Food is a necessity but just as importantly, it is one of the pleasures of living. Luciano Pavarotti summed it up in his book “Pavarotti, My Own Story.” He wrote: “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”
You may or may not love putting life on hold to eat, but that doesn’t change the fact that we must all pay attention to food and its acquisition. While some people provide their own food to one degree or another through gardening and raising animals, they all visit the grocery store for food at one point or another. We are aware that part of our income must go toward providing the basic necessity of nourishment, but how much of our income goes toward food depends upon tastes, food requirements and shopping habits.
Some people cater to gourmet tastes while others opt for plain food. Some search out organic foods or fresh foods while others are content with the least expensive option. Some are junk-food enthusiasts. Still, others must take in to consideration special dietary needs. Regardless of the tastes and needs you are shopping for, there are ways to reduce the money you spend for the foods you need.
Coupons may be one way to cut the grocery bill for any eating pattern, but they are certainly not the only way. Coupon clipping can become a hobby with elaborate filing schemes and searches for special coupons for the items needed. If you are willing to take a look or even devote some time to it, you can find coupons everywhere. They show up on the backs of grocery store receipts and in bundles that arrive by mail.
Companies use newspapers (this one included) to promote products using coupons as the lure. Websites on the Internet provide or sell coupons for groceries and other items. Coupon clipping can save you money, but only if you save more money than the time spent collecting, clipping and filing them is worth to you. Those who use larger value coupons and redeem those that they clip tend to save money. Clipping coupons offered by stores that are close by or where you regularly shop can be useful. If coupons aren’t your thing, there are other methods of reducing the weekly grocery bill. Choose store brand items to save money. Generally goods come in several qualities. The store brand premium quality items are generally packaged under contract by the same companies that package the name-brand items.
You can usually choose between the top quality and the “second” quality in canned goods. Both are nutritious and safe to eat. The primary difference is appearance. “Second” quality canned goods may have less attractive pieces of food in them but work well in foods such as casseroles where looks don’t count. The food in “second” brands is just as nutritious as foods in top-ranked brands. Compare fresh, frozen, canned and dried goods for price and use.
Plan menus, make a shopping list and stick to it. Impulse purchases tend to increase the ticket price at the check stand. The tendency for impulse purchases is strongest when you are hungry so don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry.
Check the grocery ads as you plan your menu. There is little point in running all over town to get the best price on various items — your time is worth something and the gas expense must also be added in. However, determine where you want to shop and check their ads to find the best inexpensive options. Choose fresh produce in its season. It is a treat to eat fresh blackberries in February if you can find them, but you will pay more for them. In the spring, when they are available from local producers, they are just as nutritious and are usually tastier and less expensive than at other times of the year.
Compare unit prices. Bigger containers are not always the best value. If you are cooking for one or two people, you may waste more than you save on the larger container. Smaller sizes make for less waste. Even for large families, watch the unit price of the packages you buy. The smaller sizes sometimes cost less ounce-per-ounce than the larger “economy” size. Check the “day after” cart.
Day-old breads and products nearly at their sell date can be good purchases if you plan to use them right away. Use blemished produce in casseroles and quick breads. Very ripe bananas make the best banana bread, for example. Use herbs and spices to spark up simple dishes instead of rich sauces and mixtures. Both your pocketbook and waistline will benefit.
Plan for leftovers to save time and money. If the roast on Sunday that becomes a casserole by Tuesday gets a little old, put the remainder of the meats and/or produce in a freezer to make soups, broths and casseroles at a later date. Mark the date that you place the item into the freezer and use it in a timely manner.
Serve simple desserts — fruits and homemade goodies usually save money. Select meat on cost per serving rather than pound. If an inexpensive roast is half bone, it may cost less per pound, but more per serving than a more expensive boneless roast. Avoid fancy grades. Less fancy meats contain less fat and are healthier.
Maintain the refrigerator temperature between 34 and 40 degrees to reduce spoilage. Use a freezer to keep less expensive items for future use.
Gardening can also save money and increase quality. Just-picked produce tastes better and is more nutritious than the same product that has been picked immature, shipped and shelved for a couple of days at the grocery store.