We’re all feeling the pinch of inflation and nowhere is it more obvious than in the family grocery bill. Grocery prices started rising in 2020 and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prices are expected to continue to rise another three-to-four percent by the end of 2022.
You’ve gotta feed the family, so what can a parent do? Here are some of the most common mistakes people make that hike up that grocery bill — and some useful tips to avoid them.
1. Buying convenience food
We know, time is short for most families. But if your budget is really tight, making meals from scratch will save your wallet. Using your slow cooker or instant pot can help make up some time in the kitchen. Another way around the weeknight time crunch is to do prep work for some of your meals on the weekends, or even prepare some make-ahead meals to reheat on busy nights. Pre-chopped, frozen veggies such as onions or bell peppers, and jarred, minced garlic are good staples to keep around. They cost slightly more than doing the chopping yourself, but if you use these in homemade meals, you will see savings overall.
2. Not taking advantage of your chain’s customer rewards
Most major chain stores offer personalized coupons based on your shopping habits. Taking a few minutes before each shopping trip to peruse these is a great way to save. Also, joining the chain’s club and using the phone app can unlock better pricing. Many also offer points toward gas, which is also very expensive these days.
3. Buying prepackaged spices
When your jar of dried basil is empty, instead of buying a new jar, head to your store’s bulk spices for a refill. You will save up to 90 percent by getting your spices in bulk. That includes taco seasoning, rubs for meats and even dry salad dressing mixes.
4. Not planning meals
Meal planning can really make a difference in your food costs. This is especially true if you make your menu based on the weekly sales. Make the menu, figure out what ingredients you will need, then stick to that list when shopping. You can find a plethora of “meal planning” printable planners and apps online. If you find that you regularly add extras to your cart, consider using a service such as Kroger’s Pickup service (free on orders over $35) in which store employees do your shopping for you and deliver it to your car. This ensures you avoid impulse buys, and you don’t have to shop with the kids.
5. Not keeping a stocked pantry
It may seem counterintuitive that we are telling you to buy more groceries, but it makes sense to keep the basic staples you use most often on hand. Because if you aren’t short one ingredient, you are less likely to make a last-minute run to the store and come home with a full bag of stuff you didn’t need. If you know you use canned tomatoes at least once or twice a week, buy several when you see a sale. You can buy bags of frozen, chopped white onion for about a dollar a bag, which is worth keeping in the freezer if it saves you from that extra trip to the store.
6. Wasting food
Studies show that Americans tend to throw out around 25 percent of the food they buy. It’s so easy to forget about the fresh produce you bought last week until it’s too late. Or those leftovers you fully intended to eat for lunch. Here are a few solutions to combat food waste: Making a menu in advance and buying only what you need for those dishes will automatically cut down on what gets thrown out. As far as leftovers, if you aren’t planning to pack those for lunch or serve the next day for dinner, freeze them. If over time, you find that your family seldom eats leftovers, start cooking just enough for one meal, cutting down recipes if needed. Finally, keep the most perishable foods front and center in the fridge so you are less likely to forget about them.
7. Always relying on brand-name products
Of course, there are some family favorites for which a generic substitute just won’t do. But for many items, such as beans, canned vegetables and fruits, crackers, pasta or even pasta sauces, many grocery brand products taste very close to or even better than their brand-name counterparts. In fact, many grocery store brands are made by the same companies that create those national brands you love. You may have to try one or two to find the one you like, but when you do, you can save between 20 and 40 percent.
8. Not going to the cheapest store
Most of us shop at the same store weekly because of convenience. You know where everything is and it’s close to home or work. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but if you need to slash your food bill, you may need to get out of your comfort zone. For example, WinCo is an employee-owned chain that offers big savings. You have to bag your own groceries there and the checkout lines are usually long but the savings make it worth it. Even if you just go to a cheaper store once a month to stock up on basics, you will save. Look around at different stores to find a less expensive option.
9. Buying individually packaged snacks
Individually packaged snacks almost always cost more than their bulk counterparts. You can save by buying larger bags and repackaging snacks into smaller containers or even making your own trail mix, Chex-style mix or popcorn at home.
10. Buying special ingredients for recipes
Most dishes won’t suffer in flavor if you use regular white vinegar instead of champagne vinegar. Olive oil doesn’t always need to be extra virgin. Within reason, most recipes will be just fine with some substitutions. Check out this handy list of substitutions.
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