There's no denying it, we'd all love to save a little money. But where do we cut back?
Although North America spends a low percentage of income on food compared to other countries, there is still room to cut back for most families. Especially considering the high rates of food waste. According to the EPA, 36 million tons of food waste ends up in landfills each year, making up 21% - the largest percentage - of all waste in landfills. While some of that commercial waste - like from restaurants and grocery stores - households are guilty too. Cutting back on food waste is a great way to help the planet and save money. Here's how:
Reduce Food Waste
- Know when, and when not, to buy in bulk. Bulk is great for non-perishable products like canned goods, and things that can be divided and frozen, like meat. It's not so great for fresh foods if you have a small family. If you don't think you're going to use up ALL of those 6 heads of romaine lettuce before they turn to mush in your crisper, don't buy them.
- If you do buy your meat in bulk, divide it into freezer bags, suck the air out and freeze it right away. Bonus points if you separate the pieces of meat in the bags so that you can pull out one piece at a time, if needed. You don't even need any special equipment for this - a freezer bag and drinking straw do the trick. Just make sure you don't suck up any raw meat juice. Extra bonus points if you buy a whole piece of meat (like a top sirloin, striploin, etc.) and butcher it yourself.
- Plan your meals. If you plan meals based on ingredients you already have or will be buying, there is a greater chance you will use them up before they go bad.
- Shop with a list, and avoid buying things that are not on the list (except #9, below). This holds true in the produce department too. You might think you are doing yourself a favor filling your cart with vegetables, but if you don't have a plan for them, they might just end up rotting in your fridge.
- Take advantage of your freezer. It will keep your food much longer than the refrigerator. Plus, you can cook in bulk, freeze the prepared foods and avoid cooking on days that you don't have time.
- Absolutely DO NOT go to the grocery store when you are hungry. Plan trips for after you have eaten, or have a snack before you go in. If you do go in hungry, I guarantee you will buy stuff you don't need, and probably don't even want. Last time I went to the grocery store hungry, I bought over $35 worth of crackers. True story. They are still sitting in my pantry.
- Prep your vegetables as soon as you bring them home. If you bought raw veggies to cut up for snacks, do it right away. If not, it might not get done and they'll just sit there. If you're rushing to get the lunches packed in the morning, it's very unlikely that you're going to peel and cut up a stack of veggies.
Not all savings come from reducing food waste, sometimes it's just about shopping smarter:
- Know your prices. Different stores will offer different deals on different items - but that doesn't mean you should run all around town to get the best deal on everything. You'd end up spending more on gas. However, it doesn't hurt to have 2 or 3 stores to do most of your shopping - I have 3. I have my regular grocery store that I go once every week or two to do a "big shop". They seem to have the lowest prices overall (Woodman's in Wisconsin, Superstore in Alberta). I also go to Costco when I need meat or other bulk items. Lastly, if I run out of something, or need one or two items, I will just run to my smaller neighborhood grocery store. I know their prices are higher, but if I only need a couple things, I'm not going to waste the time and gas to drive 20 minutes to the bigger store. If you don't have a clue how much stuff costs, start reading flyers, that will give you a better idea.
- Take advantage of coupons and sales. This is the one exception that allows you to stray from your grocery list sometimes. If you see an item that you use regularly and it's on sale, and you KNOW you will use it, buy it, assuming you have storage space for it.
- If your store has a customer appreciation day where they offer a discount, use it. Yes, everyone and their dog will be there, but if you avoid going after work, it may not be as busy.
- Don't be a slave to brand names. Popular brand names almost always cost more than lesser known or store brands, but not necessarily because they're better. There have been many times that I have noticed that a cheaper brand tastes similar to, or actually better than a brand name product.
- Be aware of different container sizes. If you have space for it, buying a larger container usually works out cheaper per ounce even though you're spending more initially. However, it's not a deal if half the package goes bad before you get a chance to use it.
And sometimes, adjusting what you eat can save you money:
Adjust What You Eat
- Eat less meat. It is probably one of the most expensive things on your grocery list. Things like beans cost much less, and are extremely healthy too.
- If you want to buy organic, but can't afford to buy ALL organic, use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list as a guide of which produce to buy organic.
- Buy in season. If you buy produce that is out of season, the price will be much higher because the product will have traveled further to get to your store. If not much is in season where you live, consider buying frozen. The price will be lower, but the nutrient content will be the same, if not higher.
I'm sure these are just some of the ideas out there on how to save money on groceries. Do you have any tips you use to save on your grocery bill?