As I attempt to bring my grocery costs back to my early 2008 levels (when I regularly spent between $75 and $85 a month on food), I'm having to relearn some of the frugal habits I used during some of my more successful months.
Here's a list of seven frugal food tips that I'm trying to incorporate back into my grocery store visits:
- Take a calculator to the store when shopping. I have a tiny one that was free with some offer or other, that I keep in my car. This helps me know whether the cost of the items in my cart will fall below my 'allowance' for that trip. A calculator also helps me determine whether that 16 ounce jar of spaghetti sauce is cheaper per ounce than the 24 ounce jar, when the grocery store doesn't give me that information on the shelf label. . .
- Make a list before you go to the store, and stick to it. I confess that my budget blunders often occur when I'm cruising the aisles and happen to see some ingredient that I think I need at that moment, but for which I have no 'plan of action' as far as a recipe or meal. Creating a list ensures that I'm less likely to purchase an expensive jar of maraschino cherries that will sit on my shelf gathering dust.
- Buy generic or store brands. This has been probably one of the greatest savings areas for me. I used to shun generic brands like the plague. Then I realized that there are many items that will be added to other ingredients (like cream of celery soup, for example) in a recipe---no one will ever notice that I paid half as much for the generic version, and most of the time, the taste is very similar.
- Check your receipt! Especially when using coupons or taking advantage of a 'buy one get one' deal, be sure to take a close look at your receipt before leaving the store! I can't count how many times I've gotten home with a niggling sense that something's just not right, only to check the receipt and see that I didn't get the deal I thought I was getting.
- Speaking of coupons, use them! In my case, I will only use coupons for items that I normally purchase anyway. I haunt the local library on Sunday morning, and clip the few coupons that I'll use, leaving the others for the rest of the library crowd. I use coupons most often on personal hygiene products like soap and shampoo.
- When shopping, be sure to check the shelves at the bottom level---oftentimes, that's where the cheapest products are kept. It makes sense that the more expensive items will be at eye level, where most people are going to focus. Take a small child with you to read off the deals on the bottom shelves if you can't or won't kneel.
- If you're shopping at a grocery outlet, as I sometimes do, be sure to check the expiration date on the foods you purchase. I've gotten home a few times, put all of my groceries away, and then discovered a few weeks later that I've purchased stale cookies or crackers. Be on the lookout for items that will expire before you'll have a chance to use them!