September 20, 2011
By Meg Favreau
Meg is the Senior Editor of Wise Bread, a website with thousands of ways to help you get your finances in control and live large on a small budget.
I would like to begin by telling you that I unabashedly love food. I love trying new food, I love making favorite old meals, I love eating healthy, and I love an indulgent pile of nachos, a slice of fudgy cake, and other not-so-good-for-me treats. In short, there’s little food that I don’t love.
But I also love saving money, and I know that food – especially healthy food – can sometimes seem prohibitively expensive (or, if it’s cheap, seem mind-numbingly bland). The good news is that there are a lot of ways to eat delicious, good-for-you food while saving money.
1. Learn to Cook
This is the biggest key to saving money on groceries. If you can’t cook recipes you enjoy, you’re going to spend more money to eat out or buy expensive, not-so-healthy already prepared foods. Cooking can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. The trick is to arm yourself with patience, some good recipes, and, if you’re lucky, a friend, relative, or even cooking-show host who can teach you some techniques.
Start simply – look up recipes for some of your favorite simple foods on sites like Allrecipes.com or Food.com, where users can rate and comment on recipes. Remember that everything might not turn out great at first, but you’ll only get better with practice.
2. Shop the Perimeter of the Store
The outside of the store is where the freshest food is kept – doing most of your shopping there will keep you away from expensive and/or unhealthy pre-prepared foods. Think of the inner aisles as great places to find pantry staples like oats, tea, coffee, cooking oil, and so on.
3. Shop Sales
This might seem like kind of a “duh” thing, but it’s not just about shopping sales – it’s about making a plan for what to cook based on what’s on sale that week. Most grocery stores provide weekly circulars that highlight the week’s deals; use these to plan what you’re going to cook, and also keep an eye out for basic, shelf-stable staples that you might want to stock up on.
Another common suggestion for saving money is to shop seasonal, and this is closely related – produce that’s in season is usually the produce that is on sale.
4. Use Coupons Wisely
Coupons are great…if they’re for products you were going to buy already. But most coupons are for brand-name packaged foods. Whenever you see a coupon, ask yourself two things:
If the answer is yes to both, definitely use the coupon! If not, leave the food alone, or just buy the generic version – in many cases, the difference between the generic and brand-name versions of foods is imperceptible.
5. Buy in Bulk…Sometimes
As with coupons, take special care when buying in bulk. A membership to Costco or another club store can save you tons on pantry staples and products like paper towels. But when it comes to perishables like meats, dairy, and produce, make sure that you’ll use (or can freeze) an item before it goes bad. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money.