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 It's hard to decide which is more infuriating, $4 gasoline or $4 milk, but whichever you personally find most appalling, one thing is for certain, someday a time will come where we look back with nostalgia for the good old days of $4 milk or gas.

That is to say, we can count on prices always advancing.  Even when they do retreat a bit, like gas has done recently, you know it won't be for long, as it's already starting back up.

I suppose that's just part of the rhythm of modern life, but we don't have to like it, and we don't have to let ourselves be billowed by every inflationary breeze that comes wafting our way.  Like most anything else, there are ways to get by cheaper and better when you buy groceries.

Here are forty-nine  ways to get more food and spend less cash:

1.   First, Track Your Expenses   You can’t save money if you don’t know how much you’re spending to begin with.  Keep a list of everything you buy.  Once you’ve got an idea of what you spend each month or each week, then you can make a budget and begin to set goals.

2.   Grow Your Own    Obviously this is the way to achieve the most savings.  Make a garden this year.  Next year make a bigger garden.  If you own a freezer and know how to can and preserve you can do more financial damage to your local grocer than with any other method.  Not only that, but you can’t buy healthier food, and you’ll enjoy your meals even more when you produce them yourself.

3.   Cook   Without question, you can cook your own food more cheaply than you can hire someone to cook it for you.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t ever go to another restaurant, or order another pizza, when you want to celebrate, or just to take a break, but if you’re out to save money, you need to be the one who prepares your meals.

4.  Keep a Running Grocery List   When you run out of anything, add it to the list.  The more well-stocked your larder, the better you’ll eat, and the less you’ll spend.  Always take your list of the things you need when you shop, and only buy what's on the list.  If it’s not on the list, then you obviously don’t need it.

5.   Use Discount Grocery Stores   We’re talking about the types that buy surplus lots in grocery auctions, not just the ones that have “discount” in their names.  We save a small fortune every year by shopping at a local discount grocery,   Not only do we save a lot of cash, but our diet is much more varied than it used to be because the discount stores wind up with lots of unusual items that may not sell so well in middle America.  For example, we frequently have lots of fancy foreign cheeses, Brie, Camembert, Gouda, you name it.  These apparently don’t appeal to the typical Ozarkian, or maybe the typical American, palate, but we love them, and we get them for less than the price of Velveeta. 

6.   Buy in Bulk   As with most everything else, the more you buy, the cheaper it you get it.  Olia recently brought home a 40-pound carton of green bananas from the discount grocery for which she paid $6.50 total.  That’s 16.25 cents per pound versus 60 to 90 cents per pound in regular stores.  Of course you don’t save much if your fruit rots in the fridge, but I prefer my bananas slightly green, Olia likes them slightly brown, and when we’d both had what we liked, she made many loaves of tasty banana bread.

7.   Cook for a Week, or Month   If you’ll cook up large batches of your favorite foods and put them away in the fridge, freezer or pantry in single-meal portions, you’ll not only save money because of buying in bulk, but you'll also earn yourself quite a bit of free time.  Try making a stock-pot full of soup or stew and freezing what you don't eat. You'll have a quick, tasty meal that the biggest clutz in the family can prepare for himself.  

8.   Recycle Old Meals   A/K/A leftovers.  Don't just keep them, make a meal from them.  Monday’s Casserole and Tuesday's Roast can become Wednesday’s stew with a little stock and some seasonings.  Likewise a large piece of meat can be stretched a lot further, as well as be more tasty and healthy if you use it in several different dishes with many bite-sized morsels.  We rarely eat large pieces of meat alone, but often have meat mixed in a bowl of rice or buckwheat, or on a large salad.

9.   Don’t Throw Away Food   Save your bacon grease, make stock from your chicken carcass, save hambones to add to bean soups.  If you don’t have time to do these things after dinner, put them in a bag in the freezer.  Save everything you can think of a use for, and don’t forget the livestock/pets and the compost pile.

10.  Avoid Impulse Purchases  These are the bane of all would-be frugal shoppers, so just don’t do it.  If you truly need an item, then it should appear on your list next week.

11.  Keep a Running Grocery List   When you run out of anything, add it to the list.  The more well-stocked your larder is, the better you’ll eat, and the less you’ll spend.  Always take your list of the things you need when you shop, and only buy what's on the list.  If it’s not on the list, then you obviously don’t need it.

12.  Make Fewer Shopping Trips   The more often you go shopping, the more you are likely to spend.  About half of all grocery shoppers go to the store three or four times a week.  This is probably less true of homesteaders who spend less time in town, but the principle still applies.  Try to make your shopping trip no more than once per week.  If that works, try for every two weeks, even every month.  This tends to focus you more on buying larger quantities more carefully.

13.  Investigate;Ask Questions   What's the price difference between the bag of dried beans that sells for $.89 and the can of beans that sells for $.99?  Just a dime?  No.  The bag yields 7 cups of cooked beans, $.13 per cup.  The can yields 1-1/2 cups of cooked beans, $.66 per cup.  The canned beans—as inexpensive as they are—are five times more expensive than dried beans.

