Cutting Spending--Saving on Food

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

The best way to save money is to spend less. So, as time and inspiration comes my way, I'll be sharing tips on how to cut spending in different areas. I'm going to start with food. We have cut our monthly food budget in half if not more in the last year. I have found this to be one of the easiest areas to cut spending without having to make major sacrifices.


1) Plan your meals. This generally takes no more than 15-20 minutes. I can do it in as little as 5 minutes if I'm not going to try any new recipes. If I'm feeling adventurous I'll spend a little time checking out some of my favorite recipe sites for something new to try. I'll enter something I already have on hand, i.e. pork, into the search area and see what comes up that looks good. I try no more than 1-2 recipes each week so not much time is needed for searching. I plan my menus on Sundays after taking a quick inventory of what we have on hand and a quick look at the grocery store flyer to see what's on sale that week. This helps keep costs down. Planning meals also keeps costs down because when you have dinner already planned, you're not as likely to run through the drive-thru on the way home from work or running to kids to after-school activities. You will also save money because you won't be wasting food. If you don't plan to eat it, sometimes food, especially those highly nutritious and perishable fruits and veggies, can get overlooked and go bad before they're eaten.


2) Use coupons. Yes, a lot of coupons are for highly processed foods, but many of them are not. And sometimes a little convenience, like having a can of soup on hand for a quick meal instead of eating out, can go a long way. While the bulk of your coupons can be found in the Sunday paper, many are available for printing online at places like Coupons.com, CoolSavings, & Mambo Sprouts. You can even find them in magazines. My favorite magazine coupon source is All You. It's usually jam packed with coupons and can be purchased at Wal-Mart or with a subscription. You can maximize your coupon savings by using a coupon on an item that is for sale; allowing you to buy that product at it's lowest possible price. And if you have multiple coupons for that item you can buy several of that item and create a stockpile of the things you use most frequently. Stockpiling the things you use most saves money because you will always be buying those items at their lowest possible price. No more running to the store when you really need something and paying full price for it. Just open your pantry and there it is, purchased at a fraction of the original cost.


3)Shop at drug stores. Okay, I know this may sound strange to some. I know when I first started using coupons this was a totally foreign idea for me. I mean, everyone knows there is going to be a huge mark-up on food items at a drug store, right? Well, while there might be a mark-up, there are also some really wonderful customer loyalty programs offered by places like Walgreen's, CVS & Rite Aid. Walgreen's has two programs. With their Register Rewards (RRs)program, when you purchase certain items you will receive a print out coupon with your receipt that will give you a certain dollar amount off of your next Walgreen's purchase. With their Easy Saver Rebate's program, when you purchase certain items, you can receive a rebate on that item. The items available change from month to month. This is super easy to do. You can just enter your info online and at the end of the month request your rebate. If you have the rebates put on a Walgreen's gift card you will get a 10% bonus on your rebate. That's FREE money to purchase the items you need. Walgreen's also has weekly coupons available in their weekly sales flyer as well as Instant Value Coupons which are found in the Easy Saver catalog available in the store each month. These can all add up to huge savings. CVS has a loyalty card program where you can earn Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) on certain items you purchase. This is similar to Walgreen's Register Rewards program. You can use the ECBs to help pay for future purchases. Your out of pocket expenses can be very low at CVS when you learn how to use your ECBs. Rite Aid offers a Single Check Rebate form that's similar to Walgreen's Easy Saver Rebates. Purchase certain items each month and you can receive a rebate on them. Like the Easy Saver Rebates, these can be requested online as well. You can maximize all these programs by using coupons as well. At first, you may want to set aside part of your budget, say $20 one week, to get started purchasing the items needed to earn the ECBs, RRs, or rebates. But, you will find you will begin using the ECBs, RRs and rebates to pay for or at least help pay for the items you purchase at those stores. Over time, your out of pocket expenses at these stores will be just a small amount of your grocery budget.

4)Skip the processed foods. We all know that processed foods are generally less nutritious. Very often, they cost more too. And even with coupons, the cost to your health doesn't necessarily make buying these a good deal. I'm not saying never buy the processed stuff but limiting it is a good idea as is finding a healthier natural/organic version of it if it's something your family really enjoys. Stick to the perimeter of the store you are shopping, loading up on fresh veggies, lean meats and low-fat dairy. Be sure to watch your sales flyers and look for manager's specials on these items to get them cheaper. Also, be on the lookout for coupons on these items. You'll be surprised how many you'll find. I got salad mix for 89 cents this week by combining a coupon with a sale. And, yes, you'll even find deals on organic products. I try to fit as many of those as possible into my $60 a week budget. Another way to save money in this area is to shop your locan farmer's market in season. You can find fabulous deals on local produce there.

5)Store Brands. Before I learned the fine art of couponing, buying store brands was my go to way to save money. And very often you can get really good deals by purchasing store brands. I have learned that by combining coupons and sales I don't have to rely on store brands as much. However, there are still times when store brands are a better deal. When in doubt, compare unit prices as well as ingredients. You don't want to save a few pennies and load up on additives and preservatives but you also might be pleasantly surprised that the store brand is a good overall bargain. I also, often buy store brands, if I'm out of something I really need and there are no sales/coupons on the brand I normally buy.

6)Eat out less. I love to eat out. Cooking is just not my favorite thing. I enjoy baking but cooking meals just doesn't do it for me. Therefore I keep my meals simple and quick to prepare to resist the urge to eat out. I find myself amazed that my weekly grocery budget is about the same price as a meal out for my family of four if we splurge on appetizers or dessert. It certainly makes going out to eat a lot less appealing. Even fast food meal can cost us upwards of $20. Knowing what I can do with that $20 at the grocery store, I find myself less willing to spend it on eating out. By cooking at home more and eating out less, you will find yourself spending a lot less on food. If you just really want to go out, and most of us do from time to time, find ways to do it for less. Many restaurants offer discounts and coupons if you sign up on their site. Also a lot of restaurants have kids eat free or 1/2 off nights. We have a restaurant here where kids eat free all the time. We can eat out there as a family cheaper than we can get fast food. You can also save money on eating out by buying gift cards at restaurant.com. I, personally, have never used them because there aren't many restaurants available in my area. But I know a lot of people do use them. It's probably a good idea to contact the restaurant you plan to purchase the GC for just to make sure they're still participating in this program. Finally, you can also save money eating out by using coupons. With the struggling economy I've noticed more and more restaurants offering coupons as a way of drawing in business. If you want to eat out, why not use the coupons and save some money.

So there are my ideas for saving money on food. Leave a comment and share some of your best ideas for saving money on food.

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