5 Easy ways to save money at the supermarket
Most homeschool moms are thrifty. This is a necessity because we have expensive educational materials to buy. And of course, it takes a pile of money to feed, clothe, house, and nurture our children, especially when there are several of them.
While our husbands are usually the main breadwinners, we women have a responsibility to spend wisely. Consider the wife of noble character described in Proverbs 31. She took an active role in assuring that thriftiness was practiced in her household. In order to provide food, for example, “She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard” (Proverbs 31: 14-16, KJV).
Following this noble woman's example, some of us plant gardens and orchards, join food co-ops, can and freeze, barter, bake our own bread, raise goats for milk and cheese, and serve nutritious meals for pennies on the dollar. At homeschool conventions, I've met a number of saints who manage to do all of this and more.
I have not yet achieved this high plain of existence, and I suspect many of you haven't either. I do, however, try to be thrifty with both the limited time and money I have when shopping at the supermarket. Through many years of experience, I've learned some practical ways to make the most of my hard-earned food dollars.
1. Take charge of your grocery shopping
Start by setting a realistic limit on spending, for example, maybe spend $110 a week rather than $145. Budgeting helps you to think creatively and look for bargains that will help you meet your goal. The long-term savings are definitely rewarding. If you can put back $25 a week that's an extra $100 in your pocket every month, or $1200 for the year.
Also take charge by minimizing temptation. Go to the store rested and well-fed, and with a general plan in mind. Make a list and stick to it, unless you find some unexpected bargains. Avoid supermarket displays that try to manipulate you into buying what you don't need. Move fast; supermarket music is often designed to slow down shoppers, which makes them more likely to overbuy. One woman I know used to wear headphones and listen to peppy songs as she buzzed through the supermarket.
2. Shop at the cheapest store in your area
Carry a notebook as you shop at a different store each week for four to six weeks, and jot down prices for the things you buy. When the results are in, you can compare costs and make an intelligent decision about where to purchase the most inexpensive food.
In my area of the country, that means ALDI. For others, a warehouse store might prove to be the best deal, or a scratch-and-dent store, or a place that specializes in bulk foods, or a food cooperative. Make this location your #1 weekly source of food. Supplement by stocking up on additional staples (or ones you can't get at your primary store) once or twice a month.
3. Buy mainly what's on sale
Instead of planning menus first and then writing the grocery list, try looking over the store's specials first and constructing your menus around these good deals. Wherever you shop, go for the bargains of the week.
Also keep a list of food items you know you'll always need. When these are reduced in price, buy them in quantity. Though I'm not a big fan of coupons, it's smart to use them for essentials you find on sale. Better yet, scout out the double coupon stores in advance and keep an eye on their sales for necessary foods.
4. Simplify both your eating and your buying
Convenience food prices can quickly destroy a grocery budget, and the supermarket displays them everywhere. Ignore these. Instead, look for the basics that tend to be in middle aisles, mostly placed either high or low on the shelves. These items offer the least markup and far less flash appeal, but they're often whole foods or at least cheap ones.
You can then offer better substitutions for, say, name brand, sugary breakfast cereals: oatmeal, whole wheat pancakes, homemade muffins, or scrambled eggs. In the process, you'll probably save at least a few dollars on one breakfast alone. The more your family can learn to enjoy and serve these simpler, healthier choices, the better your finances will be.
5. Let the store help you
Store personnel are usually friendly and willing to help―let them. The produce manager can tell you which fruits and vegetables are in season and cheapest. Ask about less-than-perfect fruit for sale, such as spotted bananas; many stores throw them away, but if enough customers ask, they're likely to sell such produce at a discount . . . and you can make fruit smoothies for pennies.
Meat managers might recommend good, inexpensive cuts and also suggest ways of tenderizing and cooking meat. One Christmas, I asked a store butcher's opinion on the best brand of whole hams. He surprised me by recommending the cheaper variety. When several were sliced for customers, he said this brand was consistently leaner. What was even better, the store offered a $2.00 off coupon and the company offered a $5.00 rebate on the ham. I took advantage of all of this and paid less than $1.00 per pound for top-quality ham―probably an impossible price in today's market, but you see my point. I learned about all these great deals only because I asked for the butcher's help.
By following these five tips over the course of a few months, I learned to cut our original grocery bill in half. That's a lot of money when you're on a tight budget, and even if you're not. Like the woman in Proverbs 31, all of us should continually search for ways to save on our bills. And in so doing, we will not only be well on our way to becoming wives of noble character, but also benefit our families as well.
Rhonda Barfield is wife to Michael and former homeschool teacher of their four grown children. She is also the author of five books, including Feed Your Family for $12 a Day (to order, see the ad in this issue.) and Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (available through most bookstores and also online). Currently, she keeps busy as a writing coach for WriteAtHome.com, piano instructor, freelance writer, and part-time booking agent. She also loves spending time with family, walking, gardening, reading, and snuggling her rescued cockatiel Fiddler.
Copyright, 2015. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, 2015 Print Edition. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.