We’ve all heard the same money-saving grocery tips like: look for the sales, shop with coupons, buy the private label brands, and shop the perimeter of your store.
While these are no doubt, great ways to save money on groceries, it’s often the little things, the little changes in our smallest of habits, that can make a world of difference. So instead of rehashing the old, here are a new handful of tips or reminders to help you on your way to a better, healthier grocery budget.
Buy only what you need
By being conscious of what we buy, planning our meals and shopping with lists, you’ll not only be able to minimize the majority of the food waste in your household, but you’ll be saving quite a bit of money by tweaking your habits. But if you’re on a really tight budget, here are a couple of other nifty tricks to help you reduce your waste, squeak out some more savings, and keep you on budget:
Do the banana split. Some fruit and vegetables such as bananas and grapes are sold as bunches and priced by weight. If you can’t eat 8 bananas in a week, don’t take the 8 bananas! Yes, it’s perfectly okay to split a bunch of bananas and make your own bunch. Same goes for grapes. Grapes are sometimes shipped and sold in pre-packed large plastic bags. We can never go through them all, so we separate the bunch and only take and pay for what we need. And there’s nothing wrong with sneaking a grape or two in store. You want to make sure it’s worth buying.
Avoid the pre-packed produce, where you can. While this seems pretty obvious, we almost all do it, to some extent. Yes, it may seem obvious to avoid buying the pre-sliced, seedless watermelons, but sometimes we all reach for that bag of apples, oranges, or carrots or the pre-packed, pre-washed salads. I’ve found, while they can sometimes be cheaper in price, they usually have a shorter shelf-life than the un-bagged. When you start seeing best before dates on your produce, it makes you wonder how long they’ve been in transit and on shelves.
Toss them on the scale. When you’re trying to stick closely to a budget and your produce is sold by weight, use the in-store weight scales. Growing up, my parents always weighed their items. I rarely see anyone using them anymore and to be honest, it has been a while since we’ve used them ourselves, but if you’re living on a tight budget, try tipping the scales in your favour.
Get to know your food
You have to know how to hold’em. Choosing the ‘right’ fruit and vegetables is just as important. Learn how to pick the perfect apple or pear, or whatever it is you’re buying. Most produce are easy to tell, but some are more difficult than others. After throwing away many bad apples in the past, I think I’ve got it pretty down pat to picking the perfect apple. And regardless what many sites say, I’ve found colour really has no bearing on the apple’s quality. It really all comes down to the skin and its texture. The degree of roughness depends on the variety, but it should never feel slick or moist to the touch in any way. Pineapple is another one we’ve learned to pick right. To test its ripeness, first make sure it smells like a ripe pineapple, then try tugging on one of the center leaves from the top of the pineapple. If it lifts easily, then you have yourself a winner!
Wisebread has a pretty good article on choosing your fruits and vegetables. But if you’re at store and not really sure how to pick a certain fruit/veggie, and you see someone thoroughly inspecting their fruit, ask them what they look for. We’ve been asked on a few occasions, even how to use certain groceries we were buying. It always pays to ask.
You have to know where to store’em. One of the best tips I got on storing produce, was to store them away like your grocery store would. In other words, if the store doesn’t refrigerate their tomatoes, why would you? Keeping asparagus in a small cup of water will ensure they will last longer and root vegetables like potatoes, beets, onions and garlic are best kept in a cool, dark place. TheKitchn.com has a great guide to storing all your other fruits and vegetables.
Clear the clearance shelves
I’m not talking shampoos or paper products here — many grocery stores sell carts full of food that are about to expire in a day or two. Food items like breads, bananas, tomatoes, etc at often a 50% markdown! We keep an eye out for these, and for food items that we know we’re going to use up soon, or that freeze well. For example, bread can last weeks in the freezer and be perfectly fine. Or we’ll buy a bunch of ripe bananas to make a cheap and delicious loaf of banana bread.
You had me at meat
We all know meat can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone, but knowing what to look for when shopping for a cut of meat is key.
Inexpensive alternatives. There a lot of relatively inexpensive cuts of meat that can be just as delicious. Many of the top chefs have recommended flank and skirt steaks as good, less expensive alternatives. They can be a little tougher, but marinate them overnight and they’re perfect for the grill or throw them in a slow cooker for a hearty stew. If chicken is your go-to meat, one of our favourite parts of the chicken, is also one of the least expensive — chicken thighs. They have quite a bit of meat on them, are flavourful, and are fantastic in the slow cooker.
Buy it whole. If you’re looking to save a lot, just skip all the skinless, boneless chicken breasts and either buy bone-in, or buy a whole chicken and learn how to properly joint a chicken. There are plenty of good resources and videos online. Obviously, this only makes sense if you intend to use other parts of the chicken. We come from a pretty big family, so my parents have actually bought half a lamb, and veal and have had the butcher divvy it up, so that they can make the most of all their meals, at a fraction of what it would cost, if you bought all the cuts separately.
Ask your butcher. A good butcher can be your best friend, who can recommend a delicious cut of meat and give you the best advice on how to prepare it. But more than that, a good butcher will know how to stay within your budget. Instead of just picking a piece of meat from the display counter, next time try asking the butcher that your looking to cook __________(insert meal) and would like to spend around $X.
Grow your own
Okay, okay, I know. But everyone thinks they need a large outside garden to have a few vegetables. There are plenty of vegetables that can be grown indoors. But even if you’re not willing to do that, growing fresh herbs at home is easy-peasy and can save you quite a lot. Packaged herbs can be quite expensive at the grocery store when you figure you can buy a pack of seeds for literally, a couple of dollars, that will net you more than a years worth of fresh basil, sage, or whatever it is you’re wanting to grow. All you need is a small pot or mason jar, a little soil and a window.
If you do end up buying a bunch of fresh herbs like parsley, for example, when you get it home, freshly cut the stems and get it in water. My wife has even found some may sprout roots! Plant that sucker and put it to work! Even if it doesn’t root, keeping it in fresh water will make it last that much longer.
Only take what you can pay for
I remember going to a grocery store in Florida about, oh, I don’t know, 20 years ago, that had built-in calculators on their grocery carts. I thought that was pretty neat, I’ve never seen that here, but nonetheless, you can always bring a calculator with you and do the math yourself.
But I know it’s sometimes difficult and time consuming to calculate every item. So here’s one final tip taken from mom and dad. They always paid in cash (even to this day), but I distinctly remember after ringing everything through and when they saw the final tally, if there were items that were too expensive or pushed them over their budget, they weren’t afraid or embarrassed to ask the cashier to refund/leave behind the few items that pushed them over. Only take what you can pay for.
Cheers and Happy Shopping!