It’s expensive to feed your family! The cost of food is a large portion of most household budgets, and the price continues to climb. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say that the cost of food at the grocery store is just right (and that includes the farmers I’ve known!)
Last week, I announced that I will be budgeting just $540 (or $1 per person per serving) each month for food. Many of my American friends have stated that that sounds quite reasonable – until they hear the prices we pay for food in Canada. Add to that, we live in Nova Scotia, a province where even the government acknowledges that it’s impossible for most people to afford a reasonable diet.
There are several alarming statistics surrounding the cost of food in America:
- According to The United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the cost to feed a family of four in July 2014 ranged from $568 to $1,293.20 a month! Even at the low end, when we consider the income that low wage earners bring home (and how much of that must go to rent/mortgage and utilities), that’s a lot of money to spend on food.
- Data from the Consumer Price Index shows that food costs have increased an average of 2.8% per year since 1990, and are likely to continue their upward spiral!
- And if you’re north of the United States, the news is even worse. Canadian prices are sometimes twice what Americans pay.
Fortunately, there are a few techniques that can help you save big on your next trip to the grocery store!
Are you ready for four ways that you can start implementing RIGHT NOW to save money when buying groceries?
Stop paying for convenience
To realize the biggest savings, avoid pre-packaged foods or foods that have been pre-washed, pre-chopped, or pre-cooked. The problems with convenience food has been discussed here before, and you probably eat more of it than you think. (I have also discussed the problem with expecting lower income people to switch to “all organic” when so many people lack basic cooking skills)
Do you know how bad it can be? Well, around here, potatoes sell for around 25 cents per pound. If you buy them as frozen french fries, they’re 89 cents a pound. My goodness – 2 1/2 times the price to cut them into sticks? That’s really not hard to do.
But if you buy them as potato chips (crisps), then they are …. $3.55 per pound. And that’s the cheapest off-brand ones that I can find. (Ignore all the other reasons why not to eat store-bought potato chips. The price is reason enough!)
- Look for whole foods that you can cook and prepare at home, rather than buying food that has been highly processed. Preparing whole foods at home is cheaper and gives you greater control over how much sugar, salt, and fat are added to your meals!
- Cook at home rather than eat out. Again, there are so many reasons why you should be cooking and eating at home, but saving on your food bill is a big one. If you don’t know how to cook, consider asking your friends and family to share their favorite recipes with you. You can also search online for instructions on how to prepare your favorite ingredients.
- Several sites allow users to enter three or four key ingredients and then provide recipes for their use. This is a great way to use up food items that may be close to their expiration date. Therefore, you’ll be throwing away less food!
If you’re looking for a fabulous resource filled with those basic, “Grandma recipes” that save money in the kitchen, you really need A Cabin Full of Food. I know, I know, this is a total plug for my cookbook, but check out the Amazon reviews and you’ll see that I’m recommending it for good reason! It’s currently sitting at over 100 reviews and a solid five star rating.
Plan menus AND shop the weekly sales
Prepare dishes with perishable items that are already marked down or on sale for the week, but fill up your pantry with items that are deeply discounted so that you are not reliant on the sales. This is a deep pantry, and I’ve explored in the past why you really need one.
- Many grocers offer specials on items in their meat and produce departments once or twice a month. Other grocers offer significant markdowns on meat, fruits, and vegetables that are close to their expiration date.
- Shopping early and often can help you identify your grocer’s sales and markdown patterns.
- Most meats and produce can be safely stored in your freezer until you’re ready to use them. Stock up on these special deals and plan your meals around these sales instead of planning your meals entirely around weekly sales. Why? Because if you are planning entirely around weekly sales, there will always be items that you need but that are at full price. Aim to never (or very rarely) pay full price.
Broaden your shopping range
Don’t limit yourself to shopping at only one retailer for groceries and other household items.
Look for specials, markdowns, and rewards programs at all of the grocery stores in your area. An app like Reebee (not affiliate, just happy user!) helps you hunt the local flyers. It works well for me in rural Nova Scotia, and a friend of mine uses it in a city in Ontario, so I suspect it works everywhere.
In our area, the larger pharmacies often have really great sales. I also love shopping at the discount stores. I’m sure these are everywhere – they buy huge lots at close-out prices and pass along the savings.
A bigger store chain doesn’t necessarily mean better savings! Include smaller, regional grocery stores, as well as area farmer’s markets, on your list of places to shop for savings.
Go For Bulk
Once you have saved some money and have a bit extra to spend, take a look at foods that can be preserved by home canning, dehydrating or freezing. Farmers will often sell “seconds” by the bushel at a discounted price. Placing an order ahead of time, so that the farmer knows they have a guaranteed sale, can also save a lot of money, and I’ve done that with potatoes, carrots and more.
Another way to save money is to buy beef and pork by the side. With all of these, though, know your prices. If you usually pay $4/lb for beef by carefully shopping sales, then a side of beef that works out to $12/lb is definitely no kind of value.
Rising food prices can make it difficult to afford a nutritious diet. These tricks make it easy for you to afford healthy and appealing foods, while dramatically reducing your grocery bill! Of course there are more ways, which we will explore in other posts.