Besides the obvious – growing your own produce - how does one keep the grocery bills down? You can use coupons, buy store brands or generic canned or packaged goods, frequent a Dent & Scratch store, join a warehouse club or shop online to buy in bulk. Or just eat less (which I probably need to practice more). Most of these things are no-brainers, but sometimes you can get in a rut and need a thrifty smack-upside-the-head.
Coupons. I’ve read many a blog and heard of several coupon sites (some which you pay for!) that give tips & hints on how to “stack” coupons to get things half-off or more, sometimes even for just pennies. I’ve tried the coupon clipping thing, but I found that any coupons that looked remotely interesting were either not a product we normally buy, or the product was still more expensive after the coupon than the generic or store brand. Not to mention the fact that we don’t get a local paper or even those junk mail coupon flyers in the mail. So although you may be able to save some cash clipping coupons, I personally can’t justify it for our household. Sale flyers are another nice thing to have when planning your grocery shopping. But make sure you aren’t driving another ten miles to get the two items that were cheaper down the road. You may have saved fifteen cents on a can of tuna, but burned two bucks worth of fuel.
Store Brands & Discount Grocery Stores. There are very few brand name grocery items I buy, in fact, I couldn’t tell you which items they were until I needed them. Anyways. There are only so many canning or food production facilities that provide products to your area. Do you think that each brand has its own farm and packing facility? Nope. Most store brands are packed in the same facility and usually with the same product as the name brands – just different labels. Some will have different standards though, so it’s not like everything is exactly the same. Stop falling prey to the fancy advertising. Try a store or generic brand of veggies (or whatever) and honestly ask yourself if the name brand is any better. And, if you still think it is better, is it worth the extra cost?
Scratch & Dent Stores. We have two of these stores in our area. I wouldn’t really count on this type of store to provide me with everything I needed because the items change weekly, but it’s a nice place to check out. Just make sure that if the canned goods are dented that the actual contents haven’t been compromised. And definitely stay away from any bulging cans (and let the store manager know about them). One of these stores routinely had a lot of organic & “hippy-dippy” foods there and I loved it! Nothing wrong with the items, most within their expiration dates, but the items just weren’t selling quickly enough in the big stores around here. So I got great deals on some obscure (at least to the folk around here) organic items. I think the best deal I got was for 6 oz. of dried Shiitake mushrooms for $2.49.......I just used the last of them with our Mu Shu Veggie supper last night. Wish I had bought more.
Warehouse Clubs. The closest one we have is Sam’s Club and it’s two hours away. We buy popcorn (for grinding into cornmeal), white & brown rice, olive oil, white sugar, bulk spices and baking additives like vanilla. We used to have an individual membership but ended up quitting it last year. The membership dues were $40 a year, and even though we split the dues with my Mom, we still couldn’t justify the $20 cost as we were only going twice a year and I’m not even sure we saved $20 on buying in bulk. So now we hitch a ride with a couple we know who does have a membership (thanks Ed & Sandy!!) and buy stuff with them. Remember to compare the prices though! There are some items (like pinto & black beans) that are still cheaper in the 5 lb. bags at the discount grocery store than it is at Sam’s.
Online Shopping. For those of us out in the boonies, online shopping is often the only way to find those hard-to-get items. And that may mean something as “simple” as Vanilla Chai tea. Hard-to-find is all relative around here. Unfortunately, online shopping has one major drawback; shipping costs. And escalating fuel costs are going to make shipping costs climb even higher. You should take your fuel costs into consideration also. An online item may cost more when shipping fees are added but if you’ve got to drive an hour to get something “cheaper” than it was online, are you really saving any money?
Another important tool in your shopping bag o’ tricks should be a price book. A small booklet that you keep with you during all shopping outings that has the current prices of items you frequently (or even sort-of-frequently) buy. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a store & stare at the price of carrots and wonder if they were cheaper at the store I’m going to be going to next. On your next shopping outing, take a few minutes to jot down the prices of your regularly purchased items – and which store they were at. You’ll thank me the next time you’re staring at the bag of romaine lettuce and wondering if you saw it cheaper down the road.
Food prices are continuing to rise every month (if not every week). More than likely your paycheck has not followed this trend. When you see a good deal on something at the grocery store, instead of buying one or two, buy a half-dozen or more. And make it a practice every time you go to the store. Stop buying just one or two cans or packages of such-and-such. Not only will you have to make fewer trips to the store, but you’ll be on your way to having a nicely filled pantry. Just make sure it is something that your family eats on a regular basis and that its shelf life is within the limits of when you think you’ll need to restock.
One of the most important mottos for stocking your pantry is “Store what you Eat and Eat what you Store”. I’ll talk more about that and long term storage items next blog. Yeah, really exciting, I know.