debit card. Cash also helps you keep better track of your on-going expenses.
7. Hunt Down the Cheapest Grocery Store
Potential Annual Savings: 10% or $900
Helpful Link: Food Basics
Discounted/cheap grocery stores can help you cut your bill by about 10% on every grocery trip. Many local discount stores don’t price-match because their price is already lower for most items. For some items, which they can’t store in bulk like large stores, they don’t price-match. Overall, you are likely to have a lighter grocery bill if you shop at a discount store.
Not every grocery store might have everything you need, and they are more likely to run out of their best-priced items sooner than other stores. So make sure you plan your grocery trip with these considerations in mind.
8. Buy Local
Potential Annual Savings: 6% to 10% | $540 or $900
Buying local produce and visiting farmers’ markets whenever you have the chance can be good for your health, as well as your wallet. You will get access to cheap organic food, and you can enjoy some old-fashioned haggling. Since you will be buying primarily using cash, you won’t be spending anything extra on interests and fees.
There are other perks of farmers’ markets as well. You get to taste the produce, and there are a lot of free food samples. You can also find good quality meat and poultry products at a much lower price, and you might be introduced to some new products (homemade sauces, etc.).
9. Avoid Pre-Packaged Food
Potential Annual Savings: Potentially, $500 to $800
Helpful Link: Walmart
A lot of people prefer pre-packaged food because it’s in a familiar denomination, or it’s processed and ready to use. But if you instead choose raw vegetables that you will have to wash and cut on your own or a full block of cheddar cheese that you can shred yourself, it will cost you significantly less.
It depends on how much pre-packaged foodstuff you buy. Opting instead for raw or unprocessed food items, you can save up to 25% to 40% of the cost. So if you spend $2,000 a year on pre-packaged groceries, you could save about $500 to $800.
10. Choose Generic Brands
Potential Annual Savings: 8% to 9% | $720 to $810
Helpful Link: No Name
It’s effortless to just go out to a market, and simply choose the brands that everyone talks about. That’s what a lot of these brands capitalize upon and charge a premium for recognition. But if you are willing to do some research, you will be able to find a lot of local and generic brands that are just as good in quality as the named brands (if not more), and you don’t have to pay top dollar for them.
You can research these products online if there is any data, or you can buy a small number of generic brand products along with your usual groceries and try them out yourselves.
Related Reading: Tips to Save Money in Canada
11. Add more (Seasonal) Fruits and Vegetables in Your Diet
Potential Annual Savings: 10% or $900
Helpful Link: Seasonal Produce guide
Whether you buy from a farmer’s market or visit a store, seasonal fruits and vegetables are likely to cost you significantly less. Also, they will likely taste better than out-of-season, shelved produce. Adding more fresh veggies and fruits in your diet is also good for your health, and will help you get your vitamins from the most natural source.
You can also use this opportunity to learn some new dishes. If you find some seasonal vegetables unusually cheap, you can look up recipes that have it as the main ingredient. If they seem doable, you can try using at as the staple food for a while.
12. Stock Up On Sales
Potential Annual Savings: 10% to 20% | $900 to $1,800
Helpful Link: Sales Whale
When there is a sale going on, it’s the best time to stock up on your groceries, especially on the perishables. You can stock up some of the most needed items at a lower price, and save on later grocery runs as well. It’s also an excellent time to look into the frozen and canned food items. If they have an extended expiration date, you can buy a large quantity of frozen meat or vegetables, provided that you have enough refrigeration space.
13. Avoid Impulse Purchases
Potential Annual Savings: $1,080
Helpful Link: OurGroceries (Grocery list App)
According to a study, US citizens cough up about $5,400 in impulse purchases in a year. Assuming that Canada’s situation is relatively similar, and about 20% of these purchases happen when you are out grocery shopping, you can save about $1,000 by not giving in to your shopaholic impulses.
A great way to do so is to make a grocery list. Another right way is to take limited cash with you, and every time you are thinking of buying something useless, tell yourself that you will have to do it at the cost of groceries.
