How to Save Money on Real Food
Most of us know that you can save lots of money on “junk” or “fake” food by shopping the sales, using paper and digital coupons, and stocking up when the price is right. But did you know that you can use specific strategies to save money on real food as well?
This post is part of a series on How to Save Money on Real Food where we cover how to save money on meat, produce, grains, and dairy.
Let’s stop for a second and define some terms so we’re all on the same page.
“Real” food: Food that our great-great-grandparents would recognize — raw meat (not nuggets), dairy (not Go-Gurt), produce (not Veggie Booty), grains (not Grape Nuts). Comes out of the ground or from an animal and goes into our mouth. No manufacturing plant needed. Actually goes bad if not frozen.
“Fake” food: Food our great-great grandparents would not consider food. Processed. Comes from a manufacturing plant. Has an extended shelf-life.
I’m proceeding under the assumption that you feed your family a variety of food — some real, some fake. Yes, it’s super easy to get “fake” food for less using the strategies listed above, but I’m here to proclaim that you can also save money on “real” food as well.
Shop the sales.
Grocery stores do put real food on sale every week. And I’m not talking about the fake “sales” listed on page 5 of the weekly ad.
Look at the top half of the front page of your store’s weekly circular. Those items are typically that week’s “loss leader” which means the store is probably losing money when you buy them. They have these great sales so you go into the store to “do the deal” and then stick around to get the rest of your grocery list.
Real food is usually included in these loss leader sales: meat, milk, cheese, bananas, apples, flour, etc.
I tend to plan my family’s meals around these loss leader sales. If grapes are under $1 a pound, my kids are getting grapes in their lunches this week. If chicken breast is $1.70 a pound, I’m making dinner with chicken.
Stock up when the price is right.
If you see an amazing sale on the cut of meat you like to prepare, buy a bunch of it and freeze it for later. If shredded cheese is under $2 a pound, buy as much as you can and freeze it. If you find clearanced yogurt, buy more than you need for this week and figure out how to incorporate it into breakfasts and lunches for as long as you can.
Shop discount stores.
Do some work to find the stores that sell grocery store overstocks. These stores will most likely be in a less-flashy part of town and probably in a neighborhood with a larger immigrant population. They will not be beautiful, but I bet the prices will be fantastic.
There are a few stores like this in the Portland Metro area where I live and they frequently have deeply discounted produce that’s on it’s last legs (but still totally delicious), yogurt and other dairy overstock, and marked-down bread. I save an enormous amount of money when compared to what I can get these same items for at Fred Meyer or Safeway.
Do the deals on fake food.
I’m assuming you do eat some fake food, use conventional toilet paper, or wash with regular soap and shampoo. When these items go on a big sale, DO THE DEAL.
By saving money on fake food, household, and personal care items, you’re freeing up more money in your monthly budget to devote to buying real food.
Here’s an example. My kids eat 1-2 boxes of cereal a week. I can typically get a box for under $1 every 2-3 months during a really great grocery store sale. Instead of buying two boxes of generic cereal at WinCo every week ($3 each = $6 a week = $72 for three months), I buy 3 months worth of cereal when it’s $1 ($1 each = $2 a week = $24 for three months). Now I have $48 in my grocery budget that I didn’t have when buying generic that I can spend on whatever I want, including high-quality real food.
Ideas for freezing food to stretch your budget here:
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