I thought raising a family on a tight food budget was hard. But then they all grew up, and I had to save money shopping just for me. Now THAT'S hard.
I spent a couple of decades raising – and feeding – six children. Then one day they were all grown and I found myself living alone. I had become an expert at shopping for a crowd on a tight budget. But would my tried-and-true saving techniques still work now that I was shopping for one? Or would I be doomed to buy high-priced individual servings for the rest of my life?
Well, I’ve learned that the quantities may be different, but some of the same principles still apply…
1. Shop the specials in the weekly flyers
No, I don’t run all over town to save 15 cents on a can of corn. But if I’m already heading in that direction, and ground beef is on sale for $1.50 a pound cheaper than the supermarket around the corner, I’ll make the trip and stock up.
I buy large quantities of ground beef and divide it into smaller serving portions. Then I’ll make meatballs and hamburgers and flash-freeze them so that I can pull out individual amounts when needed. Here’s how I do it…
Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper. Put a single layer of food across the pan. (It’s OK if the items touch.) Put the pan in the freezer, uncovered. Leave the pan in the freezer until the food is frozen solid, about 4 hours. (To avoid freezer burn, don’t leave uncovered more than a day). Place the individually frozen items into a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. This method also works great for chicken, berries, and cookie dough.
I’ll also head to Wal-Mart with the specials circled in all the local store flyers. Wal-Mart’s Ad Match Guarantee allows me to receive all my savings in one place. On my last trip, I saved $28 on everything from shampoo to soup and carrots to cake mix – and that was before any coupon savings.
2. Share expenses
Most single shoppers don’t need a case of toilet paper, yet it’s a necessity. Why not take advantage of special savings or warehouse prices and share the cost with other singles? This also works well with buy-one-get-one-free items and produce sold in large bags.
Of course, I never started a conversation with, “Hey, wanna split a pack of TP?” I have, however, offhandedly mentioned my savings strategies to friends and co-workers – and sometimes they want to learn how to stretch their budgets as well. Then I can say, “Hey, wanna split a pack of TP?”
Two of my friends each live in small apartments (700 square feet) where space is precious. There’s no way they could store large quantities of any item, but by combining our purchases, we save not only money but space. This also works well with buy-one-get-one-free items and produce sold in large bags.
3. Sign up for rewards programs
A new grocery chain recently moved into my neighborhood, and suddenly I was in the midst of a grocery war. The established stores sent out coupon books to their regular customers. For instance, by purchasing $10 worth of sale items (which I paired with manufacturers’ coupons), I received $14 worth of free food. I brought home $24 worth of groceries for just more than $6.
And, of course, I signed up for their rewards programs, which offer me coupons and special offers sent to my mailbox and inbox – and sometimes there are instant coupons issued at the checkout.
Two stores in my area even offer gas rewards with savings at the pump. For every $50 of groceries you buy, you save 10 cents per gallon. Now, for families buying carts full of groceries, these savings add up. But not so much for singles – unless you take my advice and share with friends and co-workers.
Now you’re not only saving on quantities that you’re splitting with other singles, you’re racking up rewards points!
4. Swap coupons
See a theme emerging here? Being single doesn’t mean being alone. I also talk to friends and co-workers about coupons. For instance, I’m long past needing diaper coupons, but a co-worker with a toddler desperately needs them. She, on the other hand, doesn’t need to color her hair. So she passes those on to me. I carry my coupons everywhere I go – because you never know where a conversation (and a coupon) might take you.
5. Shop at non-grocery stores for occasional savings
My local gas station sells milk for $2.39 a gallon – just a few cents more than the grocery store price of a half gallon. (I like cereal with milk as a snack ,and I’m a big milk drinker, so this works well for me.) Sometimes I make a special trip, but usually, it’s on my way to another errand. Recently, Walgreens was selling eggs for 99 cents a dozen, along with many canned items for 39 cents each.
6. Be flexible
Many experts preach making a list and sticking to it, but if I find a bargain that I (or a friend) could use, I’ll take advantage of it. For example, January and February are great months to stock up on holiday items like baking supplies on clearance. I recently purchased canned pumpkin – it’s not just for pie but also soup, bread, and the moistest cookies you ever tasted – reduced by 75 percent and food storage bags for 90 percent off. There’s no expiration date on the storage bags, and most baking supplies are good for years.
And whether you live alone or in a commune, check out 28 Tasty Tips to Save on Food.