With food prices on the rise, feeding a family on a budget is becoming more difficult. Luckily, even with high prices, there are still plenty of basic, simple methods to save money on food.
1. Plan. Write down your weekly menu. Base the week's meals on what you have in your freezer and pantry, plus the weekly sales. Planning the week's meals with the calendar close at hand can help you to choose easier dinners for busy evenings. For example, a slow-cooker meal for the night your kids have sports practice. By thinking ahead, you prevent that last-minute fast food drive-thru because your kids are starving and you have no idea what's for dinner. This is also a great family activity since kids are more likely to eat what you serve, if they have input in meal planning.
2. Find the most inexpensive store in your area and do most of your shopping there. In a lower priced store, you might have to bag your own groceries and can often only pay with cash or cheque, but the savings are substantial. Keep shopping trips to a minimum. Shop at the inexpensive store for basics every one to two weeks, then hit the higher priced stores as needed for the sales.
3. Watch sales and stock up when prices are low. Sales go in cycles. For example, July is the most likely time to find picnic and barbeque items for less, and November sales often feature baking products. Keep an eye out for sales on your favorite products and stock up when prices drop. For instance, my kid's favorite canned soup goes on sale every few months, bringing the price from over $3 a can to $1. When I see this sale, I buy as many as are allowed by the store. A note about sales: stick to your list! Stores reduce the price on certain items to bring in customers. You can quickly lose what you saved if you buy more expensive items in addition to what you came for.
4. Buy in bulk. Many stores have items such as rice, flour, pasta and spices for sale in bulk bins. With the purchase of a few quality containers for storage, you can buy a small amount and still save. This is especially savvy for dried spices. I once filled my empty basil container from a bulk bin for 33 cents. The original jar cost over $6.
5. Look for specials on meat. Stores are legally obligated to sell meat by a certain date, and so they often cut prices dramatically when the expiration date is near. But watch the dates on packages carefully, you will need to use or freeze the product by the date listed on the package. In my city, whole chickens are on sale approximately twice a year. Since whole poultry freezes well for a year, I buy at least 10 and throw them in my deep freeze. A guide for freezing food here, www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/focus_on_freezing/index.asp.
6. Buy less processed food and cook or bake from scratch. This is especially true for snack and breakfast foods. You'll not only be saving your wallet, but possibly your family's health by switching to a healthier alternative. Or try this website, which generates recipes using ingredients that you have on hand, www.supercook.com/.
7. Save on produce. Fresh produce is expensive, but you can still shop smart. If you are lucky enough to have a local produce stand, shop there. I buy apples and onions by the box from my local stand. This brings the price down substantially and they keep well in the fridge or in the box on a cold garage floor, as long as you check through the box frequently to weed out any produce that is going bad. You can save on produce at the grocery store, too. Every store usually has at least one or two fresh items on sale each week. Buy veggies on sale, and do your menu planning around what is least expensive.
8. Reduce waste by using up any leftovers. When I have a little of this and a little of that, I reheat everything and set it up as a ‘leftover buffet.’ The kids love having choices, not to mention that they find it funny to have their spaghetti sharing a plate with the Mexican casserole. Or you could pack leftovers for lunch. Keep an eye on what you have in the fridge and plan accordingly because throwing away food is throwing away money!
All of these methods can help to reduce your grocery bill, but it takes time. Keep track of your spending over a few months and look at the average because the bill will fluctuate. It may take time to stock up, scope out the sales and develop new shopping habits. But in the end, the money saved is worth it.
Tiffany is a freelance writer and frugal mother of three children.
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