In keeping with the theme of the book, The Household Menu and Coupon Organizer, I want to share a few money-saving tips that I have learned over the past twenty years as a homemaker, mom of three, and occasional working mom (although anyone with children and a house to run knows that the term “working mom” is redundant).
Today, let’s focus on cutting your food expenses. Some of these may be obvious and others might provide that “Ah-ha!” moment which will spur you on to greater savings than you ever believed possible. Each idea comes from my own personal experience; I have put each into practice–some more often than others–so I know they work. I’ve done Top Ten lists before, so here we go again:
Top Ten Ways to Trim Your Food Bill
10. Combine sales with coupons.
When I was first married, I did this religiously. Every Sunday we’d purchase a newspaper which had the local circulars as well as the manufacturer’s coupons. My goal was to save more than I spent. I would make my shopping list based upon sales, see if any coupons could be combined with the sales, and stock up. Some stores offered double and triple coupons, providing even greater savings. I don’t do this as much as I used to, mainly because I can get name-brand non-perishables at the kind of store mentioned in #6, below.
9. Buy store brands.
Quite often store brands are less expensive than name-brands; most of the time, there isn’t much of a difference in quality. In one of the Tightwad Gazette books by Amy Dacyczyn, the author mentions a friend of hers who worked at a big-name vegetable canning corporation. He said that when the quota of the name-brand was filled, they would switch label machines and–get this–the same canned vegetables were then labeled with a grocery store brand label. Same food, different label, for 25% less.
8. Don’t eat out.
It really goes without saying that eating out will cost you anywhere from five to ten times more than it would cost to feed yourself and/or your family at home. Also, when you head out to work, pack your own lunch. We recently went to an amusement park and took in our own lunches and drinks. Standing outside one of the snack bars, I calculated how much we would have spent on an identical lunch had we purchased it in the park. Our home-made subs and soda pop would have cost us over $42 in the park. Instead, our home-made versions worked out to less than $2 per person, for a total of less than $10. Had we filled reusable bottles with water instead of buying a six-pack of Mountain Dew, the savings would have been even greater.
7. Shop right after you’ve had a big meal.
Unless you plan to purchase way too many cookies, snack foods, and instant meals, make sure you are full before going to the market. You’ll be far less likely to be swayed by the impulse buys on the endcaps (the racks at the end of each aisle) and at the checkout. The big bag of cookies or chips isn’t as appetizing when you aren’t hungry.
6. Shop at Bent-n-Dent or Salvage stores.
You may know of these and you may not. In my town alone there are two, and they offer significant savings to consumers. These stores specialize in selling items which aren’t “pretty” enough for retail chains. Cans with dents. Boxes with a crushed corner. Coffee that’s just past its expiration date. According to the USDA, canned goods are good for up to two years past the date on the can, and as long as the can is not leaking or bulging, dents do not compromise the integrity of the food inside. No one in my family has ever gotten sick from bent-n-dent food. If this still makes you squeamish, then check out the other items they often carry, such as packages of pens which have a tear in the plastic bag, or doggie chewtoys which just didn’t sell.
5. Freeze or can your own produce.
The Farmers’ Markets can offer great deals on large quantities of fruits and vegetables. Take the time to check out the best methods of freezing and canning (online or in cookbooks) and DIY! You’ll be rewarded with food far tastier than anything you can purchase already canned or frozen, and without all of the salt, chemicals, and preservatives! Just yesterday my girls and I picked blueberries at a local U-pick farm. Today we canned blueberry jam and made blueberry pies. We did the same just two months ago with strawberries and rhubarb, and look forward to apple season.
4. Stock up on non-perishables.
When there is a sale on your favorite pasta, sauce, paper towel, or whatever, buy enough to last you a few months.
3. Drink water.
And I don’t mean bottled water! Unless your tap water is polluted or over-chlorinated, you should be drinking tap water. Soda pop and fruit drinks are expensive not only to your wallet but also to your liver. They’re loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup which throws your blood glucose levels into chaos and forces your liver to clean it out. Water is free and it detoxifies.
2. Grow it yourself.
Have a little bit of land? Till it up and plant a garden. No land? Use containers such as pots, buckets, and even windowboxes.
1. Make it yourself, from scratch.
Whether you follow Betty Crocker’s step-by-step instructions for a cake or buy her cake mix, you’re saving a whole lot of dough (sorry). The bakery will charge 900% more than the cake mix, and around 1500% more than if you just follow the recipe. Likewise, building your own pizza saves you on both the cost of the chain-made and delivery.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and be in the running for a free copy of the book, The Household Menu and Coupon Organizer, on or before August 20, 2011. Some of the tips mentioned here are covered more in-depth in the book.