How to Save Money on Groceries

Home economics, it's not so old-fashioned any more

Like a crock of good sauerkraut or a jar of homemade sourdough starter, thoughts about how to save money on food have been bubbling away in the back of my brain for some months now. With four-buck gas and milk both in the rear view mirror, many of us are tightening our belts, some for the first time.

In a series of posts over the next few weeks, I'll share many hard-hitting, direct "do this" tips about how to save money on groceries. Please know that I know:

  • Some tips will fit some circumstances, others won't.
  • Some tips will be immediately obvious, some may require contemplation.
  • Some tips will be easy, some may be difficult to (ahem) swallow, harder still to make happen.

Please know: I do not intend to tell someone how to live her life, nor do I pretend to understand the challenges and circumstances that guide each person's decisions. Even so, some of my ideas that follow, even to me, sound a little more than 'preachy'. I use stark "do this" language in order to challenge the conventional wisdom, to get us all to think, me included. My own practices are far from perfect, I have much to learn.

Please know: I think the modern food distribution system is a marvel, one that delivers fresh, safe food 99.999% of the time, mitigates the risk of regional food shortages, and provides consumers with many food choices. In many of the money-saving tips that follow, supermarkets sound like the 'enemy'. They're not. But as consumers, we must vote with our dollars and our feet -- and yes, as here, with our voices -- what we want from our stores. Grocers are good marketers, they'll adjust.

Please know: There are many reasons to shop/not to shop at certain stores and certain kinds of stores. I'm concentrating on just three: cost, value and nutrition for the individual household. I recognize that others may well build in other factors: proximity; ownership; selection; labor practices; fair trade; environment; etc. I applaud these personal choices! Still, know that for the purposes of this post, I've elected to not pass judgment on such trade-offs.

Please know: All that aside, if we really want to save money on food, we've got to change our habits. It's that whole rat-in-a-maze business: when the rat follows the same path, it ends up blocked in the same corner, again and again. But when it tries new routes -- hey, jumps the maze entirely -- it finds the cheese. Not that I'm calling any of us 'rats' ;-) ...


Okay, here we go. Take a deep breath and let's settle in for some hard talk about how to save money on groceries. I'm breaking the tips up into several posts over a few weeks.

HOW to SAVE MONEY on GROCERIES

The Introduction (you're here)
Part One - Frugal Eating Starts in Our Heads
Part Two - Frugal Food Shopping Requires a Plan
Part Three - Finally, How to Shop Wisely for Groceries

Part Four - Investing in the Future (coming soon)
Part Five - Reader Tips & More Resources (coming soon)

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If you think a friend might appreciate this series (plus the usual recipes), forward this post!


"How to Save Money on Groceries" is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg, author of the recipe column Kitchen Parade and 'veggie evangelist' at the food blog about vegetables, A Veggie Venture.

As the daughter of a woman who grew up poor and remained thrifty to her core even when finances were comfortable, I've spent my life watching food prices. In my 20s, I calculated that a sack of groceries cost about $10. In my 30s, I realized that my morning coffee 'n' bagel ritual was a $1000 a year habit. In my 40s, I watched in horror as the price of a dozen eggs jumped from $.99 to $2.79 and my favorite cottage cheese from $1.78 to $3.35 even if it goes on sale occasionally for $1.99. This year, for the first time, I'm writing about the direction that my internal shopping compass points week in and week out.





Promises to be interesting!
80KD
 
Thanks for doing this series! I'm really interested to read your tips. We could all benefit from taking a second look at our spending habits and making some adjustments. Loved the first installment.

And it just so happens that in response to a reader's comments on the expense of eating healthy, I just published a post of strategies for eating healthy on a budget at Feed the Soul.
 
When I was newly married, I had a cookbook called "The Penny Pincher's Cookbook" put out by the USDA. It was the best cookbook for frugal shopping/eating! Of course, it was slanted toward using commodities (which I also took advantage of). Do they even still offer "commodities" anymore?

GREAT idea, Alanna! I'm looking forward to this series.
 
Great idea! Your series just happened to coincide with a new store that I tried and a post. I'm going to link to this post, so that my readers can check out your series.
 
What a timely series! Thanks for writing this. I just featured it on my blog.
 
I have a question about dried beans. I have taken your advice to buy them in order to cut back expenses. But when I cook them, they seem to never fully cook through. They are never completely soft. Any advice? (I have cooked them longer than it said to, by the way.)
 
I've had just the same issue with dried beans! My favorite recipe is to cook them in the slow cooker, I call them Creamy Slow-Cooker Beans. You can tell from the name, they're not dry or fibrous at all - they're 'creamy'. Try this and let me know, alright?
 
You have some great ideas. You could also check out www.hotcouponworld.com for more great ideas using coupons each week. I have saved thousands of dollars in just a year since I joined (which is free). Stockpiling the food you use is the way to go.
 
I just discovered this series. I have never looked past the recipe. This is so great. A side benefit to this is that you're eating healthier! That being said, you forgot to mention the #1 way to save money when buying food: DON'T SHOP WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY!! Can't wait for the rest of the series.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna