LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — From August 2021 to August 2022 prices at the grocery store climbed 11.4%, the largest annual increase in more than 40 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What’s a household to do? Shop smarter, experts say. Yes, it’s challenging. And frustrating. But while grocery store visits have become as excruciating as a dentist’s drill, there are ways for consumers to fight back.

It takes a little planning, of course. And perhaps some sacrifice if you want to slash that burgeoning grocery bill.

Stephanie Nelson, an Atlanta-based shopper extraordinaire and author who operates Couponmom.com, says one basic move is to limit trips to the market. Make it once a week.

Stephanie Nelson, author who operates couponmom.com. (Stephanie Nelson)

“Every time you walk into a store you are going to buy more things than you intended,” Nelson says. “Impulse buying overtakes strategic buying.”

Other more obvious ways are jumping on sale items, buying store brands that often cost less than name brands and cutting down on junk foods high in sugar and salt.

Both Nelson and McKenzie Mayor, a registered dietician and coordinator of UNLV’s food pantry, agree that next to fewer shopping trips, better planning can lead to reduced costs. Make a shopping list based on needs and sale items. Stick to the list.

“Planning is one of the most cost-effective ways,” Mayor says. “Plan meals around what’s on sale, what’s in season, knowing that often fresh is less expensive.”

Nelson has 10 tips for saving (couponmom.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Coupon-Mom-E-book-Haley.pdf) at the market at her website, including how to plan, ways to reduce food waste, using coupons and using leftovers. It can mean a savings of 10% for each time a shopper embraces one tip, she says.

Buying in bulk also offers savings, especially when it comes to foods with long shelf lives. But that can be tricky, too. Buy too much, and food ends up in the trash, Nelson says. Reducing waste is probably the second-best way to cut the household food bill, she says. “Americans throw away $10 billion worth of food each year. Stop wasting food can be one of the easiest ways to save.”

Which brings us to a controversial subject in some families: Leftovers. Both Nelson and Mayor suggest that cooks in the household use their imaginations for leftovers. “Don’t use the L word. Don’t call them leftovers,” Nelson says.

Those grilled chicken breasts from Monday can be tossed in a stir-fry on Tuesday. Steak from one day is the star ingredient of a frittata the next day.

“Get creative,” Mayor says. “Leftovers or vegetables and other perishable items can be used in so many ways.” Fresh herbs can season meats, and last-gasp vegetables can go into soups and stews.”

McKenzie Mayor, coordinator of the UNLV food pantry. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)

In addition to being creative, shoppers also should consider store and brand loyalties. Nelson and Mayor urge putting weekly store circulars and smartphone apps to use. Don’t approach shopping as a burden; look at it as a mission in saving money.

Nelson says too many consumers shop one store and one store only. “Cherry-pick the deals. If you do an organized list, buy what’s on sale that week at one store and visit another for other sale items.” She says shopping more than one store for sales can sometimes cut food bills between 20% and 50%.

Here are some other tips:

  • Some stores have discount days for seniors. Or days when certain items are on sale. Shop on those days.
  • Test store brands, often priced significantly lower than national brands.  “The store brands have the same nutritional value most often as the name brands. And often the same ingredients,” Mayor says. Nelson says most store brands offer full guarantees. “If you don’t like it, they’ll give you a full refund.” As for taste, Nelson says “People tell me they can tell the difference, and I say maybe you can … but I can’t imagine many items where the store brand is so much different that I can’t tolerate it.”
  • Buddy up for bulk purchases. How many of us can use five jars of mayonnaise or a case of canned tomatoes being offered in a store special? But a family member or close friend might be able to split the savings with you. Consider shopping together and divvying up items for savings.
  • Become smarter, better educated. Major says there are ways to more effectively freeze fruits and vegetables. Meats, too. Food and cooking websites have recipes and tips. They’re easy to find, she says, and can help stretch the shelf lives of fresh foods. The UNLV food pantry site (Unlv.edu/integratedhealth/food-pantry) has links to dozens of recipes.

Nelson says consumers who want the most savings need to rethink the ways they shop. To get deals, it really doesn’t take that much more time to visit two stores or to find special sales by browsing a circular or swiping through an app.

“We’re not talking cutting out 100 coupons or shopping 10 stores,” she says. “When you really think about it, you don’t need to take lot of time to save a lot of money.”