The cart’s full now!

The $25/week grocery project came to an abrupt end just about when I said it would: when it became more stress than challenge, more frustrating than satisfying. I had anticipated going for 10 weeks; I made it 9 (but lacked a final post). One interesting and unexpected outcome: even though I am back to buying whatever I want/need, I am still spending less money overall. Before I officially close out this topic, I’d like to leave a few last cost-saving tips:

1. Go skimpy on meat. In my personal experience, I frequently use anywhere from 1/2-3/4 of the amount of meat called for in a recipe and have just as enjoyable a meal. I suppose this doesn’t really work for something like a roast, but we don’t make many roasts anyway. Since I limit our meat purchases to suppliers who provide ethical/humane environments for livestock, we pay 2-3X as much as factory-farmed meat. Savings here really helps but even regular meat is one of the more expensive items in a cart. A related tip is that we eat vegetarian 3-5 times per week. It’s cheaper, provides variety and though we enjoy meat, we don’t consider it necessary to a meal. Yet another related tip: make a “meat matrix.” A while ago, I made a list of the cuts of meat we use the most often (for us: hamburger, chicken thighs, chuck roast, pork shoulder, turkey thighs, bacon, fish, various sausages) and made a point of noting the prices of each at local options (local groceries, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco). While prices changes and sales come/go, the exercise was helpful in establishing a baseline of “an average” price vs. ” a good” price and “oh that’s way too much to pay for that.”

2. Buy in bulk. But only when it makes sense. If you’re like me, it’s hard to resist a really good deal but a really good deal can become real trash if you don’t apply a little restraint. Two years ago, Pastene crushed tomatoes went on sale for $0.79/each. That was the lowest price I had ever seen. I bought 48 cans because I projected how long that would last and compared against the expiry date. It was close but we made it and I didn’t have to throw any away. If there’s a great sale on a staple item for you, stock up as much as you can reasonably use before it’ll expire.

3. Use coupons, cautiously. I do check weekly flyers for coupons but I don’t put in much more effort than that. Yes, I’ve seen the extreme couponing showing. Coupons have an opportunity cost. For me, there’s a point at which I’m saving and beyond that, the time/effort/brain power is more than I am getting. Generally, I check the weekly flyers for things we *would probably buy anyway* and put them in an organizer, separated into 5 general categories (fresh, frozen, canned, cleaning and non-food, anything else). When I make my shopping list, I do a quick scan for coupons that match up and clip them to the list. If you buy a lot of processed foods with coupons that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, if you spend lots of time hunting down coupons or buying them from clipping services, you really aren’t saving money – you’re giving yourself a part-time job.

That’s it – please leave your own cost-savings tips in the comments!

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