Who doesn’t need to save on groceries these days? I know I certainly do. We hear so much these days about food security and after being inspired by my friend Jodi Brown, (see more about Jodi here) I decided to share ways to save on your grocery bill.
⊗ Make a list! How many times do we go shopping and just pick up what looks good at the time and end up overspending? I used to do it all the time. And still do when I don’t bring a list. If we think about what we need, have a plan, and stick to the plan we can get in and get out with what we need. When I have time I will also make my list based on the layout of each store that I am going to. I know how I like to walk around my usual grocery store and what order I pick things up in so I can write my list in that order. It keeps me from overlooking items and having to retrace my steps potentially seeing something I don’t need. Oh and don’t go when you’re hungry. It really does make you pick up stuff you don’t need.Know your prices. I know when I am looking for bathroom tissue that 25 cents or less per roll is a good deal. When I go shopping I use that as a benchmark. There are times that I just can’t find it for that price but I try to get as close to that as possible. I also know that anything less than a $1.30/pound for tomatoes is a good price. If I go to a store that has them for $3/pound I am certainly not getting those. Recently I have started keeping a spreadsheet on my phone of some new items so that I can track the usual prices at different stores. Because of this I know the place for me to get sunflower seeds so far is Costco…and I try to get enough to last me until my next planned trip there.
⊗ In addition to knowing your prices, you need to keep an eye on the register. Most places have a scanning code of practice and it means that you get a discount or even get the item for free in some cases if the scanned price is not what the shelf sticker (or price tag) says it should be. For example, at the supermarket the other day chocolate milk was on sale. The tag on the shelf was $1.99. When it was scanned it came up at regular price of $3.59. At the store I was at the scanning code of practice says that I am to get that item for free, up to a $10 value. If I buy more than one, the first one is free and the rest are then given at the corrected price. Most stores don’t like you to know this and you have to be bold and make sure you tell the cashier about the mistake. I have even gone as far as printing off the information for a particular store and bringing it with me. If you do your research for stores you frequent and know what their specific policy is (often listed on their web sites) then you will most likely get several free items in the run of a year.
⊗ Coupons. This is something that most people think about when I bring up saving on groceries. I’m not talking about extreme couponing because very few of us have the time for that and let’s face it, it’s hard to get some of those deals in Canada…especially small towns.
Just keep an eye out for coupons when you are doing your usual routine. Weekend newspapers and magazines always have coupons but don’t run out and get a subscription right away. Ask around and see if anyone you know has a subscription and doesn’t use the coupons already. There are lots of online manufacturer coupons, web sites dedicated to coupons and savings, and even apps that will get you money off or money back. Be careful of the money back deals though. You have to make sure you are actually going to submit your receipt to get your refund or else you haven’t saved a thing! There are also coupon swapping groups that you can join or even start your own. If I come across coupons for a particular kind of detergent that I don’t use I might be able to swap those with someone who has found some for yoghurt they won’t use.
Make sure your coupon is for a product you are going to use. If you don’t like a particular type of cereal it doesn’t matter how much you will “save” if you aren’t going to eat it.
⊗ Every week on the same day I get flyers delivered to my house. I spend a few minutes looking through most of them to see if there are any discounts on things I buy regularly. I either mark items right in the flyer or jot down a note (including store). If you don’t get flyers delivered to your house you can get apps for your phone that will have lots if flyers for your area. You can also pick them up in store or from the stores web site. Still get to know your regular prices and make sure the sale price is actually a good deal.
⊗ Half price/end of line/discontinued/short date. I scan my usual grocery store looking for pink stickers on items we use all the time. These stickers mean discounts of 50% or more. Sometimes they are end of line items that won’t be offered again or the package is changing. Sometimes the store has too many and need to get rid of stuff quickly. And sometimes items are short dated.
Now I want to take a second to talk about short dates, best before dates, sell by dates, and expiry dates because there is a lot of confusion about what they mean.
Short dated means it’s getting close to the date on the package. Sell by date and best before date is a date picked by the manufacturer of a product. They have had people figure out how long their product is absolutely perfect and the same shape smell taste look (and any other descriptor you can think of) as the day it went into the package. It doesn’t mean the food isn’t good to eat any more. It is their way of ensuring resale of their product on a regular basis.
There are products that have a set shelf life (I will caution you when buying short dated or best before meats and fish) and it’s up to you as a consumer to research these things but when it comes to most packaged food it’s perfectly safe to go beyond the “sell by” or “best before” date. How bad can a box of crackers really go a week or two after a best before date?
Be careful with how much discounted items you pick up though. Like the coupon scenario it’s only a deal if you use the stuff.
⊗ Sharing buddy/bulk buying groups.
Sometimes the best deals come in bulk. I get much better prices on meat when I buy the “family pack”. And I get it. Less packaging for the store and less work for the butchers. It makes sense, unless a bulk package is too expensive or would go to waste. Here’s where a sharing buddy or a bulk buying group comes in handy.
Having someone to split larger purchases with solves the problem of “too expensive” and also “too much”. If steak was $5/kg less in a family pack, you and your buddy could get those savings and still only buy as much as you could use yourself. Same as a bulk buying group, if four people wanted to buy oatmeal and the 20 lb bag was less than the same amount in smaller bags each person would save on that particular item. Some of these groups will wait until they have a minimum order size and will give a % discount for greater savings to each person. You could even start your own group for an apartment complex or on your street. More information on buying groups here.
