Thursday, June 20, 2013

Shop Smarter in the Grocery Store

Buying cheaper food isn't the only way to save money and eat healthier. Learning to take advantage of sales and coupons, where to shop for what, and when to buy certain things is a huge part of it.  Here are ten tips on how to shop smarter at the grocery store...

1. Generic doesn't always mean cheaper.  Bring a calculator or use your cell phone to check.  Sometimes, brand name can be comparable or cheaper when on sale or if there is a coupon.

 2. Shop Local! Shop for things grown in your area and for things that are in season in your area!  When it comes to things like fresh produce the best thing you can do is eat in season. Watermelon is not cheap in December in the Midwest!  If you have a Food Co-op, check there.  Many times the sales at the co-op in my area are better than the sales at larger stores.  For example, I've gotten raspberries for $1.79 when they were on "Sale" at the larger stores in the area for $3.

Utilize your local Farmer's markets or local farms that run retail operations (like roadside stands).  They are a great way to boost local economy, and can be cheaper.  And sometimes, they mark things down to move product faster.  You also don't find JUST produce there. Many farmer's markets include vendors selling live plants, maple syrup, honey, baked goods, and cheese. In my area it is the only place in town you can find buffalo meat (which IS NOT cheap, but an example that Farmer’s Markets aren't just about things grown in the dirt).

3.  Pick your own!  This technically falls into shopping local, but deserves extra attention. Oftentimes, farms that run "Pick Your Own" operations. Many times they also run retail operations carrying their produce and locally produced goods. For the price of a little gas, a morning of picking and an afternoon of processing you can have pounds of food for little cost and your timeThe strawberry farm I like will provide you with a cardboard container and will walk you out into the strawberry fields where they will direct you to a row that hasn't been picked over yet. Then, you start picking.  You can eat as many berries as you like while you are out there and you can pick as long as you like.  If you have children, they'll eat berries all morning (you won't have to make lunch if they eat enough) the picking goes a lot faster and they think it’s fun!  And the price? Usually less than half of what you'll see in the store.

 4.  Consider growing your own plants.  Some people think their living situation means this isn't an option, but if you put a little thought into it....you'll be surprised what you can make work!  Consider a Topsy Turvy for tomatoes; plant some lettuce or small pepper plants in some small window boxes.  If you have a balcony, try having a container garden. You could get simple planters at a resale store for very cheap. Seeds are cheap.  I reuse water from my home to water plants. When I change the water in the fish tank, I use the "dirty" aquarium water to water plants. You can collect rainwater in a bucket. You can (allegedly) reuse nutrient rich water used to boil pasta or vegetables. I've heard of people who collect that cold shower water that comes out before it warms up that normally just goes down the drain in a small bucket.

4.  Meat CAN be cheap! Grocery store sales tend to run meat sales in cycles....pork one week, chicken the next, ground beef after that, ect. Buy what is on sale. If you have extra money, buy extra and freeze it. This will make that a cheaper option when you want something but it isn't on sale that week. Look for the stuff that is "Manager's Special" or a "Surprise buy" as this is meat marked for sale that needs to used or frozen right away. Chicken is cheap. You can buy a whole chicken for under $6 and bake it for dinner, then use the leftover meat for enchiladas or chicken noodle soup. The bones can then be used for bone broth. Avoid buying meat at full price

5.  Grocery stores tend to put stuff on sale with a theme. For example, the store closest to my home will have things like tortillas, salsa, beef and cheese on sale at the same time. The next week, they'll feature pasta, pasta sauce, garlic bread and ricotta cheese.  If you can, buy the things that are on sale that you can incorporate into your own healthy recipes.  Also, if you can, buy extra of the items that are on sale or buy some of the items that you normally wouldn't use and use them with a different recipe later on.

 6. Take advantage of BOGO sales. If your store offers free potatoes and carrots with the purchase of a roast….consider the deal, what you’d be saving and go for it if it is good. You don’t have to use all the carrots and potatoes for that meal. The last time I did this I got free carrots/potatoes/dinner rolls with the purchase of a 15 lb roast (which was on sale).  I bought it and didn’t use all of the carrots or potatoes.  The first night, we had roast.  The second day my boyfriend had lunch and that night we had what we affectionately call “Hoo Hash” which is the roast recooked in a frying pan with a little broth and covered in cheese.   The leftover potatoes made hashbrowns that weekend. The rest of the carrots went into chicken soup the following day. The rolls were set aside because we had bread that needed to be eaten.  Those rolls ended up being a side for at least 3 different dinners.

7. Check local convenience stores.  We have stores here that sell certain things cheaper than any store in the area.  Here’s a list of some of the savings (Grocery store prices are in RED).

Bread:  (on sale for .69 cents but can be up to $1.50 for white OR wheat) – $1.79

Eggs (99 cents/dozen)--$1.59-1.89 depending on the store, but they can go as low at $0.99 on sale

Bananas (.39)--$0.59

Butter (on sale 1.99 for a pound)—2.15 on sale, or $2.50+

Milk (sold in half gallon bags, 2 bags are .60 less than a gallon at the grocery store)—$2.89 for 1%

Onions(.39), and potatoes (.39) –Sometimes 3 lb bags will go on sale for $1.  But normally you pay 20-30 cents more per pound 

8.  Coupons are great for things you are actually going to use. When you shop, compare prices/price per ounce to see if a saving is worth it. Always look for coupons on the package that are good right away!  Also, consider printing coupons. Swagbucks will let you print off grocery coupons and reward you with points for printing and using coupons. Those points can then be used to purchase things like Amazon gift cards. I also highly recommend apps like Ibotta that allow you to select items, then scan the barcode and your receipt to redeem the offer. Once you have earned $20, you can cash out and send money to your Paypal account. The Receipt Hog app will allow you to earn points for every receipt you scan. Fetch Rewards will give you rewards for buying brand name products (used my referral code FA1WR and you'll get an extra 1,500 Fetch Points - $1.50 - when you complete one receipt!).

9.  Always check the discount produce bins. Go to multiple stores in the same area if you can do it fast and you get the best deal! 

10. Meal planning is SMART.  The best way to start is to take the ad on Monday (they usually come out on Sunday) plan the following week’s meals.  Shop on Friday or Saturday for everything on sale in the current ad.  Sometimes you need an ingredient that isn’t on sale, if it isn’t on sale, you can choose to pay full price or wait until Monday or Tuesday and check the new ad to see if the items that weren’t on sale last week are on sale now.  This does require some extra time, and you don’t always come out on top, but sometimes this works in your favor.   This is also the best time to throw a few bucks towards ingredients that are on sale for future use.  I suggest doing this with canned/dry goods.   For example, if pasta/spaghetti ingredients are on sale you should buy what you want for the next week’s meal plan, and if you can afford it buy extra to use in the future when it might not be on sale thus avoiding having to wait and see if it goes on sale or buying full price because you need it.

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