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Save Money on Groceries

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Save Money on Groceries

Save Money on Groceries

Though prices have come down as the economy has slowed, there's not much doubt that food is much more expensive today that it was in the past. It seems way out of line with inflation. Experts have cited many factors for this. Some say a change of eating habits in China and India towards more expensive foods is the reason. Others say it's been poor weather conditions. Still others claimed it was the expensive price of energy (which obviously comes into play shipping food). It is probably a combination of all the above. While things are better now, I think we are going to have to live getting used to paying more for your food.

It doesn't have to be that... there are many ways to save money on groceries:

General Tips

  • Coupons - Coupons can save you money, but there's a danger. You may buy things you ordinarily wouldn't. You also might find that are spending your time just to get a name brand product. The store brand might be as cheap. Then again, I've been known to clip a coupon on occasion.
  • Watch for Shrinking Portions - Companies have been known to reduce portion sized to maintain the same pricing points. The idea is that you'd notice a raise in prices more than you would a shrinking of portions. Yogurt comes in 6oz now instead of 8oz. The half gallon of ice cream has gone to 1.75 quarts and then to 1.5 quarts. Even propane portions are pathetically puny.
  • Don't Shop as Often - Ever go shopping and pick up one or two extra items? Well if you go shopping often enough, that's a lot of items. If you limit your trips, you'll limit the amount of extra buying that you do.
  • Make the Most out of Leftovers - I'm not that creative when it comes to food. I don't think about how to make tonight's meatloaf into tomorrow's sloppy joe. However, I don't mind have leftovers for lunch (or even breakfast) the next day. I'm weird, but I've been known to eat the same thing for a week. If you aren't like me, there are plenty of creative things to do with leftovers, but that's a study in itself.

Plan Ahead

When it comes to saving money, there's little substitute for planning. This is true in many aspects of life and groceries are no exception.

  • Keep Inventory on your Fridge - I've been intending to get a laminated spreadsheet of everything we use and stick it to the fridge. The idea is that I could use a water-based marker to check of the items that I need (as I need them), bring the list shopping with me, then wash and reuse it. I've been Lazy with this though, so instead I clog up my brain with details about what to get. My clogged brain system works fairly well for me, but I wonder how much more efficient I could be if I wasn't storing information about how much milk we have in our fridge.
  • Do a Final Once-Over Before Shopping - It never hurts to give the final look to make sure that inventory is right.
  • Prepare Meals in Advance - While it might increase your grocery bill, planning your meals in advance will save you money by avoiding spending on convenience foods. Recently, I've been making what I call chicken bowls (chicken rice Rice-a-roni, chicken , diced tomatoes, and pinto beans all mixed together) and beef bowls (beef Rice-a-roni, ground beef or cut up steak, diced tomatoes, and pinto beans) and having them on hand.
  • Grow Your Own Vegetables - Though it's not the Lazy way, it's a way to save some signficant money.

Buy in Bulk

There are is a lot of money to be saved by buying in bulk. Not only can you get great prices, you can cut down on the number of trips to the grocery store. The only problem is that many groceries expire. Here are some tips to get around that.

  • Get a Foodsaver - I found that a FoodSaver does save you money. Foodsaver bags can get expensive, so I'd suggest getting a FoodSaver wide mouth jar sealer and some wide mouth mason jars. You'll be doing the environment a favor by reusing as well.
  • Get a Chest Freezer - The perfect companion to the Foodsaver and mason jar is a chest freezer. Now I can prepare those beef and chicken bowls months in advance. I can also stock up when boneless, skinless chicken is under $2.00 a pound.
  • Be Careful About Too Much Bulk - Few families really need a keg of mustard. It simply makes them buy a bigger refrigerator or house.

