Friday, February 24, 2012

Cutting the grocery bill without cutting healthy choices and variety

Below are some of the methods that we have adopted over the past few years to save money on our grocery bill without giving up variety and healthy choices. No two families are alike in preferences or dynamics. In many families, those who do the cooking may not have time to cook complex meals and therefore may resort to far more convenience foods out of necessity. All of these methods fit in with our lifestyle.

Meal planning – basing meals around ingredients in the cupboard well as meals with complimentary ingredients and items that are on sale. However, I don’t get too specific with my meals. Instead of specifying the exact meal, I might say poultry, starch, green veggie. This means that when I get to the grocery store I can select the green vegetable that is on sale and/or in season. Same with the cut of meat.   

Batch cooking – for freezing and leftovers. I always plan at least one meal each week to be a meal that I can freeze for a future date. Freezer meals usually work well for nights where DH prepares dinner. Lunches are usually left overs. We like to get creative with left overs such as using leftover chicken for salads or in another meal. One night/week we also have simple dinners like soup or spaghetti.

Shopping alone. I realize this is not always possible – thankfully it usually is for me. My kids can be distracting which means I may or may not be referring to my list and the toddler can sometimes be pushy. I also try to avoid shopping when I am hungry – for me, this leads to major impulse buys like an overabundance of beverages when I’m thirsty.

Do away with convenience and processed foods. This is win-win because it saves on money and health but can be a hard one with busy schedules and kids. Every family has their exceptions. Ours is pop. DH enjoys pop. For this, I buy name brand when it is on sale. Otherwise, he is okay with generic. If you have dietary constraints, this can be especially difficult. In these cases you can save by opting for items that are naturally allergen-free as opposed to their pricy alternatives.

Making variety trade-offs for..variety. One type of crackers will suffice. As will one type of cereal, juice, salad dressing, and cheese. I like to optimize by choosing products that are versatile. I usually won’t buy things like goldfish crackers except on the rare occasion where they are on sale, I’m shopping with the pushy toddler, and we already have crackers, since they aren’t very versatile. Same with condiments like barbeque sauce – we don’t buy it. If we use it, we make it homemade. I am quite sensitive to caffeine but instead of buying two different kinds of coffee – I pour myself half a cup and add some boiling water. Sticking to this rule, we have also been able to splurge on some items like Heinz ketchup and Kicking Horse Coffee.

Price matching. I look at all the flyers ahead of time. The trick to this is that I only look for items on sale that I usually buy. I will then circle the items on the flyer to save time at the cash register. I also save all the price match items until the end so that they don’t accidentally get rung through before I get my flyers out.

Reduced portions. With regard to meat, I try to do some meatless meals. I buy all my meat from a local butcher which allows us to buy lesser quantities and therefore have more variety. We also don’t eat large portions of meat. Standard cuts are usually far larger than a healthy portion. Therefore, we usually opt for smaller cuts or larger cuts which we then split. Bone-in is usually cheapest so we tend to get these cuts and de-bone them ourselves – easy and not too time consuming. Since B is only 3, we often just get two portions and give him some of ours. (Sidenote: we save a lot of money by doing this on rare occasions where we eat out). I’ve also found that if I am making things like casseroles, stews, or sauces, I can get away with using less meat and substituting with more veggies, grains etc. On the same note, I try to buy smaller items in general. This goes hand in hand with portion control. If you are buying by weight for things like fruit and veggies, I like to buy smaller items like apples, cabbages, etc. Same goes for eggs. Small or medium-sized eggs are often cheaper than the standard large eggs.   

On the other side, things like dog food, ketchup, or toilet paper I buy in large quantities and when they are on sale. For personal hygiene items, DH and I share things like shampoo and toothpaste so I buy one brand and usually in large quantities.

Leaving some room in our grocery budget has also been essential for us. This means that we can take advantage of unadvertised sales or minimal indulgent purchases without blowing the budget. Making compromises where you might be relatively indifferent such as generic applesauce over name brand allows for the ability to allocate more money to the things that do matter to you such as fair-trade organic coffee. Since we don’t eat out a lot, we usually allow for one “extravagant” meal/week where we may pay a little more. Another alternative we’ve discovered is the prepared food section of the grocery store. If you’re in a crunch you can often pick up a pizza or family dinner at a fraction of the price of a restaurant! 

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