If you’re like me, you’ve been watching the skyrocketing costs of both fuel and food and wondering where you’ll be cutting back. For many people, it’s food. Sometimes, eating well can mean eating expensively. They don’t call it “Whole Paycheck” for nothing.
I’m here to tell you there are a few tips and tricks to keeping that grocery bill down while still keeping ethics and the environment in mind. It takes a little more planning, some flexibility and creativity, but you can shave big bucks off your bill if you keep them in mind.
1. Quit eating meat. Buying meat, particularly non-industrial meat, can really break the bank. Animal agriculture is also one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that exists. By replacing meat with plant-based protein sources, such as beans and lentils (cheap!) you can save money and lighten your footprint. Even cutting back to decrease the amount of meat-meals you eat in a week, and increasing your meat-free meals, will help.
2. If you do eat meat, look at cheaper cuts. Take a hint from Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms. His ethically-raised pork was a big hit with consumers–particularly the better cuts. The tougher cuts were harder to sell, so he’s selling them to Chipotle, who uses them in burritos, because shoulders and legs hold up well to the braising process Chipotle has in place. You can do the same. Braising, stewing, or slow-cooking cuts like shoulders, flank steaks, or round roasts and steaks can add tasty
3. Plan ahead. Watching the sales, reading the circular, and planning menus ahead of time saves money by using more sale items into your diet.
4. Buy and cook in bulk–if you’ll eat it. A money and time saving practice that I rely on is making enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch. This works particularly well with soups and pastas, where it’s easy to stretch a meal out by adding more broth or noodles. This way, brown-bagging your lunch is a snap. You’ll save money by not eating out and by stretching ingredients, and time by cooking once and eating twice. However, this practice doesn’t work if you don’t eat the leftovers. The same goes for buying in bulk. You can often save a pretty penny by buying larger quantities of food items that you use frequently. For example, I buy olive oil in bulk because I use it all the time. The same goes for flour, pasta, beans, or lentils. Do not invest in items that you won’t eat before they go bad, just because you’re getting a deal. That gallon of mustard won’t seem so cheap when you have to throw half of it out. At the same time…
5. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Consumers lose a lot of money by buying food that goes bad before they use it. I know I’m guilty of this. By planning your meals carefully and eating according to what is fresh in the fridge, you can eliminate wasteful spending on food that never nourishes anyone, except maybe your compost pile. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your meal planning to use everything in your fridge.
6. Coupons, coupons, coupons. It used to be that coupons for organic brands were few and far between in your Sunday newspaper. With the increase in organic brands on your conventional grocery shelves, more coupons for those products are ending up in circulars. However, there’s many other ways to find coupons that you can use for organic products. Mambo Sprouts puts out a coupon book that you can pick up at stores or have sent to your home if you live in certain areas. But the best way I’ve found to get coupons you’ll actually use is to contact companies whose products I enjoy. Most websites have a “Contact Us” link, and brands such as Quorn, Organic Valley, and NakedJuice sent me substantial coupons after I politely asked for them. That also puts me on their mailing list for free samples and coupons in the future. The Grocery Coupon Guide has a great list of brands with links to their websites. An hour or two on the internet could save you many, many dollars.
7. Eat seasonally. Eat locally. It’s practically a mantra around here, but it’s true for your wallet as well as our planet. There’s a reason strawberries cost five dollars a pint in December. As fuel costs rise, so will the cost of your produce imported from other countries. I’ve found making friends at your local farmers market can save you cash, too. Not only are you eating much fresher, more flavorful fruits and veggies, but you can establish a relationship with the farmers. One of my absolutely favorite organic farmers on our farmers market circuit knows me by name, and since I faithfully give him business, he almost always knocks a buck or two off my total.
8. Grow your own. Seeds and plants, even organic, can cost next-to-nothing, and gardening is a therapeutic and rewarding hobby. Even apartment-dwellers can grow plenty of produce in containers. I’ve found that those with the blackest of thumbs can successfully grow all the fresh herbs they need, and if you buy fresh herbs at the store, you know they can be expensive. Think about expanding to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, or radishes.
9. Join a CSA. CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, are programs where you buy shares of a harvest from a farmer. In return for your investment, you get regularly-scheduled boxes of produce, which may include other items such as dairy, meat, flowers, or grains. Although CSAs can be expensive, many are reasonably prices, particularly in comparison to buying items individually, and many CSAs offer half-shares at reduced cost. They’re worth looking into by asking at your local farmers market.
What are some money-saving tips you’ve found in your quest to eat better?