If you’ve noticed your grocery bill creeping, nay, bounding up, it’s probably time to re-strategize your next trip to the market. Last year, I watched in horror as weekly groceries for our household of two jumped from $70 to $100+ a week. This was back when gas was hovering near $4.00/gallon, and everyone blamed rising fuel prices. But although gas has dropped back down, there hasn’t been a corresponding fall in grocery prices. Is anyone else feeling…how shall I put it…gouged?
Time to fight back! Here are some smart tips highlighted in a recent Woman’s Day article, “How to Save Thousands on Groceries.”
Make the rounds
Have a weekly beat, like Mary Kisaka from Torrance, California. She hits four stores: a local produce market, Target for nonperishable items (“It’s hard to beat name-brand cereal at $2.29 and salad dressing at $1.59”), a supermarket to pick up the week’s deeply discounted specials, and Trader Joe’s-a limited-assortment chain that has terrific prices on healthy basics, like all-natural peanut butter for $1.69 and whole-wheat organic pasta for $1.29.
Add an ethnic market to your lineup
The price of rice, spices, produce and other staples is often much lower at ethnic markets. Kristen Bergman, a student at the University of California Davis, shops in an Indian market where ground coriander is 19¢ an ounce compared to $5.03 an ounce at her supermarket. Her Korean market has mangoes for 50¢ each, compared to $1.79 each at the regular market.
Rethink your market
When Amanda Bacher of Milwaukee shops, she hits Aldi, a chain of more than 900 private-label grocery stores from Kansas to the East Coast (and coming soon to Florida). “The store stocks mostly its private-label products, which cost up to 50 percent less,” she says. “I fill a cart for $75, max.”
Embrace the store brand
Karen Flynn of South Lyon, Michigan, is a huge fan of her market’s store brand—and not only because the products are cheaper. “Most of the time the store brand tastes better than name brands. Our market’s breakfast cereals are way better, and at $2.29 a box, they’re half the price or less. We also prefer the store brand of macaroni and cheese (39¢), soda (89¢), soups (49¢) and coffee ($5). And the four-roll toilet tissue for $2.50 lasts longer, so the savings makes it well worth it.”
Extend the time between trips
If you shop weekly, stretch it to 10 days. Once you settle into that habit, push it to two weeks. See how long you can go. Each day you don’t buy more food significantly reduces your daily expense. Pick up milk and fresh produce between trips.
There’s no “one size fits all” approach to saving at the store. Personally, I can’t be bothered to clip coupons (especially because so many are for pre-packaged, processed foods, which I’m trying to trim from my diet). The closest Aldi is 20+ miles outside of D.C., and I don’t have a car. But it might actually be worth it to rent a Zipcar to travel out there and save $25-30 on groceries. My two favorite tips are 1) shopping the ethnic aisle/bodegas for cheap spices, beans, produce, etc. and 2) boycotting the grocery store as long as possible. Prolonging the inevitable forces us to get creative with everything remaining in the fridge and gathering dust in the pantry. The weekly shopping routine can blind us to how much we already have (and how much we throw away due to overbuying).
For more advice on how to save at the store, read the full article here. Or check out some recipes by Prudence Pennywise, whose goal is “to feed [a] family of four scandalously good food on about $100 a week” —without resorting to a heavy rotation of Spam or Top Ramen!
You might also take a cue from Clara, a lady in her 90s who shares the budget-conscious recipes that got her through the Great Depression:
“That’s all we did, ate pasta and vegetables.”