On A Fixed Income
Getting more chow for your buck
around the grocery store is a bit harder than it used to be.
That's because over the course of the last two years or so,
grocery prices have been going up at a rate of about 7-9% - a
whole lot more than most people's incomes have been going up,
fixed or not. This means learning how to shop in ways you
might not have considered before.
There are several factors behind
the cost of increase in groceries. Unfortunately, food gets
the double-whammy from our ethanol
adventures that haven't turned out so well. Not only
does it cost more for the food itself because of the increase in
demand on corn and therefore every other food group, it now costs
more to deliver that food. Don't look for the increases in
food costs to slow down anytime soon.
Cutting Grocery Costs
Planning your grocery shopping
It's a simple fact. When we impulse shop, we always buy
differently than if we plan the trip and stick to the plan.
Running to the store for a half dozen items costs more in time and
gas (adding to the cost of the food) significantly more than if we
shop once or twice per week and make it a longer but more
Planning doesn't just mean buying
more things on fewer trips. It also means planning your
meals so that you can work your meals around fewer
ingredients. This means buying in larger quantities and less
food waste. If for instance you are purchasing chicken to
roast, consider whether you could buy the bigger bag and use part
of it to make something like chicken
soup or chicken salad.
Create a list -
You are much more likely to stick to what you need when you
have a list than if you don't. No list means you are likely
to buy based on what looks good rather than what your budget,
diet, and common sense will advise.
Eat a snack or lunch before
you go -
There's a reason why food looks good when you buy it at the
store. It's supposed to. And if you are hungry, this
appeals to your desire to buy it even more. Even if it no
more than a few crackers, this can make a difference on how
tempted your are at impulse buying. However, if you shop
after you've had a good lunch, you will be that much more
resistant to buying the wrong stuff and the expensive stuff with
lots of marketing appeal.
Study sales cycles -
Most foods go on sale about every 10-12 weeks. Around
major holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day,
Thanksgiving, and Christmas, these cycles are shortened.
Look for sales on turkeys near Thanksgiving, and hams for Easter
and Christmas. Steaks go on sale for summer holidays, and
you can get some great deals on corned beef around the 2nd week of
These cycles also exist outside
of holidays. Look for sales and stock up. In a few
months, you will note that you are shopping out of your cupboards
and saving lots of green.
Use coupons, but look out
Every buying guide tells you how much money you can save with
coupons. They are right - so long as you would buy that item
and that brand with or without a coupon.
However, coupons are not always
such a good deal for your budget. If it is still more
expensive than you otherwise would spend on a different product or
you wouldn't buy it at all, the coupon has hurt your budget, not
Shop the perimeters -
The stuff that makes up most of your budget and that you plan
your meals around like bread, veggies, meat, and dairy are on the
sides and back of your supermarket. Shop these areas first,
find the savings, and then work out the rest of your budget from
there. Studies show that when people get the stuff they need
first, they are less tempted to buy the prepackaged convenience
stuff in the center of the store.
Don't shop in front of your
The most expensive and popular items are generally at eye
level. More frugal options are generally above that level
and near the ground. This isn't always the case, but it is
often enough to make worth noting.
Convenience foods -
We all know these are easier, but we also know that it costs
time and money to produce and package convenience foods.
Precut veggies and meat, peeled and mixed fruits, premade salads,
and other convenience foods are more expensive than if you do it
goes for the bakery department too. Unless you have
something on your list from there, stay away. If you do have
a list item, get in and out quick. Sure those cakes look
good - but $20? No cake is worth that kind of money out of
your budget, you know it isn't on your diet, and chances are that
you will throw half of it away anyway. Just keep on
Meat department -
Make friends with your butcher. Many times they will run
a piece of meat through a tenderizer for you or put it into
smaller packages so that you can
freeze a portion. Even if they don't, they are still a good
source of information. Tell them what you are looking to
make and ask for advice on cheaper cuts of meat and what time of
day they discount their markdowns. You can get some great
deals if you are there right on top of it. Buy it and freeze
Get your card -
Many supermarket chains carry their discount card, SmartSaver,
VIP, MVP, etc. Get one and use it to save some serious
money, but again, don't buy stuff with it that you otherwise would
not. It will hurt rather than help your budget.
Buy bulk stores -
Few of us need a commercial size can of tomato sauce or 25# of
rice, so these kinds of purchases don't make sense. Or do
they? So why does it still pay for people without kids at
home to shop the Sam's Club, Costco, and BJ's?
For several reasons actually:
1) If you have friends with the
same tastes, agree to buy certain items and divide them up.
With large cans or bags of certain items, a few Ziplock containers
and storage bags can cut help you cut your food costs in certain
areas by as much as 40%.
2) Consider cooking around
certain items. So you won't want enough spaghetti sauce to
feed 20, but use it for that first, then convert the remainder
into chili and freezer part of that for later.
3) It might pay to buy it, use
most of it and throw away the rest. This is particularly
true with spices you use a lot. You can often get a full
pound of a spice for the same price you can get for an ounce of it
in the supermarket. So if you only used up half the
container, you've still come out money ahead.
Watch those scanners -
It's a rarity that food prices will show up to be less than
what you saw on the shelf. We aren't suggesting that there
is anything dishonest going on. It's just that it's your
money and far fewer mistakes are made with lower prices than with
higher prices. If it doesn't look right, question it.
Don't just accept it. It's YOUR money.