It’s no secret that money is tight for many families these days. As a mother of four, I’ve had to learn how to stretch a dollar to feed our family of six healthfully. And one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that some traditional wisdom on saving money at the grocery store doesn’t always work. Here are five simple tips that will actually save you money and require little planning so you save time as well.
Limit Your Use of Coupons
This seems like a counter-intuitive way to shop, but I save quite a bit of money at the food store and never clip a coupon. The fliers that come in the newspapers full of coupons are mostly for items that are “extras,” like chips and cookies, not staple foods like fruits, vegetables, and milk. These items are also usually less healthy, filled with extra sugar and fat. Instead, I don’t buy these items but shop my store’s sales on everyday items. Just by having a store rewards card, I save money each week by paying attention to sales. My grocery store also prints out coupons with my receipt, targeted to items that I actually purchase. I save those in my wallet and use them, saving me even more. Some stores also publish their sales flyers and coupons online and will send you e-mail alerts, making your bargain hunting even easier.
Shop and Eat Seasonally
If you haven’t already learned about the seasonality of foods, it’s never too late to start. Produce is always fresher and cheaper when it’s in season. Strawberries in January are not only pricy, they don’t taste as good either. But strawberries in June most likely came from a local farm and are much more delicious. Learning to shop in season will not only save you money on your family food bill, it will result in tastier meals as well.
Don’t Automatically Buy in Bulk
Buying in larger quantities can save your family a lot of money, but this is not always true. Sometimes larger packages cost more per unit of measure than their smaller counterparts. Make sure that you compare prices on different sizes before you buy; most shelf labels not only list the price of the item, they also list the price per pound, ounce, or other unit of measure. This is the price you want to pay attention to, making sure you’re getting a good deal. Also be careful of buying fresh foods in bulk. If you have a large family who will eat the food before it spoils, then buy it. But if you’ll end up throwing half of the package away, buying it in bulk is just a large waste of money.
Make 2-for-1 Meals
Cooking instead of eating out will automatically save you money, but if you strategize when you cook, you can save even more on your grocery budget. When making meals like casseroles, soups, and stews, double the recipe and freeze half for later. This requires minimal extra work, takes advantage of foods on sale, and saves you money and time later. You can also try making meals that can be turned into something else later in the week. Roast a chicken one night and use the leftover meat and carcass for soup later; make a large batch of meatballs to serve with pasta and use the leftovers to make chili or stuffed peppers. This saves your family from the monotony of leftovers and stretches the food you prepare into more meals.
Say No To Convenience Foods
Foods that come prepackaged or pre-prepared will always cost more than foods you prepare yourself. Sometimes convenience is worth it; for instance, I happily pay for premade tortillas, since making them from scratch takes more time than I have. But I buy all of my produce whole and cut it up and prepare it myself. This extra step saves me money every time I shop. The same goes for many snack foods and other items. While boxes of or individually-bagged muffins are convenient, it’s much cheaper to make a batch of 12 or 24 muffins yourself to have on hand for breakfast or snacks, not to mention much healthier too. I now make my own whole wheat bread, three loaves at a time. They’re easy to make and freeze well, and it costs me one quarter to one third what a loaf would cost in the store. Cutting costly snacks and extras out of your food budget and replacing them with homemade or healthier, less expensive options (i.e. baby carrots instead of potato chips or homemade cookies instead of store-bought) will save you hundreds of dollars a year. Certainly you have to weigh what your time is worth, but by planning to set aside time each day or week to do more food prep yourself, you’re saving dollars off your food bill each week.
Raising a family isn’t easy or cheap. But by following these simple tips you can enjoy good food and save hundreds of dollars on your grocery bills each year, putting that money towards something else your family needs instead.