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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Real food on a Budget: 5 Tips to save on your Grocery Bill

Food is expensive. The average family spends over 10% of their household income buying groceries–over $6,000 a year–and the price of food keeps going up. When you are just trying to feed your family healthfully, that is pretty scary.

I run free 5 day clean eating groups monthly and in almost every group I will have at least one person drop out because they don’t feel they can afford the groceries for the week.  

Food really is expensive and sadly REAL food is even more expensive than the processed junk the food industry wants you to consume which is why it’s so much cheaper!  That said, as more and more people are beginning to realize, coupons can be a great way to save money on food. If you’ve ever watched Extreme Couponing, you probably already know that sometimes those savings can be quite dramatic. The problem is that those dramatic savings often come from seasoned coupon users who have spent countless hours clipping & sorting coupons and searching for the very best deals.

Ummmm…. Who has time for that?

You might also know that most coupons are targeted towards grocery items that to be honest aren’t in the category of healthy or real food at all.  Sure you will get the odd coupon for eggs or cheese and almond milk.  But a coupon for fresh milk, or fresh produce is almost impossible to find. 

So what if you are trying to eat real food on a budget?

Like anything in life, you have to find the right balance. That balance won’t be exactly the same for everyone, but here are 5 tips that can help you cut costs on your grocery budget:

Tip #1: It’s not all about the coupons

Shop the sales. This does NOT mean that you should buy food just because it is on sale, but instead be on the lookout for sale prices on the food your family normally buys, whether it be all whole foods, organic, or gluten free. Almost everything goes on sale eventually.
Don’t assume you know which store has the best deals until you’ve actually checked–you may be surprised at what you find.  I used to shop at Superstore for quite a bit of our groceries and have since switched to doing the bulk of our shopping at the Root Cellar (a local farmers market style grocer) and picking up a few items from grocery stores which I know have the best product at the best price in my local area. 

For example:  White Cheddar cheese is actually cheaper at the grocery store in our city which typically has higher prices on many of their items so I go there once every few weeks and stock up.  The whole wheat tortilla wraps that I like and include ingredients I’m satisfied with can only be found at a specific store so when I go to that store for that I take note of sales beforehand and purchase anything there that I know we usually buy if it happens to be on sale and cheaper than other locations.
Sometimes the most random of places might have the best sale where you least expect it.  I happened to be in the health food store in my community and scored a rock bottom price on the Organic no salt (real food) Tortilla chips that usually sell for over $2 more on sale in other stores! 
This doesn’t mean you have to constantly shop around each week before you decide where to purchase your groceries, because really who has the time for that and who wants to spend all that time driving around from store to store either.  BUT if you make an effort to take note of the typical cost of the staples your family typically purchases whether you write it in a note book or in the notes app on your phone, you will know when you see a good deal.  It’s all about awareness.  And stocking up when you see that good deal!

Tip #2:  Stockpile

In order to only ever buy an item at its lowest price, you must buy enough of it while it is on sale to last until it goes on sale again. This is key. Most items go on sale every 6-8 weeks, which means you need to buy enough to last your family that long. If you buy only a weeks worth, you will be forced to pay more the next time you need it because you didn’t buy enough.
Let me make it more clear with an example. Say your family eats 1 block of white cheddar every week. The regular price for a big block is $10.99, but when you go to the store this week, you see it is on sale for only $6.99 a block–more than 45% off the regular price! 

Instead of buying only 1 block like you normally would for your weekly shopping trip, you buy 6-8 blocks–enough to last your family for the next 6-8 weeks at half the price you would normally pay! And yes unopened cheese will last that long in your fridge.

At first it may seem counter intuitive to be buying more than you normally would instead of less. However, because you are shopping the sales each week, you will be buying a larger quantity of a smaller variety of items, which means your overall grocery bill will still go down. The goal is to build up your own mini-grocery store in your pantry which you can then use to plan your family’s meals.
My husband calls the shelf in our storage room “The Store” because we always have a supply of cereal, toilet paper, paper towel, formula, dish soap, etc. that I have purchased in a large quantity when it has been on sale.  Then if we run out of something upstairs we just go check The Store!
Your house doesn't have to look like this
to Stockpile
Remember that a well-varied stockpile does NOT have to take up a whole room of your house, and you do NOT need to accumulate a whole year’s worth of food. Sale cycles generally run about 6-8 weeks, which means your stockpile should contain about 6-8 weeks worth of a nice variety of food. It also means that it will take about 6-8 weeks before you’ve built up a nice varied stockpile and will start to see the most dramatic savings in your grocery bill.
Furthermore, stockpiling does not mean your family has to only eat a diet of processed food. There are plenty of healthy options for stockpiling, including beans, rice, whole grain pastas, whole grain cereals, frozen vegetables, cheese & other dairy products, canned tomatoes, & more.

