Follow these 5 simple tips to be slightly less broke than usual after your grocery visit. We’ll discuss the benefits of choosing store brands, canned and frozen goods, couponing and shopping local sales and clearance bins. For those of you interested in going meatless or just saving more money, we’ve included a section on vegetarian entrees and snacks.
Go Off the Beaten Brand
Some people seem to be under the impression that generic brand goods are vastly inferior to their more expensive, name brand counterparts. For most types of goods, this is not the case. There is little to no difference between store brand and name brand dried goods (pasta, nuts, dried grains or beans, canned beans or veggies, bottled applesauce, etc) or frozen fruits and veggies. Why pay more for a name?
I notice a difference between store brand and name brand items in things like spices and flavor extracts, as well as chocolate, cocoa and nut butters. Depending on the store, I have noticed that fresh and frozen meats may be a little iffier from the store brand versus the name brand. Save your splurging for items like this.
The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway
I’ve heard from some sources that fresh is best when it comes to produce. While there may be some textural changes during the freezing and thawing process, the nutritional content is about the same. In fact, very or over ripe fresh produce may have lost more nutritional value than produce that was frozen shortly after harvest. The same is true for canning but the texture of the produce may suffer a bit more.
Why do we care about this? Because buying frozen produce in bulk is an excellent way to save money. Not only is it usually cheaper per ounce, you don’t have to worry about it going bad before you can eat it. And canned goods are even cheaper!
For smoothies, you’ll likely be freezing the fruit anyway so why not buy frozen fruit if it saves you some money? Most stores offer a good variety including strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple chunks, blackberries, mango chunks and raspberries. For salads, fresh produce is kind of a must but if you’ll be wilting spinach or pureeing it in a soup or sauce, fresh is not necessary. Throwing a handle of frozen veggies into whatever you’re making for dinner is not much different than using fresh.
Many people forget that grocery stores have whole sections of frozen chicken, beef, sausage, seafood and other meats. Instead of going straight to the fresh meats, which are generally pricier per pound, stop by the frozen meats section. Chances are the ‘fresh’ meat you’ll be buying has already been frozen at least once anyway. Why pay more for the same thing?
Buying frozen is generally less expensive than buying fresh no matter what amount of meat you’re getting. However, buying in bulk will save you the most money overall. You can buy a bag of a dozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tilapia fillets and thaw them out as you need them. Or you could experiment with different types of seafood by buying just two more exotic fish fillets. Shrimp is also an option with most already coming peeled and deveined and some with the tails removed.
Protein doesn’t just mean meat. I try to have a vegetarian dinner 2-3 nights per week because it is cheaper. I also don’t like a lot of red meat or pork in my diet and fish and chicken can get old. Beans and eggs are the most obvious meatless options but there are others.
Lentils, legumes and peas contain a fair amount of protein, as well. A 100 gram serving of lentils has your full amount of fiber for the day plus 26 grams of protein. Lentils can be served whole in salads or with pasta sauce or mashed and included in a veggie burger. Quinoa offers almost as much protein per serving as eggs, 14 grams per 100 gram serving. Use it as a substitute for rice or pasta. Edamame, green soybeans, have a slightly smaller amount of protein but make a good healthy snack. Hummus, made from chickpeas, pairs well with edamame and also contains protein.
Dairy products are a good source of protein so consider yogurt, cheese and cow’s milk.Greek yogurt has nearly twice as much protein as regular yogurt. Mix plain Greek yogurt with fruit or use as a substitute for sour cream. Speaking of milk, nuts and seeds are a good way to add protein and so are milk products made from nuts, seeds and soy. Add some nut butter to a smoothie or serve with apple slices for an extra bit of protein. Also consider seitan, or wheat gluten, as an alternative to ground chicken or turkey as it is 75% protein.
Soy is also found in products like miso, tempeh and tofu. Some may be intimated by the suspicious-looking substances but they are worth a shot. Miso is one of my favorite ingredients for adding a punch of salty, umami flavor to dishes. You can purchase tubs of thicker miso paste to mix with water or squeeze bottles of ready-to-go ‘Minute Miso.’ Personally, I find tempeh a bit too crumbly but tofu is a staple at my house. Tofu comes in a range of textures from soft to extra firm and it accepts flavor very well. I prefer tofu in a light broth soup because it soaks up all the other flavors and stays nice and creamy. I also like rolling small cubes in spices and baking it. Baked tofu has a good crisp outside and a creamy center. Check here for some basic tips for cooking tofu and here for over fifty ways to prepare tofu.
Turn Junk Mail into Cash
Sales circulars are your friend. Most of your local stores will send you so-called ‘junk mail’ telling you about their sales for the upcoming week. Don’t throw these out. Flip through them to see if anything you need or buy often is going on sale. Some local stores and restaurants will include coupons in these ads, too.
This is an obvious tip but also one that many people ignore. Coupons! Couponing has become much easier in our modern age with most stores offering their own app with access to weekly ads and coupons that can be sent to your shopper’s rewards card. Which reminds me, sign up for all the shopper’s rewards cards! The big players in my area, Kroger and Giant Eagle, each offer this service. They also have a program where you can download a coupon for a free item every week, which is fun.
I use both digital coupons and paper coupons. You can find printable coupons online at places like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. Proctor and Gamble, the company behind big brands like Tide and Crest, offer tons of printable coupons for their products online. They also offer occasional free product samples. You can usually find paper coupons in your weekend newspaper or magazines.
Couponing is fairly time-consuming but it is worth the effort. I set aside some time each week for couponing. I clip only coupons for things I’ll actually use and sort them by type in an organizer. I also take some time to throw out expired coupons. When I make my grocery list, I’ll go through my paper and digital coupons to see what I can use.
Walking the store is helpful because you can see which option is really the best deal. Hitting on the tips above, this will help you decide if fresh, frozen or canned will work better for you. Don’t buy something JUST because you have a coupon for it. Make sure you’ll use it and make sure that the name brand item with a coupon will be cheaper overall than store brand. Sometimes it will still be more expensive!
Everything Must Go
The clearance section is my favorite part of the store! Most stores will have an area for day-old bakery stuff, weird produce and assorted clearance items. There may be multiple locations throughout the store or just one. You can always ask the employees.
I always go through clearance stuff first to see if there is anything I can check off my grocery list or that’s just a good deal. Check expiration dates on any food or medicinal items. Avoid dented cans. Don’t worry about damaged boxes or outer packaging if the actual food is inside plastic. Be sure to compare the price of clearance items to their full price counterparts to make sure you’re actually getting a deal. The best time to check general clearance product is after a holiday! I get most of the ingredients for my sweets this way.
All of these treats were made with clearance candy:
For old bread or other bakery items give it a squeeze test to make sure it is still relatively soft and chewable. If you’ll be using the bread in a stuffing or pudding then don’t worry too much about the texture.
For marked down produce, avoid overly bruised pieces. Most of this stuff is marked down because it is smaller than average or just a little funky-shaped. None of those issues will have a big impact on the flavor or nutritional value.