If you've been reading this blog, you probably know that I'm not a fan of wasting money. Housing, insurance, and transportation are probably the Big 3 in most people's household budget, but I suspect that the grocery bill is in the top five. Unlike the Big 3, the grocery bill can be lowered fairly easily in most cases. Here are a few things I do to keep our grocery bills low:
Treat your kitchen like a grocery store. I don't mean that you need to hire stockers, but you do need to imitate them and rotate your "stock" whenever you return from shopping. I do this with the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Sure, it takes a few minutes to move the older items to the front, but I never have to throw away food that has expired or spoiled.
Store your food properly to avoid waste. Keep your flour, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and other grains in airtight packaging (I use Ziplock bags most often) in the fridge or freezer and you won't have to worry about those pesky pantry bugs. Keep your oils and vinegars in a cupboard away from your stove/oven - the exception to this is flax oil, which I keep in the fridge. Keep apples and bananas away from other fresh produce because they promote quick-ripening of other produce. Keep onions and potatoes in a well ventilated area to reduce chance of spoilage. If you wash lettuces prior to storage, be sure to dry the lettuce thoroughly - you can use a salad spinner or a clean & dry dish towel. Wrap celery in aluminum foil to keep it fresh for a loooong time - sounds kooky, but it works. Keep milk and eggs toward the back of the fridge rather than in the door to prevent temperature variations.
Avoid most processed foods. Yeah, I know that they seem to make life easier, but they are incredibly more expensive than using whole foods. You might say, "But Rice-A-Roni is only .99 per box!" I say that you can purchase A POUND of brown rice for the same price and you can control the seasonings/sodium. Same thing applies for any potato-based side dishes. Perhaps you like Lunchables. Okay. You'll save money if you purchase crackers, lunchmeat, and cheese singles to make your own lunchable-style snacks. Maybe you don't know how to cook and you serve Dinty Moore when you want beef stew. The internet is lousy with websites to teach cooking techniques and view tons of recipes. Check it out and, I promise, you won't be sorry. Note that I do purchase a few processed foods.
Focus your shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store. The interior contains most of those processed foods that cost so much money. The perimeter has fresh produce, fresh meat, and dairy items.
When you are in the interior, look up or look down - don't just focus on items at eye level. Need some cold cereal for the kiddos? It's a good bet that the most expensive cereal is found at eye level. Go a step further and eschew the boxed cereals altogether. You can find sacks of knock-off Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, puffed wheat, and more on the bottom shelf in the cereal aisle. I'm a lazy old cow and I do use canned cream soups when making casseroles. The name brands are at eye level and the far less expensive store brands are found above or below.
Consider shopping at "ethnic" markets. We eat a varied diet and our meals often include ethnic cuisine. I buy really cheap dried beans & lentils, seasonings, yogurt, oils, olives, spreads, and certain vegetables at a Middle-Eastern market. I buy really cheap seafood, seasonings, and certain vegetables at an Asian market. I buy really cheap beef, dried beans, certain vegetables, and seasonings at a Hispanic market. I do not drive all over town. I just swing by when I happen to be in the area.
Don't turn up your nose at 99 cent stores. I have found some crazy-awesome bargains at my local 99 cent store. Seasonings and personal care items (dental care, soap, etc.) are a great buy at these places.
Consider limiting the meat in your diet. Even when it's cheap, meat is pretty expensive. If you can't commit to one meat-free dinner each week, at least commit to decreasing the amount of meat in your meal. In a future post, I'll give my recipe for a delicious lentil & brown rice casserole that tastes "meaty" enough that my Mid-Western raised hubby eats it without complaint.
Consider trying frozen vegetables. Not the frozen vegetables with sauces, just the plain veggies. Oftentimes, I have found that the frozen veggies are cheaper per pound (or per ounce) than the fresh veggies. Buying the frozen veggies in bulk at Sam's Club or Costco is generally even cheaper.
Buy block cheese rather than shredded. It's super-easy (and fast!) to shred cheese in the food processor with the shredder attachment. Block cheese tends to keep longer too. Lately I have noticed that shredded cheese is the same price as block cheese so it always pays to compare prices. To avoid spoilage, I store half of the shredded cheese in a Ziplock bag in the freezer. The cheese defrosts perfectly fine in the fridge.
Unless you're brand-loyal, don't bother with coupons. I know that serious couponers will dispute my advice, but I stand by my thoughts. Coupons are generally only for brand-name items and I buy very few brand-name items. Coupons only take a few minutes to look at each week, but they just aren't worth it to me. If you do use coupons, at least use them right. Hoard your coupons for a week or two after they come out in the newspaper and you'll find that the item will generally go on sale in the store. Every now and then I'll use coupons, but I feel they are a waste of time for me for the most part.
Make a list and shop that list. Take a quick inventory of your well-organized kitchen (see first tip!) and develop a list in conjunction with the weekly sales flyers. I'm not store-loyal and I'll shop at whichever store is offering the best prices on what we need. Once in the store, don't deviate from your list. Making impulse purchases, no matter how awesome the price, is a good way to blow your grocery budget.
Don't waste your money on most cleansers or deodorizers. Ammonia is a major component of Windex. Mix water & ammonia in a spray bottle and you have your own window cleaner for just pennies. Multi-purpose cleansers brag that they are made with bleach. Mix water & bleach in a spray bottle and your have your own sanitizing cleanser for just pennies. Deodorizers often just mask odors instead of removing odors. Try a little baking soda or a little plain white vinegar to remove offensive smells - just don't mix them together! The exception to this is the drain. Try this little trick the next time your drain smells a little funky: Pour baking soda down drain, pour white vinegar down drain, let sit for five minutes, pour boiling water down drain. Viola! A fresh-smelling drain for pennies! I must confess that I'm all about the Clorox wipes to deal with my son's potty chair and dribbly messes. Yes, I use a coupon!
There are plenty of other things that I do to save a little here and there, but it's been a long day and I'm beat. I hope these tips help you $ave money on your grocery bill!