Tip #3: Eat less meat

Going vegetarian just a couple times a week could save you as much as $1,000 a year. Meat costs usually account for a significant portion of people’s grocery bills, so cutting out even a little will make a big difference over time.

And remember when you do purchase your Chicken, beef, pork etc. follow Tip #2 and stock up when it is on sale.  Just about every year our family has gone in together on the purchase of a half cow from a local farm that we know well.  They deal with a local butcher and the set price per pound is so much lower than anything even the cheapest cuts of beef at my local butcher and that price is for roasts, steak, ground beef you name it.  And it’s grass fed and locally raised. 
Often we think that quality comes with a price and it often does but usually when you contact the source rather than go through the stores you get a cheaper price for better quality.

Tip #4: Change the way you meal plan

If you normally wing it when it comes to meal planning, running to the store several times a week for last-minute dinner items, this step won’t be as painful as you might think. Instead of running to the store for your dinner supplies you’ll be able to run to your stockpile–a ready-made grocery store right in your own home. You may even find that maintaining a nice, varied stockpile by shopping the sales once a week saves you a whole lot of time, in addition to saving you from the expensive impulse and last-minute buys.

For those of you who normally plan your meals then make your shopping list based on that plan, this adjustment may be a little harder. However, you can still make it work if you get into the habit of planning your meals around what’s on sale and around what items you already have on hand in your stockpile. By minimizing the number of non-sale items you need to buy each week you will find that you can plan your meals in advance and still cut your grocery bill in half.

Tip #5: Learn to match coupons to store sales

It is not by accident that using coupons is the last item on this list and not the first. Coupons can and do save you a ton of money on your grocery bill, but only if you follow these other steps first. When and if you make these changes in the way you shop–getting into the habit of shopping for only what’s on sale, buying enough to last your family 6-8 weeks, eating less meat, and planning your meals around your stockpile and what’s on sale–you will see a dramatic drop in your grocery bill, even without clipping a single coupon.
When you begin to match coupons to the things that are already on sale you will see savings that are even more dramatic–50 to 60% off your grocery bill or more! Doing this consistently, week after week, you can literally cut your grocery bill in half.
Where to find coupons
Where I have found good coupons for items I actually use is varied but here is a small list of where you can find them:
·         Kraft Canada recipe magazine
·         Newspaper inserts
·         Online
·         In store
Quite often you will see coupons for items hanging off the store shelves.  IF this is an item you regularly purchase I suggest grabbing a few. As long as they don’t expire before you know you will use them. 
For example: Fraser is on Organic Infant Soy formula which is regularly $23.95 per can. There was an in store coupon right there on the shelf for $3 off the price.  Unfortunately you can only use one per purchase so depending on how dedicated you are you can either go through the till a few times to get the $3 off each can you want to purchase or just get what you need and use one coupon for all and get a smaller discount on your total purchase.  

Depends on how much you want to save! 

BUT what I did was I actually grabbed about 10 of these coupons because I didn’t know if they would be there next time I needed formula and they didn’t expire until April 2015.  But right now they have their formula on sale for $19.85 and you can use the coupon for $3 off which is a savings of $7.  So that’s a pretty significant savings. 

BUT even better than that… a few months ago they were clearing out older stock of this formula for 50% off the price…. Well it happened to be on sale already for the 19.95 and then with the 50% off it came down to about $10 AND I had a coupon.  So I was buying formula for $7 a can when the regular price is $24!  WOW!!!

Needless to say I really stocked up at that time!

So you can see in this example how I truly combined all the tips to save myself some major money on an item that we regularly purchase to save ourselves money week to week and month to month. And the time purchasing 10 cans of formula cost me $70 but it lasted us 7 weeks.  In comparison to this week when the 50% off deal was gone and we simply got the sale price and coupon.  For 4 cans of formula we paid 76.80 and that will last us only 4 weeks.  So you can see how I saved myself about $64 (3 weeks’ worth at the current deal) by stockpiling when the going was good! 

One of the most common complaints I hear about coupons is that they are all for unhealthy processed food. While this is to some degree true, there ARE coupons available for healthier food options too. There are almost always coupons available for things like yogurt, cheese, soy or almond milk, frozen vegetables, oatmeal, coffee & tea, gluten-free foods, cereal, and basic pantry staples such as pasta, canned tomatoes, and rice. There are also plenty of coupons available for non-food items such as shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and over-the-counter medicine. All these things will help you reduce your grocery bill and overall spending so it’s worth having a glance through them to see if there are any you can in fact put to use. 

Be sure to comment below with your tips and experiences!  I love to hear how you too have saved big on your purchases!  Also make sure you Share this with your friends we could all use help saving money right!

*Inspiration and portions of this blog post taken from Living Well Spending Less.

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