Cut costs on food!
Ok, so, after working at a grocery store for awhile, I've noticed quite a few ways to cut back on grocery bills. 1) PAY ATTENTION to that weekly spam mail in the mailbox- those stacks of store flyers? The ones around here put all the flyers for the local grocery stores in them. They're worth having on hand sometimes if you do some of the other things on this list! Recycle or compost them later. 2) Make a calendar! For about $5 you can get one of those big desktop calendars with lots of space to write in. I write down the days I get paid, the days that each bill is due by, and the days of each grocery store flyer rotation- Publix on Wednesdays, Sweetbay on Saturdays, etc. 3) Find out the locations of all the supermarkets in an acceptable range of your area. Don't just think of what's close to the house- think of what's close to the places you frequent, like work. By my house, I have a Sweetbay and a Publix. By my mom's, which I stop by about once a week to get my mail (a money-saving trick again; local PO has problems, they suggested a PO Box for $35/6mos. Screw that- get mail delivered to trustworthy friends or relatives!) there's a Wal-Mart Supercentre, a Bravo!, and a few ethnic shops. I can plan a route once a week and hit them all if I need to. I can also check online first to see all of their specials. I write down which ones I'm interested in along with pricing and quantity (say Store A has BShampoo on sale, $3/48oz. but Store B has the same brand for $2.50/32oz. What's better?) and see who's got it cheapest. If you followed Step 1, you may have flyers for stores that have the best deal, but are a little too far out of the way to justify going after it. Solution? Ask Customer Services of your local stores if they price match! Some stores will match or beat ANY price if you provide proof of the sale! Wal-mart did this last week when someone brought in a Walgreens flyer- they marked down everything that was higher priced that day to the same price as Walgreens until the Walgreens flyer rotated. 4) Take inventory of your food, and see what you need to finish soon. Check expiration dates! Either eat stuff that's going bad soon THAT NIGHT or in the next day or so, or get friends together and potluck, where it WILL get used quickly! It's not going to help ANYONE just sitting on a shelf going bad! Be inventive with what you've got- check recipe sites for uncomplicated, quick meals involving ingredients you already have. This will cut down on your list of things to buy. Put things that expire faster within easier reach, someplace where you will see it before you see anything else. 5)EAT BEFORE YOU GO. Seriously- our bodies start thinking that we're really going to eat all kinds of quantities of all kinds of stuff when we're hungry. Especially foods that are not actually good for us- which is going to prompt your body to go scavenging later. You feel full now on that carb-loaded but otherwise nutritionally empty meal, but later it's going to go searching for those nutrients, prompting you to go in search of immediate sugars again! It's an awful cycle, and allowing it to continue pushes up medical bills later! Eat before you leave! 6) If you haven't already, get a notebook or a binder with some looseleaf paper. KEEP ALL OF YOUR GROCERY RECEIPTS FOR A MONTH. ALL OF THEM. Make a price book based on those receipts. Make sections of things like bread, spices, peanut butter, etc. and keep track of brand, quantity (weight), and price from the different stores you hit up. You may also want a few lines between each thing to note if it goes on sale- make those in pencil so you can erase them later. This is a good way to find out what the best deal really is. I found out that peanut butter by the large two-pack is cheaper at Wal-mart, but goes cheaper than THAT every month at Publix- until those sales stopped, and now kernel popcorn goes on sale instead. I also found out that my spices are consistently cheaper by $.30 at Publix, and that most are cheaper STILL if I go to a new age store down the road and buy herbs grown here in Florida for a quarter of the price! The reason you want to use receipts for this is because managers in grocery stores tend to look down on customers who go into places writing down all of their prices. They wonder if you're from a competitor. Otherwise, it's still just really odd behaviour. Receipts show you where you got something and whether or not it was on sale. Receipts also show you approximately what you're spending a month to begin with. If you build your price book from them and notice trends like how much you spend on junk food and convenience items, that can also tell you something. 7) Grocery stores are in the business of making money. They are just like everywhere else. Things on bottom and top shelves sometimes have better pricing. This is because people are more likely to buy things at eye level- and producers know it. They are willing to pay more for that coveted premium spot, which means you are literally eating the cost of the extra effort. 