The average Canadian family spends over $16,000 annually to cover their grocery expenses. In August 2022, food prices surged by 10.8% the sharpest rise since 1981, according to Statistics Canada. Unfortunately, there is no sign of relief on the horizon, as Canada’s Food Price Report projects ongoing price increases of 5% to 7 in 2023, with the largest increases expected in vegetables, dairy, and meat.
Whether you’re on a tight budget or aiming to counter escalating costs, here are valuable tips to maximize savings at the grocery checkout counter.
1. Create a grocery list (and stick to it)
You’re just as likely to fall victim to impulse buying while strolling through aisles at the supermarket as you’re at the mall or while shopping online. Most grocery stores are designed to encourage overspending, and Ivy League research has shown unplanned purchases can account for over 20% of your grocery bill. With that in mind, creating a grocery list can go a long way in helping you save and avoid spending extra on what you don’t need.
Here’s some advice on how to create a budget-friendly grocery list:
- Start by creating a meal plan of what you want to cook for the next week or two, factoring in how many people are in your household, and work backwards from there – listing all the ingredients you need by type (e.g. meats, vegetables, and sides should all be categorized separately)
- Forget about keeping a mental list, commit in writing on paper or in a smartphone app that you can constantly reference
- Raid your fridge and pantry to avoid needlessly adding items on your list that you’re already stocked up on
- Your list should be both comprehensive and realistic. Don’t create an overly-idealized list with only healthy foods you and your family rarely eat. Make room for items you usually purchase – including snacks and soft drinks – while setting strict limits for each. An unrealistic list won’t be adhered to and you’ll likely just end up adding extra snacks into your shopping cart anyway
- Stick to your list no matter what. If you find something that’s not on your grocery list, avoid buying it, even if it’s on a special limited-time offer.
2. Track your grocery spending
To really maximize your budget, you’ll want to track how much you actually spend on groceries in the first place. And the more you track, the better.
As a start, keep tabs of your total bill after each grocery run. From there, you can establish a benchmark of how much you spend on food on average and allocate a maximum weekly or monthly budget.
If you want to get more in-depth, use the calculator app on your smartphone to add the cost of each item as you place them into your cart (rounding up the price of everything to the nearest dollar). Sure, it’s more work, but by putting your spending under the microscope, it’ll be far easier to cut out last-minute impulse purchases. It’ll also be easier to find the willpower to place those overpriced chocolate bars back on the shelf.
3. Try grocery shopping alone (or at least, leave overspenders at home)
Make your grocery list and – if possible – shop for groceries alone. You’ll be less likely to go over budget as you can avoid having your partner or kids sneak unnecessary items into your shopping cart or try to convince you to waiver from your list.
4. Avoid shopping on an empty stomach
If your stomach is grumbling on your way to the grocery store, you could be driven to overspend – particularly on expensive, high-calorie junk foods.
Research from the University of Minnesota and Cornell to the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior have all shown evidence that hungry shoppers are less price-sensitive and likelier to spend more time at the grocery store (in turn, buying more things).
5. Get familiar with your supermarket’s layout
It’s no secret that the layout of grocery stores are designed to encourage extra purchases.
We all know that essentials – like milk and eggs – are located at the back of the store to encourage you to walk between aisles (and add more items to your cart along the way). Even worse, aisle signs intentionally use vague or brief wording to confuse you into spending more time searching (and shopping).
If you frequent the same grocery store, make it a goal to get acquainted with its layout. You can take it a step further and organize your grocery list based on where items are located in your supermarket. That way, you can save time walking back-and-forth between aisles and limit the chances of something that’s not on your list catching your eye.
6. Compare the unit price to get the best deal
When shopping for anything from produce and meat to bags of sugar, don’t just look at the total sticker price but calculate the unit price (the cost per pound or gram). It can make it far easier to comparison shop and spot the best deals between items from different brands or with different sized packaging.
7. Shop with a credit card that’s made for groceries
With the right credit card, you can rack up rewards at the grocery store and stretch your dollar.
Some of the best credit cards for groceries for grocery shopping include the CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite and the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite – which both earn 4% on groceries. Meanwhile, the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard racks up 30 PC Points (the equivalent of 3% in store credit) at all Loblaws banner stores (including No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, and Fortinos) while not charging any annual fee. Another great option is the American Express Cobalt, which earns five times the points at grocery stores.
