Saving Money On Food – 13 Ways To Slash Your Grocery Bill

Do you find yourself spending more than you wanted to on groceries? Here are a few tips for saving money on food – 13 ways to slash your grocery bill!

Saving Money On Food
Saving Money On Food

Here you are in the checkout line of your local grocery store. Do you watch in horror as the numbers on the display register go up and up…and up? How many times have you cringed when the cashier announced your total? Yup. Me, too.

How did this happen? You just went in for a couple of items and now you’re wondering how to adjust your monthly budget to account for this comestible catastrophe. Well, this episode may be water under the bridge but let’s look ahead and talk about saving money on food the next time you go shopping.

With some planning and critical thinking, there are ways to slash your grocery bill!

Have A Game Plan

Have a Game Plan
Have a Game Plan

First, I’ll say this: All that money you just (over)spent? Not entirely your fault. Grocery stores pay people to come up with ways to entice you to spend as much as they can entice you to spend. The store set-up, end cap displays, lighting, colors, shopping carts, the yummy smells? All part of their diabolical plan to make you spend more. There are 2 important things you can do to overcome this psychological warfare before you even leave your house!

Make a meal plan: This isn’t as hard as it seems. What are you having for dinner tonight? Why not double it and have the rest for lunch tomorrow? Two meals down. Maybe grab some oatmeal, raisins and yogurt for overnight oats or granola parfaits to take to work for breakfast this week? Now you’re down 7 meals. That’s ⅓ of your entire meal plan and it just took a minute. See how easy that was?

Make a shopping list: Now, use that meal plan to make your shopping list. I’m going to assume you’ll be shopping in the same store that you always do, so, with that in mind, set up your shopping list in the order that you’ll be walking the store. Does the entrance lead you to the produce section first? List all your produce items first, then (for example) all your meat items followed by the dairy items.

Once you hit the aisles of the store, group items together that will probably be in the same section (all the spices together, all the baking items together, etc.) This will prevent you from backtracking and being further tempted by all those sneaky displays!

Into The Fray

Into The Fray
Into The Fray

Stick to your list: Do it like it’s your job. No unauthorized purchases, no maybe-I-can-use-its, no gosh-that-looks-goods. Keep your eyes forward and only stop for the things on your list.

… Unless you don’t stick to your list: OK, so there’s that Manager’s Special on chicken. That really good special. Riddle me this: Do you eat chicken? A lot? Can you break that package down into smaller portions for storage? Do you have room in your freezer? Can afford to spend the extra money this week? If you can answer “yes” to every single question, then go ahead and pick up a package.

Stay In Your Own Lane: No unplanned off-ramps. No side trips down aisles “just to check it out”. Stick to the store perimeter and only enter the aisles that have items you planned to buy.

Stick To The Basics

Stick To The Basics
Stick To The Basics

Learn to read the shelf tags: These tags help you to discern the true value of an item compared to another by breaking down the cost per unit (such as ounce, pound or individual item). Once you know how to do this, the following advice is easy to check out.

Do your own prep work: Food in its most unprocessed form is always less expensive than pre-cut or prepared items. A few examples of this are:

  • Whole carrots compared to baby carrots or matchstick
  • The whole roast compared to steaks or stew meat*
  • A block of cheese compared to pre-sliced or shredded cheese

Doing your own prep work does take more time, but I find that it’s easier to just do it all when I get home from the store. Some like to set aside some time on their day off to all the prep work for the week while others prefer to just prep for the meal that they’re cooking. You can play around with different methods until you find one that works for you!

*I’m not going to discuss edible yield in regard to meats here as I find the bone-in/boneless argument is usually more of a personal choice than a cost point.

Size doesn’t matter: Bigger is not always less expensive. Use the shelf tag to determine which size is truly the best value.

Buy generic: Many lesser-known brands are a better value than the Big Guys. Make sure to read the ingredient and nutrition labels to make sure it’s as high quality as the name brand.

Put down the frozen french fries: For real. Just do it. Put back those individual packets of flavored oatmeal while you’re at it. These two items, on average, cost twice as much per unit as their unprocessed counterparts (fresh potatoes and old-fashioned rolled oats). That’s true of most convenience foods. The truth is that it doesn’t take much more time to make these items fresh.

Ban Junk Food

Ban Junk Food
Ban Junk Food

The average American spends almost 25% of their grocery budget on processed, convenience, pre-made and snack foods. Don’t believe me? Dig out your last grocery receipt and add it up. I’m positive it’s more than you think it is.

Ask yourself how much of that food was eaten mindlessly? It’s easy to prepare (if it needs any preparation at all) so it’s easy to just grab some to chow down while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. Seriously, when was the last time you wondered why there were only crumbs in the bottom of the chip bag? And did you really eat all the microwavable pizza nuggets?

Now ask yourself if you’re really going to spend that much money on things you didn’t even enjoy eating. Surely if you had enjoyed them, you would have remembered actually eating them. Think of how much you’re going to enjoy keeping all that money right in your bank account from now on!

OK, yes, you’re gonna want cookies. These no-bake cookies come together in less than 15 minutes for about $3.50, which is less than ½ the price of buying the same amount of the same cookies pre-made.