Get the Best Deals

It's time to finally find the best deal when you are at the grocery store. Here are some tips to do that:

  • Have a Head for What Things Cost - Some people have a price notebook and use that to keep track of what's a good price. I tend to clog up my brain with that information. The good thing is that if you limit the products you buy to just a few, your brain gets use to it.
  • Know Where to Shop - Some stores always seem to have bargains on certain things. For instance, I know I can always get Charles Shaw (2 Buck Chuck) wine at Trader Joe's (a great way to save money on wine). Wal-Mart has great prices on Sam's Choice diet soda. I know that when I'm walking into these places, I'm going to be stocking up. For produce, shopping at farmer's markets are an excellent way to save money. For those in the military, commissaries offer deals. For other tips see my article, Saving Money on Groceries: Picking the Right Store
  • Stock Up on Non-Perishables - One of the biggest ways to stretch your dollar is to stock up on non-perishables. Sometimes you can save 50% easily. That's almost like getting a 70% raise (since you have to pay tax on it). There's a risk of going overboard. My mother has Windex that has to be from the early mid 1970's. I'm sure she got it for 9 cents after some double coupon promotion. She gave it to us, but we are convinced it has CFCs and don't know how to recycle it.
  • Look at the Weekly Circulars - They often put the best deals right on the first page to entice you come into the store and do all your shopping there. That's convenient because you know what's really a deal right away.
  • Use a Store's Card - Many grocery stores have a card where they'll give you a much better price for swiping it. Sure you are trading your personal information... unless you gave them a fake name to begin with ;-). Not that I'd suggest doing something like that...

Change Your Eating Habits

I know this isn't the easiest or best way to save money. However, it's worth noting that you can control these factors which can save you lots of money.

  • Drink Water - Water is quite cheap. Even if you buy a Brita slim pitcher it will still beat the cost of other beverages like my aforementioned diet soda. You'll also feel fuller as drinking water may help you lose weight.
  • Avoid Processed or Frozen Foods - Convenience often comes at a price. Sometimes it's monetary, but other times it's the use of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup that deliver little nutrition. These processed foods are typically located in the center of the store. One can avoid them by usually walking along the perimeter where the meat, eggs, produce, and milk, etc. are.
  • Eat Less - Many Americans eat too much. Not only can you save money by eating less, but calorie restriction may help you live longer.
  • Look for Cheap High-Quality Food - Beans are excellent sources of fiber and protein... and they are cheap. Eggs have gone up in price, but they are still reasonable sources of quality protein. You don't have to be a body builder to know a tub of whey protein can go a long way to making milk a quick breakfast.

That's all I have folks. What other ways do you save money on groceries?

Photo Credit: dionhinchcliffe

Last updated on June 20, 2009.

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14 Responses to “Save Money on Groceries”

  1. kosmo says:

    Cheese is the latest to fall victim to the shrinking portion sizes. Kraft change the packaging of their blocks. New design on the wrapper, and the blocks are fatter and shorter than the old blocks.

    And they are 7 oz instead of 8.

  2. Craig says:

    Another product to shrink is Tuna fish. Costs the same but an oz or 2 less than it used to be.

  3. I can’t wait for the refrigerators of the future that can tell us exactly how much we have of everything, and probably order groceries, too!

    I think I saw that one time in a consumer science journal.

    Meanwhile, I guess we’re stuck making lists.

    Great set of tips!

  4. Personally, by using a good number of these tips, I’ve reduced my own grocery spending by almost 50%.

    I’m not saying everyone can do it, but I think with a little effort – most of us can.

  5. Ugh! I just set up a Costco membership today and spent $170. Meanwhile, I’ve still got to go back to the regular grocery store to get the things I wasn’t going to buy in bulk because it would have spoiled before I could use it. I think bulk can be good, but in moderation. I don’t need a lot of the stuff that I can buy there, but the big money saver for me was the cat litter – despite it not being the brand I prefer. Regardless, I’m also noticing portions are getting smaller and yet the price is getting more expensive. I bought something the other day and I remember thinking I probably overpaid for it, though what it was escapes me now. At any rate, the tips were great! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Harrison says:

    Personally I prefer the last 4 tips in the “change your eating habits” section. They can let us save more money and get healthier at the same time. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Just following a couple of the tips could add up to big savings. I’ve cut my coffee drinking down considerably, and we used to buy 2 cans each week. Now, it’s more like one can every 2 or 3 weeks. That’s at least $300 a year savings just for coffee.

