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How to Save Money on Food and Everyday Items

May 14, 2013 01:12AM ● By Erin Frisch


It seems like everything is costing more money these days, including food. Statistics show that the average American household spends about $6,000 a year on food. That’s nearly 12 percent of the average yearly household budget. Food plays a big part in our health and well-being, so it may not seem unusual for such a significant amount of your yearly budget to go toward it. But is there a smarter way to shop and save some money that can be put toward other expenses? The answer to that question is yes. Here are a few ways to pull in the reins on the costs of food and other everyday items.

Reusable Water Bottles. Stop buying cases of bottled water. You’ll not only help the environment by not using plastic but also save a lot of money. Studies have shown that bottled water and tap water are one and the same. If you detect a difference in taste, use a water bottle with a filter or a pitcher with a filter that you keep in the refrigerator. A one-liter reusable water bottle with a filter will run you about $12.99, and it can be refilled about 300 times before the filter needs to be replaced.

Plan Ahead. Ever get to the grocery store and remember that you need Dijon mustard for a recipe, but you can’t remember if you have only yellow mustard in the fridge? Then you get home with a new jar of Dijon and see a brand-new one in the fridge after all. Before you head to the store, look in your fridge and cabinets and get the lay of the land. Plan your meals for the week ahead, and see what ingredients you already have so you don’t buy items you don’t need. Think about how you can use leftovers from one meal to make another (for example, grill barbecued chicken one night and serve it with cornbread, beans, and mashed potatoes, then use the leftovers on a bed of greens for lunch later in the week). Also, plan your meals according to the weekly sales you find in the supermarket circulars in your mailbox. That let’s you take advantage of the sales each week when you choose proteins, fruits, veggies, and other items. Watch those weekly circulars for coupons, too, and see what you can combine with sales to get the ultimate deals.

Buy Produce in Season. Food in season is priced to sell. In the summer, for example, family favorites like corn on the cob can be bought less expensively. If you live near farms, check out your local farmers’ markets for fresh produce and great deals. You’ll save the costs of transporting foods while you enjoy fresher, tastier fare. You’ll also be doing your community a favor by supporting local farms. You might even think about joining a food co-op or buying a share in a CSA—community-supported agriculture. CSAs charge a seasonal price for a half share or full share of locally grown, seasonal produce that you pick up each week or that is delivered, depending on the CSA. If a share or even a half share is too much food for your household, consider splitting the cost and the produce with a neighbor. You’ll save more money, and you won’t waste surplus food.

Save on Protein Foods. Have you ever heard of “meatless Mondays”? You can go meatless any day of the week, and going vegetarian once a week not only saves money but also offers tasty alternatives to the usual fare. Instead of meat, serve another protein, such as eggs, beans, tofu, or legumes. There are many easy, delicious recipes for quick vegetarian meals, such as chili, stir-fries, quiches, and pasta dishes with beans. These protein sources can be incorporated in breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. Beans paired with eggs make a tantalizing breakfast burrito; toss white beans or chick peas on a salad with avocado for lunch, or create a hearty veggie chili for dinner with kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and tomatoes, celery, and onions. When serving meat is a must, try using it as a condiment instead of the main course. For example, a little chicken added to a stir-fry starring fresh carrots, celery, broccoli, and mushrooms is a healthier and less costly option than the standard meat and potatoes meal.

Buy, and Cook, in Bulk. Bulk shopping clubs like Costco and BJ’s can be cost effective if you have a freezer. Most people end up making the membership fee back in savings throughout the year. But bulk purchases are only cost-effective if you’ll use the products before they go bad (in the case of produce, meats, and cheeses). Such shopping clubs are especially good for saving money on everyday household products such as detergents, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo, and other necessaries that don’t expire. For perishables, prepare meals in advance and freeze family-sized portions to eat later. This not only saves you money but also time. And you’re less likely to order take out or pick up fast food on a busy night when you know dinner is in the freezer. Dedicate one Sunday a month to cooking meals ahead, and then enjoy relaxing evenings on those hectic days when there’s no time to cook.

Buy Generic and Use Store Rewards Cards. Not every brand-name product has a generic equivalent that is equal in quality, but a lot do! Save money by purchasing store-brand milk, spices, flour, sugar, spaghetti, and similar items. These products are often on sale, in addition to their already low prices. You could save an average of 35 to 40 percent per product!

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