Groceries and Home Supplies
This is a tricky category for cutting expenses, because you can’t really cut back on food, and you might end up spending more on this category if you cut back on other categories, such as dining out. However, because it is one of the larger categories for most families in terms of spending there is some room to cut back.
Again, starting with the low-hanging fruit – pardon the pun – ask yourself if you waste food. Do you often throw food away that has gone bad before you have a chance to eat it? Do you have packaged food that sits in your cupboard for months without being used?
The easiest way to cut back on your grocery costs is to simply buy only what you need and know you’ll use before it goes bad. Notice what food goes unused, and commit to buying less of it. Keep a list on your refrigerator of food that you throw away. The next time you shop, take note of how much you buy and note that on your list. Adjust until the amount you buy is just enough to use, given your habits.
Where You Shop
Where you shop obviously makes a difference, too. We love quality food, so we do seek out and find grocery stores that carry high-quality, fresh produce and meats. How do we avoid stores that take our whole paycheck? By finding small neighborhood markets with good quality food (they do exist) and competitors to the high-priced natural foods stores. (They also exist.) Outlet stores can also carry excellent quality produce, believe it or not, and are significantly less expensive. You’ll have to drive around a bit to find what items are best to buy at which stores, but if you are in an urban or suburban area you won’t have to drive far, and savings of 20% or more off your bill will make you happy.
Fresh is Better
The next step is to buy fresh, rather than packaged, whenever possible. Pre-cut frozen vegetables are convenient, but when you calculate the premium you pay for the convenience it’s pretty outrageous. Packaged or frozen starches, like potatoes or rice, are even worse. These staples last a long time in their natural state, so buy what you can use before they go bad – but buy the real stuff. Potatoes, rice, beans and pasta will keep for a long time and are very inexpensive.
Savings in Season
You might notice that the price of certain items changes over time. Produce, especially, is much less expensive when it’s in season. To sell produce in the off-season the distributor and the store must either freeze, store and thaw the produce, or buy it and ship it from overseas somewhere. Either one adds significantly to the cost of the item, as much as tripling it in the off season. Learn how to cook lots of different vegetables and you’ll always have something you can serve for a nice tasty dinner that is fresh, in season, and inexpensive.
The final step is couponing. Yes, it requires a bit of work, and now you’re playing small ball, saving a little less for the effort. But still it can add up. Two important cautions, however: 1) Don’t be tempted to use coupons for items you might not normally buy. You’re not saving any money if you buy things you don’t actually need, even though you get a “deal.” 2) While coupons are great for things like dish soap, most coupons are for packaged food. While you might get a deal, you would save even more buying fresh.
Experiment with these tactics a couple of months to see how much you can save, and adjust your budget for food and groceries down to reflect your new spending habits. You might end up bringing it back up in response to cut backs in dining out – and that is fine. You’ll make a lot of adjustments to your budget over time.
Because we expect to eat at home more often set your initial budget at the same amount you’ve been spending, and then try to stay within your budget even though you are buying more food by using the tactics described above.
Sara Colley, Staff Writer
Financial Help Desk