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Prepare a Budget
The first step is to determine the amount of money available for food. A proper assessment of the family's income and establishing a food budget is vital to knowing what you can afford to spend. Factor in the number of people in the household as well. After you know how much you can spend on food, use coupons, buy in bulk and use the following tips to decrease spending.
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Prepared Foods are Expensive Foods
Decreasing your grocery bill does not have to mean sacrificing nutritional status. Actually, convenience foods are not only more expensive, but also take a toll on health. A convenience food, also known as a prepared food, is any food that has been altered from its original state to make it faster to cook or eat. These foods, due to the processing involved are higher in calories, sugar, sodium, and fat and lower in fiber; and they cost more money!
It is really untrue that fresh costs more. Let’s consider a couple of examples*:
Cost per can: ~$2.69
Cost per whole peach: ~$.66 cents each
Calories per 1 cup (canned, extra light syrup): ~104
Calories for whole large: ~68
Cost of a 12.5 oz. bag: ~$3.50
Cost of 1 lb. of potatoes: ~$.59 per pound
Calories (barbecue) potato chips per 7oz.: ~942
Calories for 1 cup homemade potato chips: ~413
*These examples are best approximations as prices and sizes may vary.
From these examples we learn that it is nutritional and thrifty to choose healthier foods. The idea is to think fresh. With preparation, people can learn to make food and even snacks themselves.
Most convenience foods in the store are located in the middle isles near the checkout lines. Avoid these grocery store isles whenever possible. Choose foods on the outside isles of the store more than the inside isles.
As the name implies, convenience stores evolved to sell food faster; however, it comes at a higher price and decreased nutritional value. At times in-store specials at convenience stores may be worthwhile, but for the most part you pay for faster service.
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Go Generic to Save
A trick I learned in a marketing class is that food manufacturers often have two lines of a product, the name brand and the generic. This allows them to reach a wider buyer. Few people realize that generic brands are often either the same name brand product with a generic name and/or made in the same way and with the same ingredients, so it does not make dollar sense to be brand loyal. Once you find a generic brand to suit your family, stick with it. Switching to a discount grocery store will decrease your bill the most.
There may be generic foods in which you are convinced do not taste as good as the name brand. If that is the case, only buy name brand foods when they are on sale, with coupons and stock up.
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Spend Less on Meat
Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. Believe it or not, you can get a better deal on meat from a butcher to decrease your food bill. The reason is, less people go to the butcher these days, so the butcher may be willing to negotiate on a price and they pay less for storage and transportation, which is less cost to you!
Choices of meat are also important. Choose cheaper cuts of meat. Be advised that cheaper cuts of meat will take longer to cook with moist methods of cooking such as stewing, braising or casseroling. This will make a cheaper cut of meat tender and delicious. Remember to trim the fat as cheaper meats are also likely to be fattier.
Choosing a meat that is less popular is another trick to save. Brisket, shank and chuck are less popular and are great for stews or roasts.
Chicken on the bone is cheaper than chicken breast. Make the most of the chicken by boiling it and using the stock for soup or gravy. Chicken stock can be used in a variety of recipes and frozen for later use and will save a lot of money.
Ground beef- do not buy ready-made hamburgers; again this is a convenience food. Buy the ground beef to make hamburgers from scratch. Stretch ground beef by using a little less than the recipe calls for and add some veggies for bulk.
Consider purchasing alternative protein sources. Low sodium canned fish, egg whites, and legumes are nutritious protein sources to decrease your bill.
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Using Leftovers Saves Money
Leftovers should be reused in a new way or reheated the next day. This will take some time and creative cooking techniques, especially if you are a person or have family members who do not like to eat leftovers. But tell your family that throwing leftovers out is like throwing money in the garbage.
- Do not keep leftovers for more than 2-3 days
- Reheat them thoroughly to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
- Use stale bread for breadcrumbs.
- Boil aging vegetables to make a vegetable stock. Do not buy a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables at once; buy them every 5-7 days. You can use them in omelets, baked goods, and recipes to fill you up! You can also buy them in season and freeze them to use later.
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That Costs What?
Save money by checking sizes to get more value for the dollar. Look at the cost per unit label located right below the item on the shelf. Compare the cost per unit to the others on the shelf and choose the lowest. Check it for milk too, because purchasing two ½ gallons of milk may be more economical than one whole gallon depending on the store or the weekly advertisement.
Photo Credit: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-722/348-722.html
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Save by Growing
Learn how to grow your own fruit and vegetables both indoors and outdoors for a huge savings on the grocery bill. It is also quite simple and economical to grow herbs and spices indoors with kits. Chop up the herbs and spices to store in the freezer for later use.
An alternative if you do not want to grow them is to get into a buy local program or shop at a farmer’s market.
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The Time Factor
The only downside to these tips on decreasing your grocery bill will be the time you need to invest. It will take more time to do all I have listed here. To save time, double the recipe and freeze the remainder for meals or snacks. You just created your own convenience foods! The benefits will be eating better and having more money in your pocket.
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References and Resources:
Ashworth, S. (1996). Cooking on a budget. New York: SMITHMARK Publishers.
Food Safety Practices- Retrieved from http://www.foodsafety.gov/
Grocery Price Books- Retrieved from http://grocerypricebooks.com/kroger_d.php
Nutrition Data- Retrieved from http://nutritiondata.self.com/