15 Tips for Seniors to Make Grocery Shopping More Affordable

grocery shop

Prices are going up everywhere these days. That includes the prices at the grocery store, with some items rising by an eye-popping amount. It seems that even if you try to cut down on the more expensive selections, the rising costs of other things still add up – a dime here, a quarter there, and soon you are paying more every week. That can put a significant strain on any budget, but especially for those who may be on a fixed income, such as seniors who are relying on social security and retirement funds.

The average amount spent on groceries for a single person varies, but a few sources give us a good idea of what that number might be. One Main Financial says you can expect to spend between $229 and $419 each month on groceries (a bit less if you are 71 or older).

Another good average comes from the United States Department of Agriculture, which offers food plans based on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. These averages are tallied every month to give you an idea of what you might pay on three different tiers: The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans. In June 2022, the expected cost of groceries ranged from $238.80 to $356.10 for those aged 71 or older, with slightly higher amounts for those between the ages of 51 and 70[1]. 

Getting the Best Nutrition on a Budget

Everyone needs good nutrition to stay healthy and strong, but it becomes especially important for the very young and the elderly. As we age, we might need fewer calories, but we might need even more nutrients. We lose bone mass and the composition of muscle to fat in our bodies changes. Older adults might have slower digestion, a diminished sense of taste and smell, and even less of an appetite than ever before. It all combines to make nutrition much more important than it might have been even a decade ago[2].

As these changes happen in our bodies, we might become more of a fall risk. This is especially true if you’re not getting enough nutrition, as you could begin to feel lightheaded, weak, or faint. That’s one reason why it’s very important to use an emergency response solution with fall detection. Wearing a pendant, bracelet, or watch from Alert1 Medical Alerts can help ensure that if you do fall down or otherwise suffer a medical emergency or accident, help can be on the line with you in seconds.

When shopping at the grocery store, look for the foods that provide nutrients older individuals need the most. For example, dietary fiber helps keep bowels regular and potassium helps lower the risk of high blood pressure. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that fortified cereal and lean meats are great sources of vitamin B12, which can be more difficult for the body to absorb over the age of 50. And those over the age of 70 need more calcium and vitamin D than they did in their younger years, which can be found in dairy products, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, fish, and eggs. Focus on those things that your body needs most and make them the cornerstone of your grocery budget.

Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store

So now that you know what you need at the grocery store, let’s look at how to get those things as cheaply as possible.

1.       Make a list. When you take the time to make a thoughtful list filled with the things you really need, how much of it you need, and where it might be cheapest to find, you’re already well on your way to better prices. Think about what you need to purchase and then stick to it. Don’t get distracted at the store.

2.       Look at what you already have. As you make your list, take stock of what is already in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. For instance, if you have plenty of fruit stashed away in the freezer, you might not need to buy those strawberries (unless they are in season, of course. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

3.       Create a meal plan before shopping. Consider what ingredients you can purchase that will round out meals based on what you already have at home. For instance, if you have a jar of tomato sauce and a bag of frozen meatballs in the freezer, you can cook those together and then put them on hoagies for meatball subs. That means you need to buy hoagie buns and maybe cheese to top each serving. Look for the best recipes for seniors online to discover new ways to use things you already have in your kitchen.

4.       Compare prices. Look at the circulars and flyers offered by grocery stores in your area. You might have to look online to find these, or use a grocery app that offers digital forms of the circulars in your area. The biggest sales will be blasted across the front page of the flyer, but don’t forget to look inside, where you can find just as great deals on a variety of pantry items. Online shopping and phone apps make it easier than ever to compare prices from store to store. Bear in mind that with the price of gas so high these days, is it worth driving to a store that has slightly better pricing but is father away from home?

5.       Know what you’re going to spend. Get a rough idea of what you want to spend – or if you are on a very tight budget, know what you have to spend and go no further than that. It might mean eating beans and rice for a few nights instead of opting for a fine steak, but it will keep money in your bank account. If you need some help with budgeting, check out budgeting apps that can help you keep tabs on your money. Some folks only carry a set amount of cash, which forces them not to spend beyond their budget.

6.       Stock up on what’s on sale. If you happen to find a certain cut of meat on sale or a great deal on oranges, go for it! But only if you know you’ll use it before it expires. For instance, pork might be on sale but if you don’t really like pork chops, you might want to skip on that particular sale. However, if you find a great deal on a cut of steak and grilling out sounds lovely, make the most of it. What you don’t eat over the next few days you can freeze and save for another time. This strategy works best on non-perishable items like canned goods and frozen foods.

