Could you use an extra $50 or $100 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by $50 a week without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand … not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it. 

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Notice I said “food” bill, not grocery tab. Unless you’re keeping careful track of your spending, you might not know just how much is being sucked out for restaurants, fast food, school and business lunches, coffee shops and on and on. 

There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more. 

Coupons. These days shopping with coupons requires more than clipping them from the Sunday paper. You can still do that but you need to know how to grab digital coupons, too. Even with the explosion of ways to add coupons to your grocery dollars, lots of people don’t do it because it’s just not their thing. Or they don’t have the right information or know-how. Two great resources to get you up to speed: 5DollarDinners.com  and TheGroceryGame.com

Shop Aldi. Aldi is an international, limited assortment discount retailer, specializing in private label (store brand), high quality products. 

Aldi prices are so low it’s like having a double coupon on everything. I find the quality of Aldi products to be extraordinary. Instead of managing 38,000 different items, which is the average number in a typical supermarket, Aldi has just 1,300 including produce and frozen meat, 90 percent of which are Aldi private label. Still, you should be able to buy at least 80 percent of your weekly grocery needs at Aldi. 

There are thousands of Aldi stores throughout the world, 1,300 are in the U.S. with 80 new stores opening every year. 

Think seasonal. We know that fresh fruits and vegetables are necessary for a healthy diet–five servings a day for optimal health. Pound for pound, fresh produce can be much cheaper than fast food, chips, cookies, candy, soda pop or pre-packaged, pre-processed convenience items. There is a catch though. You have to buy what’s in season. How do you know? Look around the produce department. If it’s $4.99 a pound, chances are good that it’s not in season. When apples are 2 lbs. for $.99, bananas $.49 a pound and red-flame seedless grapes $1.77 a pound, you know they’re in season. 

There are always bargains in the produce department. Adjust your tastes and expectations to fit them. 

Know your prices. Devise some kind of system that will let you become intimately familiar with the shelf price and sale price of food items you buy on a regular basis. It might be a small notebook you carry, a spreadsheet you maintain in your computer or app on your smartphone. Marketing campaigns take advantage of the ignorance of the buying public. You need to be smart enough to know a real deal when you see it and also detect a counterfeit. It’s difficult to find the humor in a sign that announces “Two for $2” unless you know the regular price is $.89 each. 

Set limits. Based on what you learn from knowing your prices, determine the per unit price above which you will not spend. For instance, I’ve learned I don’t have to spend more than $2 for a box of cereal. It’s not always available at that price–but when it is, I stock up to last until the next time. 

My personal limit for boneless skinless chicken breasts is $2.79 a pound. Sometimes I get it for less, but won’t pay more; $1.50 for 16 oz. salad dressing and so on. For the record, I typically count on coupons paired with sale prices to get these prices. However, really great sales alone can net really low prices, too.

Control portions. Dr. Dean Edell of radio fame and the author of Eat, Drink and Be Merry says the healthiest diet is not one that is low-fat or high-carb. The healthiest way to eat is to eat less–small amounts of a large variety of foods. It’s hard work for our bodies to digest and convert food. Dr. Edell maintains that we wear our bodies out prematurely when we over eat. You can learn what constitutes a “portion” on the package label. A single portion of breakfast cereal is 4 ounces. 

Tomorrow morning measure out 1/2 cup. Get prepared for that single serving to look a little puny. Chances are great that you’ve been having seconds and thirds. Hint: Rather than serving dinner family style (passing the food around the table), try restaurant style where the food is “plated” in the kitchen. Now the cook controls portion sizes–a great first step to reversing over consumption. 

Get creative. If you set your mind to it you will be amazed how many ways you can prepare rice or how you can stretch a pound of ground beef to feed a group. Use up the items in your refrigerator before dipping into your stockpile or buying a new supply. 

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