Avoid Drought Price Hikes – 20 Ways to Save on Food

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A rough summer's going to hit us at the grocery store, but these tips can help offset rising food prices.

More than half the counties in the United States have become government-designated disaster areas this year – mostly due to drought.

A new CouponCabin.com survey says 94 percent of 2,208 respondents were concerned about the drought – although 8 percent apparently first heard of it through the survey, which says only 86 percent were aware “of the recent drought issues.”

(If you haven’t heard, you can read up on the drought outlook in specific areas of the country at the National Weather Service website.)

More than a third (36 percent) of respondents expect higher food prices because of it. Here’s how they plan to avoid a bigger total at checkout…

  1. Use coupons (70 percent)
  2. Buy store brands and generics (60 percent)
  3. Buy less expensive items, e.g. more canned and less fresh food (48 percent)
  4. Shop at a discount grocer (45 percent)
  5. Buy in bulk (41 percent)
  6. Freeze large amounts of food (33 percent)

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares his five favorite ways to save money on food. Check it out, and then read on for more tasty tips.

The drought may impact dairy and beef prices within the year, but increases on corn products – including anything with high fructose corn syrup, which is in everything from soda to cereal, won’t be as dramatic and may not be noticeable until next year, according to the latest update to the USDA’s Food Price Outlook

The severe drought in the Midwest is expected to affect prices for corn and soybeans as well as other field crops which should, in turn, impact retail food prices. However, the transmission of commodity price changes into retail prices typically takes several months to occur, and most of the impact of the drought is expected to be realized in 2013.

The USDA says the “full extent” of the drought’s effects on prices isn’t obvious yet. Future updates will continue to adjust the price estimates. But regardless of price hikes, taking any of the steps above will shrink your grocery bill, as will these…

7. Price match

Learning price-match policies can save money – and if you shop at multiple stores, it can also save you time and gas. Some retailers (such as Walmart) will price match just about any store’s weekly ad. Others only match certain competitors’ ads. And some take competitors’ coupons – so you could see savings from a store you don’t use.

8. Shrink portions

Research suggests we often underestimate portion sizes by more than half – we’re not good at gauging how much we actually eat. So try serving smaller portions.

9. Substitute cheaper ingredients

You can go a step further than generic – by cutting out ingredients you don’t need or using cheaper alternatives. Get some substitution ideas from The Cook’s Thesaurus.

10. Add filler

Rice and noodles are cheap additions to leftovers. And as we mentioned in 30 Tips to Save on Food back in April, you can do something similar with meat. Add cheaper ingredients (like cottage cheese to hamburger) to stretch it.

11. Cut out prep costs

Pre-sliced cheese often costs more than a block. Same with meat, fruit, and vegetables. Almost everything can cost a third more after a markup for labor. So stop paying your grocery store to chop, grate, slice, dice, and shrink-wrap your food.

12. Learn to love cooking

Homemade is often cheaper, tastier, and healthier than pre-made and pre-packaged food. Yes, there’s a significant trade-off in time, but you don’t have to do everything from scratch – sometimes there are simple shortcuts to making your own, like the method we recently discovered for making homemade ice cream.

You can also plan your schedule to shop and cook up several meals in advance over the weekend, and store them for later. For ideas, check out Professional Cooking on an Amateur Budget.

13. Buy in season

Thanks to our ability to rapidly transport/import food, many of us have forgotten (or never learned) that many foods grow during a certain time of year. Your favorite fruits and vegetables may be available year-round, but they’re usually freshest and cheapest when they’re in season and delivered locally. Check out the Produce for Better Health Foundation for a list of fruits and vegetables available by season.

14. Veg out

Vegetables, beans, and soy products cost less than meat. You don’t have to go vegan, but replacing even a couple of meals a week with meatless alternatives will trim the fat from your budget and possibly your waist.

15. Pay attention to expiration dates

Learn when food really expires (hint: the package date isn’t always an expiration) and plan accordingly. If you’re not sure what you can make with what’s in the fridge, check out the BigOven app: Enter three ingredients, and the app spits out a recipe idea.

Check expiration dates when you shop to avoid spoiled or off-tasting food that’s either thrown out or costs time and gas to return. And buy marked-down bread, meat, and other food near its expiration date. You can prepare and eat it right away or freeze it for a while.

16. Check unit price

Buying bulk and sale items isn’t always the way to save. Check the per-unit cost on the price tag, so you know how much the little one and the big one cost per ounce or pound. If you don’t see the label, whip out your phone and do a little math – you’ll remember which one’s cheapest next time and only have to check again when something’s repriced or repackaged.

17. Use a list

Don’t shop or write a grocery list when you’re hungry, and make sure to check items against the list before they go into your cart. Impulse buys can give you a shock at checkout when you suddenly owe 10 or 20 percent more than you expected, and a list is the best way to avoid them. That and leaving the kids at home.

18. Skip snacks

Or at least pick cheaper, healthier ones like nuts and fruit. We all have our guilty pleasures, but when you focus on cost vs. nutrition, it’s hard to miss how much money is going to empty calories – ones that could also result in higher health care costs.

19. Grow your own

It can be difficult to find yard space for a garden, and your city might impose restrictions on what and how much you can grow. But anyone who thinks they might have a green thumb can find savings by starting a little garden of vegetables and herbs. If not, you might contribute to maintaining a community garden or shop at a farmer’s market. Nothing’s juicier than saving on the fruits of someone else’s labor.

20. Shop online

Walmart and Amazon both sell groceries online. Watch for deals and increase savings by getting free shipping or savings by subscribing (making regular purchases of the same item).

Stacy Johnson

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