"Shop with a list." "Never shop hungry." "Leave the kids at home when you food shop." It's all good advice to save money at the grocery store, but you've probably heard it a million times before. Instead, we've got some unconventional advice to help you save even more money on your food bill.
1. Buy smaller quantities
The conventional wisdom is that buying in bulk will save you money. And it will...if you use up the salad greens or chicken breasts or extra virgin olive oil before it all goes bad.
Most savvy shoppers are used to looking at the price per ounce or pound when they're grocery shopping, and bulk packages of salad, meats, or cooking oils usually cost less per ounce or pound than smaller packages.
However, like most Americans, you probably aren't very good at using up all the food you purchase. According to a report from the USDA, the average American wastes 238 pounds of food per year (21 percent of the food they buy), costing them a whopping $1,800 per year.
So if you're buying in bulk but find yourself tossing out spoiled food week after week, just know: you're throwing away money. You will actually be better off financially if you ignore the price per pound or ounce at the store and simply buy the smaller, "more expensive" package you will use up quickly.
2. Choose frozen over fresh
During the growing season there's nothing that compares to fresh corn, beans, and peas from your local farm stand, but during the rest of the year, especially here in the northeast? Frozen veggies are usually the better value at the grocery store. Here's why.
Let's look at peas. First, a bag of frozen peas will tend to be less expensive than the fresh peas you purchase at the store, except maybe if you're purchasing them at the peak of their season in the spring. Second, unlike the peas you'll find at the grocery store in the fall, peas that were picked days ago, the peas in the frozen section of the store were picked, shelled, and frozen at perfect ripeness. Third, with a frozen bag of peas, you can use as much as you need and put the rest back into the freezer for your next meal or recipe. And while it doesn't relate to cost, the fourth point is that frozen veggies are as tasty and nutritious — sometimes even more so — than their fresh counterparts. For example, the sugar in fresh peas turns to starch within a day of picking. But since frozen peas are frozen moments after harvest, they remain as sweet as they were in the pod.
And it's not just frozen veggies that are a-ok for your budget and taste buds. Frozen fruit is a good value, too. The only issue is that frozen fruit isn't a good choice for eating out of hand, but for smoothies and baked goods, frozen strawberries or blueberries can be your cost-conscious friends.
3. Spend money to save money
"The more you spend, the more you save," is a popular advertising slogan, and there's actually some truth to this when you apply it to saving money on food and groceries.
Let's say you have teenagers who love the grilled hamburgers and french fries from the local burger joint and would eat there every night if they could. A stove-top cast iron grill pan could help you make a better (and less expensive!) burger at home. Or you could do what I did and invest in an outdoor gas grill to replace an older charcoal grill. (Bonus: I've found that my son also eats more veggies this way because everyone knows that grilled tastes better.) As for the fries, I have friends whose kids rave over the crispy, delicious fries that come out of an air fryer.
Other cooking tools that may help you save money over the long haul include an Instant Pot, an electronic multi-cooker that's marketed as a 6-in-1 appliance; a high-speed blender (smoothies anyone?); a waffle maker (waffles can be made in bulk and frozen); or an espresso machine so you can make your favorite coffee drinks at home.
Over time you will find that your kitchen tool will pay for itself and eventually save you money on your food bill.
4. Make your own staples
If there are foods your family eats over and over again, like the aforementioned waffles, or yogurt, granola, trail mix, iced tea or coffee, and pizza, know that you can make these staples fairly easily and cheaply, saving a lot of money each week.
I developed a taste for organic Greek yogurt a few years ago but was surprised to see how much I was spending each week on it. This led me to research how to make yogurt at home. It was actually a fairly easy skill to learn and today, I still make my own organic yogurt. Not only that, I've been able to tweak the process so that I get my yogurt with the perfect amount of tang and texture I like, as well as save money each week. The same goes for pizza. I make pizza dough and sauce in bulk and freeze it. We have a pizza stone permanently set in our oven because a week without pizza ... well, that just doesn't happen around here!
5. Skip the coupons
I love to watch the television shows where people walk into grocery stores with fists full of coupons and come out with carriages filled with food...food they end up paying a few cents for, thanks to those coupons. But if you watch them fill the carts, you'll notice the majority of what the super-savers put in there is packaged, processed food. There are very few whole foods like meat, grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy that end up on the scanner belt.
Manufacturers create coupons not to help consumers save money; the coupon is a marketing tool to get the consumer to become brand loyal. The manufacturer is counting on consumers to love the taste of their sugary cereals or salty snack foods so they'll keep buying them without the coupons.
Coupons can save you money, so If you do choose to use them, use only the ones for products you already buy regularly.
Saving money on groceries is more than following advice blindly. Analyze your needs and habits, then bend the conventional rules of saving to work with your budget.
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