Need a foolproof way to cut your food/grocery expenses by 25 percent this month? Announce to your family that there will be a complete ban on the consumption of food during the first week of every month. There. That should do it! Twenty-five percent right off the top.
What?! Don’t think you can pull that off? Me either, but not to worry. Here are some less painful—and I hope a bit more realistic—ways to chop the high cost of food.
Create your shopping list at home when you are hungry. You will be more creative and thorough.
But never shop when hungry. You will be compelled to buy everything in sight regardless of what’s on your list.
Leave the kids at home. You will stick to your shopping list with much less frustration and stress if you fly solo.
Don’t shop at convenience or specialty stores. You won’t find many bargains there.
Groceries online. Online grocery shopping is the latest and greatest for many (me!). It keeps me out of the supermarket where, even with a list, I’m an impulsive disaster just waiting to happen. I shop at KingSoopers (part of the Kroger Family of stores) and pay a flat fee of $4.95 per order for its ClickList service. (Read more about that here.) Walmart groceries online with free same-day pickup is now available at hundreds of Walmart stores nationwide (store locator). Walmart does not charge a pickup fee but has a minimum order requirement of $30.
Add a pinch of salt to milk and shake well to make it last longer. Salt retards the growth of bacteria that makes milk turn sour. Such a small amount will not alter the taste or be detectable in any way.
Avoid leftovers. Your good intentions to make enough for lunch tomorrow too, will more than likely ensure you growing biology specimens in the back of the fridge. Prepare just what you will consume at one meal. (Exception: If you prepare an entire extra casserole to freeze for some later date, I don’t consider that leftovers; that’s a great idea.)
Stretch fruit juice. Mix 50/50 with generic brand club soda or seltzer.
Stretch concentrated fruit juice. Always add one can of water more than instructions state. You will be pleasantly surprised when you detect little difference if any.
Drink water. Your doctor will love you and so will your food bill. Keep a pitcher of chilled water in the fridge. Rave about its wonderful qualities to your young children. They’ll think it’s a treat if you are convincing enough.
Eliminate choices at meals. Stick to your plan and let your family know that from now on there will be only two choices: take it or leave it.
Come up with creative menu titles for what otherwise might be considered plain and boring: Baked Potato Bar; Chef Salad Night; Bits and Pieces (my kids favorite meal when they were little) which is any combination of things in the fridge cut up to bite-size, cleverly arranged on a plate then ceremoniously sprinkled with seasoned salt and eaten with a toothpick. Smorgasbord Night (a glorious array of this and that; you know … leftovers that you wouldn’t even think of throwing away); Hors-d’oeuvres and Mocktails. You get the idea.
Learn to make homemade snacks. Popcorn is easy to make and is usually inexpensive if you buy the kernels and pop it yourself from scratch.
Buy in bulk. This will cut down your trips to the grocery and will often save as much as 50 percent of the unit cost. Reorganize your kitchen and pantry. Find places outside of kitchen to store dry and canned goods. Repackage large amounts into small units.
Consider generic and store brands. Some generic items are awful and others are exactly the same product as the name brand. Do some experimenting, especially if your store offers “satisfaction guaranteed!” If you don’t like it get a refund or an exchange.
Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. This is where you will typically find the produce, meat, and dairy. The center aisles are the prepackaged and preprocessed high-priced items, a.k.a. the danger zone.
Keep a price book. Start keeping a notebook which lists the prices of regularly purchased items at various stores. Keep it with you so that as you see specials or ads you’ll be able to determine whether it is really a bargain or not.
Avoid shopping on the first day or two of the month. Some stores have been known to raise their prices during the time Welfare and Social Security checks come out.
Shop midweek. According to studies, on Wednesdays, most supermarkets reduce prices on food that is about to expire. This is also the day that the majority of stores start their new sales.
Shop the sales. Check grocery ads for specials, then base your week’s meals on what is on sale. The closer you can stick to buying only what’s on sale, the more you’ll cut your costs.
Odd hours are good. Shop late in the day, then ask the butcher, bakery and produce person if there is anything they will be marking down. You’ll be surprised how helpful these folks can be and you’ll get the best of the sale items.
Don’t shop when you are exhausted. You will not be as disciplined or effective.
Use powdered milk in baking. If recipe calls for cream or condensed milk, use only half the usual amount of water you would use with the dry milk.
Purchase foods when they are in season, especially produce. But buy off-season meats; typically, roasts are on sale items during summer months as steaks tend to be popular while roasts are not. Buy the sale meats and freeze. If you buy a large piece of meat, cut it into portions for quick thawing later.
Weigh all produce even if it is priced per item. You won’t believe the difference in weight of the pre-bagged carrots, for instance. Even with a weight printed on the bag, the real weight may be quite different (and it can be, provided it is not less than printed). Heads of lettuce priced individually can differ in weight by as much as half a pound.
Question: What clever grocery shopping tricks do you have up your sleeve? Oh, please share with us in the comments below!