Finance Magazine

Save Some Green on Groceries

By Goedekershomelife @goedekers

Photo courtesy Matt MacGillivray on Flickr.

Photo courtesy Matt MacGillivray on Flickr.

Earlier this month I wrote about online grocery coupon resources and tips on using those coupons for maximum effect. However, using coupons is not the only way to save money on your food bill, nor is it necessarily the best way to save money at the grocery store.

In fact, I believe the best way to save money on your food budget is not to use coupons as your main strategy. Extreme couponing requires a source of a lot of coupons to work best, and it requires you to spend time matching the stores’ and the brands’ advertising efforts to identify the best deals. Finally, since you are in short buying the most heavily-promoted products, your food purchasing decisions become motivated mostly by the advertising efforts of the brand name food manufacturers, not by eating healthy or focusing on balanced nutrition.

For those who want to ditch the coupon strategy, here are strategies and tactics for saving money on your groceries that do not require using coupons:

 

Know Your Stock Up, Buy, and Hold Off Prices

Stock tips usually come in the form of buy, sell, and hold recommendations based on a stock’s performance and expected value. You should have a similar purchasing strategy for your grocery shopping.

This means having a good knowledge of the best price on the products you use most, so that you know when a sale price is good or incredible. It is an important part of any money-saving strategy at the supermarket.

Hold off if you know your supermarket regularly marks down the product. For example, at least once a month we know that our supermarket has a sale on cheeses. If they are not on sale, we avoid buying it at the regular price.

Buy when you know the price is below the regular everyday price. In my example with the cheese, this is when that monthly or bi-weekly sale price comes up.

Stock Up Due to overstock, new products coming out, or seasonal supply, you will note that some products do drop incredibly low. At this point, you buy a lot of the product, filling your freezer and shelves. This lets you hold off on purchasing that product at “regular” price for months at a time. I remember my parents filling our chest freezer with chicken quarters when they dropped to incredibly low prices, which happened once or twice a year.

Another predictable example of this is turkey at Thanksgiving. Most grocery store chains will heavily discount their turkeys in November, making it a great time to buy a winter’s supply of poultry.

Every product will have different price points, so make sure you identify those price points and stick to your purchasing strategy.

Use Staple Foods

Many, if not most of the people in the world, subsist on a diet that revolves around rice and beans or other legumes. In the U.S., corn is heavily subsidized and a cheap food. Pretty much anything you bake is going to require flour.

These are all examples of staple foods, and your shopping budget should be focused on these regularly available, versatile, and inexpensive foods.

Buy in Bulk

Buying large quantities saves money; that much is a pretty well-established fact. However, it only works if the end price per ounce is in fact lower than other options, and if the product is something you actually use.

Buying a 20 lb bag of Uncle Ben’s rice may not be cheaper per ounce than a 5 lb bag of regular rice at your local grocery store.

Also, be sure to factor in the cost of any membership dues to big warehouse clubs. Often these clubs only sell major brands that, due to advertising expenses, cost more than the store brand at the regular supermarket.

Buy More Ingredients, Less Packaged Products

You may have notices that most of those staple foods are components of recipes, not ready-to-serve dishes. And if you are buying in bulk, you may notice it becomes a lot cheaper to make bread, snacks, cookies, and pancakes than it does to buy mixes or pre-made products.

This obviously is a trade-off of time for savings of money, although there are other benefits to spending more time preparing your food – most notably health benefits as you avoid using the preservatives major brands rely upon to keep the food edible through transport and storage.

Switch To Unadvertised or Store Brands

While I touched on this above when talking about bulk foods, the savings from purchasing unadvertised or store brands is so vital it is worth mentioning again. The price difference between a brand you see advertised on TV and with coupons in the paper and the store brand is due to the millions of dollars spent on TV commercials and coupon printing costs, plus those coupon discounts themselves!

Often, the store brand food is processed and packaged in the same facility as the major brand foods. But since the food is not being advertised as a specific brand, it can be sold profitably at a lower price.

You or your family should periodically try the store brand or other unadvertised brands of your most-used foods. Sometimes the taste difference will be too much to bear, and other times you will discover that you cannot really taste the difference at all.

Eat Foods In Season

Particularly with fresh fruits and vegetables, you will notice regular “seasons” when the food is less expensive or more expensive. Stock up on those items you can when this happens. You might want to look into canning or freezing produce when the stores are flush with a fresh supply of produce that you often use.

Of course, your meal plan should use this bountiful supply of inexpensive food while it is in season. Have more dinner salads during the summer, for instance, and lots of turkey soup in the winter.

There is a season to other foods too, natural cycles of supply of seafood, meats, and other products that as you monitor prices you will begin to recognize.

Match Your Shopping Trips to Price Cycles

Along the lines of seasons for foods like produce, there are other pricing cycles that will affect prices in the store. Big brands have investors, and those investors watch for the financial reports each quarter. For a good showing, many businesses discount products towards the end of a financial quarter or year to boost their records. Car dealerships do this, and so do food manufacturers.

Shop Discount Stores

My family has never made use of a warehouse club. We have friends and family that use them all the time, though, so it has a great deal to do with how you shop for your food and what your family eats.

Since we have all but eliminated store brands from our diet, we have found the best savings from shopping at discount stores in our area. These are stores like restaurant supply companies, discount chains, and discount distributors.

Restaurant supply companies, like Gordon Food Service (GFS), sell bulk products that are often used by caterers, restaurants, and other food professionals. You may have to place orders in advance with them, and name brand products are not always available, but you will generally find the best price-per-ounce on any food item from a store like this.

Discount chains, like Aldi’s, are focused on providing the lowest prices. In the case of Aldi’s, which is a major international chain, the low prices are maintained by having a shopping cart deposit, which eliminates the need to hire employees just to wrangle carts, and by not supplying bags or bagging groceries for customers.

Discount distributors, such as Big Lots, Family Dollar, and even some dollar stores get some or most of their items from overstock. Other chains focus on supplying products that are near the end of their shelf life, which larger stores avoid due to the need to sell it quickly.

Depending on your eating habits and the stores in your area, you will usually find a combination of these stores to be a critical part of saving money on food.

Don’t Shop Hungry

One last psychological tip – make sure you eat before you go shopping for food. Numerous studies, as well as your own anecdotal evidence, show that when you shop hungry, you buy more food since your body is craving it at the time. Shopping on a full stomach allows you to make more rational decisions while walking the aisles of your grocery store.

 

What are some of your grocery shopping strategies to save money? Post them below in the comments!


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