⊗ Rain cheques. How many times have you gone looking for a great deal and it’s not in stock or there is a limit to how much you can get. Most stores will do rain cheques unless the sale stated “while quantities last”. But be sure to use it before the expiry date or you could be very disappointed. I usually pick up sale items early in the week so I don’t miss out but if it’s a really good sale and they run out I will pick up a rain cheque anyway and that way I can use it later in the month. Usually if a sale is good enough stores will only have a limited amount they put out on the shelves and lots of times customers don’t think to ask if there’s more or don’t ask for rain cheques.
⊗ Points cards. Not all points cards are created equal and not all points are worth it…but some definitely are. If you don’t usually shop somewhere I wouldn’t bother getting a points or loyalty card. It has to be of some benefit to you for it to be worth carrying around. I have a grocery store points card and it is for a store that I go to all the time. I also have a debit card that gives me points for this store no matter where I shop. I also get points for having my reusable bags. It works for me so I keep that handy all the time and I end up with some free groceries almost every month. Just the other day I picked up groceries where everything in my cart was things I use on a regular basis and were half price. The total was $84 and some change. Then I had $40 worth of points I could use. What would have cost me over $160 now cost me $46! What I don’t do anymore is buy things just to get points. If I’m not going to eat a particular brand of tuna or if it’s expensive it’s not worth the points I would get from the purchase. The store also has a credit card available which will give me points too but unless I’m going to pay off the balance right away it’s going to cost me more than it saves me so beware of those types of points.
⊗ Food swap/barter. I’m great at raising chickens, ducks, and rabbits. We’ve even had a successful year with pigs. Veggies, not so much. I definitely didn’t inherit my mom’s green thumb. I know lots of other people who do gave a green thumb and have an abundance of vegetables every summer but don’t want to or can’t raise animals on their property. For us, setting up a meat/vegetable swap is a great way for everyone involved to get great quality food. Or maybe you are great at making pies and someone you know has a big blackberry patch. Why not offer to bake some pies for them from half of the berries they would let you pick. Or bake bread in exchange for pickles someone has made. The possibilities are endless.
⊗ Grow your own. Not everyone has space for a garden but container gardening is doable in most spaces. Whether it’s just a small pot of basil in your kitchen or a few trays of bean sprouts in your front porch, it is going to help with the cost of having those things on a regular basis. My husband loves spicy food and we found a cute little hot pepper plant a few weeks ago that was just $2. It’s sitting on a table in our living room and every now and then we snip one or two off. My son also learned about gardening in his 4H club and is thrilled to be growing basil and chives that we use in salads and sauces, and wants to grow lots more things so he’s added onions to his tiny living room garden. You can also ask around to see if there is a community garden in your area. There may be a fee or it might be a “use the space and help out when things need to be done” kind of deal. Or you might know someone with some extra garden space that wouldn’t mind letting you plant some stuff. Harvesting and preserving peas, beans, carrots, onions, squash, and other staples will save a ton of money through the winter. Get your sharing buddies involved and cut down on the cost of canning supplies and other ingredients.
Raising animals for eggs and meat is also a good idea if you do it right. Lots of municipalities are now letting residents raise a few chickens within town/city limits so even if you don’t live in the country you can have an amazing source of protein for your family.. They are not only a source of food but entertainment as well. Ok, well they are at our house anyway. Rabbits are also an often forgotten protein source. We raise rabbits and it is super simple and oftentimes rabbits aren’t considered “livestock” and don’t fall under the same rules as traditional farm animals in towns. A breeding pair of rabbits will provide quite a bit of meat in a single year and the right set up could provide for several families at a fraction of the cost of buying meat at a grocery store. I know lots of people can’t get past the cute factor but raising and butchering our own animals is a skill that I value and am teaching my own children. Don’t worry though, there are enough butchers around that I am sure you could outsource that task.
⊗ Freecycle/free online groups. These online groups are all about FREE. No money. No selling. No buying. If you need you ask. If you have you offer. I ended up with a big box of cucumbers a while back from a Facebook free page. A lady planted a huge garden and didn’t have a use for all the cucumbers she ended up with. All I had to do was pick them up when it was convenient for her. No problem. It was probably $40 or more worth of cucumbers and a 10 minute drive from my house. Those fresh just picked cucumbers lasted us a few weeks.
⊗ Buy whole foods. Buying whole foods and skipping the pre-packaged items will be less expensive in the long run. This of course means knowing how to prepare these foods so a basic knowledge in the kitchen (aside from knowing where the popcorn button is on the microwave) is a must. Read my article One Chicken Three Meals to see how I stretch ingredients.
⊗ Shop the perimeter. This is where you will find the whole foods and the “real food”. The middle of your grocery store is going to have pre-packaged / over-packaged and processed foods that won’t give you as much nutrition as whole unprocessed foods. There are still things that we get in the middle isles of the grocery store but it’s certainly not the bulk of our purchases.
⊗ Make a menu. This is just as important as #1. Making a list. Your menu could be based around what is on sale that particular week or something your buying group/shopping partner are going to pick up. Also buy foods that are versatile. If I do it right I can turn a chicken or turkey into many different meals. Roasted with veggies for one meal, leftover meat on a sandwich for lunches or with gravy for dinner the next night (or frozen for another time), and then broth made from the bones for another meal. Or I can piece it out and cook the different pieces different ways. I also like to pick up roasts which I can cook whole and use for a dinner or slice into sandwich meat. Sometimes I will cut one in half so I can roast one part and either grind the other half or cut it into steaks. I am always scanning Youtube for butchering videos, checking out food books from the library, or looking through thrift stores for good food reference books. Just the other day I found a beef butchering book at a local thrift store and with my store points discount it was almost free!!!
Hopefully some of these ideas help you and I would love to hear stories and ideas about how you keep your own food costs down.