- Previous Paradigm: Coupons and Sales
- New Concept: Consider Each Item Intentionally
- Saving on Groceries in the Meat Aisle as Prices Rise
- What Fruit Should You Buy as Prices Rise?
- What Does the Rest of the Produce Section Look Like?
- How to Save on Groceries in the Dairy and Egg Category During Times of Inflation
- Final Strategies for Your Non-Perishables to Save on Groceries without Coupons
- Bottom Line: You Can Save on Every Item You Purchase at the Grocery Store
Your grocery budget might not be able to just absorb the rising costs of food in times of inflation.
From November 2021 to April 2022, less than half a year, prices on many of the bulk items I buy at Country Life Natural Foods went up by 50 to 100%. Arrowroot starch nearly tripled! My heart fell into my shoes as I made my last order, thinking I might have to work to hit the $400 minimum threshold for delivery and ending up easily hitting the $750 threshold, which thankfully saved me 10%.
Prices continuing to rise is simply unsustainable unless we make changes in what and how we buy food.
If you’re serious about maintaining a grocery budget and keeping it and your family’s nutrition at the same level while prices rise, you may need to figure out how to save on each and every item you buy.
Previous Paradigm: Coupons and Sales
When I first became an adult, I was always very proud of that fancy line on my receipt telling me how much I had saved during that shopping trip.
At that time of my life, it was all about coupons and sales. I clipped the coupons, coupled them with a sale when possible, and shopped most of the items I purchased from the sale flyer. Because coupons and sales are largely focused on processed foods where the profit margins are higher, that technique quickly fell by the wayside as we improved our diet and our health.
I was also able to increase my food budget because we were getting older and our incomes were increasing. Now in 2022, as inflation hits hard, our incomes are pretty static. I really don’t want to see my grocery budget go up by 50%.
I’m not willing to go back to the simple coupon-and-sale shopping strategy. It’s time for a paradigm shift.
New Concept: Consider Each Item Intentionally
Here’s what I propose. We may not be able to save 50 cents or $1 on each item we buy, but what if we think holistically about what we were purchasing, how we were going to use it, the nutritional category it fulfills, and what we might be able to purchase instead.
For example, years ago I talked about my love for cabbage, the simple vegetable that’s packed with nutrients and can both take the place of lettuce and other meats or vegetables that one might roast or sauté. Cabbage checks all the boxes:
- decently high in nutrients
- very low price per pound
- lasts a long time (so there’s less food waste on the other end)
- can be eaten raw or cooked
- can take the place of many other foods
For example, consider buying a pound of mixed greens. You’re going to pay at least $5 on a good day. And if those greens last you a week, you’re lucky. Chances are you may throw away at least a few ounces.
Now compare to a cabbage salad, at 79 cents per pound and an extremely hearty vegetable that can sit in your refrigerator for two months if you don’t touch it. Plus cabbage can be frozen and cooked (not so for lettuce!).
Cabbage can become an inexpensive side dish when wedged and roasted. And you can even food process it and use it as a filler in soups and ground meat dishes without much change in flavor but a serious reduction in per serving cost.
It’s this kind of thinking that we’re going to continue to explore as we consider how we can save on every item we buy at the store.
Saving on Groceries in the Meat Aisle as Prices Rise
Meat has always been known as one of the banes of the grocery budget because its price per pound is generally pretty high. The more processed the meat, the higher the price per pound. So how can we save on meat?
First, we can avoid highly processed meats. The price per package of lunch meat might not feel that painful. But when you work it out per ounce or per pound, that ham and roasted turkey breast conveniently sliced may cost as much as a steak.
It’s far better to buy a whole cut of meat, cook it yourself, and eat the leftovers on a sandwich than it is to waste your precious dollars on highly processed lunch meat that’s usually packed with chemicals anyway.
Second, you want to consider how each cut can be used. For example, if my family has burgers, we usually go through two pounds of meat with either no leftovers or a half, or maybe a whole burger, for one soul to fight over the next day at lunch.
If I take the same two pounds of ground beef and use it in other ways, I can create three to four dinners if I play my cards right, and many of those dinners will have leftovers enough to feed the family. This is literally a 3 to 8x improvement on my meat expense.
Here are some examples of how we stretch every pound of beef:
- cheeseburger soup
- Dad’s Cheeseburger Helper
- the Healthy Lunchbox Book
- beef and cabbage over rice
- chili (like Mary’s Nightshade-Free chili for the Instant Pot!)
My strategy when using ground beef in a meal instead of as a meal is that if a recipe calls for a pound of ground beef, I can often reduce that to three-quarters or even half a pound. In a soup, casserole, or pasta dish, things like beans and legumes, other vegetables (I see you cabbage!), and whole grains or pasta take the place of the need for so much meat.
