How to Go Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Are you ready to trim the fat from your grocery budget? Food is one of the bigger expenses in the household. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 to 15 percent of Americans’ annual expenditures go toward food. Fortunately, that’s one of the easiest areas to economize on. A few small changes to how you shop, where you buy, and how you prepare food can add up to big savings. Here are ten quick and easy tips for grocery shopping on a budget:
- Walk into the store with a plan. Create a shopping list ahead of time and, most importantly, stick with it. Stores are designed to tempt you with brightly-packaged excess stuff that you don’t need. Those little impulse buys can easily double your final bill.
- Scrutinize labels. Check for the price per ounce instead of the whole price. Why? Because a number of food manufacturers have been decreasing the amount of food in each package while keeping the price the same. That giant bag of chips may still cost two dollars, but when you open it, it’s ¾ air.
- Keep an eye out for sales. This may include post-holiday and seasonal sales as well as offers like coupons, reward cards, and so on. Some stores let you double or triple coupons or earn ‘points’ that can be redeemed for discounts on gas and other purchases. Be sure to read the fine print.
- Buy in bulk. The price per unit will usually be much lower. You may want to get a membership in bulk chains like Costco and Sam’s Club. If you go this route, have a plan for storing the food. Some items will expire quickly so you may need to preserve them (see tip 9).
- Explore your local farmer’s market. These places have a culture of friendly competition that may lead to cheaper prices than at the supermarkets. Many vendors will cut you a deal if you buy in bulk. Don’t forget to try dropping by right before the market closes. You may discover steep discounts as these farmers try to unload the last of their stock.
- Don’t snub generic brands. In many cases, the store generic is just as good, or even better, than the name brand. It may take a little trial and error, but you can save big on basic staples such as pasta, sugar, and tomato sauce.
- Visit local ethnic markets. These are one of the best-kept secrets of grocery shopping on a budget. Ethnic markets are emporiums of cheap vegetables, exotic spices, and many international products at a fraction of the price of bigger stores. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff if you can’t read the label or to give you recommendations on how to use unfamiliar products.
- Make meals from scratch. TV dinners tend to be unhealthy and budget-unfriendly. If you’re short on time, try soups, crock pot meals, and casseroles that can be assembled and popped in the oven. You can also roast chicken, stir-fry vegetables, and boil pasta on the weekend and eat them during the week, dressed up in different spices and sauces.
- Preserve food. You can freeze everything from milk to steamed vegetables to leftover meals. if you want to venture into more exotic methods, such as using a dehydrator, you might want to check out a step-by-step resource such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Make sure to label your preserves so you can keep an eye on expiration dates.
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat. These have a bad reputation for being tough and tasteless, but they also give you an opportunity to broaden your culinary skills. Experiment with preparation and cooking techniques to make them tender and flavorful. This includes marinades, slicing the meat thinly, braising, crock pot cooking, and baking with a few strips of bacon to add richness.
You don’t need to eat like a pauper to dramatically slash your grocery bill. Can you plan ahead, explore lesser-known food stores, and up your culinary game? If so, you have all the skills you need to open up a new world of delicious, budget-friendly food.
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