Could you use an extra $25 or $50 next week? If you get motivated, there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by that much — maybe more — each week, without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand, not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it.
COUPONS. You know that couponing can be very effective. But you have to do it right, or it will just be a big waste of time and money. Check sites like The Grocery Game (my favorite) and Coupon Mom. The secret is to combine a manufacturer’s coupon with a sale. That requires that you keep your eye on sales and also hold onto coupons, but not so long that they expire.
THINK SEASONAL. We know that fresh fruits and vegetables are necessary for a healthy diet — five servings a day for optimal health. Pound for pound, fresh produce can be much cheaper than fast food, chips, cookies, candy, soda pop or any prepackaged, preprocessed convenience items. There is a catch, though. You have to buy what’s in season. How do you know? Look around the produce department. If it’s $4.99 a pound, chances are good that it’s not in season. When apples are 3 pounds for 99 cents, bananas are 69 cents a pound and red Flame Seedless grapes are $1.77 a pound, you know they’re in season. There are always bargains in the produce department. Adjust your tastes and expectations to fit them.
KNOW YOUR PRICES. Devise some kind of system that will let you become intimately familiar with the shelf price and sale price of food items you buy on a regular basis. It might be a small notebook you carry with you or a spreadsheet you maintain in your computer. Marketing campaigns take advantage of the ignorance of the buying public.
You need to be smart enough to know a real deal when you see it and also detect a counterfeit. It’s difficult to find the humor in a sign that announces “Two for $2” unless you know the regular price is 89 cents each.
SET LIMITS. Based on what you learn from knowing your prices, determine the per-unit price above which you will not spend. For instance, I’ve learned I don’t have to spend more than $2 for a box of cereal. It’s not always available at that price — but when it is, I stock up to last until the next time.
CONTROL PORTIONS. Dr. Dean Edell of radio fame and the author of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” says the healthiest diet is not one that is low-fat or high-carb. The healthiest way to eat is to eat less — small amounts of a large variety of foods. It’s hard work for our bodies to digest and convert food. Dr. Edell maintains that we wear our bodies out prematurely when we overeat. You can learn what constitutes a “portion” on the package label. A single portion of breakfast cereal is 4 ounces. Tomorrow morning measure out 1/2 cup. Get prepared for that single serving to look a little puny. Chances are great that you’ve been having seconds and thirds. Hint: Rather than serving dinner family style (passing the food around the table), try restaurant style where the food is “plated” in the kitchen. Now the cook controls portion sizes — a great first step to reversing overconsumption.
GET CREATIVE. If you set your mind to it, you will be amazed how many ways you can prepare rice or how you can stretch a pound of ground beef to feed a group. Use up the items in your refrigerator before dipping into your stockpile or buying a new supply.