I found some other great ideas in this post from honestfoods.com.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

Be bold. Be unafraid. Get out there and go shopping. You’ve got this.

 

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Shopping For One Person

Shopping For One Person
Shopping For One Person

Shopping for one person seems like it should be easy. After all, it’s just you, right? You know what foods you like to eat. You know how to make them. You know your schedule for the week so you know how many lunches you’ll be packing, how many nights you’ll be eating at home and whether you’ll be entertaining. Why, then, do you always end up throwing away all that limp produce and a-few-too-many-days-old chicken? And, yup. The bread is stale. Again.

There are a number of factors at play here, but typically the problem starts at the grocery store. Because it seems so easy. You know what you’re out of and you may even have a vague idea of what you’d like to prepare for dinner. So you get to the store and begin to shop but soon enough things go awry.

You see that tomatoes are on sale so you decide to get a few extra. There wasn’t a plan to get bananas but they’re perfectly ripe and certainly look tasty. And what’s that over there on the day-old bakery rack? By the time you get to the checkout, you’ve purchased waaaaayyyyyyyyy more than you had intended. And guess what? Some of that surplus is not going to make it anywhere but the trash can.

Now, don’t beat yourself up too badly because it’s not entirely your fault. Grocery stores are in the business of selling you groceries. They pay people to devise a plan to entice you to buy as much as they can possibly entice you to buy. What you need is a plan of your very own.

Make a Healthy Meal Plan

Make a Healthy Meal Plan
Make a Healthy Meal Plan

The first step in conquering the grocery store is to make a healthy meal plan. It may sound complicated but it’s really not.

Remember how you sort of knew what you wanted to eat the last time you went shopping? Well, write it down. BOOM! Meal plan. At least for one meal, anyway.

And you don’t need to make 21 separate meal plans for the week. What are you having for dinner? You could make double and nuke the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Or even triple if it’s something you really think you’d eat three times this week. Maybe you could make this Basic Overnight Oats Recipe for a few of your breakfasts. You get the idea.

Keep in mind that whole foods meal plans don’t need to be fancy. You don’t have to buy expensive food, have gourmet cooking skills or large blocks of time. Throw a piece of chicken and a potato in the oven while you microwave a bowl of frozen carrots. There you have it. Whole. Foods. Meal. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Organize a Shopping List

Organize a Shopping List
Organize a Shopping List

Now that you have your meal plan created, it’s time to organize a shopping list. Yes, I do mean organize.

I’m sure you’re already familiar with the setup of your preferred grocery store so make the list in the order that you’ll be walking the store.

For example, list all your fresh produce items together, followed by seafood, meat and dairy. As you get to the “aisle items” part of your list, think about what items might be in the same aisle and list them accordingly. If you have to keep backtracking to get the items you forgot to get while you were there, you might decide it’s just easier to just get a can of spaghetti and a bag of chips for dinner.

Size Matters

If you take the time to read the shelf tags at the store (that list the items’ price per pound, ounce or piece) you know that size matters.

Generally, the larger the package, the lower the unit price. So, you might ask, does ever make sense for a single person to buy food in bulk in order to save money? The answer is a resounding…maybe.

The questions to ask yourself are these: How can this be stored and for how long? Do you have the space to store it? Will you use it all before its “time is up”?

One thing to consider is whether the items can be frozen. Things like meats/poultry and bread products can easily be broken down into serving-sized packages and frozen.

Many meats and poultry can be frozen for up to a year while bread products are best used within 3 months. Fish and Shellfish are trickier as items in the showcase are likely to have been previously frozen so refreezing might compromise the quality. The safer bet, in this case, would be to buy these items in the freezer section of the seafood department.

Many fresh fruits, vegetables and berries can be prepped (seeded/peeled and sliced/chopped) then spread in a single layer and placed in the freezer. When solid, they can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for 12-18 months. While they will not retain the crisp texture they had when fresh, they will work perfectly well for cooking and pureeing.

This leaves the vast number of shelf-stable and refrigerated items that are available in larger “family size” portions but would not hold up to being frozen. This is where the expiration or sell-by date comes in. Look at the date and ask yourself if you will realistically use it all before then. If the answer is no, it’s better to opt for smaller or single-serve portions. You’re not saving money if you end up throwing the food away.

Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)

Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)
Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of the frozen food aisle? Pizza? Corn dogs? Ice cream?

A large portion of that part of the store is dedicated to processed foods. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find plenty of healthy choices there.

For a single person, buying whole foods frozen might be the answer to your prayers. Think vegetables, fruits, berries and bread. No prep. No waste. No muss. No fuss.

Be aware that there are pitfalls even in the healthy section of the deep freeze (who knew?). Avoid vegetables with added ingredients such as sauces or cheese. And don’t bother with the more expensive “steam in” bags as you probably won’t be cooking an entire 12-16 oz bag to eat in one sitting. Make sure fruits are packaged without added sugar or syrups. When in doubt, read the ingredient label. The only item listed there should match the picture on the front of the container.

On Your Mark…Get Set…Go!!!!!!

On Your Mark...Get Set...Go!!!!!!
On Your Mark…Get Set…Go!!!!!!

It’s time to take a deep breath, get out there and shop. You’ve got this.

Cynthia

Cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

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