7.       Shop with a calculator. Use the calculator in your phone or bring one with you when you go to the store to keep track of everything you purchase. This will help you see what you’re spending in real time and that can be enough to make you put back an unintended purchase of an expensive item, or opt for a cheaper selection instead. Don’t forget to round up – for instance, $4.25 becomes $5 – so that you always come in under budget.

8.       Go with generic brands. In many cases, generic brands taste just as good (if not better) as the name brand items, and they come with a much lower price tag[3]. Just be sure to compare all of the options. You might be surprised to learn that sometimes, the brand name is actually cheaper than the generic version when you break it down into the same sizes of the box or bag or if they are on sale that day.

9.       Look at the top and bottom shelves. The most expensive items in the grocery store are usually right at eye level, which encourages you to grab them and go. But if you take the time to look at the higher and lower shelves, you are likely to find better deals, such as the generic versions. When you find what you want to purchase, take a step back and look up and down, checking the price tags to find the best option.

10.   Buy what you can in season. You might be craving tomatoes in winter, but that’s when they are going to cost the most, as they must be shipped from somewhere warm and sunny. But if you buy tomatoes during the height of summer, they are so plentiful that grocery stores have them at far lower prices – and if you go to a farmer’s market, you can get them for even cheaper than that, especially if you shop at the very end of the day[4]. You can do the same with most other vegetables and fruits. This Produce Guide from the USDA can help remind you of what’s in season.

11.   Don’t opt for too many “convenient” foods. Sure, it’s easier to open up a can of beans and heat it up, but if you soak dried beans overnight and cook them for a few hours the next morning, you’ve changed the pricing game. A bag of dried beans can be much cheaper than even a single can of beans and you’ll get several meals out of one bag. You can also control the sodium and other ingredients in the finished dish. You can do this with many other foods as well, such as making your own croutons from stale bread.

12.   Invest in good storage containers. Though it might be a higher up-front purchase, purchasing good storage containers will save you money in the long run. Glass containers are best as they don’t leach out harmful chemicals when you use them in the microwave and they last for a very long time, but sturdy plastic will do well if that’s what you choose to use. If you often stock up on meat, consider a vacuum sealer that will keep the air out when the meat is in the freezer, thus preventing freezer burn[5].

13.   Buy in bulk. Buying items in bulk can often be much cheaper than buying the smaller versions. Most stores offer family size containers of chicken, beef, and other items that are often less expensive. When you get home, you can create individual portion sizes and store them in the freezer in freezer bags. You can also shop the bulk bins, which allow you to get just what you need in spices, nuts, grains, and more.[6]

14.   Clip coupons. Though you might save only a few cents on each item, those coupons really do add up. Look for them online through grocery coupon sites, find them through grocery store apps, and sign up for emails from the grocery stores themselves to get coupons delivered to your inbox from time to time. You might opt for a rebate app that can give you money back after your grocery store trip. You can also go the old-fashioned route and clip coupons from magazines or bulk mailers.

15.   Keep a list of typical prices. Sometimes, a “sale” is not actually a sale. Or you can get the item for cheaper elsewhere. Start keeping a list of the typical prices for the things you buy regularly. For instance, is milk $3.99 per gallon in your area? If that’s the going price, don’t buy into the idea that a half-gallon for $2.99 is actually a sale – it’s not even close. If you have a list of the usual costs for your routine purchases, you’ll keep more of your money by not falling for so-called “sales.”

To make sure you stick with all of these rules, make a point of shopping at the right time. If you skipped breakfast and it’s almost lunchtime, you are much more likely to make impulse purchases to satisfy your hunger. Avoid this by eating a good meal before you go to the grocery store.

When you do go to the store, make sure you have your wallet, your calculator, your grocery list, and a medical alert pendant. Having a medical alert device at your fingertips at all times means you never have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get help whenever and wherever you need it – you can get it by simply pressing the button and connecting to a trained professional who will assess the situation and quickly get whatever help you need. Opt for an on-the-go medical alert with GPS for the best level of security and protection, both at home and when out and about.

As always, Alert1 wishes you a safe and happy shopping experience!