Saturday, February 04, 2012

How I Save Money - Groceries

[This will be the first in a series of blog posts that were inspired by my friend Samantha.]

I have much to learn, but I am a pretty thrifty little gal when you get right down to it, so I have been invited share some of my "secrets" to saving money. I will start in a very obvious place...the grocery store!

1. Choose a store with the lowest prices overall. Shopping around and driving all over town just mostly drives me crazy and takes a lot of time and energy for not much return. After shopping at Mi Pueblo, Safeway, Target and Trader Joe's, we've finally decided that Trader Joe's all on it's own, while not perfect, is the best store for us. No coupon clipping, mostly healthy stuff, low prices.

2. Caveat to rule #1 - if you have a collection of stores like a bakery, deli, and fruit and veg stand close together in your city or town, disregard rule #1 and shop specialty. Something happened to me during uni in Australia...I realized that I actually couldn't afford to shop at a grocery was TOO EXPENSIVE! Totally crazy to think about now, but what could I do instead? On the way home from uni (walking...the bus was too expensive too...I'm serious), I would stop at the bakery, deli and fruit and veg stand and get all the things I needed for much cheaper.

3. This is a little bit neurotic, but I try never to spend over $3 on any one item. Try it sometime! (You'll always have a few items over, but try it anyway.)

4. Plan your meals. This is invaluable. I subscribe to one or more cooking magazines, but you don't need to pay for that, actually, since there are so many cooking websites out there. I plan three or four meals per week and then eat leftovers for lunches. I like to use Rachael Ray recipes ( because they are usually simple and quick. Not the fanciest, but you do what works for you!

5. Speaking of cooking websites, has become a new favorite. This is not only because of its extensive collection of recipes of all kinds, but because of a special feature they have where you can type in ingredients that you have on hand and search for recipes that way! The reason this is so awesome for me is that this is the way I can stretch the ingredients I have on hand to make quick weeknight dinners in the interim between shopping trips.

6. Again dove-tailing into the above is using similar ingredients in multiple recipes so that you don't have to buy such a wide variety of individualized ingredients. This doesn't have to be boring (chicken again??) unless you let it. It doesn't have to be the main ingredient that is similar...something I do often is using the same fresh herbs in multiple recipes. Buying fresh herbs can be pricey and I find that you never, ever use the whole thing that you buy in just the one recipe!! However, you can put fresh thyme on a zucchini pizza and fresh thyme in chicken and wine and not get bored.

7. This one may upset some people (my husband included), but a surefire way to save BIG money on groceries? Skip the meat. Sorry, carnivores. However, you can save a bit of money by doing one or two meatless meals a week and see how that goes. Maybe the savings will taste good enough to continue the practice!

8. Shop and eat in-season and local produce as much as possible. You'll save money and it's better for the environment, etc, etc... Though something in human nature may crave a juicy fresh mango in the middle of winter, you're really gonna pay for it. Try to resist.

9. Similarly, try to resist a lot of fun, colorful packaged and processed products. It is so, so expensive for what it is! It's like paying someone to increase your doctor bills. As an example, your kid doesn't need fruit roll-ups in their lunch fruit will be much cheaper and healthier. Another example is microwave popcorn. That stuff is SUPER bad for you (weird chemicals in the bag, amazing amounts of sodium and fat), but not only that, you can buy a half pound bag of popcorn kernels for a quarter the price of a box of the "fake" stuff. So easy to make at home and takes pretty much the same amount of time!

10. Buy from bulk bins whenever possible. Flour, beans, oatmeal, nuts and much more can be bought for amazing prices when they are not pre-packaged for you. Bulk bins are not found just anywhere anymore, disappointingly, but if you can find a place that has this option, you're golden.

These are my top ten that I can think of off the top of my head.
Hopefully this is helpful! Think smart, get disciplined, develop good shopping habits. You'll be lining your pockets with extra cash in no time!

Any more tips? Leave me a comment!


Deb Brine said...

Great list Cassie! One thing I do that saves me heaps is buying meat in bulk and dividing it up myself. For instance, when I buy mince (ground beef)...most recipes ask for 500g of mince. I divide it up instead into 400g packets - nobody notices the difference and I get one extra meal for every 2kg of mince I buy :). I also do the vegetarian thing a few nights a week or what I call "almost vegetarian" - might have a small amount of bacon or ham in it. I can recommend Alison Holst's cookbooks "Meals without meat" and "Meals without red meat" as excellent for those who are not vegetarian but want to cook some vegetarian meals.

Cassie T. said...

That's helpful! Thanks Deb!