A perfect storm of droughts across much of the country combined with increased fuel costs have led to noticeable price increases at the grocery store. And while a person has to eat, feeding a family on a budget can be rather challenging. Tactics abound, but some are tried and true and recommended by financial experts, home economists, and gourmet chefs.
- Have a plan: Never, repeat never, go to the grocery store unprepared. Shopping without a list leads to impulse buying and actually boosts spending by 50% or more. Instead, take time to do a quick inventory of products in the pantry, plan snacks and meals, and write down everything that needs purchased before heading to the store. Once in the store, stick to the list and be confident that it includes everything necessary. Remember, the fewer trips to the store, the more money you save.
- Shop the perimeter: Produce, dairy, meats, and baked goods are almost always arranged on the outside aisles. Work from the outside in to fill the cart with nutrient-dense foods before venturing into the aisles of processed foods. Along the same lines, try to buy produce that is in season, on sale, and locally grown, as this will reduce the overall cost. For the freshest produce, reach to the back of the shelf; the older produce is in front so it sells first.
- Compare prices: Sometimes buying in bulk is cheaper. Other times, buying smaller packages costs less. Look at the unit pricing or use the calculator on your phone and do the math to find out which option will save you the most money.
- Do it yourself: Convenience foods, like shredded cheese, charge for the convenience. Block cheese is usually cheaper than pre-shredded, and whole heads of lettuce cost less than pre-packaged salad mix (and often last longer in the fridge). You can even make your own tortilla chips by slicing and baking corn or flour tortillas— the same goes for potato chips! Forgo the convenience and do it yourself.
- Shop alone: People buy more when accompanied by others, and men and children are seduced more by store displays than women. Go it alone to save money, and don’t shop hungry.
- Try coupons: The TLC show Extreme Couponing gave many people a fresh perspective on the possibilities of coupon use. Some strategy is necessary to save the big bucks. Check out coupon websites for tips.
- Think outside the store: Grocery stores aren’t the only places to buy food. Buying direct from a farm can guarantee both freshness and lower prices. Planting a garden or raising food in small containers can also provide good, cheap eats. Some states have food cooperatives that exchange volunteer hours for reduced-price food (like Prairie Land Food).
- Invest in a good cookbook: More often than not, cooking from scratch is cheaper, healthier, and tastier than boxed or packaged meals. Find a simple cookbook like the plaid-covered Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, a Betty Crocker cookbook, or, for those with little confidence, a cookbook geared toward kids. An even more frugal option? Check out the cookbook from the library or buy one at a thrift store before committing to one that may not be used.