14.  Take a Calculator   Many stores have already calculated the unit prices of the items you buy, but many don’t offer this.  Also, if you’re being genuinely thoughtful about your purchases, you’ll probably want a little help in the brain department while you’re moving through the aisles.

15.  Food Only Please   Paper goods, cleaning supplies and cosmetics are probably going to be less expensive at big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart.  This also helps you to track your grocery costs separately from other living expenses.

16.  Avoid Processed Food   You’ll be wealthier and healthier if you buy basic commodities that only have one item in their list of ingredients—things like potatoes, beans, apples.  Not only will you avoid lots of chemicals and preservatives, but you’ll save a ton of money.  Just remember, if it has a trademark or a brand name, you’re paying more and probably undermining your health in the bargain.

17.   Cut Up Your Own Food   Consumer Reports found that two pounds of carrots cost $1.29, compared with $7.16 for the same amount of precut carrot sticks.  Also avoid “vegetable medley” packages.

18.  Don’t Buy Water   Everyone knows that bottled water is expensive, but fewer people know that it may be inferior, or at least no better than your tap water at home.  If you have your own well, the odds are very good that you have cleaner, better water than the brands from Coca-Cola and Pepsico.  If you have city water, yours may be, probably is, just as good.  You may want to invest in a reusable water-filtering pitcher.

19.   Don’t Buy Disguised Water, Either   When we were kids, Kool-Aid only came in an envelope.  You could add only the amount of sweetener you wanted, and your own water, and you spent a lot less money.  So why buy it by the bottle?  That’s a good example, but there are lot of other ways you pay more just for water.  Such as, cartons of fruit juice, canned broth or soup, canned, cooked beans, low-fat coconut milk, Jello cups, applesauce, popsicles, even chicken and pork injected with water and salt “flavoring”.

20.   Don't Buy Designer Salt   Specialty spice mixes are usually 90% salt. You can just buy the basic herbs and spices, then make your own.

21.   DON’T Use Coupons   Ever see a coupon for bananas?  Apples?  Coupons may offer apparent savings, but they’re usually for some sort of processed food that still winds up costing you more.

22.   DO use Coupons  Okay, nobody’s perfect.  Sometimes you or your family will want to buy things even if they aren’t pure as the driven snow.  If you’re going to buy it anyway, having a coupon makes it cheaper.  It’s a no-brainer.

 23.   Get a Store Card   These loyalty cards allow shoppers to get extra discounts on items without having to clip coupons.  If a store you frequent, even infrequently, offers a card, you should get one.

24.   Be Open to Store Brands   Most times, but not always, store brands are of equal quality to brand name foods.  Sometimes they’re the very same thing.  Not always though, so you need to try each one out, and see what you think.

25.   Take it back   Sometimes it happens. Something you've purchased is bad - soured, rotted, moldy, fizz-less, broken, or otherwise spoiled.  Don't be afraid to take it back.  Food is simply too expensive NOT to get what you paid for.  Return bad items for credit or replacement.  Most stores will gladly oblige.

26.   Shop Several Stores  You’ll find that if you are familiar with several different groceries in your area, some will have consistently better bargains on certain items than others, and it’s not just a matter of one store having better prices.  We find that one local store always has the best prices on fresh meats, but never the best prices for fruit.

27.   Buy Bagged Fruits and Vegetables   Bags of onions, potatoes, apples and oranges are often less expensive than the same items offered loose in a bin, although the latter may be larger and arguably more attractive.  That’s if you can use them up before they spoil, that is.

28.   Don’t Buy Anything in Individual Wrapping   This seems so obvious I almost hate to mention it.  If you buy anything in individually-wrapped, portion-sized packaging, be it potato chips, cookies, nuts or whatever, you only need to compare what these cost with bulk purchases to see the severe error in your ways.  If you need individual portions for the kids' lunch-boxes, buy reusable containers and fill them yourself.

29.   Open Your Mind to a New Cookbook   In the typical U.S. diet, a pound of meat serves four because meat is an American luxury, but in Latin or Oriental cooking, a pound of meat will serve eight or ten.  Oriental cooking in particular uses meat as an accent, and I think you’ll find, as we do, that you’ll even feel better after a meal that makes heavy use of grains accented by small bits of meat as opposed to a plate covered by a slab of steak or roast.  Again, besides saving money, you’re saving your health.

30.   Try to Produce Your Own Staples   Do you eat lots of bread?  If so, a bread machine will quickly pay for itself.  Determine the items that your family uses the most, and see if you can’t reduce your purchase to the basic ingredients.  This is especially something to consider also if you use lots of ice cream, yogurt, or kefir.  Also, don’t forget snacks, which may make up a large part of your food budget.  Popcorn can be produced cheaply in large quantities, and can be flavored with a number of low-cost items.  If you’ve never tried it, I suggest a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, which gives a richness reminiscent of butter, but without the cost or calories.

31.    Know a Good Deal When You See One   Of course you probably can’t remember the price of everything, but most people buy the same food items most of the time, so make it a point to notice and remember what you pay.  That way you’ll know when you see it somewhere else for a lower price.  This may sound a bit tedious, but it’s actually rather fun when you discover a new bargain.

