Food: we love to eat it, but now we hate to buy it. Not only are Americans having to dish out more for heating fuel and gasoline, two of the greatest staples in our consumer “diet”, but now even the cost of food is on the up! I ask you, is there any relief? Not as long as the price of fuel stays high and we continue to ship our food hundreds and thousands of miles to get to consumers. A new motive to buy local, yes, but that’s not the focus of this article.
You can’t deny it. If you do any type of grocery shopping, there is no doubt you have felt the impact of the gradual and not so gradual price increases. There is just no way you cannot avoid it because the price of everything is up. Monday’s edition of the Nightly News with Brian Williams even said that food inflation is at an 18-year high! Oh, and don’t forget that all the flooding out west destroyed acre upon acre of crops, so it wont be long until that compounds upon everything else. There is just no way around it, the days of cheap food are gone and we all are going to have to re-examine our meal choices.
But there are still options you can take to reduce the amount you are paying without having to live off of Mac & Cheese or Ramen Noodles. Here I give you ten simple steps that I use to reducing my food bill. And feel free to comment in order to add more that I may not have addressed!
Ten Simple Steps to Reduce Your Food Bill
1. Plan meals out in advance and make a list. It takes a little more time, yes, but if you plan everything out for the week, you can make a list of exactly what you need, which can help in a couple ways. First, you can get a general feel for the amount that you are going to have to purchase this week. This may make you change your mind about that fancy 15-ingredient dish you were going to try. It also helps prevent you from missing an item you need, which will later on require a whole other trip to the nearest store which will cost you extra time and money. Knowing exactly what you need also prevents you from buying things that you don’t need which may sit in your fridge and go bad before you get to use them. From all different angles, it’s easy to see that making a list saves you money and last minute runs that always prove to be a headache.
2. Shop weekly circulars and be willing to change your meals if so desired. We want what we want, but if you wait and shop the sale circulars that grocery stores put out, you may find more ways to save. For example, you may have had two meals with chicken planned, but if you find that hamburg is on sale, you might want to consider changing your meals a little. Maybe a different brand of butter is on sale, or there is a buy one get on free sale on pints of blueberries, or maybe you wont find anything on sale that remotely interests you. Whatever the situation may be, just take a minute to skim through the sales. You might be surprised at what you find.
3. Coupons. Yes, little old ladies clip coupons, I know, but what’s the harm in trying to save a buck? If you get the Sunday paper, there is almost always coupons in it. Don’t just throw them out, take a look! Yes, there is a lot of junk in them, and sometimes they require you to buy three of one item that you may not use. But sometimes there’s some really helpful ones- save 35 cents on a bottle of salad dressing, a dollar off a box of a new cereal, or 75 cents off two cans of tuna. If you are going to buy those items anyways, why not save a little in the process? I’ve found that some stores even double manufacturer’s coupons! So what are you waiting for, go take a look and clip one or two out!
4. Shop heavily in the outer aisles. The outer aisles of the store, you know, the produce on one end, then the dairy, frozen, and grain on the other. Of course you shop in between too, but the point is, try to buy as many “whole” foods as possible. It’s less processed, more nutritious, slightly cheaper per unit price, and can be stretched a lot further! Again, the price of everything has gone up, so you wont find hidden unchanged prices, but you’ll find those items that will get you the best bang for your buck! Also, frozen veggies per serving seem to be cheaper than canned, taste better, retain the most nutrients (outside of fresh), and can typically get you multiple servings.
5. Buy in bulk if it makes sense. Notice how I say “if it makes sense”. Sometimes buying in bulk just isn’t practical, and that’s okay. But if it’s something you buy frequently, you have room to stash the extra in the meantime, and you’re actually going to save some money, buy it. For example, it seems to be that 12-packs of toilet paper tend to be a little less than two 4-packs. Money saved on a necessity! Or, I found that a 24-pack of my husband’s favorite peanut butter and crackers snack thingy is slightly less than 2 8-packs. So for me, that’s like buying two 8-packs and getting one free when I get the bigger box. AND as a “green” side note, when you buy in bulk, you tend to reduce the amount of wasteful packaging you use. 🙂
6. More essentials, less junk. Yup, your preplanned list will help reduce the amount of extra “junk” that you think you need. Also, make sure you do not go shopping on an empty stomach! Let me tell you, you’ll realize everything on the shelves look good, and you’ll catch yourself trying to put more in your cart! But that doesn’t mean you have to stop buying little extras, like snacks. My husband is like a wild Neanderthal when it comes to his snacks- very protective, and there isn’t any way I’m going to stop him from getting them. But that’s okay, because I make up for his horrible snacks elsewhere. 😉
7. Bring your own reusable bags. Okay, so this may seem a little more like a “green” tip than anything, but you’re going to be surprised in a second. Not only are you reducing the amount of plastic bags you use, and they are so so so SO much easier to haul your groceries home in, but most places actually give you a couple cents off your purchase for every reusable bag you have! I’ve seen prices range from 3 to 5 cents per bag. And while it’s not that much, if you use five bags, that’s a whole quarter you save each trip- that’s like a whole coupon’s worth. Okay, so that’s not really that much of a savings, but every little bit counts, right?
8. Try to plan for one more meatless meal a week. No doubt about it, meat is a lot more expensive than most other items in the store. Meat is so valuable in the store that, I kid you not, I learned that some products have those little metal detector strips on them. Crazy, I know! We learned when we splurged for Memorial Day and purchased a rack of ribs to put on the grill. Oh yeah, and ribs are expensive let me tell you! So on our way out, the little metal detector thief thingy goes off. I jump, wonder what the heck that was, look around clueless, and the manager, who had just bagged up our items, told us to go on through, it was just the ribs that they probably didn’t deactivate! Whoa! So, needless to say, by planning one more meal a week that doesn’t have meat in it can save you some major dollars!
9. Weed through your pantry, freezer, and cupboards. Before you go buy more, use up what you have first! You might find out that you already have two boxes of spaghetti that remain unopened and some spare sauce you didn’t know you had in your pantry. Instant free meal! Try planning meals that will use some ingredients you already have. You’ll save money from buying new stuff, and save money by not wasting what you have. The side bonus, of course, is that you’ll end up with neater, less cluttered cupboards that will translate into more free space!
10. Invest in Tupperware and learn to make things last. Don’t waste food. It sounds like something your mother would say, but she has a point. First things first, spend a little on some Tupperware if you don’t already have some. Then, if you have leftovers, don’t just throw them out, put them in some Tupperware and into your fridge, or freezer. This can translate into a light lunch later, or maybe a whole other supper! And my favorite thing to do with Tupperware is to pack meal portions of meat in them. When I get home from the supermarket, I take the three pounds of hamburg that was on sale, and then split it up into meal sized portions in the Tupperware before I throw it in the freezer. That way, not only do you now have a handy grab and go serving, but you can buy in bulk when the price is right and be able to store it without having to waste anything or risk contamination or freezer burn in repeatedly freezing and thawing extra portions.
So try some of these tips. You may find yourself saving more than you thought!