Maybe holiday spending has taken its toll on your wallet, or maybe your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier without breaking the bank. Whatever your reasons, I’m here to share what saves me the most when I’m out grocery shopping. There is no one size fits all when it comes to food and money saving strategies, but hopefully these will help offer you some fresh ideas on ways to save in 2016.
1. Stock up on the low cost staples– beans, rice, pasta, potatoes. These items will give you the biggest bang for your buck. They are not only cheap, but also filling and nutritious. Potatoes are a good source of potassium and vitamin C. Rice and pasta, especially brown rice and whole grain pastas supply the body with B vitamins. Pastas is also a good source for selenium. Many beans are rich in fiber, folate, iron and a good source of zinc. These foods are also very versatile. Potatoes can be baked whole, mashed, shredded for hashbrowns or cut into fries. With pasta you can have spaghetti one night or serve up a side of mac and cheese the next. With bean you can make: black bean dip, refried beans, bean burritos, bean soup, or bean salad.
2. Be smart with your convenience foods. These are so nice to have some days. The extra time you save in prep might make up for the extra money you pay, but choose wisely. Let’s take for example cake. How does the price of a premade cake from the deli compare to a box cake mix? Also, in order to make the box cake you still need to buy oil, eggs, and sometimes milk, so what are you paying for? Sometimes it just the flour and chocolate. You might already have what you need at home.
3. Unit price. Is that family size box of crackers a better deal than the regular size box? Usually, but not always. The best way to find out is to check the unit price. The unit price is the amount you pay for each unit of food- often the ounces of food. So let’s say a 12 oz. box of crackers cost $2.50. The unit cost would be the cost divided by the unit or $2.50/12. So the cost would be $0.21 per ounce. All that math might seem like a lot of work, but luckily most grocery stores do the math for you. Check the prices posted on the shelf. Often in tiny font below the price, is where the unit price can be found.
4. Store brand. There several store brand versions available of the food you purchase at grocery store. They might be worth checking out. I’m not saying you give up all your name brand items. If you found a spaghetti sauce that taste just like grandma’s, or prefer to know that your milk is organic and came from a local farm, then by all means keep buying those name brands. How about oatmeal? Pinto beans? Baking soda? Pasta? Canned pineapple? Consider what basic foods on your list might be purchased as a store or generic brand. Often there really isn’t much of a different in flavor and quality when purchasing the one ingredient items, like oatmeal or flour.
5. Buy in season. Ever notice how sometimes you can buy bell peppers for $0.50 and other times they cost a $1.50? Often this has do with the time of year you buy. Peppers grow better in warmer weather. On the other hand, citrus fruit’s best season is winter. Foods in season are often much cheaper and fresher. As you can see from the table below, regarding strawberry prices, the price of strawberries is nearly double in the winter compared to the summer months when the fruit is in season.
Knowing the best season to buy will help you prepare delicious, budget friendly meals.
6. Buy bulk or frozen. The nice thing about bulk is that you can buy as much…or as little as you want. No need to buy a whole bag of silvered almonds if you just need a few to sprinkle over your yogurt or garnish your cupcakes. Bulk allows you to splurge a little without paying the full price of a whole bag or carton. The nice thing about frozen foods is that they last up to months at a time. You don’t have to worry about forgetting it and then throwing it out a week later when you find it wilting in the back of your fridge. Also because it does last longer, if you find a bargain you can stock up. Enjoy your well preserved, smart purchase long after your trip to the store.
Written by University of Idaho Coordinated Program in Dietetics Student,