Part 3 of my Saving Money Series delves into how I save on groceries. My grocery shopping has changed a lot in the last few years. I first starting reading blogs like Money Saving Mom and Hip2Save to learn the ins and outs of couponing when I really needed to figure out how to cut my costs. And I learned well and saved a ton of money. However, I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what I buy, and I’m falling into that category of people who gripes about not making the time to organize and plan. I still use coupons, but overall, I probably use 75% fewer coupons than I used to in my couponing heyday.
BUT – I still save a lot of moneyon my groceries.
Here are my Top 12 Tips for saving on food:
1. Price-matching & stocking up on loss leaders ~ Each Wednesday, the local grocery stores put their ads in the daily paper. I read through the ads over my morning coffee and figure out what’s cheapest where. Depending on where the good deals are, I either buy them where they happen to be on sale, or I go to one grocery store and price-match from the ads. I have two options for price-matching: Walmart and a local store called Fareway. Hands down, price matching is easiest at Walmart. And since Walmart is closer to me, invariably I end up there if I price-match.
While I don’t always price-match, I do always buy whatever happens to be cheapest. Grocery store prices fluctuate from week to week and cycle all the time. Knowing what’s cheapest and stocking up when products are at their rock-bottom prices saves me a ton of cash. Here’s an example of a price matching trip I made and the savings I achieved.
2. Buying directly from farmers ~ perhaps the antithesis of price-matching is purchasing directly from farmers. And I do that too. Most notably, I buy our meat directly from the source. I’ve been buying my beef 1/4 cow at a time for the last three years and just purchased 1/2 a pig for the first time. I’m not sure what this year’s beef will cost yet (last year’s was around $500) because I haven’t gotten the bill from the farmer, but the 1/2 pork cost just over $200. My freezer’s full now and I should have almost enough meat to last an entire year with careful planning. The website Local Harvest is a very helpful resource for finding farmers in your area!
3. Menu planning ~ Planning meals around ingredients I have on hand and whatever’s cheapest at the grocery store is another way I keep my budget down. Instead of basing meals on ingredients when they are most expensive, I make sure to use only the cheaper products – that usually means eating according to what’s in season since in-season items seem to be cheaper. I post a weekly menu / freezer cooking plan each Sunday or Monday. I’m not always the best at following it to the letter, but when I can stick mostly to my menu I always save money.
4. Buying in bulk at Amish stores ~ Another way I save is buying items in bulk and keeping a stocked pantry. I love Amish bulk food stores. If you’re lucky enough to live near some, you might be surprised what you can find there. I especially love buying raw honey and baking goods like whole oats, wheat berries, and raw sugar.
I also discovered Amish Produce Auctions at the end of the season last year. I got some great deals (50 lbs of potatoes for under $15, for example) and I will definitely check them out again this year, especially if I can’t get my garden to produce well.
5. Reducing food waste ~ A while back I started tracking the cost of the food I threw out. I was surprised at how fast food waste adds up – $5 of wasted food happens pretty quickly and $5 a week adds up to $260 a year which is more than my 1/2 a pig cost!! A great way to save money at the grocery store is to buy less food by eating up everything I’ve bought! I’m still working on reducing food waste. Some weeks are better than others, but I try hard to eat all of our leftovers and reduce produce waste by making lots of smoothies.
6. Using Swag Bucks on Amazon ~ Swag bucks are another great way to reduce out of pocket expenses. If you’ve never heard of swagbucks – let me tell you, they are super cool. Quite simply, sign up for an account, download their tool bar or search engine and use it any time you would use a different search engine. Randomly, you’ll start to earn Swag bucks and when you have 450 SB, you can redeem them for a totally free $5 Amazon gift card. I’ve been using SB since 2009 and have earned $250 in Amazon gift cards. And that’s not that much. A lot of people earn a ton more. A disclaimer – I use the SB search engine to get back and forth between all of the blogs I read, but if I want to do a more academic search, I use Google. I get many more options when I search on Google, but for going back and forth between blogs or other websites, SB is great. I collect points until I have enough for a couple Amazon gift cards, and then when Amazon has a great sale on coffee or organic kid treats, I get them free! Can’t beat free!
7. Gardening ~ Growing my own is another way I save big. I’ve been gardening since 2006 and some years are better than others, but I always plant a garden and we always enjoy what grows. This year we planted an orchard, last year we planted berry bushes and aspargus, and this year I have really increased the size of my garden. I hope everything grows nicely and I get a lot of food because…
8. Preserving food from my garden ~ is another way I save. In past years I have canned tons of dill pickles, I always make grape jelly, and home canned tomatoes can’t be beat! We also freeze a lot of corn when we get a bumper crop. I’ve still got over 30 quarts of corn in my freezer from last year and as well as a bunch of shredded zucchini. Not having to buy those items at the grocery store is awesome.
9. Sticking to a price-point list ~ I’ve mentioned that grocery stores cycle their prices. At any given time in a 12 week period, you’ll notice fluctuating prices. At some point, prices are highest, and at other points, they’re lowest. To really save, you need to know when the prices are high and when they’re low. It’s very helpful to establish a price-point list so you know if you’re getting a good deal! Here’s mine – it’s changing now as I’ve actually increased my grocery budget to get better quality food, but buying food for around these prices is still my goal as often as possible.
10. Shopping in bulk from Azure Standard ~ Azure Standard just started delivering to Iowa this year and I just found them this month! I picked up my first order at the beginning of May and will be making my second order in the next week or so for delivery in June. I can’t believe the good deals I found at Azure Standard. If you’ve never heard of them, it’s like an organic co-op. They “specialize in natural, organic, earth-friendly foods and products and deliver directly to customers, buying clubs and retailers by semi truck and UPS.” The company is from Oregon and they’re expanding East. I got 25 pounds of organic carrots for just over $20 and 20 pounds of organic apples for $20 as well, and I got 50 lb bags of organic hard red wheat berries for $19!! That’s cheaper even than the Amish bulk food store I love. The quality of the Azure Standard’s food was phenomenal and our apples were gone after only one week. Boo. I highly recommend Azure Standard if you are lucky enough to be near one of their drops. I think they’ll be a great resource for keeping my budget low and enable me to add more organic products into our diets.
11. Buying from Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen List ~ I probably don’t have to tell you that organic produce is expensive. One way to reduce pesticide exposure without breaking the bank is to buy a mix of organic and conventional produce. I try to follow the EWG’s Dirty Dozen List to reduce my expenses. I’m hoping they will come out with a 2012 list soon – I have a lot of questions about the old list, but I do use it as a starting point.
12. Paying with cash as much as possible ~ And finally, using cash helps me keep my budget down as well. At the beginning of each month, I go to the ATM machine and withdraw my allotted grocery budget. Keeping track of cash is a little scary, but I’m quite careful with it (except when the two year old gets a hold of my wallet…) It’s really easy for me to see how much money I have left so I know when I need to reign in my spending. For instance, I don’t have a lot of money left for the last two weeks of May, but my pantry is stocked and my garden is starting to produce so I’m pretty sure I can stick it out. When I plan my next couple of menus and grocery shopping trips, I will be extra careful about what I buy because I’m running low on cash.
When I bought groceries with my credit card it was too easy to pass the plastic and I was terrible at keeping track of my spending. I was initially very skeptical of cash, but moving to a cash system was what really helped us get our spending down, and it was not that out of control before. But we’re definitely saving more with a cash system.
And that, my friends, is how I save on groceries. What do you do that I don’t to save on your groceries?