  8. J says:

    How can you leave out unit prices?

    The grocery store may not advertise them, but those “dollars per ounce” are right there on the price label. Ignore the total price, ignore whatever they’re doing to the portion size, just focus on getting the most product for your dollar!

    And I second the suggestion of changing your eating habits. For the price of a couple fast food meals or greasy boxed something-or-other, you could buy enough frozen broccoli and dry lentils to eat for a week.

  9. Diane says:

    I certainly enjoyed the article and also those who’ve commented.

    I was poor growing up; grew up on a farm, and learned how to eat the right foods, but had no money for the ‘fun foods’ aka ‘junk foods’. Learning how to can and freeze produce was part of the family tradition; this has helped me enormously over my 67 years.

    Because I learned to think ‘fresh’, I don’t look for precooked; premade foods, and don’t like eating out much because I learned to be a good cook and prefer eating at home.

    If people didn’t tend to sometimes use food to ‘celebrate’ with, they’d save on the cost of the food as well as the calories.

    I’ve weighed the same since I was 16, so 51 years of doing the same thing has saved me money and kept me healthy.

    When I had all my children at home, we had two refrigerators and one huge freezer plus two stoves. One stove was in the basement where I did all my canning (cooler during those summer months).

    I had a bound journal that I kept; I drew the layout of the refrigerators; freezer, and where the canned goods were stored. I think because my first working job was as inventory control supervisor, I learned the techniques of keeping easy and efficient records.

    In any case, using a desk calendar to plan an entire month’s worth of meals is my first order of business even now it’s just me and my husband. When the store flyers come out, sometimes an item gets changed it there’s a significant sale, but I always keep the basics on the calendar so it requires little change.

    I have my grocery list on my computer; I update it – have it laid out in columns so I can print an 8-1/2 (x) 11 sheet; trim it into 4 sheets, and that’s my monthly list.

    I leave about 10 lines at the bottom for ‘other things’ that are needed, but pretty much staying ‘fixed’ on menus that are nourishing; foods that can be made from a main meal into a soup or stew (left-overs) is another money-saving method I use.

    I use Sam’s Club for bulk items that store long-term. I shop 3 or 4 stores based on specials, and all of the stores are within 10 miles of each other, so I lay out the trip so I don’t waste gas.

    My grocery list is made out in the order of the store lay-out; saves time and I don’t forget things or have to re-trace my steps.

    We’ve pretty much cut cheese and tuna out of our diet because of the high cost versus ‘yield’. We now use cottage cheese (which I make), and if we want tuna I buy it fresh – cook it; eat some as the main meal, and then chunk the remainder – season it and use it for sandwiches.

    One can can meat easily; if you don’t have freezer space, try canning it and using it for soups and stews as well as sandwiches.

  10. Victor says:

    Nice list, but I’ll also add reducing your meat consumption – better for the planet since meat takes up to 10 times the water and energy per calorie as growing grain, better for your health since most people eat way too much meat, and better for your budget.

    Stuck for ideas? Meat can be replaced with fake meat soya products, beans, lentils, and so on. Protein, despite what most people think, is not a problem. There are even vegan bodybuilders, so no excuses there.

  11. SteveA says:

    This is great – less effort AND big savings.
    We knocked 25% off of our total grocery bill (and with 5 boys at home, 4 of them teens, this is a LOT of money) by buying groceries online. We got introduced to this a month or so ago and it seems to be working great! Avg savings of over 40% (no perishable foods) and delivered free to our door (read less work!).

  12. James says:

    I read in an article on shopping myths that 25% of the time, “economy” sizes are actually a worse deal! You really do need to compare unit prices to make sure you’re not overpaying.

  13. Lazy Man says:

    In my experience that article is completely wrong. It’s probably closer to about 2% of the time that economy sizes are a worse deal.

  14. James says:

    In the article, the 25% number was attributed to Tod Marks, a senior project editor at Consumer Reports.

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