The price of gas may be dramatically lower now than it was all summer, but savvy shoppers will recognize that it’s settled at a level that’s still higher than before the recent upward trend began, and even if it is cheaper than it was last month, other necessities are increasing in cost. A recent study of the insurance industry noted that even cheap auto insurance rates had increased in July, and were likely to do so again by the end of the year, and more than one newspaper around the country has reported that we may be nearing the end of the United States as the land of inexpensive food.
There are numerous tips and tricks for saving money while driving to the grocery store, from clipping coupons to buying sale items in bulk to keep your pantry full of ingredients you can put together on the fly. This list, however, is more general. It offers five suggestions for re-thinking the way you approach grocery shopping.
All Food is not Groceries. Pause a minute, and make a mental list of all the places where you buy food. Your grocery store is an obvious pick, but what about your morning trip to an espresso chain, the candy bar you pick up on the way out of the pet store, the restaurants you visit, and the concession stand at the local movie theater. All of these things, even the ones that are not truly groceries are still part of what we spend on food. To help get your food budget under control, limit or eliminate all those extras. Do you really need that venti skinny latte every morning, or can you make coffee at home three or four days a week? If you’re going on a trip, can you bring your own bottled water, rather than buying it at a gas station convenience store? Not only will altering your habits save you money, but when you do splurge on a trip to a coffee house, it becomes something special, to be enjoyed and appreciated.
Real Food First. We’re all busy with work, school, kids ““ whatever ““ and it can be really easy to buy conveniently prepared and packaged food products, but not only do those prepared meals cost more than the sum of their ingredients, they’re loaded with scary chemicals. When you go shopping, buy real food first. It’s healthier, and it goes farther. A whole chicken costs about the same as two or three boneless skinless chicken breasts, and you can get at least two meals from it, plus chicken broth for use in the future. Make frugality a game: you against the commercial food suppliers in a hunt for real food.
Do the Math. Some sales really aren’t saving you as much as you think, and some seemingly inexpensive products are really..not. Here’s an example provided by successful food blogger/columnist Alanna Kellogg, “What’s the price difference between the bag of dried beans that sells for $.89 and the can of beans that sells for $.99? Just a dime? No. The bag yields 7 cups of cooked beans, $.13 per cup. The can yields 1-1/2 cups of cooked beans, $.66 per cup. The canned beans – as inexpensive as they are – are five times more expensive than dried beans.” If carrying a calculator isn’t your thing, check the applications on your cell phone ““ chances are that it has a feature allowing you to do simple math, if not, read the fine print on price tags ““ in many stores the per-pound price is listed.
Fire Your Cook. If you routinely go out to eat, even if it’s fast food, or buy pre-packaged prepared meals (even hot dishes from the deli counter at the grocery store), you might as well be paying a personal chef ““ one who goes by many names, like Wendy’s, Stouffers, or Gortons. You can save money, and spend time with your family by cooking at home. Get everyone involved ““ if you have children, have them help by stirring, peeling, setting timers, even slicing and dicing if they’re old enough. One night a week, have one of them help plan the menu. Cooking at home can be fun, as well as frugal, and unlike restaurants, you can wear sweats and slippers if you want.
Spend Money to Save Money. Instead of buying bags of popped corn, or microwave popcorn with fake butter and too much packaging, invest in an inexpensive air popper, or learn to make popcorn in a pan on the stove (watching the lid “pop” off, can be fun even for adults). If bread is your thing, invest in a bread maker ““ you can put all the ingredients in and set it to have a loaf ready for breakfast, if you want, and even though you have to buy the machine, you’ll save in the long run, by using it. It’s okay to have a stand mixer and food processor, too. Anything that helps you cook at home, is a positive step.
These suggestions are just some of the easy, inexpensive things you can do to save money at the grocery store, but the real change isn’t in your wallet. It’s in your mind. If you decide that you can change your food shopping habits and save money, you will.