14. Large Packaging Is Usually Cheaper
Potential Annual Savings: $100 to $200 (depends on how many such food products you consume)
Helpful Link: N/A
When you are buying something that comes in both small and large packages (like Kraft Dinner Macaroni and Cheese), or bundles, the larger packaging is usually cheaper. If it has an extended expiration date, buying small, separate packages solely for convenience doesn’t make financial sense. Choose large packages, and learn how to store them properly.
15. Run Your Numbers
Potential Annual Savings: Depends upon how much discount is offered per product
Helpful Link: Discount Calculator
Discounts come in various shapes and sizes, and people often get confused, especially with discounts like $X for three pieces, or 2 for 1. And while they are discounts, sometimes opting for larger packages, bundles, or simply buying in bulk saves you more money in the long run.
So whenever you are in a sale, make sure you understand what kind of discount you are getting. For example, if 100g of A (original price $5) has a 50% discount. And a larger package of the same product, which gets you 500g of A (original price $20), has a 40% discount, you will save $0.5 more on the latter, even though the former has a more substantial discount tag.
16. Buy in Bulk
Potential Annual Savings: 25% or $2,250
Helpful Link: Bulk Barn
Buying in bulk, even if there isn’t a sale going on, can help you save a lot of money in the long run. For one, it will cut down your grocery runs, saving you time and fuel. Secondly, buying in bulk is usually more cost-effective. It has the compounded effect of buying items in large packages.
Even if you can’t store fresh fruits and vegetables, there are many non-perishables that you can buy in bulk and store.
17. Avoid Soft Drinks
Potential Annual Savings: $12 to $180 per person
Helpful Link: Benefits of Fresh Juices
Over half the Canadians spend anywhere between $1 and $15 a month on soft drinks. Ideally, you can cut that out entirely and increase your water intake, which is the best fluid for your body, after all. A relatively costly alternative would be fresh juices (you can cut costs by sourcing cheap/local produce). Cutting soft drinks is also a healthier option.
18. Earn Cash and Scan Groceries
Potential Annual Savings: $120 to $180 (depends upon offers and what do you need to buy)
Cashback apps offer a great way to earn back money while buying stuff that you need anyway. You are effectively getting a discount on your grocery item that you get as cashback. Now, most cash back apps have certain deals, and you can only earn cashback on specific products. You usually have to upload the receipts to prove the purchase. Having multiple cashback apps can be handy since you can upload the same receipts on all the apps to compound the cashback.
19. Expiration Date
Helpful Link: Foods you can consume past expiration date
When you are buying in bulk or during a sale, be sure to check for the expiration date. Buying discounted food, only to throw it away because you couldn’t consume it within the expiration date, is actually more expensive. Ensure that the food you are buying can either be stored in a way that increases its shelf life, or it will be consumed within the expiration date.
20. Batch Cooking
Potential Annual Savings: Around $1,200
Helpful Link: Six batch cooking meals
Batch cooking usually goes hand in hand with bulk buying. And if done right, it can save you a lot of money and a lot of time. It’s perfect for working homemakers, but it might require you to buy some new containers and also free up space in your refrigerator. It doesn’t just save money on ingredients, but also on gas/electricity usage in the kitchen.
21. Homemade Broth and Stock
Helpful Link: Homemade stock recipe
That’s for very careful cooks. If you are in the habit of throwing away chopped vegetable bits, start refrigerating them instead. Do the same with leftover meat and bones. You can even save some of this stuff in zip lock bags. Once you have a sufficient amount, you can use it to make a hearty stock or broth that you can either consume directly or compliment with something else. It doesn’t exactly save you money, but it does allow you to get the most of your groceries.
22. Start Building a Pantry
Helpful Link: Pantry for COVID-19
This is helpful for those who don’t already have a fully stocked pantry at home. Building a pantry, or reserving space for one, will allow you to accumulate non-perishables, spices, and some staples. This comes in handy because you don’t have to run to the store every time, and you have a place to store leftover ingredients so they can be used in the future.
Learning how to save money on groceries in Canada isn’t very difficult. Most tips here are easy to incorporate in your grocery routine if you already exercise financial freedom.
On top of that, you will have to do a little bit of research. With a few changes in your grocery planning, your cooking and eating habits, you can easily save between $1,500 and $2,000 in a year.
Groceries aren’t the only way to save money. Check out my list of ways to be frugal in Canada without sacrificing the quality of life.