This article is from the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of The Wellness Advisor® magazine.
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Times are tough. A poor economy has most people tightening their purse strings and looking for places to save, including their food budgets. What’s a shopper to do?
Here are 10 ways to get the most bang out of your grocery buck.
1. Re-Think Coupons
When it comes to saving on groceries, everyone thinks of clipping coupons first. But you don’t have to rely on the Sunday paper for opportunities to save on your grocery bill anymore. You can register to receive coupons through the mail, or check and see if your grocery store has coupon-generating machines in the aisles. You can even have e-coupons downloaded straight to your smart phone.
2. Read the Shelf Tags
Look carefully at the shelf tags to identify the cost per ounce of the food you’re eyeing. It’s hard to spot a bargain when you aren’t comparing the same quantities of food. And remember, just because it’s more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better quality!
3. Buy in Bulk and Stock Up on Deals
Part of what you’re paying for when you buy packaged food is the actual packaging. Buying food out of bulk bins at your local natural food store can save you that cost. If you have extra freezer or cupboard space, you can also buy large quantities of food to take advantage of deals.
4. Get a Store Discount Card
Too busy to clip coupons? Most major supermarkets offer free discount cards that let you get instant savings on tons of products in-store. Just swipe and save. If you prefer to shop at health food stores, see if there’s a co-op in your area. Cooperatives are owned by the members, and many offer profit sharing.
5. Buy Whole
Sure, pre-cut veggies and grated cheese are convenient, but you’re paying a premium for them. A little time at home with a knife, cutting board and cheese grater can add up to big savings. Case in point: a one-pound bag of whole carrots costs only 99 cents, but that same pound of carrots peeled and chopped into baby carrots costs $1.66. That’s more than a 65 percent markup! And while paying $9.65 a pound for a wedge of Parmesan cheese might seem like a lot, a tub of the grated stuff costs $12.87 per pound—nearly 35 percent more!
Let’s say you’re hankering for a batch of pesto. Basil is in season so you’ve bought a bunch of those fragrant emerald leaves. But have you seen the price of pine nuts? At $1.77 for just one ounce, it’s enough to ruin your pesto dreams. Don’t give up, substitute! Sunflower seeds cost a fraction of what pine nuts do, and you won’t notice a difference in taste.
7. Plan, But Be Flexible
If you plan your meals, you can avoid buying more food than you need and having your produce spoil in the crisper. Of course, for maximum savings, you should be flexible about meal plans as you shop. You might find a great deal and need to make a last-minute menu change.
8. Buy Produce In Season
Ever bought a tomato in January, then tasted it and wondered why you bothered? Produce that has to travel long distances often costs more and tastes worse. Instead of buying imported raspberries in the dead of winter, wait until locally grown ones are available. They’ll be cheaper and at their most tempting peak of flavor. Two great ways to buy in season are shopping at farmers’ markets or joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) network, which delivers a basket of fresh local produce to you weekly.
9. Grow Your Own Food
Of course, the least expensive food—and the freshest—is the stuff you grow yourself. Fork over less than five dollars for lettuce plants in the spring, and you can eat fresh lettuce all summer. If space and time are at a premium, start small. You can grow fresh herbs in a window box.
10. Try Meatless Mondays
Promoted by Johns Hopkins University as a way of slashing Americans’ consumption of saturated fat (as well as their carbon footprint), going vegetarian one day a week can also slash your grocery bill. Consider this: a New York strip steak dinner for four costs $19.48, while a mere $7.30 will buy the lentils and vegetables for a big pot of hearty and wholesome homemade lentil soup, with plenty of leftovers to freeze for another meal.
If you’ve got the grocery blues, don’t despair. With some careful planning at home and a little creativity at the store, you may find a pleasingly small number at the bottom of your next grocery receipt.