When I moved back east in 2004, I could get a 10 kg bag of flour on sale for $4.99. These days I stock up when (if!) they go down to $8.99.
If you are like me, you are looking for ways to keep your food costs under control.
The following tips have been helpful to me, and you might find some of them surprising.
10 Tips for Saving Money on Food:
1- Have a master list.
Take an inventory of the items and products you use regularly and create a master list.
Create categories for the items so that the list is organized and easy to read. This helps you know what products you need to keep on hand in your kitchen.
Before you go shopping, you can scan the list to check that you have your staples. Write down the items you need and include any special additional items.
Here’s my sample master list.
2- Don’t use coupons.
Most coupons are advertisements designed to get you to buy a specific product. Generic or no-name brands are often cheaper than the discounted name brand products that you usually see coupons for.
If you do find coupons for items you use regularly by all means clip them, but don’t let advertisers make your decisions for you. Don’t let them influence you into buying items that you don’t really need.
If you don’t need it, it’s not a bargain.
3- Don’t shop the sales.
Sales cycles do not necessarily reflect your needs. It’s good to stay on top of seasonal deals, but buying something just because the store manager or company director has decided to discount it isn’t always a wise decision.
Basing your family menu on the sales flyer will not necessarily save you money if the items on sale are not ones that you like or usually use.
If an item is on your master list, take advantage of a good sale, but keep in mind how much of the product you can realistically use within a given period of time.
4- Don’t stockpile.
When you do purchase sales items in bulk, be conscious of how much money you may be tying up in inventory. It’s important to be prepared for emergencies or other unexpected events, but it is possible to go overboard.
People have different comfort zones in terms of how much food they like to keep on hand, but be aware of the fact that having an overly large stockpile of food that cannot be used within a reasonable length of time is not really saving you money. Your money is being tied up in that stockpile.
5- Shop once a week.
The more times you set foot in a grocery store, the more money you will spend. Stopping in for milk can easily end up costing you in small impulse purchases over the course of a year.
Try to limit your shopping trips to once a week.
If you run out of an item before your next trip, try to make do with what you have. This will help you learn to organize your shopping more efficiently.
I try to do a big shopping trip once a month and just shop for fruit, dairy and vegetables in the remaining weeks.
6- Eat less meat.
Meat is expensive. Learn to love lentils, dried peas and beans. These cheap, nutritious products will help you save money.
You don’t have to become a vegetarian, but learning to prepare some meatless meals can definitely help your pocketbook, while benefitting your health and the environment at the same time.
If you are not sure how to cook beans and lentils, this guide from PulseCanada will help. Their website also has lots of great recipes you can try.
7- Don’t waste energy.
Refrigerators, freezers, ovens, small appliances… Sometimes we forget how much energy it takes to keep a modern North American kitchen up and running.
We are sometimes so dependent on our modern conveniences that we forget how many resources it takes to keep them operating, and that those resources cost us in terms of money and their effect on the environment.
There are lots of things you can do to try to reduce the energy use in your kitchen, which will both save money and help the planet.
A simple example? Keep your freezer at least 2/3 full for maximum efficiency. If you don’t have enough food in it, fill empty milk jugs or cartons with water and place them in the freezer to create additional frozen mass.
8- Organize your fridge.
If you don’t know what is in your fridge, you will without a doubt waste food.
It’s so easy for food to get pushed beyond arm’s length, hidden behind that jar of olives until it’s a fuzzy mess of unidentifiable something. Organize your fridge into zones so that like items go with like, and you know where to find them.
Keep leftovers or time-sensitive foods in a prominent spot so that they don’t go bad before you get a chance to eat them.
9- Check the discount racks.
The discount racks at the grocery store are a great place to find bargains on produce and baked goods. Take time to look carefully at what is on the shelves.
Baked goods are usually 50% off, and produce can be heavily discounted or stickered with a set price per bag. Slightly stale bread can be used for puddings or stratas, and fruit that is somewhat over-ripe can be used in baking.
Some people feel self-conscious perusing the racks, but I think of it like this: would you feel silly walking around a grocery store throwing money on the floor and walking away? People would certainly look at you strangely. But when you refuse to buy perfectly good food because it’s past it’s cosmetic prime, that’s exactly what you are doing.
Spices and some other items can often vary significantly in price from one section to another in the same store.
In one of my local stores, for example, I can get cumin and some other spices in the imported foods section for half the price of the same items in the baking section.
Lentils and beans are often also available in bulk sizes for a much cheaper per unit price.
There are lots of ways you can save money on your grocery bill and food preparation costs. For more suggestions, check out some of these sites:
What about you?
What are your tips for saving money on food? I’d love to hear them.
If you have a minute, please share them in the comments.