Many of us are searching for ways to save money. Food is a big part of the family budget for most of us. Fortunately for those of us that are trying to eat healthy or healthier, as I wrote about last week, healthy food is affordable, and actually less expensive than processed food.
Even though whole foods already cost less than processed foods, there are many things that you can do to help you to save on groceries. Three years ago, when my 16-year-old step-daughter moved in with us, our grocery costs doubled overnight. Our other expenses also went up, making our finances very tight, so reining in the grocery bill became a high priority for me. Although I had always been a careful shopper, paying attention to prices, I quickly learnt more ways to save on groceries, which brought our weekly grocery bill back under control.
Here are some of my strategies and tips for saving money on the weekly food bill.
- Scan the flyers: I look at the flyers each week to determine what is available at a good price and I buy those items. I know my prices, and so I know when something is worth buying and when it’s worth waiting for another week or two. Sales are cyclical. If chicken isn’t on sale this week, but beef is, I buy the beef and wait for a better price on the chicken. I know it will happen within a few weeks. If broccoli is on for less than a dollar, then I will buy two of three of them, as we can easily eat that within one week.
- Buy meat in value size packs: The larger packages of meat are usually cheaper than the smaller packs, by up to $1 per pound. I buy the value pack and separate the meat into meal sized portions, placing each portion into large freezer bags that I label with all the info I need (type of meat, weight, date) and then place in the freezer. Not only am I saving on the meat when I buy it, but then I have some in the freezer for the weeks when that type is not on sale.
- Eat seasonally: As much as possible I buy my fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Have you seen the price of berries in the winter? It’s so much higher than in the summer, and the berries don’t tend to taste as good. So in the winter we leave the berries behind and take advantage of what is at its peak, like citrus, pomegranates, squash and root vegetables such as carrots and beets. Produce that is in season is cheaper and fresher than what is not.
- Shop with a grocery list: I make my list based on the items that I have run out of and what I find on sale in the flyers. This helps me to ensure that I get everything I need for the week, and helps me to not add too many impulse items.
- Get a rain check: Many grocery chains in Canada give rain checks if they are out of stock on an item that is on sale in the flyer. Go to the customer service desk on your way out of the store, and ask for a rain check. At most chains, the rain check is good for 30 days. This will allow you to get the sale price on the item the next time you go to that store. I keep rain checks in an envelope in my purse and put my grocery list in that envelop. That way I remember the rain check and I have it with me when I need it.
- Plan meals for the week: After looking through the flyers and seeing what is on sale, I plan our meals for the week, and make sure that I include all ingredients that aren’t already in my pantry on my list. I also plan to use some of the same ingredients in more than one meal that week. I’m flexible with the plan, and sometimes change things a little over the course of the week, but this helps me have the right ingredients on hand, not need to run out to the grocery store, and really helps reduce waste from food going bad. Meal planning helps me to buy the right amount of food for our needs for the week. Not wasting food is better for the planet and helps me save money.
- Go to only one store per week: By limiting my shopping trip to only one store per week, I avoid the temptation to buy extras that are not on my grocery list. If I go to multiple stores, I end up spending more money because of all the extras. Best to avoid temptation all together.
- Price match: Many grocery chains in Canada price match (like Real Canadian Superstore, FreshCo, No Frills and Walmart). By price matching, I can go to just one grocery store but take advantage of the sale prices at all the different chains. This leads to great savings on fruits and vegetables in particular, as the different chains tend to put different items on at low prices in the same week. So while one chain has a great price on grapes and oranges, a different chain has low prices on cucumbers and lettuce, while the third might have broccoli, carrots and green beans on for cheap.
- Buy spices in bulk: I buy my spices in bulk (at The Bulk Barn usually) as the cost is significantly lower than buying spices in bottles. I usually pay between 10 and 25 cents for a small baggie of spices, as opposed to $4 or more for a bottle. As an added bonus, I can buy a smaller quantity, which is helpful if trying out a new spice and also for freshness. Spices lose their potency after a few months. By buying in smaller quantities, I am able to use the spices up while they are still relatively fresh.
- Make your own marinades: I have started making my own marinades. They are easy to make, I can adapt the flavours to our taste and I save money. The cost of making my own marinade is usually less than half the cost of a store-bought one.
- Plant a herb garden: If you use fresh herbs, consider planting a herb garden or even a few pots if you can’t have a garden. Not only will it cost less, but your fresh-picked herbs will have even more flavour.
- Use loyalty programs: Many grocery chains have a loyalty program that is available for free. You can earn points to redeem for free groceries. If you are shopping there anyways, why not be rewarded for it? The key to getting ahead with a loyalty program is to avoid buying items only because you will earn points. Buying something just to get points will cost you more in the long run. Buy what you need and you will see that the points will add up quickly.
These are some of the strategies that I use to save money while feeding my family healthy, great tasting food. How do you save on groceries? Please share your tricks and tips in the comments.
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