Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Save Money at the Grocery Store

 If you're like me, you have to watch your spending these days. For at least two years we've forgone cable, and have started using Netflix instead. We chose a mid priced plan that is acceptable for us, and I like it because we are more in control of the entertainment that comes into the house.
  The hardest part, for me anyway, is saving money at the grocery store. I'm torn between knowing my budget is very tight and knowing that the cheapest route may not be the healthiest. Like many people, I have to compromise at times. I can't always buy organic, but I try to buy certain things, like potatoes, apples, and strawberries organic. The closest grocery store that sells foods  without growth hormones and such, and has a good supply of reasonably priced organic items is about an hour and a half from where I live so I don't get there very often. I try to make it once or twice a month though. For many reasons I prefer to buy my hamburger meat there as well. I can't afford the grass fed beef or the bison but the ground chuck is at a comparable price to the chain store here in town, and I trust it more. 
  I make my own chicken broth and have been wanting to make my own beef broth so I finally got up the courage to ask the butcher at Earth Fare (my healthier grocery store) if they sold soup bones and such. He replied that they sold them as pet bones and they could be found in the freezer section. And as a further tip, he told me that is where that particular store also kept the packages that were needing to be sold soon. Most of that is packaged as 'mixed grinds', meaning  that anything from bison to grass fed to ground chuck could be in them. Sometimes, I noticed, there are packages that are labeled lamb or bison or whatever. I picked up a few and will try them in my cooking this week.  Each store may be different as to how they handle meats and such that will be discounted so don't be afraid to ask. Get to know the workers in your store, because most will be happy to help you.
  Another tip? Add one or two meatless meals to your weekly menu. We have one standby we use quite often, Taco Style Lentils and Rice from Hillbilly Housewife. We make it just as the recipe tells most of the time, but we also change it up a little by substituting chicken broth, and changing around the seasonings a bit. Both ways are really delicious, and it's a very inexpensive meal. I have to quickly put away leftovers or there won't be any for lunch the next day. J inhales this dish!  Most times I make lentils and rice I make my own tortillas. It's simple to make, but does take a little time. I'm willing to bet that they can be made ahead of time when you do a freezer cooking session and kept in the freezer. Let them thaw a bit, then warm them in the oven or in a warm pan and they will be pliable once again. Other choices we like are pinto beans, collard greens and corn bread, and red (or black) beans and rice. I am also looking into other meatless or vegetarian meals to add a little variety into our diets.
  Other ways to save:
  • Leave the kids and whichever spouse is most susceptible to impulse buys at home. In most cases, that would be me. However, The Hubby and I often have differing views on what is acceptable in nutrition and store brands so if I choose to stay home, he gets a list of what we need with some notes on what is absolutely disgusting. I will say though, that he does rather well in shopping, finding great deals, keeping an eye out for things we like, and it keeps me from temptation (mostly known as the magazine rack and a few other spots in the store).
  • Learn to stay away from convenience food and make your own mixes. In those boxes that say just add hamburger (or tuna or chicken), there is an awful lot of sodium in that box. Cake mixes, you have ingredients that you can't pronounce. It's much cheaper to make your own mixes, or just make from scratch when the mood strikes. Same with sandwich bread and tortillas. In the interest of honesty, I don't always make my own mixes, but I am working my way to that. I love cooking from scratch. The cleanup, not so much, but that's another post for another day. As for bread, I can make tortillas easily. No, they aren't perfectly round but they taste a lot better than the ones from the store. Corn tortillas I leave to The Hubby or I just use the flour ones. Learning to make biscuits and bread is on my to do list. 
  • Use coupons, but carefully. I don't use them often because a, I forget, and b, I rarely find ones I can use. I don't buy a lot of boxed items and I only use my own cleaning products that I make at home. 
  • Check out the dollar stores. Again, carefully. Know the prices at the grocery store and read labels. We go through a lot of cheese in this house so I bought what I thought was cheese at a dollar store where everything was a dollar. What I bought was a fake cheese whose main ingredient is cornstarch. A bargain is not a bargain when it goes into the trash. 
  • Speaking of cheese, it is generally cheaper to buy it in block form and grate it yourself. Check the price per ounce to be sure though. Sometimes they surprise you. 
  • Buy in bulk. Seasonings do expire so if you use cardamom only at Christmas time, go to a store that sells it in bulk and buy the few teaspoons that you need. Food that goes in the trash is wasted money.  Things like sugar, flour, oatmeal, are also things you can buy in bulk and save.
It's now your turn. How do you save money at the grocery store? Share your tips!

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