When I began shopping and cooking for my small family, I had no idea how to ‘save money’ doing it. I thought the only way was to skimp on brands, and I really thought food just cost what it cost and that was it. A few years ago when the ‘extreme couponing’ fad began to really explode, I bought into it… for about a month. I found it time-consuming (and expensive, considering it was supposed to be a money-saver!), and I quickly grew tired of it. The greatest thing I did learn from that short season, though, was how to get the most of my budget – my time budget, and my food budget! If you’re just starting out buying groceries for your family, or just looking for ways to save doing it, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
1. Grocery prices fluctuate – weekly! In general, anyway. There are rather standard prices for things, and if possible you always want to spend equal to or less than those prices. For example, the standard price on a box of 4 sleeves of Saltines (in my area) is $2.50. This means, when I see in an ad or on the shelf that they are $2.54, I’m not buying. If they’re listed for $2.00, however, I’ll probably buy a couple of boxes (as this is something my family goes through pretty quickly.) These standards vary pretty widely depending on where you are, but I will make a list of the ‘standard’ prices for my area (on things that I buy) and post that for reference. In the meantime, just keep in mind that just by being aware of what your groceries usually cost, you can begin saving on them.
2. You don’t always have to sacrifice on brands to save. There are some products that we will only use the real thing. Nilla Wafers are one product that my husband will not budge on. And I remember telling someone once how much we were willing to spend on toilet paper and getting the retort, “That is ONE thing I will NOT scrimp on.” Well, me neither. But by simply keeping an eye on the ads, my family hasn’t spent more than 50 cents per double roll of Charmin Ultra in probably two years. It’s completely okay to have brand preferences – and completely possible to still save lots of money when buying your preferred brands. In fact, sometimes when price-matching, it saves WAY more than buying store brand!
3. Store brands aren’t all bad. This sounds like I’m backtracking on the last point, but I’m really not. We buy a great many things without looking at the brand. Butter is one item that we buy regularly and don’t ever look at the brand (Though, you do want to ensure you’re getting butter and not margarine. Margarine is not the same thing and it is not good for you… but that’s for another time.) Another is bread. We try not to spend over $1 on any form of bread – buns, sandwich, french. I don’t care if it’s Mrs. Bairds or Market Pantry or Open Hearth. It’s bread, and it will likely be covered in any number of toppings when we eat it. I will note that you will get used to what certain brands do – for hamburger buns, Great Value usually get hard if you don’t use them the day you buy them, and Market Pantry’s hot dog buns always separate (not sure why, that’s just been our experience). Keep these things in mind when you shop to be sure you don’t waste your money or end up throwing things out.
4. Buying in bulk is usually a great way to save – but not always! We were gifted with a Sam’s Club membership this year, and I have been excited to save on many items by buying a large quantity at once. I noticed, however, that not everything was cheaper there than my usual price. The same goes for your normal store. In general, the 5 lb. bag of flour is going to be more cost-effective than the 2 lb. bag – but the only way to know this is to work out the cost-per-pound. Some stores have this on their tags for you, sometimes you have to whip out a calculator. I wanted to keep track of what I was spending on various items, and found an app to help me do just that. Now I pull that out when grocery shopping and I can easily see whether or not I am getting the best price, or if I should hold out. This app also allows you to enter as many different prices at as many different stores as you want, and it breaks down what you’re paying per ounce/pound/item as well. For me, this is a huge asset. If you’re not interested in that much detail, it’s simple enough to make the calculations on your own! (Item price divided by item quantity = price per qty.) I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it is probably the most effective way to ensure you’re saving the most money on your groceries. (And I promise you no one will stare. They’re probably doing it, too.)
5. Making it yourself is usually a great way to save – but not always! One of the things I began doing to save money when finances got really tight was to begin making things I would normally buy. (Pinterest was a factor, I will admit.) Things like cream soups, pizza doughs, waffles, seasoning mixes, etc. were significantly cheaper if I made them from scratch instead of buying them. This doesn’t apply to all foods, however. The one time my husband and I made our own bacon bits, we were shocked at how little we were left with after cooking an entire package of bacon. The same goes for the time I tried to make homemade tomato sauce (that doesn’t apply if you’re growing your tomatoes, though!) Some things are actually cheaper to buy – and as a bonus, someone else does all the dirty work for you!
These are a few of the things we’ve done to slash our grocery budget! I’ll share some more later.
How do you save on your groceries? Had you heard or used these tips before?