With so many people furloughed and out of work, saving money at the grocery store is top of mind. And sadly, the costs of meat, eggs and even potatoes have risen as the coronavirus has disrupted processing plants and distribution networks.
What can you do about it?
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- Plan your meals ahead of time. Cook meals with the intention to eat everything up and not waste. After all, wasted food is like throwing your hard-earned money away.
- Before heading to the grocery store, “shop” your pantry, fridge and freezer. Take stock of what you currently have and use up what you can before you buy more. How many times have you purchased an ingredient only to find out you already had it on hand? One way to avoid this is to group items by category. For example, put all canned tomatoes, pasta, beans and even frozen items like fish and meats together.
- Shop smart. Look for sales, shop seasonably and utilize online coupons. In the meat case, look for manager’s specials; meats that must be sold quickly that are reduced in price. Cook it that night or place it in the freezer!
- Buy less meat. And when you do serve it, serve smaller portions. It’s healthier and better for the planet, too. The national meat-supply shortage driven by the pandemic caused prices to soar and experts expect the effects to linger for months.
- Reconnect with shelf-stable foods. These include pasta, beans, canned meat, canned soup and canned vegetables, and frozen items.
- Look up, look down. Grocery stores will always put the items they want you to buy at eye level, but the best deals may sit higher or lower on the shelves. In the cereal aisle, the sweeter cereals are typically on the lower half of the shelves, so kids make eye contact with them and ask their parents for those cereals. Beware of those traps!
- Consider store brands. They’re typically cheaper than the name-brand alternative and often just as good, if not better, than what we are used to buying. Compare prices; try something new.
- Buy whole foods. Avoid highly processed foods in expensive packaging.
A large portion of the cost of our food is from shipping and processing. Buying whole food vs. convenience/processed food is cheaper. For example, it’s cheaper to buy a bag of plain rice rather than packaged rice mix with flavorings.
- Don’t over buy. In the initial weeks of the crisis, we saw an intense pantry-loading phase as we stocked up on shelf-stable products. Now that the shortages are mostly gone, keep a limited amount of food on hand but not too much. Remember that food does have a shelf life and you don’t want to throw good food away.
- Bargain foods include bananas, apples, oranges, carrots, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, plain white and brown rice, pasta, peanut butter, old-fashioned oats, frozen orange juice, eggs and popcorn. Plain frozen vegetables cost half as much as vegetables frozen in butter sauce. And of course, home brewed coffee (less than 50 cents a cup) or tea sure beats the cost of a cup purchased at a coffee shop!
- Planned-overs are a great way to save both money and time. Buying a little more of the same product saves on the unit price. Making a larger meal leaves food that can be heated up for a meal if you don’t have time to prepare a new meal. Food you can’t eat up in three or four days should be frozen. Make sure you label what’s in your freezer and remember to eat them up before the quality deteriorates.
- Once a week, have a clean-out-the-refrigerator dinner. Go all the way to the back of the fridge and bring out all the leftovers and bits of food. Turn it into a buffet and let the kids choose what they want to eat. Augment with a tossed green salad and fruit such as watermelon for dessert.
- Consider growing your own food. One of my favorites to grow is herbs such as basil, oregano and rosemary. So easy and saves so much $$$.
Now that we’re in a recession, keeping the grocery bills in check is going to be a way of life for many of us.
And if it’s any consolation, Americans spend the least on food consumed at home compared with just about every other country in the world.