For this month’s content carnival with my fellow Canadian bloggers, we are sharing our ideas on saving money. Since I volunteer as a Community Food Advisor here in London, Ontario, I thought I’d share my top 10 tips for saving money on groceries. Feeding your family on a budget is one of our most popular topic requests!
- Create a meal plan. I like to do mine one week at a time the day the grocery store flyers come out so that I can take advantage of the items on sale. I happen to live within 2 kms of 7 different grocery stores, most of which are within a store or two of each other. Because of that, I sometimes shop at 2-3 different stores to really get in on those sale prices but that’s only practical if they’re really close together or you may use up those savings in the extra gas money expended. In addition, when you have a plan, it means that a) you will only buy what you need, b) you are more likely to use up what you buy instead of letting it spoil before you have the chance to, and c) you can make use of planned leftovers. For example, in our house, we often take advantage of sales on whole chickens because at a good sale price, they’re cheaper than any other type of chicken but we know that with only two of us home, we’ll have enough leftovers to make a small casserole or chicken salad.
- Make and use a list. This is somewhat related to creating a meal plan as it will form the basis for your list but it can be so important in avoiding impulse buys. When my daughter was little, she knew that the rule was that we couldn’t buy it unless it was on the list and you wouldn’t believe how effective that was in avoiding arguments in the store. Now, that doesn’t mean I NEVER vary from the list. Sometimes, I’ll get to the store and find that they have marked down some meat that is close to expiration and the deal is just too good to pass up. These items are put into the freezer and incorporated into the following week’s meal plan. It’s also important to know what you already have at home. I keep a running inventory of my pantry and freezer so that things don’t disappear into them and are forgotten.
- Don’t go to the store while hungry. You’ve probably heard this before but it really is true that we’re more likely to buy more (and often higher priced junk food) when we’re hungry.
- Try to do the majority of your shopping on the perimeter of the store. In most stores, this is where most of the “real food” is: meat, produce, dairy, and so on. As for the rest of the store, I ONLY go down the aisles that have food on my list. (this tip not only saves you money – it’s generally better for your health and your waistline!) Watch out for the “loss leaders” and other sale items that are often placed on the end-caps of each aisle. If you find one that isn’t on your list, really stop and ask yourself if it’s something you’ll truly use and if it’s really a bargain. Because they place their loss leaders there (food generally sold at below store cost to draw shoppers in and hopefully get them to spend more on other items), you CAN frequently find some great deals with these items. It’s just really important to pause and think about it before tossing the items into your cart.
- Be aware of the strategies that grocery stores use to try to entice you to spend more money. For example: scents like the smell of bread baking, roast chickens cooking, and so on; placing items like fresh flowers near the front door where you’re more likely to be attracted to the colourful display and make an impulse buy; putting the milk right at the back of the store so you have to trudge through the whole thing just to get to it (and hopefully will make some spontaneous purchases along the way); placing the higher priced items at eye level (making you reach or bend for the cheaper ones); handing out samples; playing music to encourage shoppers to feel relaxed and more likely to stay longer; marking items as being on sale (just that word can entice many people to buy without stopping to think about what the regular price might be and whether the item is truly something they need); labelling items as “gourmet”; providing larger shopping carts in hopes you’ll fill them up. By being aware of these tricks and following your plan and your list, you can keep them from outsmarting you!
- Learn to use cheaper cuts of meat. I make use of my slow cooker a lot. It’s a great way to slowly braise cheaper tougher cuts of meat and turn them tender and delicious. Marinades can also come in handy for this. I will place the meat in a plastic freezer bag or container, pour in the marinade, and place it in the freezer. It will marinade while in the freezer and you’ll save money AND time!
- Make use of food items you might normally throw away. No one likes the crusts of bread in your house? Let them dry out and then use your food processor to grind them down into breadcrumbs. Save the bones of the chicken or the shells of the shellfish you made and make stock out of them. Know you just won’t get a chance to use the rest of those carrots or squash before they spoil? Cook them up, puree them and freeze the puree (I like to freeze it in ice cube trays). A few cubes added to meatloaf or spaghetti sauce can help stretch the meat further and add some hidden nutrients to the food.
- Avoid buying pre-packaged salads or fruits and veggies that have already been cut up for you. I spend 45 minutes preparing my own produce on the weekend (when I have more time) so that it’s all set and ready to just grab and go on those busy days during the week. It’s still just as convenient and saves me money. When it came to those pre-packaged lunches marketed to children, I wanted something that was not only less expensive, but also healthier for my daughter. So, I bought a couple of plastic food containers that had dividers in them and I labelled them “Momables”. She still got a little lunch buffet in a cute container but it was personalized to her favourite foods. Today’s trend of Bento style lunches is similar (but WAY more creative than I was – the most she got was sandwiches or pieces of cheese cut with cookie cutters).
- Buy in bulk when practical. Now personally, I don’t have tons of space in my home that I can (or want to) take up with hundreds of canned or dry goods or something. Honestly, many items at the grocery store go on sale fairly frequently for about the same prices so I’d rather they store it for me until I need it. However, there will be times when you find an item that is on sale for an insanely low price. Before you stock up though, just ask yourself a few questions like: do I have adequate room for storing these items?, are these items that we use in my house frequently?, how long will it take my family to use up this quantity?.
- Know your prices and utilize coupons where possible. Some people I know keep a price book so they always know what the regular price of an item is and can analyze if an advertized sale is truly a good deal or not. I was never that patient but I did at least try to keep track of the main items that we purchased on a regular basis. Coupons can be a great way to save some money but you have to be careful about how you use them. Again, you need to think about whether the item is really a bargain even with a coupon or not and whether it’s an item that your family will realistically use.
Those are the main ones that I’ve made use of throughout the years and in the workshops that I teach. What are some of your favourite tips for saving money at the grocery store?