How to save money on groceries

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

It’s a new year and the biggest complaint I keep hearing from people is how much they are spending at the grocery store. What can we do about it, we have to eat. How can we save money at the grocery store? It’s a common theme, one we see a lot, not just at the first of the year. There are some great options out there, though, let’s look at some.

6 to 1 Method

There’s a new “6 to 1” method that’s making the TikTok viral rounds. Created by Chef Will Coleman, you purchase six vegetables, five fruits, four proteins, three starches, two sauces or spreads, and one item for fun. You don’t need a list and you don’t plan out menus, no coupons, no looking at the ads, just show up at the store and start counting. You adjust if you have more people at home, doubling, or tripling depending on how many people you have.

I tried this the last time I went shopping. There’s been much rumbling and rustling in the fridge and grumbling from people who don’t want to have to think up what they’re going to eat, but they’ve been doing it. I’ve seen more salads eaten in the last couple of days than ever before. I did spend less than I normally do, but I also have pulled out of my pantry to add this or that to fill in the blanks.

The biggest challenge I can see is that little ones tend to be stuck on the same thing, but for a limited amount of time. Today the youngest may choose to eat only chicken nuggets. Tomorrow she won’t have anything to do with one. I know I’m not the only one who has dealt with that.

Shop only 1-2 times a month

This is my favorite. I review the ads, make up my list, and fill the empty spaces in my freezer and pantry. I’ve done this for a long time so I know how to make it work. If you haven’t been doing this, it takes a little extra effort to get it going, but it saves a lot of time in the end. It creates a well-stocked pantry. When we get shut down for snow it doesn’t phase us, there’s everything in the house that we regularly eat, except bananas. I have one who eats a fresh banana or two every day and he doesn’t like them getting mushy. Mushy ones go in the freezer (peel them first) for smoothies or breads. Since he’s the one who likes them fresh and has a driver’s license, he’s in charge of buying his own bananas.

The best way to get started with shop 1-2 times a month is to spend a month with a notebook jotting down what you eat. This way you know what is normal. Some people recommend writing things down for three months, but I’ve found we tend to eat the same stuff more often than that. Once a month covers it unless you have special occasions like birthdays or holiday meals.

Once you know what your family eats consistently, then you start with the ads. They stick with a pattern. For example, Smith’s puts ½ gallons of milk on sale every other week. This works great for me, I make sure one of my shopping days coincides with when milk is on sale. I buy the limit of five and that does us for the month.

Use Pickup or Delivery

Pickup and delivery options make it so easy to see exactly how much you’re spending. It is easy to add to or subtract from your basket. You can take your time, get interrupted, pause, and come back. You can look up a recipe or a substitution or check to see if you have an item in your pantry. My favorite thing about pickup or delivery is the fact that I don’t have to take children in the store with me. No strapping into and out of seatbelts and car seats and no arguments about buying cookies. It’s just so pleasant.

Sometimes there’s a fee for pickup or delivery. If you are having one of those days when you can’t deal with taking the kids to the store and you need groceries, did you know that we offer child care? We can also help out if you are out of food and money.

Food Storage

Food storage isn’t just for disaster scenarios, it’s for convenience. It is simply a well-stocked pantry. You don’t find yourself running to the store upset because your kid was assigned a treat to bring to school the next day and you didn’t find out until you got home from work and had already been to the store. You just say, ok, and head for the pantry where you have everything you need. If you’re a mix person, you have cake, brownie, and cookie mixes right there. If you like to cook from scratch you know that you have everything you need.

It wasn’t that long ago that many of us were so very glad that we had extra toilet paper in our closets. Just pick up an extra 1-2 of something you always use when they’re on sale and you will soon find that your pantry is paying for itself. For example, if you buy tuna on sale it’s usually less than 75 cents, but the regular price is often closer to $1.50. If you decide to have tuna melts for dinner (a quick, easy option), that takes, say three cans for your family size, that’s a difference of over $2.00, which can pay for the cheese!

Learn Where the Bargains Are

Most stores have a close-to-date section where they put exactly that, items that are close to their best-by dates. These items are still good, but need to be used soon or frozen so they are priced to move fast. There’s nothing wrong with them, they are just a good bargain.

