Like it or not, food prices are going up. It’s inevitable, after all…everything goes up eventually…but for some reason prices have this nasty habit of going up faster than salaries.
Economizing at the grocery store (along with reducing electricity and fuel use) is an effective method of belt tightening, but a surprising number of people just don’t understand how to shop in such a way to reduce their costs. Here are a few tips:
1. Stick a piece of paper to the refrigerator door with a magnet and put a pen on top of the fridge. Each time you run low (don’t wait until you are completely out) on something, write it on the piece of paper. At the end of the week you will have a list of the things that you need to buy at the store. Stick to the list (with the exceptions noted below).
2. Buy items you use a lot of in bulk quantities. For example, buying toilet paper one roll at a time is the most costly way of doing it. Buy the largest quantity you can (9 or 12 roll pack of TP, for example), especially when it is on sale. This does not apply to perishables unless you can freeze them: you can freeze butter, for example, but not apples.
3. Stock up on things that are on sale and will not spoil before you use them: toilet paper, pasta in sealed cello bags, rice, sugar (if you can store it in air-tight containers), cleaning and laundry supplies. When possible, shop at warehouse-type stores card and buy such items as laundry soap and bleach in large containers. Skip expensive pre-treating compounds and use a paste of laundry soap and water to treat stains.
4. Reduce your use of chemical cleaners: use white vinegar (and newspaper) to clean glass and mirrors, to polish surfaces. Use salt and vinegar for scouring brass and copper. Purchase a store-brand multi-purpose cleaner in large containers for general purpose cleaning and decant into smaller spray bottles. Buy kitchen liquid soap in a gallon-sized container and decant it into a smaller bottle for daily use. Use laundry bleach to clean your toilet and shower. Teak oil is much less expensive than such things as Pledge and your wood loves it better: use it for wood furniture (indoors and out), natural wood floors, door and window frames.
5. Canned foods that you use frequently…tuna or canned fruits and veg…purchase in quantity when they are on sale or buy in quantity. Do not, however, purchase large cans unless you can use the entire contents in a day or two, otherwise the product will spoil.
6. If you use zipper-type plastic bags, buy the best brands and wash and re-use the bags. Cheap bags don’t last and ultimately cost more in the long run (because you have to keep replacing them).
Convenience is costly
7. Wean yourself away from disposable stuff. Instead of paper towels, buy reusable wipes and run them through the laundry. To keep them from shredding in the wash, cut the leg off an old pair of pantyhose (surely you save those things…don’t we all?) and put the wipes inside the leg, knot it shut, and toss in the wash with your jeans.
8. Give up expensive habits: stop smoking; stop take out; make fast food a treat rather than a regular alternative to cooking. Stop buying soft drinks…make them an occasional treat rather than a part of daily life. Water is better for you than coffee, tea, or cola, anyway. Not bottled water…tap water. Water quality questionable? Boil the water and store it in clean containers for drinking.
9. At the store, buy seasonal fruits only. Out-of-season fruits and veg, no matter how tempting to your taste buds, are a disaster to your pocket.
10. Think before you buy…learn to calculate the cost per unit so that you can intelligently compare prices…you could get some big surprises! You would think that it would be cheaper to buy whole fruit and cut it yourself rather than buy fruit already sliced, right? Well, if pre-cut strawberries and whole strawberries are the same price, the cut berries are actually a better buy because you aren’t buying any waste. It isn’t until the cut strawberries cost more than the whole berries (with green tops on) that the whole berries are the better buy.
11. The same applies to meat, where there can be a lot of waste. Meat should be purchased on a “cost per serving” basis rather than “cost per pound.” You see, if you buy cheap hamburger, you are buying a lot of fat that will be rendered out during cooking, reducing the amount of actual meat per serving. Look at a piece of meat and try to figure out how much of it is fat, gristle, and bone…you will pay for these bits at the same price you pay for the meat, but you will throw that stuff away. So, if you pay $7 for a pound of meat that is 50% waste, you are actually paying $7 for half a pound of edible meat, or $14 per pound for the meat. Rather than throw away half of your money in the form of bones, fat and gristle, buy a smaller quantity of a higher quality meat…save money and improve the quality of your meals.
12. When meats are on sale, buy a larger quantity than usual then, at home, cut the extra into serving size pieces and freeze. Wrap in foil or put in zipper freezer bags, both of which can be cleaned and re-used. When available and on sale, buy large quantities of chicken parts and make up meal-sized packets for freezing.
13. Do your meal planning in the market: upon entering, go directly to the meat department to see which meat/poultry/fish are on special. Choose your meats for the week, deciding at the time of purchase what you are going to prepare with each one. Then, go to the produce department and collect the necessary produce for the meals, concentrating on the items on sale. Stay away from specialty produce, like endive and baby corn, and concentrate on staples like potatoes and carrots (the cheapest ones, not the peeled baby carrots!), and flavourful items like onion and garlic.
14. Cook things that the leftovers can be the basis of another meal. Make a bigger beef roast than usual, serve only two-thirds of it. Keep back the other third for the basis of a stew the following day. Serve a roasted chicken, then use the leftover bones, skin, and meat as the base of a chicken soup or stew the following day.
15. Take advantage of inexpensive meats like smoked ham hocks that can be used to flavour a pot of dried beans, split peas, or lentils and make a delicious, filling meal at a remarkably low cost.
16. Make meatless meals out of seasonal vegetables: leek and potato soup, or even just potato soup. Eggs…omelettes, for example, or frittatas…are not just for breakfast, you know.
17. Make hamburger go further by making dishes like spaghetti sauce, chili con carne or tamale pie. Make a meatloaf, meatballs, or hamburger patties using bread (soak in water and wring out) or oatmeal as an extender.
18. Eliminate brand name cereals: buy store-brand cereals and make cooked oatmeal (not instant) for breakfast. Liven up the flavour with a drizzle of honey, some sliced fruit, or a spoonful of jam.
19. Pack lunches for family members. Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and most children love peanut butter sandwiches. A piece of fruit, a tub of store-brand yoghurt, and a bottle of fruit juice (not those expensive juice boxes…decant juice that you buy in large containers into smaller plastic bottles), and perhaps one or two cookies makes a fine lunch. Instead of expensive cold cuts, make egg or tuna salad (lots of protein, inexpensive). And buy cheese in blocks rather than slices, and use a cheese slicer to cut sandwich-sized slices.
20. Shop at a low cost supermarket…you can save hundreds by staying out of the premium, high-end stores.
21. Don’t waste precious fuel by driving from one market to the next to take advantage of every market’s sale. Spending $1 on gas to save a nickel on peas is penny wise and dollar foolish.
22. Whenever possible, grow your own: tomatoes can be grown in pots on even a small balcony, and you can plant a dwarf lemon or orange tree in a half barrel…and then plant leaf lettuce (which you will harvest by cutting leaves carefully off the plant, allowing it to grow even more) in a circle around the tree trunk. Voila! Free salad!
Not all of these suggestions work for every household, but employing as many as you can will surely reduce the amount of money you fork over to the market every month.