This is Part Two of a post centered on sharing grocery shopping tips I've picked up on my self-taught cooking journey over the past eight years or so. If you missed the first post, hop over here to read tips #1-5.
6. Don't Buy All Your Grocery Items at One Location
This is where the grocery stores get you. In an effort to save time and gas money, many folks shop at one location that's close to their work or home. The stores run weekly sales that draw people in, but to compensate, other items are sold at inflated prices. Chances are if you buy everything at one place, you'll pay extra for one thing or another AND your options will be limited to whatever that particular store carries.
Instead, you need to:
- Make a list of specific foods/ingredients you buy on a regular basis
- Learn which stores sell those items at the best prices
- Plan to take one or two trips a month to each location to stock up on the specific items that are a good deal. Stick to your list.
If you want to double down on the savings, you can download an app like Ibotta on your phone (you can sign up on your computer first), which will let you search for rebates to earn for buying common grocery store items (including onions, eggs, milk, bread, and even beer) at certain stores.
If you're savvy, you'll find the store with the best price for a certain item (maybe you even have a coupon, too) and then after buying it, you'll scan your receipt to earn an Ibotta rebate on top of that.
This will require a bit of research at the beginning. Bring a pen and notepad or your cell phone with you (to take pictures) and keep track of prices. Eventually, you'll memorize the foods to buy at each store and it'll become habit.
If you live in a small town with only one or two places to shop for food, you still have options:
- Seek out local farmer's markets, CSAs & co-ops (see #9 below).
- Buddy up with a neighbor or friend and take turns carpooling to a nearby city once a month (or every few months) to shop at health food stores, supermarkets, local markets and bulk/wholesale stores.
- Order pantry staples like cooking oils, herbs, spices, and canned goods online at a discount (always compare prices!) through sites like Amazon, Thrive Market, Mountain Rose Herbs, Vitacost (I haven't tried this one yet), and Azure Standard.
7. Buy Pantry Basics When They're On Sale & Freeze for Later
This one might seem a bit obvious, but it merits mentioning. Think of perishable food items or ingredients that you use often. Are they freezable? If yes, then when your favorites are on sale, stock up and freeze for later.
Foods that are great for freezing:
- bread (loafs, quick breads, English muffins, tortillas)
- dairy products (milk, butter, cheese)
- fruit (buy in season for lower prices)
- meat (trim & portion it yourself to save money)
- vegetables (buy in season for lower prices)
- nuts (they go rancid quickly so last longer in the freezer)
- fresh herbs (freeze in olive oil or water in a silicone ice cube tray)
To save yourself time, peel and chop vegetables, fruits and meats as soon as you bring them home. Place the prepped food on a large baking sheet with plenty of space so that nothing is touching and flash freeze for an hour in batches.
This will keep the pieces from sticking together so you can easily grab what you need. Transfer to a freezer friendly container immediately for quick access later. Also, if you're freezing liquids in plastic bags, lay them flat so they take up less space.
8. Keep a Mental or Written Inventory of Your Pantry, Freezer, and Fridge
I'm sure you know that supremely annoying feeling of going to the grocery store to stock up on essentials and then coming home only to realize that you forgot a few necessary items. That means a whole extra trip, which has the potential to turn into splurge shopping.
(Pro-Tip: always eat before you go grocery shopping. It will save you money!)
To avoid this, keep a weekly list of things you're running low on. If it's an ingredient you use often, don't wait until you're completely out to buy it. This will help prevent extra trips and make your life easier when you're trying to whip up a fast meal on the fly.
9. Harness the Clean Fifteen, Buy In Season and Seek Out Local Produce
You may or may not have heard of a popular yearly list called The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen. It's published by the Environmental Working Group and is based upon laboratory tests done by the USDA Pesticide Testing Program and the FDA on conventional (non-organic) foods. The EWA analyzes the test results and compiles a list of the crops with the highest and lowest residue of pesticides on them.
This list is super helpful for folks who want to avoid exposure to chemical pesticides engineered to kill bugs (can't be good for us!!!), but who can't afford to buy all of their produce organic.
Armed with this knowledge, you can seek out versions of foods on the dirty dozen list that are organic or locally grown with non-certified organic practices. Conversely, you can save money by purchasing conventional versions of the produce on the clean fifteen list.
Update (February 2016): Want a new version of The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen list (from 2016) that you can download and print out? Click here to sign up for my free newsletter and I'll send you a printable PDF that I designed! :)
Oftentimes buying local and in season is MUCH less expensive than the grocery store. Even wally world. You're getting your food super fresh and it's traveling less (not halfway across the continent) so you're not bearing the burden of fuel costs.
That's why I recommend seeking out Farmer's markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Co-ops (cooperatives).
Local Harvest: use this website to search for local farms, CSAs, co-ops and markets near you.
10. Plan for Splurges By Making Your Own Snacks and Desserts
Everyone has cravings. Some have them monthly, others are more sporadic. Either way, at some point a snack attack will hit you and if you're not prepared...who knows what will happen.
Several scenarios are possible:
- You drink a bunch of water and ignore that little voice in your head. (unlikely)
- You crave something intensely but have none of it on hand. So, you eat everything in sight trying to satisfy yourself, but nothing works. In the end, you feel really full and kinda gross.
- You fly off to the nearest convenience store to buy an expensive and super processed version of whatever you're craving cause you have to have it now.
I've been in all three of those situations. Many times. Not afraid to say so. Of course, they could have been easily avoided by keeping homemade sweet or savory snacks around for emergency situations, ahem.
AND in the case of #3, you'll save a lot of money in the long run if you can prepare ahead of time, so you don't fall prey to convenience store prices. Here are a few recipe ideas to get you started.
Sweet & Savory Real Food Snack Ideas For Splurge Scenarios:
- Healthy Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
- Coconut Oil Fudge by The Coconut Mama
- Flourless Chocolate Cake by Eat Your Beets
- Homemade Spicy Black Pepper Beef Jerky (Oven-Dried)
- Coconut Oil Tortillas Chips by Butter Believer
- Sweet Potato Chips Fried in Coconut Oil by Healy Real Food Vegetarian
- Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas with Harissa & Garlic
- Crunchy Maple Cinnamon Chickpeas by Eat, Play, Love...More
- Maple Candied Bacon by Savory Lotus
- Fudgy Coconut Flour Brownies by Happy Healthnut
- Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (grain-free) by Primally Inspired
- Gluten-Free Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins by Don't Mess With Mama
- Coconut Oil Chocolate Sauce, Syrup & Shell
- Butter Candy by Recipes to Nourish
- Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream in Five Minutes by The Paleo Mama
- Honey Sweetened Caramel Corn by Raising Generation Nourished
- Homemade Kettle Corn with Coconut Oil
- Strawberry Jam Fruit Snacks by Our Heritage of Health
- Homemade Yogurt Fruit Leather by Thank Your Body
And that concludes the ten tips, foodies! If you haven't read Part One yet, hop over to give it a gander and check out tips #1-5. I truly hope these two articles will help some folks save money and make smart decisions when it comes to food shopping. If you know anyone who could benefit from this information, please share!
I'd like to hear from YOU!
Do you have any stories or suggestions about saving money on groceries that might help other readers?
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Note: The old image I used in this post (that's still floating around social media) was this image (used with permission): Pike Place Market by Robert Donovan
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