For example, we have taco night once a week. Instead of making two pounds of taco meat, which would result in leftovers to feed us another time, we use one pound of meat and the equivalent of one pound of cooked sprouted lentils. The lentils cost us less than $1, and the meat at this point usually costs between $8 and $10 a pound, because we buy grass-fed.
See how this is better than even extreme couponing?
That brings me to my third tip for reducing meat. Use other items to take its place like lentils, legumes, chopped mushrooms, chopped cabbage, zucchini, and more. As long as the price per pound is less than the meat, you’re saving money and potentially increasing nutrition, because you are increasing the variety of foods your family eats in a meal.
Finally, it has to be said that we need a return to the inexpensive cuts of meat – chuck roast, a whole chicken, chicken thighs over chicken breasts, and pork butt and pork shoulder roasts.
It’s very much time to consider the price per pound of your meat and how much your family will actually eat in a sitting versus having leftovers. You can absolutely save money on meat using all these strategies even in times of inflation.
What Fruit Should You Buy as Prices Rise?
Whenever I think that my kids will be so happy when I get home from the grocery store because grapes were on sale so I grabbed some, that joy is tempered by the total price of the bag of grapes when I finally go through checkout.
The per-pound price of $1.99 doesn’t sound like very much when you’re standing in the store looking at grapes you know your kids will love. But when the total price of a not-so-large bag is over $7, it starts to feel a little more extravagant. That’s what I want you to think about when you’re considering what fruit to buy. How much will a serving truly cost you? How much are you spending per pound or per piece?
Apples are almost always going to be the fruity winner when it comes to price per pound; and even there, you can be cautious and buy a bag instead of just a few apples. Figure out your price per pound, and make decisions from there.
If you happen to find a great deal on apples, you can buy in bulk and preserve them for later!
Most of the time, you’ll find me skipping the grapes and oranges and opting for other things instead. Now don’t get me wrong, my kids love grapes and oranges; and when my budget can fit it, I’ll buy them any day. But if the budget is feeling tight, those can be some of the first things to swap out.
Because there may be less waste in the frozen foods section, sometimes those prices per pound are actually better. It’s very much worth your time, especially if you’re buying something fragile and sensitive like berries, to consider frozen berries over fresh.
Figure out the price per pound or per ounce and make wise decisions. You can always change the way your kids eat things slightly to fit a different form of preparation.
What Does the Rest of the Produce Section Look Like?
For the past many years, I have focused on increasing our variety of plant points, meaning I try to buy as many different kinds of vegetables as I can.
However, when I’m watching the budget, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to the price per pound. Those $7 per pound pea pods? Sorry, guys, you’re not getting in my cart. I’m going to focus more on a cauliflower for $3 or less, or that gigantic celery root I just noticed is priced at $3.49 per piece, which makes it less than $1 per pound.
You may have to work a little harder and keep your math brain on while in the produce section because produce can be priced so differently. Something that’s priced per piece versus per pound makes it a little hard to compare, but never impossible. You can always grab one piece and weigh it on the scale to figure out the per pound price.
With produce, I also recommend considering the other end of the story. In other words, how much might you waste if you don’t get to that particular vegetable in a reasonable amount of time?
If we think about vegetables like asparagus, kale, fresh herbs, and even fresh broccoli, I’m sure you can picture as well as I can a total fail: brown, wrinkly, or mushy piece of trash coming out of your produce drawer, and the feeling you had when you had to throw away good money that you wish your family had been able to eat.
Very hearty vegetables – like anything that grows below the ground, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and more, as well as my favorite cabbage – are going to be safer purchases as far as not wasting food.
That doesn’t mean you never buy the asparagus; it means you shop smart. Only buy the more sensitive foods that you know you can eat within the first five to seven days. Then focus on the heartier vegetables to make sure you have other options later down the road. This will also help you go to the store less, which generally means we spend less money. More on that in the next post in this series.
How to Save on Groceries in the Dairy and Egg Category During Times of Inflation
It seems like when we buy milk and eggs, we really don’t have a lot of choices to save money unless we decrease the quality of what we’re buying.
We could switch from organic pastured eggs to cheap white eggs and save a few bucks per dozen. However, when we think about the reduced nutritional value and increased pesticide load that brings our family, the cost-benefit analysis may not be worth it.
How else are we supposed to save on eggs? It turns out that when you’re baking, you can use ground flax or chia seed to replace your eggs. This not only increases the variety of foods your family eats and increases their omega-3 intake but also decreases your food budget. One tablespoon of ground flax plus two tablespoons of warm water equals one egg, but it’s going to cost much less.
When it comes to milk, we can follow a few strategies to save as well.
