Monday, February 25, 2008

Ten Ways to Save Big on Groceries

In any spending category, there are a few big ways to cut costs and many, many small ways. Here are the top methods I used to save on groceries, organized this list from most to least potential savings.

1. Shop at Aldi. Shopping at Aldi allows me to spend about half of what I would pay elsewhere. They carry all the basics plus some fun stuff and the potential for savings is huge. Some of my favorite finds at Aldi are cheap cereal, cheese (several different kinds), and artichoke hearts. If there’s one in your area, even if it’s a bit of a drive, you must check it out.

2. If you can’t shop at Aldi, buy store brands. Store brands tend to be at least one-third cheaper than name brands and are often made in the same factories. Make it a habit to automatically buy the store brand.

3. Compare the costs of equivalent foods. Instead of finding the best price on T-bones, find the best price on any kind of beef, or any kind of meat, or any kind of protein. Take it as far as you can until you start to feel deprived. Beans are cheaper than steak and can taste just as good, especially if they mean you get to keep an extra $10.

4. Give up convenience foods. Convenience foods aren’t just microwave dinners. Granola bars, cold cereal, Ragu instead of plain tomato sauce, carrots already cut into convenient spears, and even boxed pudding—in all of these cases, you are paying for convenience. Cut down or eliminate these foods. Cutting your own carrots or adding Italian spices to a few cans of 33-cent tomato sauce takes no time at all.

5. Eat in season. Berries in the summer, apples in the fall.

6. Give up the obsession with freshness. We’ve been told over and over again that fresh foods have more nutrients than frozen or canned foods. But is a hot-house January strawberry really better for you than strawberries picked at the peak of the season and then frozen? Are the environmental costs of buying that strawberry worth any small difference in nutrients? I’d argue no.

What about other fresh foods? I’d challenge anyone to tell the difference between fresh and frozen chicken in a chicken casserole. Fresh herbs are horrendously overpriced and are sold in quantities too large for most of us—if you like them, grow them in your window at home.

When produce is in season, its price is often comparable to the usually cheaper frozen and canned versions. At those times, it’s worthwhile to buy fresh for the superior taste and quality. But out of season and for items other than produce, consider cheaper frozen or canned goods.

7. Chase sales for specialty foods. Even tightwads have a few food luxuries we’re loath to give up. Look through sales flyers or track grocery prices at a site like Grocery Guide to find the best prices on splurges like asparagus, Stouffer’s lasagna, or ice cream.

8. Drink water. Don’t buy drinks that don’t offer any nutrition, like soda, Kool-Aid, and juice that’s not 100% juice. If you love them, find the best price and then limit them enough to make them real treats.

9. Eat less. Eat a little less at lunch or go to bed a little hungry instead of having a 10:00 snack.

10. Shop less often. If you’re not in the store, you can’t spend money. It’s hard to quantify the savings here, but it will definitely save you time. DH and I shop once a month with an occasional run to the neighborhood grocery for produce or milk, more because we’re lazy than because we’re cheap.

More ways to save on food:

Cheap Healthy Good: Her frugal recipes include a very detailed accounting of costs

The Tightwad Gazette
Always my first reference on any frugal topic; particularly good for saving on food. Amy Dacyczyn and her newsletter readers figured out dozens of ways to save on grocery shopping and published cheaper recipes for everything from hot chocolate to Worcestershire sauce.