So many people offer couponing and double couponing as an easy method to save on groceries. This article isn’t one of them. My family hasn’t clipped a coupon in months. Yet, we tend to live on $20 to $60 per week on groceries for a family of three. Back before we were three and had a bottomless pit known as the kiddo, I lived on $60 per month for groceries and he lived on $20 per week. We still eat fairly well and you can eat better for less sans coupons, too.
- Know where to shop.The neighborhood grocery store will always be the most expensive place to shop for most items. Expect to pay at minimum 30% more for groceries. Instead, shop your local ethnic markets and farmers markets for less expensive produce and better tasting, yet cheaper meats.
- Reduce the meat in your diet.If you can learn to eat meat just two to three meals per week, you can save on the daily budget for food. Get plenty of protein the same way our grandparents did, beans, rice, nuts, nut butters, and cheeses. A vegetarian chili bean soup over brown rice is an excellent and inexpensive protein source that’s filling and easy on the waist. Other healthy protein sources include: Lentils, Quinoa, Peanut butter, Nuts, some vegetables, Cheeses, and Grains.
- Serving sizes are essential.Paying attention to serving sizes is not only great for keeping our family in shape and healthy, but can make a 4-serving dish actually stretch for four servings. Keeping portion sizes in check can mean the difference from running out of food quickly and making our budget go farther. So pick foods that are more filling and keep to the suggested serving size.
- Buy in bulk.Rather than buy just enough to last the week, buy things like flour, sugar, grains, beans, and cooking or baking supplies in bulk. Often local ethnic markets will sell bulk items in 10-pound packages or larger, at a reduced price than smaller ones. Store them in air-tight containers in the freezer to make them last longer.
- Seek out local dollar stores.The dollar stores that actually sell items $1 or less are great places to find inexpensive spices and cooking supplies. Generally avoid the snack foods, which are often smaller package versions of their non-generic counterparts and actually more expensive per ounce. Our local dollar store had two to six ounce packages and jars of spices at a dollar each, well below the local big box chain price for the same or smaller sizes priced at $3 to $5 or more each. (We also found bake ware and kitchen supplies of the same quality for a fraction of the cost too.)
- Cook treats at home.If you don’t know how to cook or bake, take a class, get a friend or family to help you learn, experiment, or have someone help who does. Rather than buying treats and snack packs for lunches, cook your own from basic ingredients. It may cost a little bit more time, but the food will have less chemicals, preservatives, fat, salt, and sugar and cost a fraction of prepackaged foods. For example, I can make 24 snicker doodle cookies for about $1 or buy a prepackaged mix that makes eight to ten for $2 to $3. Before buying that prepackages mix or box of treats or even meal packs, calculate how much it would cost per serving to make that same food at home.
- Shop store sales and ads.Learn the rhythm of store sales and learn to shop that rhythm to stock up on bulk items and other foods. Keep an eye on the prices of your regular stores when you drop by a dollar store, ethnic store, or big box chain. By knowing what you will pay for an item at one store, you can make a snap decision if you know it is cheaper at another store. Learn to pay attention to in-mail or online sales ads too, so you know where to go first for deals before going out. That extra fifteen minutes spent price checking can mean $5 to $30 or more in savings a month.
- Take advantage of local co-ops for deals.By prepaying for co-op food bundles and maybe volunteering an hour of your time per month helping bag foods, you can often get a bag or more of food for 50% or less of the cost. Check out local government, food stamp, whole food, food shelf, or co-op food site to find the co-op food groups near you. These are groups of volunteers, who glean local crops, buy bulk purchases, and take advantage of other low-cost food opportunities. Co-op members, such as us, volunteer time and prepay to buy the food in bulk to lock in the discount rates.
- Eat low-glycemic index foods.Foods with white flour and sugar are not as satisfying and often lead us to hunger sooner than their low-glycemic index counterparts. By reducing the amount of sugar, artificial sugar, and over processed foods we eat, we will eat less and feel full longer, leading to slimmer waist lines and fatter wallets. (Think of cutting out fast food, TV dinners, prepackaged foods, and foods with added sugar, mono-sodium glutamate, food starch, and corn syrup on the labels.)
- Eat more fiber.While we have had eating fiber for health drilled into our heads so we know how important it is to eat fiber for digestive health; it is also healthy for our wallets. For the same reasons we eat low-glycemic foods above, eating high fiber reduces hunger and improves digestion and makes us feel full longer, thus making us eat less and helping our budgets go farther. But skip the so called bran cereals and whole wheat breads. Reach instead for oatmeal, brown rice, berries, apples, grapefruits, and leafy greens. And finally, don’t go low-fat. Instead do right fat. Low-fat foods will make you hungry because they are not low-glycemic and not satisfying because we will crave the fats we need for energy.
By paying attention to how we spend our food budget and what we buy, we can ease our family budget and live on less. Be creative, get the entire family involved, eat out less, cook from basic ingredients more, and your wallet will get fatter and your family fitter.