13 Ways You Can Cut Grocery Expenses Today
Since December 2013, the "spot foodstuff" index price is up about 20%. Ouch! For those of us who aren't commodities investors, that will translate to about a 3.5% increase in the price of food over the year — double the rate of last year's increase. Even vegetarians will feel the pinch due to the ongoing California drought.
So what can you do to maximize your food budget? Here are 13 suggestions. (See also: 22 Supermarket Tricks You Haven't Tried Yet)
1. Don't Even Go to the Store, Yet
Take an inventory, first. Do you have things to use up in the refrigerator? Should you defrost something from the freezer? If you have a garden or orchard, you might need to pick and use up fruits and vegetables. Maybe stale bread needs to become croutons or avocados, guacamole. Have you checked dates on your canned goods, lately? Might be time to use some and rotate your pantry. So, first, avoid possible food waste by checking to see what you have and can use.
2. What's Truly on Sale?
I scan the front page and the back page of my grocery store ads, because the best sale items are found there. Sometimes, items in the center of the ad aren't even on sale, believe it or not. You may assume that because there is a picture of name-brand bologna in the ad that it's on special, but I am looking at small print that says, "4.99 Every Day!" If you have the time or patience, keep a price book.
3. Clip Coupons?
Maybe. I only use coupons when they save me money on a product I actually use. Often, a store brand product is cheaper than the name brand product, even with use of the coupon. Not sure? Try using a grocery price calculator. If you want to use an app from your mobile phone, will your store be able to use that technology? Will they match another store's price? Let's remember, though, time is money. If you are spending a lot of time hunting down coupons, could that time have been spent in a more profitable way? I get a charge out of saving money on items I use, but try not to spend a lot of time clipping.
4. The "Oops, We're Out of…" List
Try putting paper (and a pen) on the refrigerator, or by the phone. Whenever you run out of something, jot it down. When you go to execute No. 5, below, add these items to your shopping list and start the process over.
5. Plan Menus and Make Your Shopping List
This doesn't need to be elaborate. From your inventory you can now plan how to use food up and also determine what you want to buy for the week.
I just jot down what I plan to cook for dinner each night. It's a good way to make sure you don't have to make a second trip to the store. If we are having hamburgers, well, then I know I need meat, buns, lettuce, tomatoes, condiments, and a side, like potatoes for french fries. Making a list is also helpful because if it's written down, you won't forget and have to make yet another trip to the store. The list will also keep you from straying into "fun" stuff.
6. Have a Snack Before You Shop
There is science behind this. I know the worst time for me is right after work, when I am tired and hungry. We've all gone to the store for a gallon of milk and walked out thinking, "How did I just spend fifty bucks?" I find that if I eat a greek yogurt or a handful of almonds and some string cheese, I'll stick to that list.
7. Stay Out of the Aisles
Wouldn't it be nice to just hit one section of the store to buy your vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy? Well, if stores were set up that way, they couldn't lure you into the birthday cards, snack foods, paper goods, or toiletries.
Take note of your store's setup so that you can avoid the pitfalls of buying items you should be buying at a discount store. Most of what I need is found around the perimeter. If I venture into the middle, I may be tempted to buy things I really do not need. I don't even cut through the middle aisles, where temptation lurks (in the form of potato chips, glossy magazines, or ice cream).
8. Buy in Bulk?
What items are tremendously cheaper at discount stores like Costco or Sam's Club? Toilet paper, paper towels, aluminum foil, tissues, toothpaste, hard liquor, rice, and meat. Be wary of buying items like two giant packs of cereal, or the large cases of soup. Unless you really, really love the product, you may end up being sick of it before you use it up. What else should you buy? Here are the ten fastest-rising food prices for items you may want.
9. Cut Up Your Own Poultry and Meat
This is a great way to save money. In my area, whole chickens go on sale for 99 cents a pound and that is when I buy a few, cut them up, freeze some, and even make stock. You just need a good knife, some kitchen shears, and this great instructional video. Like stew? Try buying a shoulder and cutting up your own stew meat, too.
10. Look Down
The cheapest cereal is not going to be found at the level of your kid. It's usually on the bottom shelf. Its packaging is also unwieldy, and usually in a large plastic bag instead of a handy box. However, if you re-package the cereal into smaller Ziplocs, jars, or tubs, you can save about 40% over the cost of brand-name cereals.
11. Save Every Six to Eight Weeks
Try this experiment. Remove your favorite grocery store's sale ad and save it. In six (or possibly eight) weeks, check it against the new ad. Hey, look! The same stuff is on sale! Buy what you need, and know that you can likely get more at the sale price again in six to eight weeks. You might make a tickler in your phone or computer to remind yourself to buy those items again, i.e., "Buy another case of tomato sauce."
12. When Should I Shop?
Would you believe Wednesday mornings? Well, for most of us, that's not practical (and I feel more like shopping on the weekends, but the best markdowns aren't happening then). However, if you find yourself free on a Wednesday, you might consider doing your grocery shopping instead of sleeping in. (See also: The Best and Worst Times to Go Grocery Shopping)
13. Make Your Own Mixes
How do you save money at the grocery store? Please share in comments!