Even though experts say we won’t be feeling the brunt of the recession until sometime in 2023, most of us are tightening our belts now. There are actually six, little-known, but vital shopping and cooking skills which will help you get through the tough times ahead.
Although politicians and economists express varied opinions on whether we are – or are not – in a recession right now, the truth is, we probably haven’t hit the top of the price increases or the bottom of the markets. So, what are some ways you can prepare for the next few months or years?
There are, of course, a number of ways to lower your grocery bills. But, let’s talk about specific, often overlooked ways you can shop to stretch your food dollar and cook to make your food go farther.
To see us discuss each of the six strategies in this post, click on the video below.
Tip #1: Know how to use the sales flyers.
It’s vital that you know exactly what is on sale at the best price before leaving home. This single habit will allow you to consistently spend less at the store. If you don’t have physical copies, the major grocers all have their weekly sales flyers available on-line.
Although a lot of people look at the flyers, the key to using them most effectively means planning your weekly menu around items which are on sale.
It is very common to find items at their lowest price when they are in-season. Ultra-low priced items in the sale flyer are called loss leaders.
This term is derived from the idea that technically the store may be taking a loss on these items. However, they are using those items to lead you to shop at their location.
This marketing strategy banks on the effectiveness of simply getting you in the door. Statistically, since they are already at the store, the vast majority of shoppers will buy all the items they need, meaning that the store actually makes more money in the long run, not less.
However, savvy shoppers will walk into the store, purchasing only heavily discounted items, and then planning an week’s worth of meals centered around those sale-priced ingredients.
Here’s an example. Take a look at this week’s Aldi flyer.
This ad features a variety of squash is on sale for a great price – You can get spaghetti squash, butternut squash or acorn squash – all for just 59¢ per pound. This means, you can buy four butternut squash with a total weigh a total of 18 pounds for just $10.62.
When the squash are roasted, they can provide the base of your dinner recipes for that week. You could consider making creamy squash sauce over elbow macaroni, chunky squash marinara sauce over spaghetti, spicy squash bowls, or curried Squash soup
Here’s the great part about these recipes – they make very generous portions which can feed a family of four for two nights each.
Here’s the bottom line. By starting with an ingredient which was on sale at a great price as the base of your weekly meals, you have just dramatically lowered the average cost of these meals.
Tip #2: Evaluate your receipts when you return home.
This simple task will take no more than fifteen minutes, but it’s a game-changer when it comes to lowering your monthly grocery costs.
Grab a pen or highlighter. Look at your receipt critically. Circle, underline, highlight, or put brackets around items on your receipt as you answer these questions.
- How many items did you buy for full-price?
- What percentage of your total bill was meat or prepared foods?
- Did you buy snacks?
- Flavored Waters?
- Did you buy anything that you didn’t really need?
- Did you buy something which would have been easier and cheaper to make it yourself?
As you work your way through the questions, make notes for yourself on a separate piece of paper.
The purpose is not to cause yourself to feel guilty. When you see how you’ve spent your money, you can then begin to make changes the next time you go shopping. Keep your receipt notes in a special place.
On your next shopping trip, complete this exercise in the same way, comparing notes from previous receipts in order to create a list of goals for how you’d like to spend your food dollars and save money on groceries in the future.
Tip #3: Figure out the number of servings from each ingredient.
Look at each ingredient in terms of NOT just the total price or even the unit price. Instead, consider the number of servings. Instead, ask yourself:
- How many recipes (or meals) will this serve my family?
- Does this ingredient require me to add other (maybe expensive) ingredients to it to make it into a meal. For instance, hamburger helper may be cheap, but we all know that the meat you have to add is expensive.
- Are there ways I can stretch this ingredient to go further?
Tip #4: Do more cooking from scratch.
It’s almost always possible to spend less on groceries if you do more cooking from scratch. The portions are nearly always larger for an at-home version rather than the boxed, bagged, or canned varieties from the store.
Although it’s necessary to remember that you are trading time for savings, many recipes can be made at home for half the price of the “made for you” varieties.
Additional advantages are that cooking from scratch can often save you from an extra trip to the store and you can make larger batches and freeze extras or use them over several days.
Tip #5: Know how long food you regularly buy lasts you.
Date items when you open them, so you know how long they last. This is especially effective if the ingredient will be used over a long period of time.
This practice also makes easy to challenge yourself to make that item last longer.
For instance, a quart of maple syrup will last us about one month. Because we’ve made a habit of writing the date in black ink on the side of the bottle when it was opened, we now know when we need to replenish our supply. We also cut back on how much syrup we used on our homemade pancakes and found we were able to stretch that syrup to last us at least two more weeks.
Tip #6: Consider areas of compromise.
Unless you’re already tried off-brands, buy generic where you can.
Although we love a premium cup of Joe in the mornings, we have discovered that Kroger and Aldi brands of coffee are very good. Our boys have gifted us with both of these brands and we have enjoyed both. We would not have normally tried either type, but we were very glad to discover that there were less expensive substitutes.
These six tips just skim the surface of the ways that we save money on groceries. If we’ve “whetted your appetite” and you’re ready to dig in, then check out the Grocery Super Savings Bundle.
I’d love to hear your best, little-known tip for saving money on groceries. How do you consistently spend less at the store? Leave a comment and let me know.
20 thoughts on “6 Often Overlooked Ways to Save Money on Food”
Great article! So many YouTube channels just give generalities. I really appreciate the detailed information you provide!
Marla, our pleasure. Thanks so much for watching and reading. We appreciate it.
Hello hope and larry I’m fed up too
It’s been a little frustrating to watch the store prices, but it has certainly made us more creative at finding solutions and new ways to save.
