A long time ago, when hubby and I were first living together and I was doing our weekly grocery shopping, I used to do a mental tally. If I did our weekly grocery trip, I’d count the number of bags and divide that into our total bill. So if I had ten shopping bags full of stuff and our total was $100, it was costing me roughly $10 per bag of groceries. Over the years, while this is hardly scientific research, I found that week by week, my cost per bag was about the same regardless of how many bags I purchased. Lately though, I am finding that my cost per bag has skyrocketed up to as much as $20-$25 per bag! Sure, some of this is due to me getting lazy with my couponing and other things, but it’s due largely in part to rising food costs. So I am getting back on the strict budgeting bandwagon and going to get this number down. Here are some of the ideas I use.
1. Meal Plan-Do a weekly meal plan for 5 meals every week. That leaves one night for leftovers and one night for “skips” or pizza or takeout or a treat.
2. Make a list and stick to it-Old advice, but it works. Once you do your meal plan, make sure that those are the ONLY items you purchase for dinners that week, nothing else. Add in what you need for breakfast, lunch & snacks, and you are done.
3. Be prepared to alter your meal plan-Say you have your meal plan and your list, but then you see some greatly reduced spaghetti, sauce, and day old bread. Scratch one of the meals off your list and insert this cheaper one.
4. Look B4 U Go-Take a minute or two before you go, and do a visual scan of your pantry, cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. This will serve as a quick reminder of items you DO NOT need to purchase while you are there. If it helps, add a “do not buy” section to your shopping list.
5. Use coupons-Sure, the Extreme Couponing fad appears to have been just that, a fad. But coupons are here to stay. Savvy shopper still use them all the time and they do save you money on your favorite products. You don’t have to spend $2-$3 on a Sunday paper–SmartSource, Coupons.com, RedPlum and other sites all have tons of printable coupons, so you’re only printing what you’re going to use.
6. Shopper Loyalty programs-Sign up for your store’s card for the discounts. Don’t want to use your name? Then put “Loyal” as your first name and “Customer” as your last name. Not only will you get the sale prices on items, many stores print out specialized coupons just for you, based on your buying habits.
7. Register your loyalty card-Register it online so that you get the special coupons emailed to you for printing.
9. Shop around-remember that your grocery store may not have the cheapest prices all the time. For example, Walgreens regularly has Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on sale for $3, whereas at my grocery stores the regular price is $4.79. Most people don’t think to go to Walgreens for ice cream, but at that price it’s an affordable treat. I know lots of moms who use the Zaycon service for meats and produce and are happy with it (I’ve never tried it). Of course, be mindful of your time and gas, I’m not saying you should be running to 10 different places.
10. Don’t waste food-Most studies say that Americans throw away as much as 40% of the food they purchase. Closely monitor this and take care of it. Throwing away purchased food=throwing away money.
11. Don’t go to the store hungry-You’re more likely to not only buy more food, but also purchase more junk food and snacks.
12. Go meatless or expand your meal horizons-As you get into meal planning, add in 1-2 meatless meals every week. On average, they cost less. Learn to prepare and eat different cuts of meat-namely the less expensive ones. Ask your butcher about the different cuts and what needs to be cooked and marinated longer. Learn to make quiches and frittattas, which have many varieties without meat.
13. Grocery outlets-I don’t care for them, but lots of people like them. They are cheaper on average and most don’t take coupons. Make sure you are careful of expiration dates.
14. Generics and store brands-Buy generics and store brand items when you can. Even if you don’t care for the flavor or texture of some items, purchase generic items like flour, sugar, rice and other items that will be cooked into something else.
15. Soft drinks, soda, juice-Ditch them. No really. Treat them as a “treat,” like it was when we were kids. Soda/pop is meant to be a treat, not an every day thing. Need a caffeine jolt? Drink tea or green tea which has health benefits. Absolutely need flavor in your water? Use lemon, lime or cucumber slices.
16. Take cash-Set your weekly grocery budget and take that much cash with you. Leave all your credit and debit cards at home, and you won’t go over your budget!
17. Warehouse clubs-If you are going to use them, make sure that you are getting your money’s worth, as far as the membership fee. It takes a LOT of grocery savings to get to $35 or $50, which is what many of these clubs cost. Use the freebie offers that they put out, like when they give you a card good for a day or a month, to try it out. Use your phone/calculator to make sure you are paying less–many times you are not. Try to use the ones that take coupons, some do. And make sure that if you are forced to purchase a large variety pack of something, that your family will in fact eat all of the flavors included. If you throw out 6 of 36 cups of yogurt because no one eats plain yogurt…you just wasted about 20% savings.