Remember though, rewards credit cards will only help boost your savings provided you pay off your balance in full each and every month. If you’re on a tight budget or facing a cash crunch, stick with a low interest credit card or debit card instead to avoid racking up high-interest debt.
Best for Groceries & gas
based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 4pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
200 bonus points (a $200 value)
Ratehub.ca’s 2023 Award Winner – Best Cash Back Credit Card
Welcome Offer: Get a first-year annual fee rebate and earn 10% cash back welcome bonus of up to $200 (first 4 statements)!†
- After that, get 4% cash back on eligible gas, EV charging and grocery purchases.†
- 2% cash back on eligible transportation, dining purchases and recurring payments†
- 1% cash back on all other purchases†
- Get cash back on demand – redeem your cash back at any time when you have a minimum of $25 through CIBC Online and Mobile Banking®†
- Save on gas with CIBC and Journie Rewards
- Link and use your CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card with Journie Rewards to automatically save up to 10 cents per litre† at participating Pioneer, Fas Gas, Ultramar and Chevron gas stations.†
- This is a digital-exclusive offer.To be eligible for this offer: 1) this offer must have been directly communicated to you from CIBC or from a partner/affiliate; and 2) you must apply for the eligible card through the link provided in the CIBC or partner/affiliate communication to you.† This offer is reserved for you. Please do not forward it to anyone else.
- CIBC may approve your application, but you are not eligible to receive this Offer if you have opened, transferred or cancelled another eligible card within the last 12 months.†
- This offer is not available for the residents of Quebec.
- †Terms and Conditions Apply
The biggest selling point of the CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite is its impressive rewards on everyday essentials. On top of the 1% earn rate for all purchases, this card earns an industry-leading 4% cash back on both groceries and gas purchases – two of the most common spending categories for Canadian households.
- High earn rates on specific categories: Significantly higher earn rates on groceries, EV charging, and gas than most other cards (4% cash back)
- Flexible cash back redemption: Users can redeem rewards at any time as a statement credit starting in increments of $25
- Convenient payment option for large purchases: Access to CIBC’s Pace It program, allowing you to pay off large purchases in monthly increments
- Exclusive program access: Access to the Visa Infinite Program, entitling you to attend special dining events and hotel perks at participating hotels and restaurants
- Income requirement: The annual fee ($120) and personal income requirements ($60,000) may be prohibitive
- Limited insurance coverage: Insurance coverage isn’t as comprehensive as other similar rewards cards (if insurance is a priority for you, consider the cards featured on our list of Best credit cards for travel insurance)
Best for Groceries & dining
based on spending $2,200/mo after $156 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 5pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
15,000 bonus points (a $150 value)
- Ratehub.ca’s 2023 Award Winner – Best Rewards Credit Card
- In your first year as a new Cobalt Cardmember, you can earn 1,250 Membership Rewards® points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $750 in net purchases on your Card. This could add up to 15,000 points in a year. That’s up to $150 towards a weekend getaway or concert tickets
- Earn 5x the points on eligible eats and drinks in Canada, including groceries and food delivery. Spend cap applies.
- Earn 3X the points on eligible streaming subscriptions in Canada
- Earn 2X the points on eligible ride shares, transit & gas in Canada
- Earn 1 additional point on eligible hotel and car rental bookings via American Express Travel Online
- Earn 1X point for every $1 in Card purchases everywhere else
- Enjoy access to hotel bookings, and up to $100 USD hotel credit to use on amenities when charged to the room for a stay of 2 or more consecutive nights through The Hotel Collection from American Express Travel
- Transfer points 1:1 to several frequent flyer and other loyalty programs
- Cobalt Cardmembers receive regular Perks such as bonus reward offers and access to great events
- Access Front Of The Line® Presale & Reserved Tickets to some of your favourite concerts and theatre performances and special offers and events curated for Cardmembers with American Express® Experiences
- American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information, click the Apply Now link. If you apply and get approved for an American Express Card, (I/we) may receive compensation from American Express, which can be in the form of monetary payment
The American Express Cobalt is one of Canada’s best travel credit cards. If you’re looking for a versatile credit card that rewards both everyday spending and travel, the American Express Cobalt is an ideal choice. Cardholders can enjoy strong travel insurance, a generous welcome offer, and flexible point redemption options.
