I am a coupon clipper. I shop at my town’s junkiest grocery store because it offers double coupons. My husband reads the grocery circular in the Sunday paper to know what that week’s deals are for the things we eat. But, we can all benefit from some insider tips on the best way to spend on food–after all, it probably racks up more of our family’s budget than anything else. So when Breezy Mama reader April was looking for help on how to maximize her family’s grocery budget, we turned to consumer and money-saving expert, Andrea Woroch for help.
What is the appropriate amount per month to spend for a family of four without being wasteful?
I can’t really answer this as it depends on how many family members are being fed and the age of each child. For instance, two teenage boys will consumer a lot more meat than a toddler. For large families and growing boys, I recommend shopping warehouse stores where you can buy in bulk for cheap and avoid multiple trips to the store. Otherwise, you should be able to save at your local supermarket by using these smart shopping tips.
What are cost savings ideas? Example: Eating leftovers for next day’s lunch.
- Reduce the amount of meat served weekly, especially red meat, can significantly cut costs (while also creating more heart healthy meals).
- Prepare grab-and-go types of snacks for the week, like carrots and celery with dipping sauce or portioned bags of trail mix so you don’t rely on fast food or gas station food when in a rush.
- Cook extra to create leftovers for the next day. Especially helpful for working parents so that they can bring leftovers to work for lunch.
- Shop warehouse stores for items that don’t have expiration dates like canned soup, rice and condiments as well as home cleaning supplies and daily essentials for saving of up to 30% off.
What do you think about warehouse stores (Costco, Smart and Final, etc). I always come out of these stores feeling like I have spent SO much money (sometimes close to my whole monthly budget), but do they actually save money in the long run?
Warehouse stores could lead to overspending. With over sized carts that are tempting to fill up with what seem like great prices, it’s very important to plan out each shopping trip with a list. However, bulk purchases can keep a family of four well supplied for a few months.
What foods can we buy in bulk and freeze? A friend recently told me she buys grated cheese in bulk and freezes. I never would have thought of that. What are other “non” obvious foods can you freeze?
- Meat bought in bulk from warehouse stores
- high-quality butter made from pasteurized cream; unsalted butter loses flavor so its storage time is shorter; flavored butter freezes well.
- brown sugar
- crackers and chips
- dried fruits
I am trying to freeze more things, but now feel I am being wasteful with baggies. What products are good for freezing food in?
Plastic containers are brilliant for storing foods in the freezer. They are available in different shapes and sizes and are easily stacked tidily in the freezer. They are reusable and easy to clean and label.
Does it help to have a weekly/monthly menu?
Weekly menus can help curb costs as long as those meals are based on the store’s current sales as well as any available coupons.
- Develop weekly menus that feature seasonal produce since out of season veggies and fruit cost more.
- Meats are marked up as much as 60% to cover losses since meats have a shelf life of 5 days. You should look for those that are approaching their sell-by date for reduced prices.
- Avoid prepared foods at the store and pre-sliced/pre-cut vegetables/fruits as these will run you up to 40% more.
- Always opt for the generic versions for significant savings unless the name brand is on sale or you have coupon. Compare ingredients side by side if you fear it won’t taste the same and chances are you will see similar if not an identical list of ingredients.
- Plan out each shopping trip with a list and stick to it. Many surveys suggest that those who don’t shop with a list spend more and make more impulse purchases. While you are at it, shop for the week and limit the number of trips to the store. This will also help reduce the amount you spend on impulse purchases each time you visit a store. For instance, $10 of impulse purchases at each visit is manageable with one shopping trip each week. But an $10 spent for 3 visits to the store, will make a big dent in your food budget.
- Print coupons from home before heading to the store or load them to your loyalty reward card. Sites like CouponSherpa offer printable grocery coupons and a free mobile coupon app for iPhone and Android with instant access to various digital coupons.
Organic vs. non-organic. What foods make sense to spend a little extra on? For example, I’ve heard milk and strawberries should always be organic.
Purchasing organic versions is wise for some vegetables and fruits, especially those that you consume with the skin left on like cucumbers (since most nutrients are found in the skin) and apples (unless of course your kiddos prefer it otherwise). However, boxed and canned organic food doesn’t have to be as expensive. Many store’s now offer their own generic brand of organic food for nearly 30% less than name brand. And don’t dismiss the power coupons offer for cutting costs on healthy food. Many organic brands offer coupons and stores like Whole Foods have an entire section on their website devoted to store coupons which, when paired with weekly sales, can help trim your budget significantly. You should also shop local farmer’s markets when it comes to produce for better prices.
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About Andrea Woroch: As nationally recognized consumer and money-saving expert, Andrea Woroch shares smart shopping advice and personal finance tips on a variety of topics ecompassing everything from travel and home improvement to money management, grocery savings and coupons. You can follow her on Twitter (@AndreaWoroch) or Facebook.com/AndreaWoroch for daily tips.