18. Use household items-Items like baking soda, vinegar, they have a number of other things they can be used for. Use them for cleaning and deodorizing when you can and it’s much cheaper than purchasing cleaning products. Use cloth rags instead of paper towels.
19. NO convenience foods-We all purchase more convenience foods than we realize. Make your oatmeal from whole oats instead of the packets. Buy whole heads of lettuce instead of the bags of salad. Buy whole carrots and whole apples instead of prewashed, presliced, prepackaged things. Buy a whole big bag of pretzels and just stick a handful in a baggie or container for lunch each day, instead of the lunch box packs. Even a pouch of Betty Crocker cookie mix with 1 egg and some butter is cheaper than a package of store bought cookies. Plus, they taste better and it’s a great afternoon activity for you and your kids.
20. Invest in a decent set of BPA-free reusable containers-My favorite are the Lock & Locks and I’ve now been using the same set for 7 years. After dinner, I put whatever is leftover, a portion in each container (instead of just covering the whole plate or bowl) before putting in the fridge. Makes it easy to grab and toss into lunch boxes in the morning.
21. Take the time to put groceries away properly-Just like they do in the stores, rotate your items by expiration dates. You won’t end up tossing any lost yogurts or brown watery veggies or moldy bread. Bring out the oldest stuff and put the new stuff to the back.
22. Take the time to do your own single serve or make your own convenience foods-When I get home, I take the time to rinse my grapes and break the bunch into single servings and put each one in a container. Same goes for all berries, fruits, pretzels and other things that will get used for lunches. It makes us all eat healthier and pack our own lunches (instead of expensive eating out) because it’s all ready to go in the morning.
23. Cut things in half-Paper towels, dryer sheets…I take lots of items like that and cut them in half. Instantly doubles my supply. I also only use about a half to a third of what is recommended for both laundry and my dishwasher and our things are still clean.
24. Ditch brand loyalty-Find a few brands that you like for the products you use and rotate your purchases based on sales and coupons. If you are sticking with one particular brand, chances are you’re not even looking at the price!
25. Buy less-Sounds simple, but it works. If you normally buy a pound of deli meat or cheese and end up throwing some away, buy 3/4 of a pound instead. Buy 6 bananas instead of 8, if you often find yourself throwing out brown bananas.
26. Ditch bottled water-It’s not any better for you and quite often it just comes from regular faucets at a factory some place. It’s terrible for our environment. Drink from your household faucet and if you insist your water is not potable, get a Brita or a Pur filter. Get a BPA free water bottle for everyone that needs one for work or school.
27. Learn how to repurpose or use items-My son won’t eat the ends of the bread. So, I turn it on the inside, put the peanut butter and jelly on the “end” side, and voila! He never knows. My hubby won’t eat brown bananas as a rule, but if I make them into Bananas Foster, he will. Given how my grandmother brought me up, which was not to waste ANYTHING, I am amazed at how picky my family is at times. But, I can usually find a way to avoid throwing it out. I will scrape crystals off of ice cream and make it into a fruit smoothie or make stale bread into stuffing or homemade croutons.
28. No impulse purchases or otherwise falling victim to marketing-When I say ‘impulse purchase’ everyone automatically thinks of the candy and magazines at the registers. Sure, they are impulse purchase items. But so are lots of other items in the store. Look at your cart before you pay–do you have anything in there that either was not on your list, or you do not have a place for it in your meal plan? Then put it back. If you see “10 for $10″ or “2 for $5″ check the fine print to see if you really need to buy 2 or 10 to get that price. Most of the time you don’t, so only get what you need. Endcaps do not=a good deal. Many times, it simply means that that particular brand or vendor has paid to rent that space.
29. Involve your kids-Kids love to be helpers and a part of the household. My 3-year-old now knows that he can get one item of his choosing at the store, and he knows that it either has to be on sale or I have to have a coupon for it. There’s no whining, no haggling, no tantrums. He knows he is getting one thing and today I gave him 4 yogurt choices to choose from. Last week, he was able to pick out 1 box from an entire shelf of fruit snacks. I don’t get stuck purchasing several items to avoid a tantrum and we don’t end up with a bunch of junk we don’t need. Older kids can take part in the meal planning and they are more likely to eat it if they are part of the process.
30. Make the most of the time-Yes, between perusing the sales ads, clipping coupons, shopping, then putting everything away properly…I probably spend more time than many moms doing it all. But I involve my kids and it’s family time. My 3-year-old loves using his new scissors skills he learned at school, both boys love to shop, and they love to do things like help me wash grapes and eat a few while they do. Some of my best memories of my grandmother and great-grandmother are just being in the kitchen while they cooked. I hope to have the same for my kids, and if it helps us save a few bucks, even better!