If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve no doubt discovered that the price of most foods has increased significantly. There’s plenty of blame to go around: increased commodity prices due to increased demand, increased oil prices, devaluation of our dollar, and on and on.
Whatever the reason, increased food prices are putting a major dent in our household budget. Since we can’t do much about the prices, we have to look for other ways to reduce (or at least keep even) our overall food expense.
Food is a unique budget category in that normally when you are struggling with less income and/or increased costs, the natural inclination is to turn to cheaper alternatives. Unfortunately, as many people are discovering, when it comes to food this means an unhealthy diet.
Think of the cheapest foods at your local grocer – they are likely cheap pastas and boxed processed foods (Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, packages of potato flakes sold as “instant mashed potatoes,” etc). While these foods will do in a pinch, they aren’t exactly healthy staples to build the basis of a clean diet.
Nine Ways to Reduce Your Grocery Budget
1. Plan to shop every two weeks. Make room in your pantry (and your budget) to shop for enough food to last two weeks. The more often you see the inside of a store, the more likely you will give into temptation and deviate from your list.
2. Buy in-season produce. The simple laws of supply and demand tell us that things that are plentiful should be a little cheaper. Of course, the opposite is true if a particular produce item is not plentiful in your area, because it has to be shipped in from another part of the country (or world), and those increased costs to transport are passed along to you, the consumer.
3. Eat less. This one seems obvious, but to someone like me raised on three squares (big squares) a day, the idea of skipping a meal or two seems foreign. However, here lately I’ve been trying to eat only when hungry, not when the clock says 8:00, 12:00 and 6:00.
4. Grow your own vegetables. The last couple years we’ve experimented with square foot gardening. This year, we plan to expand on the idea and grow a variety of vegetables in garden boxes in our backyard. We also planted fruit trees last fall that will hopefully yield fresh fruits in the years to come.
5. Compare unit costs, not product packaging and creative pricing. Remember bigger isn’t always cheaper, and neither are the 10/$10 deals. I recently stocked up on a few items included in a 10/$10 sale and the next week the store returned the item to their normal price…$0.88.
6. Consider swapping beans or eggs for meats when looking for a protein source. Like any good carnivore, I like to build a meal around a good meat. Unfortunately, this can get expensive. Here lately, we’ve been enjoying eating “breakfast” for dinner – with scrambled eggs as the main course. Beans also provide a nice source of protein and can augment a smaller amount of meat in dishes like tacos and chili to bulk up the recipe with out increasing the cost per meal.
7. Avoid the “junk food” aisle. Nothing good comes from this aisle. Soft drinks, chips, snack cakes, and cookies are simply empty calories. And they are expensive when you consider you can’t plan a meal around them. Your waistline won’t miss this aisle, either. Now, this is an area where I need to take my own advice!
8. Eat leftovers. One of the most effective ways to lower your cost per meal is to simply stretch your prepared foods across more meals. In fact, I have found that meals like spaghetti, soups, and meatloaf actually taste better the next night.
9. Freeze the extras. If you are short on freezer space, consider a second freezer to stock up on meats and vegetables when on sale, or to freeze leftovers of your favorite meals. My wife makes a huge batch of soup and freezes the portions we don’t eat the first two days for later consumption. Weeks later, on a particularly hectic day, we’ll toss the frozen soup in a crock pot to thoroughly reheat and enjoy an easy meal.
These tips probably make sense in any environment, but are particularly important in the face of rising food costs, high unemployment and a time of high economic uncertainty. I highly recommend taking the time now to streamline your food budget and use some of the savings to build a pantry of stockpiled food.
Best case scenario, your pantry will provide cheaper food than is currently available in the store. Worst case scenario, your pantry will provide food if there isn’t any in the store. It’s my hope that we never face the latter scenario, but I’d rather be prepared just in case.
How are you dealing with increased food costs?