Spices are often much cheaper in the ethnic sections. For example, you need oregano. In the regular spice section you have the discount spices (don’t buy them, they don’t even smell like a spice anymore). There is the store brand stuff that will be somewhere around $3-4 a bottle. Or there are the gourmet brands will be $5-7. However, if you find the Hispanic section (or go to a Hispanic grocery store), it will run you about $2 and come in a bag. The same idea works for other ethnicities. If you learn where the ethnic grocery stores are, they will often have some fun foods that are quite affordable there, but priced higher in regular grocery stores because they aren’t as popular.

There are also discount stores. In Logan there’s a store called Big Deal Outlet. They buy liquidation and close-out items from manufacturers and retailers and then sell them at great discounts. They have several aisles of grocery items. Some aisles are “past-date” items. Those aisles are clearly marked. Which brings us to:

Shelf Life

Sell-by, use-by, best-by, and expiration dates, do they all mean the same thing? No. Sell-by means that the store should sell it by this date to give you enough time to use it and it’s still good. For example, hamburger will say sell-by this date and then you still have about five to seven days to cook it after you get home before you have to worry about spoilage.

Use-by or best-by means the manufacturer recommends using it by this date for the best in taste and quality. It’s pretty much the same as sell-by, you still have time to use it. Especially if it’s in a can, you have months more to use it up. If your can is bulging toss it, that’s a sure sign it’s gone bad.

The expiration date is an estimate of when a food is no longer safe to eat. Storage can affect these dates making them shorter or longer. If you store your foods in places that are too warm they can spoil more quickly. Store your foods in cool, dry places, away from sunlight and they will last longer.

Always check your foods before consuming, and pay attention to texture, color, and smell. You can learn more here: What Does Shelf Life Mean? (intermountainhealthcare.org)

The Things You Wish Someone Had Told You Earlier

Do you long for the best hamburger but can’t handle the price tag? Check out the close-to-date section and find a nice boneless roast or steak for a good price. Ask the butcher to grind it for you. They do it at no charge, or some places may charge you a minimal fee. You will have some wonderful, fresh-ground, high-quality hamburger!

Do you shudder when you look at the price sticker on those little packages of lunch meat and then scrimp on how many slices you put on each sandwich? Pick up a nice ham, turkey roast, etc, one that’s fully cooked, and ask the butcher to slice it thin for sandwiches. Again, price savings and it’s higher quality, fewer nitrates.

There are manufacturing stores in the valley. Gossner Foods has great prices on their cheese and shelf-stable milk. You can get meats and cheeses at Lower’s Foods. They often have BOGO and ends. RSM Food Services has some great deals on foods that restaurants prepare.

It really doesn’t take much to grow a salad. If you don’t have space or energy for a full-size garden, small pots can easily provide you with all the salad greens you need. Spinach, lettuce, radishes, and even cherry tomatoes are easy and fairly fast to grow (tomatoes take longer than the greens).

Your Freezer is Your Friend

Leftovers can be kept in the fridge and eaten for 3-4 days. If you’re getting close to that, or are sick of eating leftovers, package them into single-serving portions and put in the freezer. This is fabulous for those nights when no one wants to eat the same thing or you just don’t want to cook. Pull out various leftover meals and dinner is ready!

Buy more when it’s a great deal, package it smaller, and put it in the freezer. Better yet, prepare a meal before tossing it in the freezer. There are tons of easy freezer meal recipes online. You can get some friends together and spend a couple of hours putting together 30 meals for the freezer. The nice thing about doing it with friends is getting a larger variety for a smaller price tag and the kids can play together while the adults put the meals together.

One last tip: NEVER shop hungry! Stop and buy something before you go in, I guarantee it will be cheaper than if you shop hungry!

The most valuable tip is to find what works for you and use it. If you decide coupons are the way to go, you have to have time to put into making coupons work. A busy person can find this stressful. If you want to have a year’s supply of food at your fingertips and have a home or apartment that already has things stuffed in every corner you’ll need to either reduce what’s in your house or change your mind because you don’t have anywhere to put it. Food should make us happy, find the path that does that for you.