Saving Money On Food
Coupon Strategies for Families on a Food Budget
It’s a rare family that’s not on a food budget. The family food shopper searches for any way possible to cut back on the amount of money spent on food. One of those is using coupons.
Conservatively speaking, there are millions of coupons circulating every day that could cut your food budget by 30 to 50% – even more if you’re willing to turn couponing into a passion.
Even the casual coupon clipper can become quite successful overnight and with more work and dedication become a super saver shopper. You have to be patient, flexible and perhaps give up your favorite brand, but it can be done and you can save a lot of money.
Remember, coupons are designed to sell a certain product and get you in the store but if the item is not one you need and use, then saving money on that item is a moot point.
Food coupons can be found anywhere. The Sunday newspaper is usually the best source but also look on line, at public libraries and at coupon swap boxes at the store itself. Some stores issue coupons at checkout for use on your next trip. Be sure and note expiration dates and if a cash value is offered. Don’t let them expire and go to waste.
Organize before you shop. Keep coupons sorted by food type in an easy to search through container and match coupons with needs on your grocery list. Some coupons have mail in rebates. Beware of this and follow up.
Sign up for a store loyalty card that usually offers coupons plus bonus points that are cumulative each time you shop. Using a store’s own credit card can lead to double points and free item coupons.
When you combine regular coupons with sale prices, you’re becoming a super saver. If a coupon item is not on sale and it’s not an urgent buy wait until it’s on sale. Be on the lookout for sale and bonus points tags.
Compare ads. It may pay you to drive to more than one store if it’s an item you need, have a coupon and it’s not available anywhere else. But, before you burn up extra gas, ask if the store honors its competitor’s coupons. Many will do this just to keep you in the store. You can call ahead to save a trip.
Don’t be susceptible to the 2 for a dollar marketing tool unless it’s to your advantage with a coupon. If you need two of the item go ahead and buy them; but save by buying only one if that’s what you need. For example, the sign may read: 15 limes for a dollar. Unless you’re a big lime user, some could go bad before you use them.
There was a time when some shoppers felt using coupons was not appreciated by the grocer and hesitated to use them. They didn’t want to hold up the line while the checker scanned coupons.
It’s a faster and easier method now with computers. Some of these strategies may not be right for you. It takes practice and patience, trial and error. If stretching your food dollar is your goal, there are few better ways than using coupons.
Getting Groceries at the Dollar Store
We’re all familiar with inexpensive variety stores that have been around as long as you can remember probably. Originally, there was the five and dime or just the dime store and most everything there was a nickel or a dime. However, inflation couldn’t keep its nose out of our lives and forced prices to go higher. And remember, five cents back in those days would be worth over a dollar today.
Now we have the dollar stores which are a little misleading even though some things sell for a dollar or less but others multiples of a dollar. They sell things such as cleaning supplies, toys, pet supplies, ironing boards, garden tools, candy and food that’s in a can.
Most products are sold for less than at a general retail store but it’s best to know your prices before you go in. Some products are generic or private label brand made specifically for that company.
Other merchandise is purchased from another store that has had an overstock or close-out sale. You might find items that were manufactured for a special promotion or event and are now out of date or sales have slowed too much to keep it in stock.
Wouldn’t it be nice if a dollar store sold fresh food? Enter the 99 cents only stores where nothing is over 99 cents…ever. Well, that’s what they say. This chain was founded in 1982 and now boasts more than 260 stores in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas. Their total sales for fiscal year 2006 totaled one billion dollars.
They claim to be the oldest single price retail chain in the country offering deep discounts on primarily new name brand merchandise. The good news is some of their sales include fresh produce, a deli, frozen foods and occasionally fresh meat.
The deli features mostly cold cuts. This is in addition to canned goods and other basic grocery items, plus health and beauty aids. The inventory varies and not everything is name brand.
Recent ads for produce include cantaloupe for 99 cents, pound and a half of plums for 99 cents, dozen eggs 99 cents, milk 32 ounces for 99 cents and five pounds of potatoes for 99 cents. Even a large watermelon for, yes, 99 cents. By the way, the ad didn’t say what size the eggs were. And, some wine snobs are enjoying their 99 cent wine.
These kinds of stores, until recently, were thought of as being in low income areas and shopped by low income people who didn’t mind some off brand merchandise if they could save money. If that were ever true, that’s changed with the spiraling cost of food and gasoline. Now, we’re all looking for a bargain.
The 99 cents only stores pride themselves on having a clean store with friendly, personal service. Shelves are fully and neatly stocked, aisles are wide and the total environment is fresh and pleasant.
They even offer more help with a 99 cent only cookbook: gourmet recipes at discount prices. If you live in one of the above four states and are trying to trim your food budget it might be worth your gas to shop and see what all you can get for 99 cents.
How to Cut Costs at the Grocery Store
If you’re a frequent grocery shopper you’re aware of the constant increase in food prices. We all must eat so not shopping is not an option. Play the grocery game and develop a strategy to save as much as possible.
But, it’s more than clipping coupons. It takes hard work and planning. Make a list and stick to it. Check to see what you already have so you don’t come home with duplicate items that may go to waste.
Shop alone if you have discipline. Those extra helpers, be it children or spouse, can add extra goodies to the basket that are not needed and not on your well thought out list.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach. If you do, everything looks good and you’ll find yourself straying from the list. You might want to have a small snack before you shop to curb any ravenous appetite.
Compare the unit price and buy a larger size if it’s less per ounce or per pound. You can always divide it up in smaller packages when you get home. Higher priced items are usually placed at eye level so look up or down for lower priced foods. More expensive items are also usually on the high traffic aisles so wander off the beaten path.
