Food Frugality

I tried to get on the coupon craze years ago. I remember seeing people on the news who would pay a fractional amount for their groceries. I attempted to coupon- searching the circulars for the best price, tracking prices on my regular purchases, making a list keeping coupons in mind and driving to several stores to get the best deals. What I didn’t account for was the gas to go everywhere, the cost of my time or the fact that most of the food was pre-packaged and the toiletries were ones I wouldn’t normally pick. Sure, I ended up finding some products that I liked, but overall, I didn’t end up with much.

I stick to the outside aisles of a grocery store- produce, dairy, meat- and get a few items from what I call “the inside” which is usually just toilet paper and spices. Homemade cookies are much cheaper (and taste better!) than the weird ones that come in a tube in the refrigerator aisle.

My Top 10 Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store:

  1. Make a list ahead of time. Keep a list on the fridge, whiteboard, in your phone. This helps eliminate splurges and results in less “quick” trips for items you forgot
  2. Shop by measurement. The price tags at the store will break the cost down by ounces or other unit of measurement. Sure, one box may be $1 more but it may also have 20 more ounces and make the cost-per-ounce cheaper.
  3. Take advantage of the bulk bins. I first encountered bulk bins when I lived in a little hippie town. Patrons brought their own containers which were weighed upon entry and a piece of tape with the weight would be stuck on the outside. Then I’d fill it (with flour, dried beans, frozen pineapple) and it would be weighed when I left. The price was much cheaper as I wasn’t paying for packaging- or for trash space to throw away the packaging. It always reminds me of berry picking at a U-pick farm.
  4. Shop in different aisles. The fancy Lavender scented bag of Teal’s Empson Salt is nearly $6 in the bath area. An aisle over in the foot relief section (think arch support and bunions), the store brand is around $3. It’s plain, which is fine, but I’ve bought lavender essential oil in the past and added it in.
  5. Frequent local markets. I find amazing produce at the Asian store. The cost savings on ginger and turmeric alone is worth the trip. At the Mexican market, I can get delicious meat and picked-when-ripe produce. There’s a small co-op that sells produce from local farms and everything is so fresh and delicious.
  6. Eat in season. Strawberries in December are not only expensive; they don’t taste as good as they do in June. I have been eating a lot of winter squash lately and at $0.49 – $0.99 a pound, it’s way cheaper than even broccoli, which was “on sale” for $1.99/pound. Get creative with seasonal produce. I’ve had roasted squash and the next day I mashed it up and added some broth and spices, turning it into a pasta sauce.
  7. When on sale, buy two. I am a big believer in the “two is one and one is none” phrase. As I live in a rural area, I sometimes ‘shop’ my storage pantry. I’ve found that most items go on sale about every 6 weeks. Keep that in mind if you see, say, black beans on sale. Instead of buying for just the week, think about how much you might use in the next two months and if possible, buy that amount.
  8. Split the cost! This is great for places that sell in bulk, like Costco or Smart Foodservice Warehouse (formerly Cash & Carry). Finding a friend or neighbor that wants half is often a great way to get something for a cheaper price without breaking the budget (or getting stuck eating, say, a lifetime supply of hot dogs in two months).
  9. Leftovers! This may be after the fact of grocery shopping, but it saves money the long run. I made a turkey (that I got on sale!) and boiled the bones to create my own chicken stock. I’ve done this to make beef bone broth in the past and will save scraps of vegetables (carrot peelings, the end of celery, the last nub of ginger) to make vegetable stock. This saves from buying it at the store and it’s easy to incorporate into meals. For long-term, pressure can it or stick it in a ice cube tray or a freezer container.
  10. Shop clearance or the ugly items. I’ve gotten toothpaste and crackers on clearance simply because the companies updated the packaging. My local grocery store sells spotted bananas for cheaper than the bright yellow or green bananas. I freeze them for smoothies or use them in baking anyway, so I don’t care if they are a bit squishy. I’ve bought apples out of a huge bin and because they weren’t “perfect” for the grocery store, they cost a fraction of the price. I like to say that they “still eat the same”.

There you have it. Ways I cut costs on groceries. No crazy couponing or running around to five different stores. I also buy store brands, but thought I’d keep the list a tidy 10. What about you?

No fancy gadgets here: mashing leftover squash with a potato masher to make pasta sauce for my off-brand pasta. Yum!

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