Food is one of the major line-items in my family’s budget. In my goal to save more money this year, I’ve been trying different ways to slash-and-burn my grocery bills. Allow me to share my hard-earned do’s and don’ts with you. Some might sound strange. It’s OK; when saving money is concerned, I have no pride.
Do shop at non-grocery stores: Many of the big-box stores have been increasing their grocery offerings. Seems you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing an ad about money-saving groceries at Walmart, but I’ve found another big-box store with surprisingly good grocery deals; if you have a Big Lots store in your area, check out their grocery aisles. They offer name-brand breakfast cereals, as well as canned and snack-food items you may never have heard of. They’ve been a particularly good source of canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and canned beans, at prices at least $.25 less than my typical grocery store. (It’s better to go in with an open mind rather than a set menu, though I found black-eyed peas there in time for New Year’s Day, which was a pleasant surprise).
Gas station mini-marts are also a surprising source for cheap staples: The one down the street from my house sells one-gallon jugs of 1% milk for $2.19 apiece, and one-dozen extra-large eggs for $1.99. These prices blow the doors off of my local Stop and Shop.
Don’t eschew the grocery outlets: If you have a grocery outlet near you, swallow your pride and cruise the aisles. When I was in grad school, I supported my lifestyle by shopping there for soup, rice mixes, and the world’s cheapest bottles of wine I’d ever consumed. Even now, my dad jokes that he goes there with a corkscrew, buys a few different bottles, and takes a swig of each in the parking lot, then goes in a buys a case of the ones he likes. At least, I think he’s joking…
Do check to see if ShortCut$ is available in your area: This is a program that lets you load coupons directly onto your grocery loyalty card. Talk about convenience!
Don’t waste money on the wrong expired products: If you’re shopping at a ”lower-end” discount food market, keep your eyes on the expiration dates. In my experience, the frozen-solid meats I’ve bought have all been fine, even if they’re months past their expiration dates. If you’re looking at bags of chips or other non-frozen foods, though, walk on by. Chips that are two months beyond their expiration will taste like, well, chips that are two months beyond their expiration date. Sadly, I learned this lesson the hard way. Also, if you’re shopping for canned goods, feel all around the can for dents or bulges, which could mean the food inside is spoiled.
Do investigate international food markets: Even if you’re not an adventurous gourmand, international food markets can be a terrific source of lower-cost produce, fish, and canned goods. Plus, it’s fun to look at some of the offerings and wonder just what the heck they are.
Do shop from the source: If you have a food-producing farm nearby, or live close to a farmers’ market, take advantage of that! Buying local can reap great prices on food that is often organic. Also, supporting local farmland helps to keep local farms in your area.
Don’t throw away food: Eat what you buy. If your meats are close to expiring, then cook them and freeze them for later use. This works particularly well with ground beef.
Do cook in large quantities: This is different from buying in bulk, though buying in bulk is certainly another way you can cut costs on your grocery bills. Rather, when you cook large quantities of freezable recipes, and then package it in individual- or family-size portions, you’re saving money on the nights when otherwise you’d order in because you were too busy to cook. If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, concentrate on soups — once your big pot of soup has cooled, you can store it flat in gallon-sized storage bags.
Finally, if you Don’t know how to cook: Learn. If you can read, you can follow a simple recipe. Cooking is a satisfying way to spend time, and if you’re cooking with a loved one, it can even be fun! Plus, it’s cheaper and healthier than eating in restaurants or ordering pizza.
Other money-saving grocery ideas? Tell me in the comments!