10 Ways To Cut Your Food Costs
10 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices
Food, clothing and shelter generally top the list of basic human needs. While shopping at a discount store instead of the mall generally takes care of the clothing issue, and living in a small apartment instead of a McMansion can address your housing situation, rising world food prices can lead to some significant challenges when comes to cutting food costs. Everything from rising transportation costs to the development of biofuels, such as biodiesel, push up the cost of food and put a pinch on consumers' wallets.
While the need to eat isn't something you can avoid, there are some steps you can take to keep the cost of food from gobbling up too much of your income.
1. Dine In
Dining out is an expensive proposition. Just about any nutritious meal that you buy in a formal restaurant can be made at home for a fraction of the price. Even good coffee is cheaper to make if you do it yourself. Fast food is excluded from the category, as high-calorie, low-quality food can be had a bargain price, but the impact on your long-term health may override the benefit of short-term savings. (If you love restaurants, try investing in them instead of eating at them. To learn more, see Sinking Your Teeth Into Restaurant Stocks.)
2. Stock Up
Bulk buying can save you a significant amount of money. Pay attention to the prices and pick up the family-sized package if the per-unit cost is lower than smaller packages and you have a place to store it. Shopping at big-box bulk retailers like Sam's Club and Costco can also save on your bill if you shop there frequently enough to cover the cost of membership, but pay careful attention to your spending habits. The big boxes are often no bargain at all when compared to sales prices and coupon savings at other stores. In addition, they may encourage you to buy more than you need, driving up your grocery bill.(Bulk purchases aren't for everyone. To learn more, check out The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying.)
3. Reward Yourself
If the store that you visit most frequently has a reward card, be sure to sign up. In some cases, stores raise their prices when they offer reward cards, and without the card your bill will certainly be higher. If the reward card offers other benefits, such as a ham for the holidays or a discount on gasoline, be sure to maximize your benefits by paying attention to the cutoff dates and cashing in your points before they expire.
4. Stay On Top Of Markdowns
As the "sell by" or "best before" date of a product approaches, you are virtually guaranteed a discount. For example, grocery stores lower prices as meat ages. Ask the butcher when the meats get marked down. Most stores have a fairly regular schedule that you can learn and follow. When you get a good deal, stock your freezer so you can avoid buying when the price is high. And if you plan on freezing the food, "best before" dates shouldn't worry you; the product will stay fresh until you thaw and cook it.
5. Pay In Cash
When you put groceries on your credit card and don't pay off the card in full each month, you pay interest on the purchase. To avoid this extra cost, pay in cash when you shop and keep necessities off your credit cards. (If you want to learn how to manage your credit card debt, read Take Control Of Your Credit Cards.)
6. Shake Up Your Taste Buds
If you have a higher-priced item that reoccurs in your favorite recipes, it may be time to shake up your taste buds. Often a lower-priced alternative can be found. For instance, if you consistently bake with olive oil and you see that the price has skyrocketed, a simple switch to applesauce (something that you might even be able to make if you have an apple tree) is a great cheap and low-fat substitution for many recipes. To look up less expensive substitutions for items you use frequently, see The Cooking Thesaurus.
7. Clip Coupons
Coupons provide an easy way to save money. Clip them and cash them in, paying particular attention to stores that double the value of manufacturers' coupons. A number of websites also offer coupons exclusively, and they are a great place to search for discounts on the items you have on your list. If you frequent a website of your favorite brands, it may offer discounts to its loyal customers. A few minutes of surfing online can make a difference at the till.
8. Shop Strategically
If you stumble around the grocery store and fill your cart with everything that catches your eye, chances are you will spend a lot more money that you need to spend. To minimize your cash outlay, prepare a shopping list before you leave home. Plan your meals for the week ahead, and make careful note of what you need to buy in order to prepare those meals. Once the list is made, purchase only the items on the list, and avoid impulse buys. (Learn how to create a budget. See The Beauty Of Budgeting and Get Your Budget In Fighting Shape.)
9. Avoid Prepared Foods
Our fast-paced society encourages convenience, and the grocery store has capitalized on this trend. Ready-made meals are easy to buy, but come with a premium price tag. Instead of putting that rotisserie chicken and macaroni salad in you cart, buy the ingredients and prepare the meal yourself. The same concept applies to frozen entrées, baked goods and any other food that has been prepared in some way for added convenience.
10. Compare Prices and Stores
Some consumers have trouble calculating cost-per-unit in their heads, but it's something that gets a lot easier with practice. You can even carry a calculator. Looking at the brands and comparing prices is an easy way to shave a few cents off most purchases.
The store that features the lowest average prices in your area is often the best place for routine shopping, but the higher-priced competitor may run sales on specific items that undercut the cost at your most frequented venue. Watch for these sales and take advantage of them when possible.