Cooking more of your meals will, hands down, save you money on food. Want to make grocery shopping even more streamlined and cost effective? Use these strategies and make them a habit. If you keep track of your spending, you’ll see a marked downtick in your supermarket spending.
1. Plan to Succeed
Using a meal plan is one of the best ways to save money at the grocery store. By plotting how your family will eat for the next week, making a shopping list and sticking to it, you’ll avoid last minute guessing games that result in over-buying.
Use a meal-planning chart to create your weekly menus. Before you make up your chart, see what you already have in your fridge or pantry that needs to be used before it goes bad or expires. Make a shopping list of what ingredients you need and check it against what’s already in your cupboards.
2. Buy Big
A 24-ounce can of tomatoes costs $4, which seems more expensive than the 12-ounce can that costs $3. But actually, you’re saving money when you buy the bigger can. The larger can is more cost effective because you’re paying less per ounce and you actually get more for your money. Here’s the math:
-$4 divided by 24 ounces = $0.17 an ounce -$3 divided by 12 ounces = $0.25 an ounce
If you need fewer than 24 ounces for your current recipe, freeze the leftover tomatoes in a freezer-safe glass container until next week’s meal planning, and then be sure to include a recipe that uses the rest of the tomatoes.
3. Buy Bulk
Buying in bulk is similar to buying big, with a slight difference. Some stores have large bins of raw ingredients like whole grains, flour, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds that you can scoop out and take home in plastic bags or reusable containers that you bring from home.
Buying bulk is always cheaper than buying the same ingredient in a package. Why? You won’t be paying for the branded packaging. At my local health food co-op (see more on that in the next tip!) I can get ½ cup of dried organic oregano for $0.50, which saves me so much money! To buy the same amount of dried herbs in a brand new bottle I would pay over $4. This one tip saves hundreds of dollars a year in my house.
4. Join the Club
Consider joining a members-run co-op or CSA (AKA community supported agriculture farm share program).
A co-op is a grocery store that is run by the members who work there. Some offer memberships for a small yearly fee that allows you to shop there and get a discount on groceries. Other co-ops require members to work a few hours a month to belong. I belong to the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, New York. I work 2 ¾ hours a month and paid a small fee to join. The prices are amazing and the produce is incredibly fresh.
A CSA is where a local farmer offers shares to the public. Families and individuals buy a share and give money to the farmer before the growing season begins. This gives the farmer the funds necessary to buy seed and equipment and pay for labor costs. Each share is worth a box of food every week throughout the growing season. The farmer usually sets up a meeting place where members can pick up their share each week. A few deliver to homes and businesses. CSAs are growing rapidly across the country and offer financial security to the farmer while providing inexpensive, fresh produce to members.
Coupons have been around forever, but things have changed in the coupon game. The Sunday paper is filled with coupons for highly processed junk foods rather than things you actually want. Now you can find a coupon for almost anything you really need online. Try for things like paper towels, toilet paper and all kinds of non-perishable items.