Could you use an extra $1,200? That’s exactly what you’ll have in a year if you can find a way to whack just $25 from your food bill each week. But there’s not one single way to reduce food costs. The key is to use a combination of strategies.
EAT THE SALES
Build your grocery list from the sale ads. If it’s not on sale, don’t buy it — at least, not this week.
The secret is to adopt a couponing method and then stick to it religiously. I regularly shop at a market that doubles my coupons, but I hold onto them until the item goes on sale. This way, I get the best bang for my buck when I match a cents-off coupon with items that are on sale. Now we’re talking bargain prices.
Aldi is a discount grocery retailer, specializing in its own private label products. Prices are so low it’s like having a double coupon on everything. Instead of managing 25,000 different items like a mega-supermarket, Aldi has under 1,000 of the most-needed, most-often-used food products, including produce and frozen meat. There are over 1,900 Aldi stores in the U.S. across 36 states (so far, none where I live). To find a complete list of locations go to the Aldi website or call Aldi headquarters in Batavia, Illinois.
Pound for pound, fresh produce can be much cheaper than fast food, chips, cookies, candy, soda pop or prepackaged, preprocessed convenience items — and it’s lot more nutritious. But there is a catch. You have to buy what’s in season. If it’s $4.99 a pound, it’s not in season. When apples are 3 pounds for 99 cents, bananas are 49 cents a pound and red-flame seedless grapes are 77 cents a pound, you know they’re in season. There are always bargains in the produce department. Adjust your tastes accordingly.
KNOW YOUR PRICES
Devise a system that will keep you current on the shelf price and sale price of food items you buy on a regular basis. It might be a small notebook you carry with you or a spreadsheet you maintain in your computer. Marketing campaigns take advantage of the ignorance of the buying public. You need to be smart enough to know a real deal when you see it and also detect a counterfeit. It’s difficult to find the humor in a sign that announces “Two for $2″ unless you know the regular price is 89 cents each.
This is the fun part. Example: I don’t spend more than $2 for a box of cereal. It’s not always available at that price, but when it’s on sale and I have coupons to match, I stock up. My personal limit for boneless, skinless chicken breasts is $2.79 a pound; $2 for a 16-ounce bottle of salad dressing and so on.
Dr. Dean Edell, in his book “Eat, Drink & Be Merry,” says the healthiest diet is not one that is low-fat or high-carb. The healthiest way to eat is to eat less — small amounts of a large variety of foods. Rather than serving dinner family style (passing the food around the table), try restaurant style, where the food is “plated” in the kitchen. Now the cook controls portion sizes — a great first step to reducing overconsumption.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”
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