Friday, July 20, 2012

How I Really Save at the Grocery Store

It's true that I use coupons, watch for sales and stock up. I do this to help me save as much as I can, but there are other tricks of the trade I use that really are the key to keeping my grocery store shopping as low as possible.

**1** Nothing Goes to Waste. This is one of the most important things to our budget. We literally don't throw away any food. That bit of mustard gets added to a few ingredients so that we have salad dressing. When there's not enough corn flakes to make breakfast, we crush them as fine as bread crumbs and save until later use. Conditioner that we don't like gets used for shaving gel and we squeezee the last dot of toothpaste out of the tube. Liquid soap and hand sanitizer gets smacked out of the bottle. You aren't being a Scrooge; you're stretching your budget as far as it can go and you're environmentally friendly, too. Here's a tip: If you can change the look/feel of the leftovers you and your family will be more likely to eat them. Roast can be turned into open faced sandwiches  two days later with sauteed onion, a little cheese and  homemade (and easy) sweet potato chips. Leftover pasta sauce and meatballs make wonderful subs and all you need to add is some fruit or homemade baked fries or chips.

**2** Do Not Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Who thought up that one? I think it's a plot to get us all to use more of a product, which means we have to buy more. Very good for the manufacturer, not very good for my budget. There are many times when you will need the exact amount of a product (certain ingredients in recipes) but there are other times when you can use a little trial and error to see what's really needed. Case in point: I found out that if I reduced the sugar added to those powedered drink mixes, it tasted exactly the same and I ended up buying a whole lot less sugar. Same thing with shampoo and certain cleaning products. And never lather, rinse, repeat.

**3** There is no Mindless/Spontaneous Shopping. I'm not referring to finding a great deal on applesauce cups that can be used in lunch boxes. I'm referring to running into the store for a gallon of milk, then asking myself, "I wonder what else I can find." Notice I said 'find,' not 'need.' That one distinction can be a budget buster. I'm also referring to when you are on your way to the dry cleaners and stop in next door at the organic store to window shop. You're going to end up leaving that place with a five pound bag of Honduran Almonds that only set you back $24.99 and in my universe, that same amount would make lunches for all four of us for a week.  I have no idea if there is such a thing as Honduran Almonds but I do know mindless shopping is a big money drain. And it's a time suck as well. Let me add, if I do find a good value on something, I will get it. That's not the same as aimlessly wandering around looking for unnecessary stuff.

**4** Backtracking is a Bad Thing. If I forget to pick up an ingredient, I won't be going back to get it. I'll find a substitute or postpone that meal until I can get whatever is missing. Retracing your steps costs, time, gas and more money if I add more items to the cart than the original forgotten item.

**5** There is a Reason Junk Food is Called 'Junk.'  I confess that it's not just the kids who like junk food. I like a good candy bar or chips and dip myself.  I also know it isn't good for us and we don't make a habit of eating tons of it. It's as bad for my budget as it is for my health. If you have kids you may find that they balk at the absence of all that salty, fatty, expensive goodness. Guess what? Not only do they adapt, but if they are truly hungry, they will eat what's available. Did you know a bag of apples is less expensive than a large bag of name brand chips? I can do more with apples, too. If that isn't your favorite fruit, then look around, scan the grocery ad and see what else can be substituted for those Munchable, pseudo lunch-style snacks the kids love gobbling up.It doesn't have to be fruit, but find a way to back off the budget busting junk food.

My family consists of a newly minted teenager, a little one in elementary school, a husband who is a hearty eater, me and two pets.  They are all bottomless pit, eating machines. I have to feed them and I can't go broke doing it.  I use these time and again and if I ever get off track (and I do sometimes) all it takes it one look at the total on the bottom of the receipt to remind me these tips really work.

What is your most effective savings tools at the grocery store?

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