I do my inventory, then make my list. I go online to check prices. I list each store’s prices in location order, the furthest to the closest to me. I check Walmart.com, Mariano’s app and Instatcart app for Aldi and Dollar Tree.
Then I make 3 to for store lists accourding to value. I even check the clearence racks, just for items on my lists.
I take the bus to Walmart and the other stores are in walking distant, taking me towards home.
Madeline, you have a great system in place for saving time and money!
I value you advice, although sometimes I’m just lazy and go for convenience. With the rising price I’m doing much more from scratch cooking and baking. Also now that I’m retired I have plenty of time to accomplish this. Ironically when I was working full time for the last 25 years in the food service industry the last thing I ever wanted to do was cook ,even though I’m fully trained and have the skills.what’s that old saying “a mechanic’s car new run’s and a carpenters house is never finished lol
Kathleen, I totally get not wanting to work all day doing something and then do more of it once you get home. Very understandable. A few convenience foods can help keep momentum too. So, we keep moving forward with our plan to ultimately save money (and time) in the kitchen.
Wash and save glass and plastic containers, ie sphagetti sauce jars, margine tubs, sour cream tubs, cottage cheese tubs etc. Use for DIY Soup.
Although it’s implied in on section, DIY soup.
Cook your own soup from scratch.
I buy turkey on sale, debone it to cook faster. Freeze the meat. Use the bones to cook soup.
Toss bones, skin, fat trimmed from meat (ie tail) into a 20 quart pot. Simmer for a while.
Throw in potatoes, onions, rice, peas, what ever random veg you have.
Add spices to taste, I often use powdered soup mixes.
Only add enough water to rehydrate dried vegs.
Spoon the (very) thick result into recycled plastic/glass 1 quart / 1 litre / 750ml containers.
when cooking, add water to thin to desired consistency. 1 container should be good for 2-4 servings.
Also works with pork shoulder bones. If you buy picknick pork shoulders, with skin on, trim the skin off before cutting portions, freeze skin with the bone. Use both for soup.
I use a lot of ketchup, mustard, “BBQ Sauce”.
Obviously I only buy them on sale, in bulk quantities, 20-50 at a time on sale. They don’t spoil sitting in the basement.
I use vinegar to wash the “empty” bottle out, to get the “very last drop”, save it. Then after the first couple of squirts I use “washings” vinegar to thin the remainder. It’s not a lot of saving, but 10-15%. Also saves some water and dish soap for washing the empty containers before recycling them.
Not all sauce containers have “squeeze” tops. I save the “squeeze tops” from empty containers and reuse them on other containers that only have screw tops. For example, ketchup bottle tops often fit the “BBQ Sauce” bottles I buy, which come with flat screw top. Using squirt tops saves some sauce by getting thin “squirt” instead of big blobs, more than I want.
When I was a kid, my parents and another family would go to a slaughter house, buy a whole cow. Have them butcher and pack the meat and bones. The 2 families, of 4 each, would split up the cuts. That would usually fill the 2 cars. At home the meat would fill a 15 cubic foot freezer. That was our beef purchase for the better part of year. The bones were used for soup.
Such great tips. I remember being at a church many years ago for Thanksgiving potluck and asking to take the turkey bones home. The hostess had never, ever made broth from scratch. I definitely made the most out of those turkey carcasses. We had stock for a long time in the freezer.
I’ve learned that the grocery stores don’t include all the sale items in the flyers or the webpages of their sales. When I open the last jar of marmalade or the last bag of sugar etc., I add that item to my “Buy if on sale” list. I use that list to do a search on the store’s website while I’m making my shopping list. That usually gives me time to find it on sale before I run out. I’ve developed a habit of checking for a sale price of certain favorite products every time I’m in the store, like my favorite coffee creamer. As a retired widow I have to be careful not to overstock sale items that might expire before I can use them. Checking expiration dates has become a habit.
I love the idea of your “buy if on sale list”. That’s a really smart way to remind yourself what you are running low on and need to replace.
I really don’t have any new tips, but I try not to buy anything unless it is on sale. I have no problem trying generic, but I have found a few things that do not compare to brand name. We reduced our food budget by $50 each month back in January. To date, we have not over spent. Some months are more, but the next month usually is less. I am pleased with our spending because we started stocking a 6 month emergency pantry in January. I loved your advice about dating a food item when you opened it so you could see how long it takes us to go through that item. It has saved me from buying more than I would use in a 6 month period. We have also cut our dinning out allotment in half. My husband and I retired in May and we really don’t eat out much anymore. Now that we are home, I can’t use the excuse that I am too tired after working to cook LOL. I think we will keep our food budget the same for 2023 and re-evaluate in March/April.
I love how you are tracking your expenses so you know whether you need to change your game plan in the future. Congrats on reducing your food expenses by $50 a month. Well done!
I don’t know if they’re available in the US, but here in Canada I use the Flipp app for price-matching and the Flashfood app to get food at greatly reduced prices. I have managed to lower our food bills by more than 30% over the last two years even with inflation.
Well done, Sandra, on lowering your grocery bills. We don’t have Flipp or Flashfood in our area, but many of our viewers use both and love them.
I buy groceries every week, except I will skip a week every 5-6 weeks. I’ve found that except for maybe one or two items, I don’t need to buy a full weeks worth all the time. We clear out unused items in the pantry and I find new and unusual ways to make a meal!
Karyn, I love it that you’ve found a system that helps you spend less money and waste less food. Thanks for sharing.
Can you help me to post my receipt to the fetch app. I have been using it but I can find where I put your code in to get the extra points Thank you for your help
The code is for new Fetch users. If you you already have the app, then there is no way to use the code.