8) Grocery stores are in the business of making money. This ALSO means that sometimes those "sales" aren't really sales. Case in point: where I worked, I sometimes shopped. A jar of sauce was usually priced at $3.49. That week, it went on sale- for $3.49. After that day, it went up to $3.99. People thought they got a good deal during the sale. They didn't- it was $2.99 at Wal-mart just across the street. In the meantime, they were paying what they regularly did before. Or one week, when Velveeta went on sale for 3/$5. It's $1.50 a box down the road. $1.50x3=$4.50. See what I mean? Sometimes, a sale is not really a sale. CHECK YOUR PRICE BOOK! 9) Anything that is unpackaged and unprocessed will usually be cheaper than the alternative. An unpackaged, unprocessed onion will consistently be cheaper, sometimes a quarter of the price, of a pre-chopped and packaged onion. Invest in good, reusable tupperware. Take just one twenty minute block a week out to do things like chop an onion ahead of time- that way, the rest of the week, you can just get out the tupperware of pre-chopped onion until it's gone and rewash the tupperware it was in for the next week. 10) If you can, please do the following: I realise that sometimes we are hard up for money. Believe me- having grown up without eating except for at friends' and stuff that I stole, I know we are without cash sometimes. But if it's at all possible, please do not return food to the store unless it is spoiled when you get it. Even if it is non-perishable and clearly not opened, they will throw it out. Dumpsters are locked, so people cannot scavenge from them. For example: my mother got a package of meat. It looked good on top. When unwrapping it, it was clear on the bottom that the meat was rotten. We returned it for the money. The food was bad regardless. Another time, she had me exchange an unopened box of noodles she bought earlier that day. Because of company policy and state health regulations, they had to destroy the box. It was $1.50 of food that could have been used to feed someone else if we had donated it to a food bank. That $1.50 was not worth potentially starving someone who could have used it. Please consider finding out where your nearest food banks are if you cannot finish unopened food or no longer want unopened food that is well within expiration dates. For open food, I recommend feeding your friends- potluck get-together with movies, anyone? Everyone bring tupperware too, so you can all pack your favourite foods to take home as leftovers! 11) STRETCH those meals! Recipe for tacos calls for a pound of meat? Try substituting some of the meat with beans or onions. Both of those options are healthy and cheap ways to stretch a meal. Plus, the proteins in meats work well with plant proteins, which are radically different. You need both! Onions will give it flavour. On the same line, taco seasoning? No WAY it should cost $1 a pack. You can make the same stuff at home for a third of that! Ramen is NOT healthy on it's own, but it IS cheap... and if you get really cheap frozen vegetables like corn, peas, and carrots, you can cook them in with the soup. It makes the meal a bit bigger and gives you an excuse to eat vegetables- essential for avoiding costly health problems! Add rice to meals when you can. Avoid white rice if possible. Yes, it's cheaper up front, but the lack of nutritional value is NOT worth the savings! Go with brown or jasmine rice. Or use potatoes- skin and all. The skin has vitamins in it! I had a bunch of veggies going bad soon, and not enough roast beef for a sandwich the other day. Plus I had a small piece of leftover steak from dinner two nights ago that was going bad as well. Some beef boullion, some leftover beef gravy, some flour, spices, and water, the veggies, and chopped meats made a good stew that lasted two days for us both. 12) When buying in bulk, which is usually cheapest, buy only the quantity that you will reasonably use within the next few months. This is because it's not saving you any money to have food that you aren't going to eat before it goes bad! It may be costly to buy in bulk up front; save some money back for a little while to enable purchasing of bulk buys. It costs me $4 to buy a 4-pack of toilet paper X. Same toilet paper in 24-pack is $9. It's a lot of toilet paper for one person, but it's not like I'm using it all in a month- it's stored in a cabinet in the bathroom and last several months. I almost never have to buy any. Speaking of paper goods, get rid of paper towels. Invest in cloth napkins and dish towels. In the past 12 months, my husband and I have used THREE rolls of paper towels. We use washcloths for cleaning, and cloth napkins and hand towels otherwise. They get washed once a week in with everything else. Since everything I buy is usually white (for the strict purpose of bleachability) I can run a load of white towels and bleach and soap once a week or week and a half. Some of the heavier-use pieces might be stained, but they are sterile. Using reusable things is good for the environment, they're useful for a very long time, and they're good on your wallet!