For the majority of my adult life, I’ve been either a student, intern, unemployed, or underemployed. As much as the ramen noodles, Kraft Dinner and frozen highly processed foods kept me filled in my early university days, they certainly weren’t keeping me fuelled. Over the years and as my interest and knowledge in nutrition grew, I learned to manage my food budget and prepare healthy, nourishing meals that didn’t break the bank. I still use these lessons on a daily basis today because they’ve just become part of normal life! Here I share my top 5 tips to save your money while eating healthfully.
1. Have a plan.
Before you even step foot in the grocery store, it’s important to have a plan and focus. Otherwise, it is very easy to be distracted by the shiny objects and delicious sights and smells that await you in the aisles! When you come into the store with a written list rather than fleeting thoughts in your head, it is so much easier to stay on task and avoid picking up extra stuff that drives your bill up.
2. Shop your own kitchen
As you create your meal plan and shopping list for the week, take a look first in your own cupboards, fridge and freezer. Perhaps you have some meats in the freezer that you bought when it was on sale a month ago, or some veggies in the crisper that really should be eaten in the next day or two. Maybe you have dry and canned goods like pasta, rice, barley, beans, and fish that can be used to make healthy, inexpensive meals. Since you already bought these things, you might as well use them rather than let them continue to sit and eventually go bad, which just wastes your money!
3. Flyers, price matching and coupons
This seems like the obvious way to save money at the grocery store, but so many people miss this opportunity! It can seem tedious to sift through flyers and finding coupons, but it’s such an easy way to save a few bucks each week. Using flyer and coupon apps can help you easily find items on your list that are on sale, and you can easily price match right from your phone at the checkout.
4. Buy in bulk, but only when it makes sense
Buying in bulk can be a double edged sword. Sometimes it makes sense and can save you a bundle, while other times it’s not as great a deal as it initially seemed. Remember that you’ll need to store the bulk foods and use them up before they go bad, so only buy fresh foods if you know you’ll use them within the week or before the expiration date. Make sure you have space in your freezer for frozen items or extra meats, milk and other freezable items. Use the unit price on displays at the store to determine whether the price really is a bargain, and if it works for your household. You can also buy pantry items in bulk if you only need small amounts, like nuts or spices, that you can reasonably use before they turn south. Buying club packs of meats or bulk sizes of dry goods can be a great bargain if you have the space to store them (ie freezer or cupboards), especially when they go on sale so you can stock up.
5. Shop seasonal produce, or buy frozen.
Understanding what produce is in season in your area can help you save a bundle. Think of foods like berries, peaches and stone fruits, asparagus – these tend to be more expensive in the colder months, while foods like root vegetables and those that can be grown in greenhouses like peppers and lettuces tend to be a better deal in the winter. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy fresh fruits and delicate veggies throughout the winter, but watch for sales rather than just purchasing them blindly each week. You may want to consider looking in the frozen section as well – frozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious as fresh, and may even be more so when these foods aren’t in season, because frozen produce is picked and flash frozen when it is at it’s ripest. When the berries and tropical fruits are looking a little suspicious at the store, check out the frozen options, which often go on sale. Read labels to be sure that the frozen produce doesn’t have added ingredients like salt, sugar or sauces. The only ingredient you need is the food that is shown on the front of the bag.
6. Less processed, more home cooking
It seems counter-intuitive because we all know how cheap processed foods can be – however, we also know how little nutrition they can have too! Generally, the more you are able to prepare at home yourself, the more money you can save in the long run and the more nutritional value you can get in your meals. Cook meals in bulk and freeze leftovers, buy dried beans and lentils rather than canned (a bag of dried beans will last forever for the same price as a can that, while more convenient, will only last 1 or 2 meals). However, this can come with a bit of a sacrifice in time – certainly, opening a can of beans is much less time-consuming than soaking and boiling dried beans. But with some planning and preparation, this extra time doesn’t have to feel like a huge chore. That said, if it saves your sanity to have some things prepared or processed for you and you have room in your budget, by all means, save yourself the time and pay someone else to take care of more tedious tasks for you (think pre-chopped veggies or fruits, bagged salad kits, marinated meats)
How do you save money at the grocery store?