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According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the average American family spent $6,443 on food. To put that number in perspective, that “average” family consists of 2.5 people (not a nice mental image) with an income of $63,563. So from these numbers we can surmise that our average family spends about 10% of their income on food.
Depending on who you choose to believe (there’s some dispute about this) the average American family also carries a $5,000 balance on credit cards. If they’re paying 15% interest, that’s more than $750/yr.
Conclusion? We could materially impact two expenses simultaneously if we could convince the average American family to eat their credit cards.
But if that doesn’t sound like an appetizing solution, here’s another thought: If we can use some simple tips to shave 10% off the typical annual food bill, we can use the extra $50 a month we free up to help pay those credit card balances faster. With that in mind, here’s my attempt to fill your basket with more than 20 useful tips to slice and dice your grocery bill.
We’ll start with seven tips from this recent TV news story. It’s only 90 seconds long: check it out, then meet me on the other side for more.
Here’s a recap of those seven tips:
- Cook from scratch: Making meals from scratch is probably the single best way to save on food. Because the more prepared the food, the more it costs. Ironically, less expensive home-made is also normally better for you as well.
- Generics: sometimes generics aren’t as good as name brands. In those situations one might choose name brands. But for things like flour, sugar, salt, bleach or virtually dozens of other items you find in the grocery store, the only discernible difference is price. Paying more for an identical product is more than extravagant; it’s stupid.
- Lists: Writing down what you came for…and ignoring everything not on it… will save money. It will also save time and fuel expense by preventing repeat trips to the store for things you forgot.
- Stoop and bend: Smart merchants place the most profitable items at eye level and on end-caps. Stoop, bend and look around for the best values.
- Coupons: For decades, coupons have been a shoppers best friend. These days online coupons have made them easier to find and use. If you haven’t used a coupon search engine yet, do so. It’s a new routine. Internet first, then store.
- Warehouse stores: The savings you can find at warehouse stores are well-documented. Here’s a story we did on the five best deals.
- Salvage grocery stores: these are harder to find, but if you happen to live near one, the savings are huge: up to 50%. Here’s a story we did on salvage stores and here’s a list of them by state.
Now let’s add to that list with more tips. These are from my latest book, Life or Debt 2010.
- Don’t shop hungry: It makes you buy more.
- Shop alone: Kids, and spouses who act like kids, will often whine, cajole, or otherwise try to influence you into impulse buys. Leave ’em at home.
- Always overcook: then freeze. That saves the time you need to be able to cook from scratch.
- Substitute cheaper ingredients: for more expensive ones.
- Weigh pre-weighed produce: Use the handy scales in the produce department to weigh pre-weighed bags. For example, if you’re buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes, weigh them. Some will be 9 and a half pounds, but some might be 10 and a half for the same price.
- Repackage: Put small quantities of leftover sour cream or other perishables in smaller containers; they’ll last longer. Cookies, crackers, and the like will also last longer if stored in glass jars.
- Grate savings: You pay more to have someone else grate your cheese for you. You’ll also save by cutting up whole chickens, slicing your own pickles, slicing meat for cold cuts, and using a blender or rolling pin to make your own bread crumbs.
- Save on starch: Fancy boil-in-bag or flavored rices routinely cost 10 times the amount of the old-fashioned kind. All it takes to make rice is the ability to boil water! Bags of smaller potatoes are often half the cost per pound of big baking potatoes. Bake two little ones instead of one big one. Your stomach won’t notice.
- Save on protein: The simple proteins found in beans are better for you and obviously much cheaper than the complex ones in meat, fish and poultry. In other words, eat less meat!
- Milk your budget: Milk about to expire? Freeze it. You can thaw it out and use it later. Same with things that might be rotting in your vegetable drawer: onions, parsley, tomatoes, garlic. Not only will freezing keep it from rotting, it will keep it from stinking.
- Butter up the cheese: Lightly buttering the edge of semi-hard cheese makes it less likely to form mold or dry out.
- Extend yourself: Adding cottage cheese to hamburger will enhance the flavor, add protein, and allow you to increase servings from four to six per pound.
- New life for old bread: Leftover bread and rolls can be toasted in a toaster oven and chopped up into croutons.
- Alter your recipes: Nobody will sue you if you alter your recipes a little. You can substitute cheaper veggies (sliced carrots) for more expensive ones (zucchini). You can also probably reduce the cheese or sugar in your baking slightly, without noticeably altering the taste. Keep in mind that recipes will often “round up” ingredients to make them easier to measure. When you read a recipe, look for ingredients that might just be included to enhance the color instead of taste, and try eliminating them. There are ways of stretching just about everything. Make your cookies and muffins a bit smaller and make more of them. Add a little more water to your concentrated juice. Add extra potatoes, beans, etc. to stretch casseroles and soups.
- Make your own salad dressing: Mix 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 cup of salad oil. Voila! Delicious salad dressing at a fraction of the cost.
- Grow your own! Next time you buy fresh garlic, save the four inner cloves. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep. In less than six months, you’ll be in garlic city! There are many other herbs and vegetables that you can grow yourself, so check ’em out.
- Don’t buy water. Ever. The fact that people pay for water is further proof that enough advertising can make people do just about anything. If you really have concerns about water quality, buy a cheap water filter and fill your own bottles.
- Be a migrant worker: If you live near an area that grows fruit, vegetables or produce, go to a pick-it-yourself farm for bargain prices, fresh air, and a reminder of why you work in town.
- Creative leftovers: Nearly every meal ends up with a few odds and ends that aren’t eaten. Keep two lidded plastic containers in your freezer. After every meal, put veggie bits in one and meat bits in another. You can then periodically sprinkle the bits of meat on your pizzas, or combine the two and make a great soup!
- Keep lettuce longer: Wash your lettuce thoroughly, then go outside and swing it around in a pillowcase to get rid of the excess water (and to amuse your neighbors). When you’re done, put it in an airtight container and it will last at least two weeks in your refrigerator.
- Last but not least: Remember, you are what you eat. Which would you rather be: an apple or a candy bar? One of the best things about saving on food is that what’s cheaper is often the same as what’s better for you. Apples cost less than candy, are more filling, and are much better for you. Water is not only healthier than soda, it’s nearly free (from the tap). Legumes are a cheaper source of protein than meat, and better for you as well.
Bottom line? There are lots of ways to save on food. Some will be appetizing to you, some won’t. But there are few things in life tastier than paying off debt and achieving your monetary objectives. So if you harness any of these ideas, be sure to use your savings for debt destruction!