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:
- 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.
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
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