Whether it’s the general state of the economy, post-holiday spender’s remorse, or you are saving for a big vacation, there are excellent reasons to trim your grocery bill this year. Here are some suggestions to help you do just that. It is possible to eat wholesome, whole foods without fiscal ruin.
1. Prioritize. What matters most to you? Figure that out first, then spend your money where it counts. Organic produce? Free range meat? Wine? Chocolate? We all have different needs and desires. For example, I buy very little meat, but I am willing to pay as much as necessary to get humanely raised products. On the other hand, I eat a lot of vegetables and other than certain specialty and seasonal items, I don’t always buy organic and I pay relatively little for produce. Good cheese is a necessity for me, so it goes to the top of the list.
2. Don’t go to the grocery store. Every time I stop at the grocery store to pick up “just one thing” on the way home, I seem to spend $30. Somehow that one item turns into several. Be flexible. Can you do without that one item for now? How about a substitution or a different meal all together? Don’t have chestnuts? Maybe pecans would do.
3. Pay attention to the seasons. Not only does food taste better when it’s in season, it is often much less expensive. Walk around a farmer’s market and see what’s happening right now. When the local harvest is plentiful, the prices go down. Buying tomatoes in mid-winter will cost you dearly, as they have been shipped from far away. And just as an aside, they will taste terrible. Go with the flow and fill your basket with root vegetables instead–enjoy asparagus in the spring, and berries in the summertime.
4. Check out the ethnic stores. If you live in an area with ethnic groceries, you can save a considerable amount of money. The price for saffron threads at the Indian store up the street makes me want to do a victory dance. I buy most of my produce at a small, neighborhood Asian store. The produce is not always perfect, but most of it is pretty good, and the prices can’t be beat. I can buy a large grocery tote full of fruits and vegetables for around $12.00. If you use tofu, soy sauce, Sriracha, rice noodles, or any other Asian staples regularly, you will be able to get them for a fraction of the price you would pay at the regular store. Plus, in the bigger stores the variety is amazing, and it’s just a lot of fun to explore.
5. Buy spices in bulk. Not only will you get your spices for a fraction of what you would pay for a jar of the same product, you can buy just what you will use within a short time, thus avoiding a cupboard full of stale spices. I often buy what seems like a large quantity of herbs, spices, or seasonings at the co-op, only to find that the bag weighs so little that the cashier rings it up at the ten cent “minimum” charge.
6. Don’t waste food. Estimates vary, but by many accounts Americans waste somewhere around 30-40% of the food they buy. Therefore, just by eliminating food waste, it may be possible to trim your grocery budget by a third. Buy and cook only what you think you will eat within a reasonable time. Remember your leftovers and eat them for lunch, freeze them, or repurpose them as part of a new recipe. Consider the waste potential before trying a new recipe. Will it require only half a can of beans? If so, what can you do with the other half? Or could the recipe be doubled?
7. Make soup. This is really another way of saying don’t waste food. A pot of soup is the ideal way to use up small bits and pieces of meat or fish, leftover rice or beans, whatever vegetables are on hand, and even the broccoli stems.
8. Spread some love. If you can’t finish it yourself, could you share it? Granted, this won’t save you money directly, but may help someone else save a few pennies. Keep an eye on the pantry and donate staple items before they expire. When the garden is burgeoning or your CSA box is out of control, bring your extras to work. Or invite a friend to dinner.
9. Grow your own. You have to be careful with this one, as the equipment and supplies associated with gardening can easily cancel out any savings. But the quality of your own fresh-picked produce can hardly be overstated, and gardening can be a way to save money. I get the most bang for my gardening buck from greens, as I eat so much kale and chard.
10. Forage. What grows wild and free in your area? Watercress? Truffles? Clams? My sister and I picked gallons of blackberries last fall, which then became jam–enough for both of us and a whole lot to give away, too. I’m contemplating trying my hand at dandelion wine this year, so if you live in the Seattle area and are expecting a fine, chemical-free crop of dandelions in your yard this spring, let’s talk.
What are some of your tried and true ways of saving money on groceries?