Do your own slicing and dicing. Those pre packaged meats and cheeses are convenient but it is worth the price? Bulk cheese is cheaper and said to be healthier. Buying a whole chicken is much cheaper. Cut it into parts later. Freeze what you don’t need right away. Less tender cuts of meat are cheaper and if prepared right can be just as delicious.
The same goes for cereal. Those tiny one person servings cost more so buy the larger boxes. Hot cereals are usually less expensive per serving than the ready to eat cereal.
Bake from scratch.
You pay more for ready mixes of cakes and cookies. Prepared foods will cost you more so do a little more work and save. Even the fancy cut pastas, rather than the plain, will add to your grocery bill.
Look for the mark down areas. You might find fresh meat or vegetables that are about to go out of date but if you’re cooking them soon that’s no problem.
Check the receipt for errors. Stores don’t do this intentionally but it happens frequently. It could be entered incorrectly on the computer scanner or the checker could be rushed and enter the wrong amount purchased. Check for errors as soon as you can and don’t be shy about getting it corrected. Most stores are apologetic and give you a cheerful refund.
Plan a shopping day and avoid unnecessary trips. Keep your recipes simple and shop happy. Angry shoppers tend to impulse buy. Shop early and avoid the frantic crowds. Some consider grocery shopping good therapy while anticipating those delicious and healthy meals for themselves and family.
Nix the Midday Lunch Breaks with Co-Workers
You probably know the scenario. The office clock says noon and the guys and gals decide where to go for lunch. In many towns, the drive time to a restaurant eats up most of the lunch hour, not to mention the gas.
It’s hard to find lunch for less than ten bucks plus tip. You gobble down your food, share a few laughs with your co-workers and rush back to the office wishing you had time for a nap.
As you walk to your desk, you notice this guy putting away his brown bag. He appears calm, happy and ready to get back to work, some of which he did while eating his lunch. He’s thinking how delicious it was, how much money he saved and the hassle avoided.
Is it worth it to prepare and bring your lunch to work each day? Well, looking at some basic examples let’s say the cost to fix your own lunch costs about $3 a day. It’s probably much cheaper.
That’s $15 for a five day week. Eating out at approximately $10 a day comes to $50 for the week. You saved at least $35 not including drive time and gas. That’s more than $1,800 a year saved. Interested?
Here are some brown bag tips. Prepare it the night before so you’re not rushed in the morning. Keep it simple but be creative and think healthy. Sandwiches on wholesome bread are fine but include nuts, fruit or yogurt. Also, put in a little treat for yourself that you can look forward to, perhaps a health bar or your favorite cookie.
Plan ahead and buy in bulk with lunches in mind. Buy large chips and put them in smaller plastic bags instead of buying small individual bags. Don’t pay more for convenience.
Cook a big dinner and save some for lunch the next day or the entire week. If it’s home cooked you know it’s good, healthy and cleaner. Put it in individual containers that night so you can grab and go in the morning.
If you’re running late there’s nothing wrong with occasionally taking a can of soup or vegetable chili. Most offices have ovens or microwaves you can use for heating.
Bring your drink too. You can probably get a 12-pack of soda for $2.99 and that comes to about 25 cents a can. Compare that with expensive vending machine drinks or coffee and you’ve saved even more.
It’s up to you of course, but you can continue to work while you eat, catch up on your emails or other relaxing reading. It just might impress the boss and if you have to take off early, you don’t feel as guilty. Don’t be surprised if others ask you for tips on brown bagging.
There’s a lot to be said for brown bagging your lunch. You eat better, save time, money and you’re more productive. Now all you have to do is figure out where to invest all that money you saved.
Saving Money While Dining Out
Long ago, people rarely ate out. Mom would cook almost every meal at home. When they did eat out it was exciting and special. Times changed and eating out became an almost everyday happening. Times have changed again and we may have to revert to the old ways because dining out has gotten so expensive.
But, why should you? You work hard. You and your family deserve to eat out if that’s what you enjoy. Some read a menu from right to left checking prices first and then scan back to the left to see what it is. There are other ways to dine out and stay within your budget.
Select a restaurant you can afford. You may have eaten in restaurants where you feel the owner must be laughing at you for paying his exorbitant prices. You can get just as full in a reasonably priced café on quality food with friendly service. If you’re a big eater, an all you can eat buffet may be right for you. And, you can save on tipping.
Some restaurants offer specials on certain days and discounts for eating early. Do your homework by reading their ads or give them a call. If you’re a senior citizen they may have senior specials that offer smaller portions for a smaller price.
If you’re eating with no children in tow, try the happy hour lounge specials. For the price of a drink you can usually sample the heavy hors d’oeuvres. If you do have kids, some places have kids eat free nights.
For the two of you just order one dinner and perhaps an appetizer and share. Portions can be too large anyway. Most restaurants these days are happy to have your business and will be glad to bring you an extra plate at no charge. If you have leftovers take it home and eat it later getting two meals for the price of one.
Scan the newspaper and other ads for discount coupons but read the fine print and make sure it’s a bargain and not a come-on. Buying an Entertainment Book that usually offers buy one get one free can be real savings for the whole year.
Practice skipping when dining out. Yeah, that would be good exercise but try skipping a drink such as iced tea or soda and skipping dessert. Drinks can add more than four dollars to the check for just two people.
Order water instead and freshen it up with lemon and maybe a little sugar. Pick up a half gallon of ice cream on the way home for dessert the rest of the week. Fast food fare can be cheaper and if you’re careful it can also be healthy. Most fast food chains now offer salads and soups. For dessert try a container of fruit instead of fat-laden sweets.
Don’t forget to check your receipt. Some offer free meals or a reward if you take a survey about your dining out experience. Your experience should be fun and affordable. With a little planning and restraint dining out can always be special.