The cost of pretty much everything is going up these days, and though you can scale back on the non-essentials, you still need basics like, oh, say, food. Along with and partially due to gas prices, food prices have been steadily rising and will likely continue to go up, so unless you’ve learned how to grow a Money Tree, you may want to alter the way you shop. Here are some common and some not-so-common tips that can help you save some big dollars in a little time.
Shop with a Calculator
If you’re trying to stick to a budget at the grocery, calculating costs in your head might work for the first few items, but as your shopping cart fills up, you’ll eventually just start guesstimating at your total and likely end up over-budget. Bring a calculator, a shopping list and a notepad and keep track of everything you’re going to purchase. Remember to factor in discounts and applicable taxes and there should be few surprises at the check-out line. For you smartphone fanatics, try using a grocery list app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry phones to help keep you organized and even help you find grocery coupons on-the-fly!
Try Extreme Couponing
If you’ve never heard of it, extreme couponing is when a deft coupon hunter takes advantage of a number of factors (double coupon days, buy one get one free, buying in bulk, etc.) to buy hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of groceries while only paying pennies on the dollar after coupons are accounted for. There are many different levels of extreme couponing, and you don’t have to be a reality show-level pro to save some serious cash. Learning all the little tricks of the trade may seem overwhelming, but there are countless websites and blogs on the Internet that offer assistance. Our own Printable Coupons section is a great place to start!
Buy in Bulk
Wholesale stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s sell pretty much everything, and most often they sell in bulk and at a deep discount. Consider joining a wholesale club and take advantage of their great savings on food. Just remember not to overbuy, even though the deals are tempting, and be mindful of expiration dates–you don’t want to waste money on food you won’t get around to eating. If you’ve got the freezer space, consider vacuum-sealing and freezing any freezer-friendly extras you might buy.
Start a Buying Club
Another great way to get food at wholesale prices is to start a buying club with your friends, neighbors, family or even coworkers. Several people can get together and form a group that is able to buy directly from wholesale food companies, such as the companies that sell food to restaurants. There’s a bit more work involved, but the rewards are phenomenal!
Cook From Scratch
Sure it’s easier to go to a restaurant or toss a prepared meal in the microwave, but you end up paying so much more for that convenience. Preparing food yourself saves a bundle and also yields much more food per dollar. If you’re a cooking newbie, pick up a basic cook book or enroll in a cooking class! Kitchen stores like Chef Central and Central Market–and even supermarkets like Whole Foods–sometimes hold cooking classes for cheap or even free.
Try Freezer Cooking
Freezer Cooking is a great way to save both money and time by cooking in bulk. This is especially great if you’re not fond of cooking everyday and it’s also a fantastic social activity you can do with your friends. Buy food in bulk, and then prepare two weeks’ or even two months’ worth of meals, properly freeze them, and then BAM! Pop one of your pre-prepped meals in the oven or microwave for your own instant, homemade dinner.
Join a Co-Op
Shopping at a food co-op is a great way to save money and support local farmers, and by joining and/or volunteering you’re eligible for even more discounts. Being a member also allows you to contribute to and have a say in the business. Find out if there’s a co-op near you and get to saving!
Items in your grocery store aren’t laid out all willy-nilly; stores are specially designed to make you spend the most money possible. Generally, higher priced items are placed at eye-level to entice you, so remember to look up and bend down to find the best deals. Also, be mindful of end-cap and special product stands. They’re designed to look like there’s a discount, but that isn’t always the case. Ooh, and don’t forget to check the “Specials” aisle for seasonal and clearance deals!
Buy Locally & In-Season
It’s nice that we’re able to have fancy fruits and vegetables from all over the world year round, but transporting fresh bananas from South America and shrimp from the Philippines makes those products more expensive. Buy your favorite foods from local sources when they are in season, then freeze or preserve them for the months ahead. It’s much cheaper and you’ll likely have less wasted food! (For even more preservation methods, try canning at home.)
Grow Your Own Groceries
A great way to save money and become more self-sufficient (AND reduce your carbon footprint) is to grow your own veggies, fruits and herbs. Find out what the best plants are for your area and how to tend to them, and then get to planting! If you live in an apartment or urban area, don’t despair. There are many different ways to grow in the space you have, so do a little research and get creative!