It is certainly true that unhealthy food is readily available at all times all around us, often at very low cost. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the perceived cost of healthy food. Groceries in general can be a big expense, but you can still find ways to stay within a reasonable budget while eating healthy.
1. Buy Online
For items that you buy frequently, you can often get better prices by buying online from sites like Amazon. Anything from sauces and seasonings, to protein powders and packaged items. When you cut out the factor of the middle-man, there is usually a savings that will be passed on to the consumer. The bigger cost savings is usually found when you buy in bulk or buy multiples of the same item. Make sure you read fine print on package sizes and expiration dates which sellers should include in the product description. If not, you can contact the seller for specifics.
2. Buy In Bulk
Similar to buying online, buying in bulk from stores like Costco or Sam's Club will save you for those things which you use a lot of. Before investing in the cost of membership, do a walk through and check things out. If you won't actually use the membership, or if there aren't that many things you find to buy in bulk, it won't really be a good investment for savings.
3. Take Advantage of Sales and Your Freezer
If there is something on sale at a deep discount, stock up while you can and freeze it! It may not seem like a big savings, but especially with meat, a good sale will add up quickly. It may also be worth wile to stock up on fresh produce that freezes well if there is a good sale.
4. Use Coupons Wisely
Don't feel obligated to use coupons just because they are there! Use them for items that you already purchase and need. I've gotten "coupon happy" in the past and made the mistake of buying something because there was a sale and a coupon, only to realize I wouldn't actually use it. That doesn't translate to savings, it translates to wasted money. If you do have a good coupon for something you know will be used, try to get duplicates. Most stores will honor several of the same coupons, but check with customer service for any limitation details.
5. Check Expiration Dates
When I was growing up I learned a money saving trick from my best friend, who learned it from her mom. They called it "going to the warehouse." Translation: pull from the back of the shelf and check your dates! The way that stores stock and restock foods on the shelf is such that the items first to expire will be put at the front of the shelf, and the newly added items with later expiration dates get added to the back of the shelf. Here's the thing: nobody says you can't grab from the back! You'd be surprised the difference it can make for shelf stable items...often several months. This might not be an issue if you plan to use something right away, however, when you are stocking up on things while there is a sale, it matters. Ever found a bottle of salad dressing in your pantry and realized it was expired? Yeah, me too...money wasted! When you know how quickly you go through certain items, you can estimate whether purchasing additional while on sale is a good idea based on the dates. This also comes in handy with things like fresh produce, eggs, milk, etc. Why grab the one from the front of the shelf if there is one that will expire later at the back? As someone who tries to shop only 1 time a week, this has made the difference for me many times when it comes to produce lasting me through the week without wilting. It has also kept me from tossing as much out when it comes to things that I take longer to finish like milk, eggs, and cottage cheese.
6. Use What You Have
Check the expiration labels on your pantry foods every so often and plan meals around what needs to get used before it will go bad.
7. Stretch Meat Farther
Meat can be pricey, especially when you opt for healthier cuts. Most of us get plenty of protein at each meal and could actually cut back on meat and add more produce instead. Be intentional about portions of meat and about bulking up recipes that you can with lots of veggies. Try going meatless one day a week. Incorporate other protein sources like cottage cheese, eggs, protein powder, or greek yogurt instead.
8. Use Apps
There are several apps that allow you to save on grocery items. Some simply price compare items for you by looking up prices at your stores. Others actually give you a rebate after scanning your receipt if a better price is found at a local competitor than what you paid. They rebate the money to your account which you can then cash out to a gift card when you are ready.
9. Shop In Season
It can be tempting to buy produce when you are craving something specific, but when you purchase out of season, it can add up quickly. While I'd never discourage anyone from including a plethora of fruits and veggies in their diet, there are several ways to avoid spending a lot on produce. For certain things, canned or frozen may substitute well for fresh. For other things, a closely related item might substitute in place (think something like pears for apples). Another option is to check local farmer's markets which may have deals on things that grocery stores don't place on sale.
10. Rotate Stores to Stock Up on Sales
I have 2-3 grocery stores that I use depending on how much I need for the week and what sales there are at each. Two of the stores have more specialty items that I can't get at the Super Center store, but the Super Center store has better prices, especially on household goods. I mentioned before that I try to limit myself to one grocery store trip per week, usually on the way home from church on Sunday. Occasionally I'll hit two stores back to back, but only if absolutely needed. I have found that streamlining my time and money saving works best if I keep an eye out for certain things that routinely go on sale for BOGO at each of the specialty stores. I just check online and then know when to go where. Then while I can get BOGO from one store, I'll stock up and not have to go back for a while. I try to get enough of the BOGO items to make it until the next time they are BOGO. If they aren't and I run out, I just wait and don't get those items. Most sore rotate sales in 8-12 week intervals. You can always ask customer service for the details of your local store's rotation time.
11. Do Not Make Impulse Buys
As much as possible, go with a list and stick to it. When I don't stick to things that I have a plan to use for a specific meal, snack, or recipe, I often end up not using it before it goes bad. Remember that saving is not just about what you spend, but also about what goes to waste. Along the same lines, don't shop while hungry, as this often leads to impulse buys. Studies have also shown that using self checkout registers reduces impulse purchases because we don't have time to look at things while waiting in the checkout line.
12. Check Price Per Unit
Most stores now list the price per unit, per oz, etc., on the shelf label. It used to be that the bigger the package the better the price per unit, but this doesn't always hold true, so make sure you double check.
13. Only Buy Brand When It Matters
For most things, you pay a substantial difference in price to get the brand. A lot of the generics are actually the exact same product made by the same manufacturer, but packaged under a different label.
14. Weigh Cost Of Convenience
Pre-sliced or chopped fruits and veggies, or pre-cleaned meat can often be more expensive, but sometimes the time savings is worth it. One factor to consider is whether or not you are paying for the un-usable parts to be removed. For example, with watermelon, the price per pound of whole vs sliced vs chopped varies a lot, but the part you get with the cubed is all edible, while the whole or sliced still has you paying for the rind. Similar rules apply with meats that are pre-cleaned or de-boned. Consider if it is worth it for you to pay a bit more for the cleaned meat, or if you can use the full carcass for things like bone broth or soups.
15. Grow Your Own
If you have the place to do so, why not grow a few of your family's favorites? It is a fun activity for kids to get involved with. Some simple things to grow are tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and berries. Even if you don't have a place for a garden, you could grow your own herbs.
Have any tips that I missed? Please share with us in the comments or on the Dashing Dish Member’s Facebook Group!