Have you been wondering lately why it costs so much to feed yourself?
It’s one thing to splurge on a fabulous restaurant meal occasionally for a special occasion. But when it’s costing you hundreds of dollars every week at the grocery store, and you feel like you’ve hardly anything to show for it, the time has come to re-examine your food spending habits.
While the cost of food in Canada continues to rise, our wages aren’t keeping pace with it. As a result, grocery trips are likely feeling more expensive than ever. If you can manage to regularly shave a few dollars off your food costs, it could really boost your bottom line. For example, by saving only $25 per week on your food bills, you can sock away an extra $1300 per year.
If it sounds like a tough assignment, fear not. You can spend less on food and still eat well — it just takes a little pre-planning and discipline.
Here are 10 ways to cut down your food costs, today:
1. Plan ahead. When it comes to saving on groceries, this first step is essential. Before hitting the market, take a look at what you have and what you need. Put together a meal plan for the week, then make a list of what you need to buy. This will save you from buying food that sits unused and rotting in the fridge, plus it will keep a lid on impulse, spur-of-the-moment buys. As a bonus, you won’t have to spend so much time hungrily staring into the kitchen cupboard, just before you give in and order pizza.
2. Use coupons and flyers. You may think you’re too busy to clip coupons, but it doesn’t take much time to browse through the grocery store flyers that land on your doorstep before you plan a shopping trip. Don’t buy everything just because it’s on sale, but once you’ve put together your weekly shopping list, take a look at the local flyers to see if anything matches up. And if you see an amazing and tasty deal (three heads of broccoli for $2!), alter your week’s menu accordingly. To make it even easier to see what’s out there, check out Groceryalerts.ca, a site that lists the latest deals at chain grocery stores across Canada.
3. Swap out meat for cheaper proteins. Let’s face it: meat is pricey. Swap out the beef and pork for less expensive proteins like lentils and eggs for a couple of nights a week. You’ll spend less and feel healthier too.
4. Check out discount grocery stores. If you’re only shopping at the specialty gourmet shop down the street, expand your horizons. Higher-end grocery chains are likely charging you a premium for complimentary lighting, wide aisles and a fancy dessert section — not necessarily for better quality food. Just keep in mind that Loblaws owns No Frills and Valu-Mart, Sobeys owns FreshCo and Price Chopper and Metro owns Food Basics. Though the venues might look different, many of the products are coming from the same warehouses.
5. Stay away from prepared food. Those packaged entrees and apps may look tempting, but if you’re stocking up on boxes of prepared food, you’re spending way too much. Chop your own veggies, make your own muffins and florentine your own chicken – it will not only reduce your grocery budget, but your sodium and sugar intake as well. Another tip: Skip the individualized yoghurt and applesauce you pack in lunches in favour of buying large tubs and using Tupperware. Cheaper and more environmentally friendly to boot.
6. Scan shelves above and below eye level. Items placed right at eye level tend to be the ones that grocery stores are trying to sell. Look up to the top shelves or down to the bottom ones to scout out what is often the better-priced product. This is frequently where you’ll find generic-brand products as well, which are also a good option when you’re trying to penny-pinch.
7. Buy in bulk. While it’s not always the answer, buying some items in bulk can save you a bundle. When it comes to things like rice, cereal, and other non-perishable staples, you can safely go big without fear of food going to waste. As well, non-food items like paper towels, toilet paper and detergent tend to be much more reasonable in bulk. However, to make sure you’re getting a good deal: check the “unit price” on the price tag (usually in smaller numbers below the main price). It will tell you how much something is per 100 mg or 100 ml. Compare it to the smaller version of your desired product, just to make sure it is actually cheaper.
8. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. It sounds obvious, but we’ve all done it. Head to the grocery store ravenous, and you’re likely to come home with a bunch of stuff that looked awesome at the time (usually of the junk food variety). Feed your belly before grocery shopping to avoid the impulse buy and stick with your meal plan.
9. Don’t shop on credit. Why spend what you haven’t got? To really keep your food budget in check, hit the ATM before your grocery trip and take out only what you want to spend. Keep a running tally in your head while shopping and stay within your cash limit.
10. Think before you toss. Give everything in your fridge a second thought before you drop it in that composting bin. At least once a week, have a designated leftovers night. And it’s also a great idea to always make a little bit extra for your lunch the next day (pasta works especially well for this). Freeze leftovers you don’t think you’ll get to right away, and don’t overbuy. If you do find yourself with a bunch of odd items left over (parsley, lemons, eggplant and chicken, anyone?), do a Google search to see what interesting new recipes you can unearth.
Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.