Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cutting Your Grocery Bill

{Note: Some of my tips found here were published in a blog on the Washington Post's website - how cool is that???}

Take a look at what you spent on groceries last month. Is it more than you realized? Do you wish you could cut your grocery costs, but the very idea brings to mind images of bowls of beans and stale bread? It doesn't have to be that way! Cutting your grocery spending is probably easier than you realized. Here are a few tips to help you get started saving your hard-earned money while continuing to eat the foods you love.

Shop in the morning - you are likely to find significant mark-downs on meat, produce, and bakery items that are still perfectly fine, but close to their freshest date. Freeze meat that you won't use right away.

Clip coupons - but don't buy something just because you have a coupon! Collect the ones you might use, and then review the sale ads each week and match up your coupons with the sales for the best deals. Combining your coupons with in-store specials can often result in products that cost you little to nothing (or even result in a profit!!).

Look outside the grocery store for cheap prices on food - your local farmer's market is likely to have "drops" or "canners" that are very inexpensive (and still perfectly edible!!), your neighborhood convenience store might have the cheapest milk, and a bakery thrift store you pass every day offers fresh breads at half or less of the supermarket price.

Buy in bulk when it makes sense - examples include yeast, which is very cheap in bulk and can be stored indefinitely in the freezer; flour, which also stores long-term in the freezer; and eggs, which are often less expensive in larger packages. Also, chicken and beef soup bases work just like bouillon cubes, but can be purchased at the warehouse store for a lot less.

Shop for your basics at a "no frills" grocer, such as Aldi. You can get great deals on items like milk, sugar, pretzels, chips, cheese, and other items you use frequently. You won't find name brands here, but the store will most likely guarantee the quality of your purchases.

Check your grocer's bulk bins. You might find that products such as oats, nuts, grains, and many other items are considerably less expensive when you bag them yourself. I purchase all of my spices at bulk rates and pay much less!

When a food item you use often is at the lowest price you've seen, stock up! If chicken breasts drop to $1.49 a pound or your favorite macaroni and cheese mix is offered for $.25, buy as much as you can afford. Review the grocery ads every week and look for rock-bottom prices.

Shop with cash only. You are much less likely to make impulse purchases if you only have $x to spend. This also adds an element of challenge to your shopping - how low can you go and still feed your family nutritious meals??

When buying pre-bagged produce, weigh a couple of bags on the store's scales. A 10 lb. bag of potatoes might actually contain 12 pounds. A pound of carrots may be a bit short. If it's a set price, the heavier, the better!

Plan your menus a week at a time. Look in your pantry and freezer to assess what you have on hand. Look at the grocery ads to see what is on sale for the best price. Plan your meals so you can buy mostly sale items, and only buy what you need.

Keep a list in your kitchen of simple meals you can prepare in 10-20 minutes (i.e. spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini, casseroles, burgers and fries). Keep the ingredients on hand for these. On especially busy nights, or when you just feel too tired to spend an hour cooking, pick something from the list and you'll have dinner quicker than the wait in a fast-food drive through, and won't have spent $25 on a "cheap" dinner out.

Use your Crock Pot! Even the cheapest cut of beef comes out of a Crock Pot tender and moist. You can also spend 10 minutes in the morning putting everything in the Pot and when you come home that evening, dinner is ready to go. This is another way to avoid the temptation to go out and grab a meal.

Make ground beef go further than you thought - if the recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef, chances are you will be fine with just a pound. Another trick is to mix healthy fillers into the ground meat to stretch it further. I've made sloppy joes and pizza pockets with cooked bulgur mixed in with the beef and the kids never even knew! Rice is another great way to stretch ground meat, and makes chicken taco filling go further, too.

Substitute ingredients. Don't have cream? Use milk. Recipe calls for an expensive cut of meat? Try making it with a less pricey one. Use recipes only as a guideline and let your own tastes and creativity rule. Also learn tricks like substituting applesauce for oil and soy flour for eggs in baking recipes. Your checkbook will benefit, as will your waistline!

Use those leftovers! Your family doesn't like to revisit the same meal? Then turn it into something else. Leftover chicken breast can be shredded or cubed and used in another recipe. Pasta sauce becomes pizza sauce. Bread can become breadcrumbs or croutons. The possibilities are endless. Just use your imagination or google your ingredients for new ideas. There are websites that allow you to enter the food you need to use, and it will generate lists of recipes for you to consider. You can also find LOTS of great ideas for leftovers on my other blog, Not Just Leftovers - Brand New Meals. Try to never waste food, and you might be surprised what you can do with your "leftovers."

Find new uses for things you previously tossed. Cereal crumbs make great toppings on homemade muffins. Crushed cookies are wonderful sprinkled on ice cream. Try to use it before you throw it out.

Make "freezer soup." If you only have a few bites of meat left, or a small amount of veggies from dinner, and there isn't enough to put into another meal, put the food into a specific container in your freezer. When it gets full, add it to broth and make a soup. This may sound a bit strange, but we have found this makes some of the best soup ever. You get a "free" dinner every few weeks this way.

Don't buy individual snacks or 100 calorie treats - make your own! Buy the snack item you want in a large package, and divide it into bags for individual servings. Just want 100 calories? Look at the nutritional information to gauge how much to put in the bags. You may get fewer chips or cookies than you would in the 100 calorie packs, but the taste is much better so it's usually even more satisfying.

Take advantage of online free samples when they are offered. Not only will you get a sample you can use in your cooking when you need just a bit of something, but you will know for sure if you like the product or not. If you don't like it, you won't spend money buying something that will go to waste. If you do like it, the sample probably came with a coupon, and maybe you'll catch a good sale!

Give gardening a try. No need to dig up part of your yard - you just need a few pots on your back patio with tomatoes, peppers, or whatever you like. The freshness of your own produce will amaze you, and save you money, too. And even when you think it's a total disaster, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised by what grows!!

Even if you just make a few changes to your shopping strategy, you will see a difference in your spending. One good coupon trip will leave a smile on your face the rest of the day. It really is fun to save money, and it isn't all that difficult. Start with one or two changes, and add more as you go along. Before you know it, you'll have cut your grocery spending by 20...30....even 50 percent. Think of what you can do with all that extra money.......


Annie Jones said...

Great tips. I do most of these things myself!

Good tip about the beef and chicken base. I learned that tip while working for a caterer and have never gone back to pricier bouillon cubes or granules.

Sweet Danger said...

You are so cool.

Brandie said...

Happy SITS Sharefest Saturday! I loved stopping by your blog. Come and see me sometime!

Suz said...

I'm visiting from SITS today. Those are some great tips.