- Exceptional point earning: 5x the points on eligible restaurant and food delivery, 3x the points on eligible streaming services, 2x the points on travel and daily transit. The earning potential for restaurants and takeout is significantly higher than most other cards
- Flexible point redemption:Travelers can choose from three ways to use their points: points 1:1 to several valuable loyalty programs including Aeroplan, use the Fixed Points Program to simplify redemptions regardless of travel dates, or use points for statement credits at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent. Or, redeem Membership Rewards for travel, gift cards, merchandise, or purchases
- Exclusive access: Enjoy privileges such as Front of the Line Presale and Reserved tickets to concerts, theatre performances, movie screenings, culinary events, and other special offers
- Comprehensive travel insurance: Benefit from a strong travel insurance package, including up to $5,000,000 in travel emergency medical
- No additional fee for authorized users: Add authorized users for no extra cost (an average fee of $30 – 50 on other comparable cards)
- Monthly fee: A monthly fee of $12.99 (totalling an annual fee of $156, which is higher than most other rewards cards)
- Limited acceptance: American Express isn’t as widely accepted in Canada compared to Visa and Mastercard
- Travel insurance age limitations: The travel insurance package does not cover trip cancellation or medical coverage for cardholders over the age of 65
- Lack of airport lounge access: Frequent travellers may be disappointed as this card does not offer access to airport lounges
8. Avoid expensive snacks and pre-prepared items near the entrance
Just like how groceries make cheaper and essential items harder to get to at the back of the store, they place the priciest items front and centre. Hot prepared meals, expensive brand-name snacks, and pre-cut fruits are usually located near the entrance or right next to the sales counter. Try and avoid these at all cost.
9. Look below (and above) eye level
Shelf space located at eye-level is premium real estate at grocery stores. Items stocked here are most likely to get your attention, and as a result, it’s where you’ll tend to find the priciest brand-name goods. Make it a habit of kneeling down and peering above to spot cheaper, no-name alternatives.
10. Don’t fall for scarcity promotions
“$1.50 each. Only 5 per customer.” These types of promotions, which limits the number of sale items per shopper, exploit our subconscious and encourage us to spend more. We’re suddenly convinced we need to max out the deal and stock up on all five, even if we weren’t looking to buy any in the first place.
11. Double dip with flyers and coupons
By carrying one of Canada’s best credit cards, you can earn up to 4% or 5% in rewards on every dollar you spend at the grocery store. However, you can boost your savings by double-dipping and using a credit card and grocery coupons at the same time.
A number of money-saving apps and websites (such as Flipp, Checkout51, and Drop) offer a mix of coupons, points or cash back that, when used in tandem with a rewards credit card, can help you save faster. You should also sign up for emails and flyers from department stores and grocery chains, which regularly roll out deals.
One of our favourite grocery store rewards programs is PC Optimum, which is linked to the country’s largest grocery brands including Loblaws, No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, and more.
12. Cook from scratch
The convenience of buying pre-cut vegetables and ready-made food comes at a cost. So, while grocery stores may display a number of appetizing already-cooked hot meals, stick to buying raw ingredients and cooking from scratch at home.
While cooking from scratch is more time-intensive, it can help you save big. Plus, if you organize your kitchen in advance, clean while you prep, use a slow-cooker, and stick to straightforward recipes, the process can be a lot simpler than you think.
13. Eat more greens
A meat dish – whether it’s chicken, salmon, or beef – is usually the centrepiece of every meal – and it’s pound for pound almost always the most expensive. To carve out some extra savings, try elevating your vegetable dishes from sides to mains. Vegetables are always more affordable than protein and research from the Credit Counselling Society estimates Canadians can save around $70 every month ($840 annually) by eating less meat and more greens.
14. Shop for produce that is in season
While you can have your pick of any fruit or vegetable year-round, home-grown produce that isn’t in season usually carry a premium since it’ll need to be imported. In Ontario’s winter, for instance, pears, apples, and beets tend to be in season, meanwhile, cranberries are only in season during the fall.
15. Buy no-name brands and shop at discount stores
You can save a considerable chunk of change on your grocery bills by buying generic – particularly when paying a premium price for a brand has little impact on taste or quality, such as in the case of spices and seasoning, baking supplies, and salad mix. Furthermore, consider hopping into your car to shop at discount grocers.
16. Take advantage of curbside pickup
Not only does curbside pickup promote social distancing, but it can help your bottom line too. By shopping online in advance, you can avoid falling for the tactics supermarket employ to get you to spend more in-store. Plus, you can avoid pricey delivery fees by picking up your groceries yourself as opposed to having them sent straight to your front door. Just be sure to keep an eye out for additional curbside pick up fees.