Slash your food costs now

A large portion of your expenses goes towards food. Here’s how to cut hundreds of dollars from your monthly grocery bill.

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From the April 2011 issue of the magazine.

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Make 22 healthy meals from one chicken
Kerry Taylor, author of 397 Ways to Save Money, recently wrote about an experiment on her blog (Squawkfox.com) where she made 22 healthy meals based on one large organic chicken, some veggies and some spices. After enjoying roast chicken breast, chicken chili, chickpea stew and several types of soup, she had spent a total of $48.60, or just $2.21 per meal. “People complain that whole foods are a lot more expensive than packaged products, but I just don’t agree with them,” Taylor says. “It’s amazing how much food you can get from a healthy chicken.”

Save $450
Your family could save $450 a month by switching from a premium retailer like Whole Foods to a discount retailer like No Frills. If you currently shop at a midrange supermarket like Loblaws, switching could still save you about $175 a month.

Presliced produce vs. whole
Fruits and veggies are increasingly being sold pre-sliced in fancy packages. It’s often just a way for your grocer to charge more money for less food:
• A plastic container of cut-up cantaloupe chunks costs $2.99 for one serving. A whole cantaloupe with three times the amount of fruit costs the same.
• A bag of ready-to-go salad greens will typically cost you around $3.99, compared with $2.49 for a head of lettuce.
• A package of seven baby cucumbers costs $3.99 but one English cucumber weighing almost as much costs just $1.79.

Be choosy about organics
Not all organic produce is equal, says Marion Nestle, a professor specializing in food studies at New York University. You only need to go organic for the foods that tend to contain the most contaminants. With celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and blueberries, it’s worth paying extra for organic. But you can skip organics—which typically cost 25% more—when it comes to corn, avocados or mangoes, which have peels or husks that block chemicals.

Beware of bulk
Sure you can save by buying in bulk, but that strategy can backfire. “Ten litres of ketchup is not a deal if you don’t use it,” says Kerry Taylor. A study by Brian Wansink, a researcher who studies eating behaviour, showed that 12% of the groceries we buy go to waste. He advises shoppers to buy long-lasting items that can be substituted easily in other recipes—for example, if a recipe calls for either canned corn or okra, buy the corn.

Get your groceries for free
When you go to the supermarket, keep an eye on your groceries as they’re being scanned at the checkout. If the price comes up wrong, you can often get the item for free. Most major supermarket chains — and other retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Wal-Mart and Best Buy — have signed on to the Retail Council of Canada’s scanner accuracy policy (you can see a full list of participating retailers at www.retailcouncil.org).

If the correct price of the mis-priced item is less than $10, you get the item for free. If it’s more than $10, you get $10 off. “When I see an item come up with the wrong price, I just say to the cashier ‘I think that mis-scanned,’ ” says financial author Kerry Taylor. “I’ve actually scored a lot of free groceries that way.”

Get half off your dining and entertainment
Sites such as Groupon.com now offer eye-popping deals like “pay $15 for $40 worth of food and drinks” at a nice Italian restaurant, or “pay $10 for $20 of chocolates from Laura Secord.” The deal of the day is mailed out to subscribers, and if enough people sign up, you can print out a voucher and bring it to the business to redeem it. Now there are also deal site aggregators, such as DealRadar.com, which give you a round up of all the deals available from various businesses in your area in one email. The only catch? You need to be careful that these sites don’t encourage you to spend more nights on the town then you budgeted for.

Skip the cookie aisle
Shoppers spent almost twice as much of their discretionary spending money when they mindlessly went down every aisle of a grocery store, rather than only visiting the aisles with the food they needed, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh and Baylor University. So ask yourself if there’s really anything you need in the cookie aisle, instead of just pushing your cart forward. You’ll eat healthier too.

Spice up your kitchen
You can save big by buying no-name spices from Superstore and No Frills, or bulk spices from Bulk Barn. A 10-gram jar of McCormick’s basil is $4.49 at the supermarket, more than 18 times the price per unit as a generic bag of No Name basil.

A jumbo illusion
Most shoppers assume they’ll save money by buying the jumbo size when it comes to cereal, juice, paper towels and other items. But look closely — sometimes the retailer is just trying to get you to buy more at the same price. “If something looks like it’s on sale, make sure you look at the price per unit,” says Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. It’s not uncommon to see a staple such as toothpaste actually selling for less per millilitre in a small tube than in a larger one.

Be your own chef
If you love fine dining, channel your inner foodie towards your own kitchen. A cooking class can inspire you to do own meal planning and at-home entertaining. One-off classes at local cooking schools are $70 to $125, while an 11-week course through your local board of education’s continuing education program costs just $300. You’ll quickly recoup the cost by eating out less and buying fewer pricey frozen entrees for dinner.

Read the rest of the series here:

Cut your work related expenses
Ten ways to trim your household spending
Six ways to save a bundle on your next getaway
Luxury goods for less
Save money on kids’ expenses
Slash your food costs now
Save $750 a month

2 comments on “Slash your food costs now

  1. Saving money on cheaper food could mean inferior food and can have a health costs. Money sense assumes this to be ZERO. Other costs could be freshness length that can make you waste if you don't finish, or things you have to buy in bulk, which in turns you may over buy and waste money.

    You shouldn't penny pinch unless your life, kids, wife depends on every cent you save. Not eating out is a huge savings already, going further to save on even on home cooking is just making life unnessessary miserable. Penny pinch's other health effect is stress, you work hard enough, give yourself a break, let yourself enjoy a little as you've already given up eating out by buying groceries.

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