32.   Always Use the Produce Scale   Don’t try to guess how much a pound of mushrooms amounts to.  Weigh everything before you put it in your cart.

33.   Avoid Lavish Displays   Cheese is almost always less expensive in the deli than from the tantalizing display of hors d’ourves set in mid-aisle.  Don’t be a sucker to marketing. 

34.   Buy Cold Cuts in the Deli   Plastic-packaged cold cuts are usually more expensive, generally a lot more expensive, plus you have less packaging to send to the landfill with deli or meat-market purchases, especially if you buy whole units and slice them yourself at home.

36.   Watch the cash register   It is estimated that up to $2.5 billion per year is made in scanning errors.  That's a lot of money left on the check-out counter.  Supermarkets often put items on sale at prices that don't always get to the register.  Also, checkers can easily make mistakes when making entries.  Check your receipt carefully.

37.  Leave the Kids at Home   Even if you take them with you, you can easily find something your kids will enjoy more than following you around the grocery store trying to think of what new sugar-coated catastrophe to buy.  It’s not so much that a box of Puffy Sugar Bombs costs five bucks that irks, but that the little darlings develop the idea that Puffy Sugar Bombs are food.  This is not good for their health, not good for their teeth and not good for your budget.  Children are only human, so of course they want to choose a few of the things you buy when you go shopping, and they haven’t yet developed the native resistance to advertising that you have.  Drop them at a playground, or maybe the library.  Frankly, you’re probably better off leaving your spouse at home too.  The more people that go shopping with you, the more you’re likely to spend.

38.  Patronize Farmer’s Markets   Not only will you save lots of money at farmer’s markets, you’ll get fresher food and benefit your local economy.  Buying directly from the grower in-season is also a good way to get food items for storage that you may not be able to grow for yourself.

39.   Pack a Lunch   Going on at trip, or working outside the home?  Try taking food with you instead of stoppingalong the way to go to a restaurant or convenience store.  Again, you’ll eat better for less.

40.   Own a Freezer and/or Extra Fridge   This is a large expense that you may not be able to afford right away, but well worth the money if you can.  Finding a used freezer may be difficult, though, so you may have to buy new.  Equally as handy, and probably less expensive than a freezer, is a second or third refrigerator.  We’ve inherited two extra fridges from family members who were moving.  Since virtually everyone owns a fridge at least once in there lives, there are plenty of used ones available.  They really expand your ability to stock up.

41.   Stock up after Thanksgiving   November and December are the best months of the year to save on groceries.  There are more coupons issued in these two months than at any other time during the year.  The day after Thanksgiving, stores practically give turkeys away—if they have any left.  This is when a freezer or extra fridge comes in handy.  You'll find some great bargains both after Thanksgiving and after Christmas.  A good time to stock up on bargains.

42.    Shop at Larger Stores  This may not always be good advice, but the bigger the store, the large the volume, so they can afford to offer better deals than smaller businesses.  Beware though, because larger stores also have more sophisticated techniques for getting you to spend more.

43.   Know Your Enemy   Modern supermarkets, indeed all stores, are designed from top to bottom to make you want to spend.  Nothing is left to chance.  Popular items like milk tend to be at the back of the store, cheaper items are placed low and high on the shelves and the more profitable/expensive ones are at eye-level. Most stores advertise “loss leaders”, extremely inexpensive staple goods to get you into the store where it’s hoped you’ll fill your cart with normally-priced items.  Also expect tinted lights above meat and produce, automatic sprinklers and mouth-watering displays.  Remember that the basic foodstuffs are usually located along the outside walls and more processed foods are on the inner aisles.

44.  Volunteer   I do volunteer work for a local food pantry.   Many times at closing on Fridays we have large quantities of produce like strawberries or bananas that won't keep over the weekend.  Rather than throw these items out I take them home and we make preserves, breads and other items that extend the shelf-life of the product.

45.  Forage  If you are a rural landowner like most homesteaders, then you have an unending supply of food for the taking.  Even a few acres of woodlot will provide nuts, berries, mushrooms and even a few fruits and vegetables, like paw-paws, persimmons, ramps and wild garlic during the warm months. 

46.  Barter  I purposely haven't mentioned raising your own milk, eggs and meat, because whether or not that proves to be money-saving option or not depends on  your management skills and is the subject of another article altogether, but if you do keep livestock and poultry, the chances are good that at times you will have more milk, eggs and possibly even more meat than your family can use.  When you do, these are the gold standard of barter.

47.   Eat First, Then Shop   Never, never, never go into a grocery store hungry or tired.

48.  Avoid Items Sold at the Checkout Counter   Stores feature single serving pies, cans of soda and other items at the checkout that are usually much more expensive.  Relax, you’ll be home soon enough.

49.   Buy Frozen   Fresh produce is appealing, but items such as broccoli, green peppers and strawberries are considerably cheaper when purchased from the frozen aisle.  Most frozen items still carry the same health benefits.  If you can’t get it at a farmer’s market, you’re better off getting many items frozen.

 

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