Supposedly, your grocery budget is one of the best places to cut back and save money. To this end, I have done numerous internet searches over the past few years, seeking money-saving solutions. Here’s what I have learned: I can’t be any cheaper than I already am.
The following are the cost-cutting suggestions I’ve found online:
– Don’t shop hungry. Check. (If you do have to shop hungry, at least be aware that you’re hungry and control yourself by following the next suggestion…)
– Make a list before shopping—and stick to it. Check. (I can attest that having a list makes a BIG difference. Weeks that I don’t take time to make a list, I tend to buy more random things and have a higher bill. I DO allow myself to buy things that are not on my list, however, if I discover an unexpected sale on one of our staple food items.)
– Buy off-brand. Check. (Though I must admit, I learned that some off-brands are more “off” than others, and there are certain things—like mac & cheese or spaghetti sauce, for instance, that one can only stoop so far on before making the food so pathetic as to be inedible.)
– Wait for sales. Check. (Unfortunately, some off-brand things never seem to go on sale, but for bigger items, this is helpful.)
– Buy in bulk (especially when you see a sale on something you use often). Check. (This only works well if you have the shelf or freezer space to accommodate your purchases, so be a bit careful with those frozen chicken breast sales.)
– Use coupons.
Okay, here’s where I have a problem. I clip coupons from my parents’ paper and I have signed up for various coupon subscription sites, but honestly I rarely find something I’ll use. In almost every case, I can find a generic item for cheaper than what I’d spend on the brand-name item even WITH the coupon.
My one caveat: If I’m buying something that’s hard to get in a generic—like toddler toothpaste—I will search online for coupons and wait for a sale. I refuse to be one of the crazy coupon ladies who haggles with the store clerk to allow them to use twelve coupons on one product, though. If my coupon says, “Limit one coupon per purchase,” then why should I be entitled to sidestep the rule unless the store is having some special double-coupon promotion?
Having already covered all of the standard money-saving suggestions, I’ve had to invent a few of my own. I’ll share them:
– Choose your store wisely. Don’t shop at the local upscale supermarket if you are running tight on your budget. Do you really NEED your store to have a drop-ceiling and colorful floor mosaic, or can you buy groceries just as well in a warehouse-style store that doesn’t need to increase their prices to pay for the cost of redoing their décor every three years?
– On a related note—pay attention to what you’re paying for items. Even supposedly cheap stores (ahem, Food4Less) will try to stick it to you by advertising amazing prices on a few select staples each week but charging more for many of the other items. If you’re saving $.50 on your milk but paying $.10 more for each of the other items you buy, you’ve lost your advantage.
– On yet another related note—look for discount stores or items marked down because they’re close to their end-of-shelf-life. There’s a discount bread store on a road I often drive. When I happened to stop in one time, I discovered that I can buy a bag of 6 big Sara Lee bagels for $1—and sometimes they have a BOGO sale. Since we eat bagels daily, this saves us a significant amount over time—especially because the other bagels I’d been buying were smaller ones sold in 5-packs for the same price (if I could wait for the good sale). I can now buy good bread, too, for $.75 a loaf. As long as I use it promptly, the nearing expiration date has no effect on me except to keep my wallet feeling fuller.
– Shop less often. Somehow, even with my nice list, I find that the more often I go to the store, the more I end up spending on groceries in the month. I’m still not sure how it happens, but my mother has noticed it, as well. To curb this, I try to plan my meals for at least one week at a time. I know I need to buy perishables more-or-less on a weekly basis to keep us eating fresh fruits and veggies and milk, but if I can ensure that I’m not running out for forgotten meal ingredients in addition to my regular grocery runs, I manage to spend less overall.
– Trim your recipes. Many casseroles—often sources of good, cheap meals—will call for a pound of ground beef. I save myself a few cents here and there by buying bulk ground beef (which is typically cheaper per pound than smaller packages) and dividing a 4.16 lb. package into five or six baggies. I’ll put more meat in some bags than others; the fuller bags can be used for meals like tacos, while the less-full bags will go into my casseroles, where I won’t notice a few bites less meat. If I add more veggies to my casserole, I’ve replaced the missing meat and made our diet a little healthier to boot.
– Find cheaper options. Ground turkey is slightly cheaper than ground beef, so you can save yourself a few cents on meals with other flavorful ingredients by replacing your beef with turkey. (Turkey is also leaner, so you’ll be eating a healthier meat!) This is another chance to consider adding extra veggies to your meals, since they tend to be cheaper than main dishes. (And frozen veggies, especially if purchased on sale, will save you even more.) Consider the snack foods you purchase, and seek cheaper options. Buy the full-size package of pretzels or applesauce and re-package them into reusable plastic containers to send in your child’s lunch, rather than spending extra for the convenience of pre-packaged lunch options. Look around for other substitutions or trade-offs that make sense with your lifestyle.
– Make cheaper meals. You might be surprised at the cost variation among the meals you regularly make. I sat down one day and listed each meal with its necessary ingredients. I then added the cost of each ingredient and divided the total cost by the number of servings it yields. I’ll have to share some of my cost-breakdowns another day.
– Cut back or do without. Must you have the deluxe “snuggle-soft” toilet paper? Do you really need that bowl of ice cream in the afternoons? Do you need to snack at all, for that matter? My husband and I found that if we have snack foods in the house, we (and the kids!) will eat them. We elected to provide snacks only for the kids’ little tummies, and only at set snack times. (We all consume more if we allow ourselves to graze constantly.) We reserve fun but unhealthy and expensive options like chips only for occasional special meals, enjoy pop as a once-a-week luxury with Sunday’s evening pizza, and fill our lunches with celery and carrots instead of more expensive and less healthy snack food options.
With these considerations in mind, I’ve managed to keep my grocery budget (mostly) reasonable even as my family expands.