Save Money on Food

Backyard chickens

One consistent theme among all of my friends is the need to save money in the current economic climate. For the next month, Eco Baby Steps will offer tips to save money. This week, we’ll look at essentials like food and heating.

What else do you want to save money on? Yes, I know: EVERYTHING! That’s obvious. Tell me, then, how you would finish this statement: “I wish I could save more money on ______.” Where are you really trying to squeeze the budget? Tell me, and I’ll see if I can come up with a few tips to help you.

Today, save money on food. This is one of the biggest items in my family budget, but I want to keep the family healthy and well nourished as well, so we look for a balance.

Focus on Un-processed Foods
Buy whole foods (not to be confused with a high-priced grocery store by that name). I know a lot of people who lower their food bills to almost nothing by using coupons, but I don’t do that. Most of the coupons are for processed foods and other items I wouldn’t normally buy. Keep your overall focus on those foods that have not become ingredients in other foods. Buy fewer prepared meals and more fresh foods.

Use Sales and Coupons
If you would buy the foods anyway, definitely use coupons and show up for sales, but keep in mind the value of your time as you search for and organize your coupons.

Manager’s Specials
In my grocery store, the food that is about to expire within a day or so is often marked down to half of the usual price or less. I often bring home foods with those bright red stickers and either use them right away or freeze them. If you are willing to be flexible about what you eat tonight, you might find a special.

Food Rescue
More than a billion tons of food is wasted around the world annually at every link on the supply chain. When food is past its sell-by date, a store won’t sell it, but the food might still be edible. Sometimes you can work with grocery stores for food rescue. Often, this food is donated, but a lot of dumpster divers find edible food for their families.

Start with a List
If you plan your meals, even if you are flexible about changes when you see opportunities in the store, you are less likely to buy expensive foods or foods that will go bad and end up in the compost. Before you arrive at the store, start with a shopping list. Also, make sure to list those foods your family really eats rather than the foods you wish they would eat. Food that is ignored is more likely to be wasted.

Buy and Cook in Bulk
You may have to pay more up front for a larger bag of flour, but you will pay less per pound. On the other hand, if you can’t use all of the giant bag of lettuce before it starts to brown, you haven’t really saved money. Having a chest freezer can be a great way to keep foods as you buy or cook them in bulk. Buy as much as you can afford, as much as you can store, and as much as you will use.

Join or Create a Buying Club
Some wholesalers don’t mind selling food to buying clubs as long as they can meet the minimum. To find a local buying club, ask around or do a search. There are also more organized clubs, which you can find through United Buying Clubs. Or, gather a group of families and start your own buying club.

Freeze the Leftovers
When you have bread that had gone stale or vegetables or rice that you won’t use before they go bad, freeze them. When it is time to make stuffing, you will already have plenty of bread ready, so you won’t have to leave fresh bread out to dry. When it is time to make soup, you will have a variety of ingredients to add to your soup. Even if you can’t use food right away, save it if you can use it later.

Grow Your Own
Whether you have a lot of space to grow your own fruit trees, a medium-sized space to plant a garden, or just enough space to grow a few herbs in pots, growing your own will save you money as long as you don’t overdo the money spent on gardening supplies.

Keep Chickens
Another big trend I’ve noticed among my friends is keeping chickens for eggs. My children took care of their grandparents’ chickens over the holidays, and they are very confident that they can become small-scale farmers themselves. My local garden store has classes in chicken keeping. You might find a similar local class that eases your transition from gardener to farmer.

How do you save money on food? Your friends, neighbors, and family members are all trying to save money. It is just one of the realities of our time. Share your tips.

Image of my in-laws’ backyard chickens.

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