When I posted my thoughts about the Extreme Couponing tv show last week, I promised to share my non-couponing ideas with you this week.
Before I do that, I want to point out that I am not entirely anti-coupon. I use some coupons myself, and I think they can be a helpful tool.
What I am opposed to is subsisting solely on groceries that can be purchased with coupons* (think the $4/week grocery shopper). I’m not convinced that doing so is responsible on a dietary level (it’s very difficult to eat lots of raw produce and fresh meat when you only buy coupon items) or on an earth-friendly level (it’s very difficult to buy unpackaged groceries with a coupon).
*if the choice is 100%-couponed-food or starving, obviously I’d choose the couponed food. But for most of us, this is the not the choice we face.
Anyhoo…I feed my family of 6 on a $100/week budget (that includes cleaning supplies, toiletries, and paper products) without depending on coupons much at all, so take heart! You don’t have to become a coupon queen in order to get your grocery budget under control.
I want to talk about non-food grocery shopping in another post, so for today, we’re just going to focus on edible groceries. Here are the six main strategies I use to keep our grocery budget down.
1. Buy generic/private label products
If you’ve hung around here long, you know I’m a big fan of generic groceries, and I think you should be too. Private label products have come a long way, and I’ve been more than satisfied with almost all of my purchases.
Private label products don’t require a huge marketing budget, which means that you’re paying mostly for the food itself, not for the fancy ad.
Plus, almost every private label produce I’ve ever purchased has come with a money-back guarantee. Some even come with a double money-back guarantee, so buying these products is pretty much risk-free. So, give them a try! Even if you find a dud every now and then, odds are good that you’ll find some keepers, and that can help to keep your grocery budget down.
(if you have an Aldi, I’d especially encourage you to give their private label products a try. Aldi’s private label groceries are among the best I’ve ever bought).
2. Drink tap water
There’s little nutritional benefit to drinking sweetened beverages (even fruit juice isn’t particularly nourishing), so kick them to the curb, or at least reduce the amount you drink. I’d say the same goes for diet beverages…they provide nothing in the way of nutrition and are no more hydrating than water. They’re grocery budget fluff, and if you need to get serious about reducing your budget, this is a great place to start.
If you’re drinking only water, but your water is bottled, I’d strongly encourage you to try drinking tap water (I’ve shared my thoughts strong feelings on the bottled water topic before). If your water tastes icky, buy a Brita pitcher. That made a huge difference for us when we lived in an apartment with odd-tasting water.
3. Stop wasting food
Little is said about this on money-saving blogs, which is kind of sad. There’s so much advice out there about how to obtain groceries cheaply, but little about how to actually use up all the cheaply-obtained groceries.
If we stopped throwing away food, though, we could save a pile of grocery money (not to mention that we’d reduce our trash output). Read 10 Ways To Reduce Food Waste and join us for Food Waste Fridays. I think you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save by simply using up the food you buy.
4. Eat less
This is also not a highly publicized money saving idea (probably because it’s not a super fun one!).
Of course, I would never encourage anyone to under-nourish themselves or their children, but in at least some households in America, people are eating more food than is necessary. If this is the case in your home, consider reducing portion sizes, and eat only until you are full.
5. Change what you eat
Looking for ways to save money on the food you currently buy will only get you so far. If you can move beyond that and start thinking of ways to swap cheaper foods for more expensive foods, you can start to make some real progress.
For instance, looking for sales on cereal will save you some money, but if you start making pancakes or eating oatmeal from a large canister, your breakfast budget will drop significantly.
In the same way, using coupons on lunch meat will save you a few dollars, but if you start eating leftovers for lunch (that’ll help you reduce food waste too!), or start eating chicken salad sandwiches, you should see some budget savings.
6. Buy ingredients, not meals
When you buy foods that are ready to eat or almost ready to eat, you’re going to be paying for the prep work that went into the food. So, try to cook and prepare food yourself instead of paying a factory to do it for you. This will be cheaper and likely healthier as well.
If you’re just getting acquainted with your kitchen, take it slow. The more you cook, the better (and faster!) you’ll get at it, so hang in there. Try some of the main dish recipes I’ve posted, and keep your meals simple. If you make this task manageable, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
And whatever you do, don’t be scared of your kitchen and don’t think that only specially gifted chefs can cook. As my mom likes to say, if you can read, you can cook. Get a good recipe, follow the directions carefully, and you should be able to turn out a respectable meal.
Readers, what non-couponing grocery saving strategies do you employ? Share in the comments!