How to save money on groceries without clipping coupons
Ten ways to spend less on the food you buy.
Special to The Seattle Times
On TV, extreme couponers can save 99 percent off their grocery bill, but in real life, few of us have the time (or maybe, dedication) to pull that off. But we can still save a significant amount of money on our groceries each week by putting forth just a little bit of effort.
If clipping coupons isn't on your list of things to do, but shaving $25-$50 off your monthly grocery bill is, here are a few ways to make it happen.
Shop seasonally and keep track of produce prices.
If you aren't in the habit of paying attention to the grocery ads each week, you may be paying double or even triple the price for an item. In the same week, I saw one grocery store advertise peaches for $2.99 per pound while a competitor had them on sale for 88 cents per pound. Also remember to shop seasonally whenever you can. Produce that's in season will generally be less expensive. Check The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance website for a calendar of what's in season and when.
Make one (or more) meals per week meatless.
Plant-based meals are significantly less expensive than those that include meat. Dropping meat from even one meal per week for a family of four can save you $40 in a month.
Skip convenience foods and make them for a fraction of the cost.
Peeled and cut carrots are easy to stick in lunch bags, but you'll pay a hefty markup to have someone else do the work for you. Save a few bucks and cut them yourself. Peanut butter cracker sandwiches, pre-made lunch packs (like Lunchables), frozen waffles and sliced or shredded cheeses are all items you can prepare yourself for half the cost.
Stock up when items are on sale.
If an item you regularly buy for $4 goes on sale for 99 cents, don't chalk it up to a great one-time savings. Instead, purchase enough to last you several months (provided the item has a decent shelf life or can be frozen) to save big. For example, if it's an item you'd buy once per week (like cereal), purchase even enough to last you one month and you just saved $12. If you can purchase enough to last you four months, you'd save $48.
Buy generic (or whatever is on sale).
Many store brands are comparable in quality to name brand items, but cost a fraction of the price. If you're married to your name-brand hummus, could you settle for store-brand cottage cheese? Or if your favorite Greek yogurt is not on sale this week, could you get by with the brand that is marked down?
Buy in bulk when appropriate.
Generally, people assume buying in bulk will provide the best deal. Sometimes that's true, but not always — and you'll determine that by checking the unit price. If it's something your family may not use up before the expiration date, consider freezing a portion or splitting it, and the cost, with a friend or neighbor.
Look for the clearance section at your store.
You may not be able to plan your shopping trip around it, but occasionally there are great deals to be found on the clearance rack of your grocery store. I once found name-brand baby formula for more than half off. Bread from the bakery is often placed there for a quick sale, as are vitamins, canned goods, promotional items and beauty products. Additionally, dairy products typically get marked down a few days before the expiration date (look for a "Manager's Special" sticker on the carton), so if you plan to use it quickly, that's a great way to save a couple bucks.
Use stores' rewards programs.
Most stores have loyalty or rewards programs, and some of them actually do come with great savings. In addition to allowing you the sale price of an item (many stores require you be a member of their program to get the promotional price), some even give you money back. For example, Albertson's will give you $5 back for every 5,000 points you earn. After you earn 500 points at Fred Meyer, you'll receive a rebate card toward free groceries (the more points you earn, the larger the rebate is).
Use what you have.
Plan menus around what's already in your pantry, fridge or freezer to utilize ingredients you have on hand. Keep tabs on leftovers (use them up in lunches or in a "leftovers smorgasbord" dinner), and don't let items get pushed to the back of the fridge — or the bottom of the crisper drawer — and forgotten about. Less food waste equals less money waste, after all.
Pay with cash.
Paying with credit and debit cards is becoming the norm, and both have their advantages, but there's a disconnect about the amount you're paying when you don't have to think about it. On the other hand, if you know you have $100 — and only $100 — in your wallet, you will be more mindful of what goes into your cart.
Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.