First, consider making your own yogurt. I save $500 to $1,000 a year on yogurt alone in the grocery budget just by making homemade, and it takes less than 5 to 20 minutes per week.
Next, if you use milk in your baking like muffins or pancakes, most of the time you can get away with exchanging half for plain water. That’s a savings right there!
And finally, if you’re buying non-dairy milks, these can be very expensive. It’s definitely worth comparing price per ounce, but it’s also worth considering making your own. Many bloggers have easy recipes for homemade coconut milk, homemade almond milk, homemade hemp milk, and more. Yes, this is a time expense, but if your budget is worth it, your family’s nutrition is worth it as well.
Final Strategies for Your Non-Perishables to Save on Groceries without Coupons
We’ve taken care of the perimeter, which is where the wisest real food grocery shoppers spend their time: produce, meat, dairy, and eggs. But we all know that we do buy some things from the interior of the grocery store. We need those non-perishables as well. So how can we save money there if coupons and sales aren’t the way to go?
First, I highly encourage you to take a few minutes in the store and work out the price per ounce on some of the foods your family will often buy.
For example, we have Cereal Day every Friday morning. It’s once a week, and I buy decently sourced cereals with decently clean ingredients. Sometimes I’m not happy about the industrial oils used in them, and of course, there’s more sugar than I would generally serve my children. But it’s once a week, and it’s okay.
However, I have four kids, including a teenage boy and two little boys who eat cereal like they’re teenagers. We can easily go through two bags or boxes of granola in one day. I haven’t looked at the price per ounce of cereal in years. But just last month, I spent some moments in ALDI looking at the price per ounce, and I was shocked to find that the cereals and granolas I generally buy had a 2x range.
RELATED: What a real foodie should buy at Aldi.
That meant that if I made one choice, I might literally save 50% per ounce over the other choice. You can guess what options I tended for that day. I’m guessing if you look at categories you purchase like crackers, cereal, chips, etc, you may find the same thing.
Again, I’m not recommending that you reduce your quality standards, just that you examine what you might normally buy and potentially opt for the less expensive one, at least when the grocery budget is really hurting.
Also on the interior aisles, I know sometimes we just need something convenient in a single serving. But I can guarantee that if you skip the single serving and buy a full package and simply portion it out for your family, you will save a lot of money per ounce.
Be sure to really study things like granola bars, single-serve chip packages, single-serve raisins, and string cheese. You may be spending two or three times what you need to if you just took 10 seconds to take a handful of pretzels out and throw it in a sandwich bag or a reusable metal container.
Finally, when it comes to literally saving money on everything you buy, you may not be able to swap out or change the size of everything on your list, but I would encourage you to remember that you are always in control of your choices.
Even if there’s something you’ve bought for years and it’s part of your family’s habit, if it’s really expensive and a bit extravagant, especially as prices go up, it’s okay to just skip it. It’s okay to just think that this item is something you’ll come back to later when circumstances have changed. You can always save by not buying the dessert, the treat, the wine, the fancy coffee, etc.
Speaking of coffee, hot tip on tea, or anything that steeps: you know you should always be using those tea bags for two cups of tea, right? The same goes for loose leaf. The second cup might not be as strong, but honestly, I’ve rarely found it to be different. And obviously, that saves you 50% on your grocery budget and makes your tea or other hot beverage last twice as long.
This is great for your food budget and also in times of shortage when you may not be able to buy what you want. We’ll talk more about that in a future post in this series on inflation.
Bottom Line: You Can Save on Every Item You Purchase at the Grocery Store
As you make your shopping list, your meal planning list, and walk through the grocery store (or study prices on your favorite grocery delivery service), remember to keep these principles in mind:
- Study price per ounce or price per pound and consider where you can save especially in meat and produce.
- Choose hardier produce that will last longer so you save money by reducing food waste.
- Consider swapping more versatile and less expensive produce items for others. For example, cabbage for lettuce.
- Try using flax or chia eggs in your baking to save there.
- Consider half water instead of milk in baking and making your own non-dairy milks.
- Use inexpensive legumes and vegetables in place of some of your ground beef.
- Opt for less expensive cuts of meat that you know will generate more leftovers for your family.
- And beware of expensive price per ounce foods that have easy alternatives as well as single-serving packages.
Good kitchen stewards vote with their dollars and try to keep more dollars in their own wallets instead of in the grocery store cash registers. We can weather times of inflation with grace and without reducing our high standards of nutrient-dense foods that are grown as organically as we can afford.
In the next two posts in the series, we’ll talk about three habit changes you can try to help change your mindset in times of inflation, as well as foods you want to stock up on now in case of food shortage.
What tips do you have to save on groceries when prices are going up?
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