April 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm
Guest blogger Leah Ingram, founder of The Suddenly Frugal Blog, on cutting supermarket and dining out costs.
How much do you spend a month to feed your family? If you are like most American families, you are spending between $600 and $1,200 monthly, so says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to put food on your table. That’s for a family of four.
Then there is eating out, which can be expensive. But, believe it or not, you can cut your supermarket tab and find a way to eat out on occasion without raiding your kids’ college savings accounts. Here are five tips on how you can save on feeding your family.
Stock Up When Things Are On Sale. For me, a best-case grocery shopping scenario is when something is on sale and I have a coupon. For example, my kids take yogurt to school every day in their packed lunch. At the supermarket, individual cups of yogurt normally cost $.85 each. When they go on sale–which they did last week–the price drops to $.60 each. I had a coupon for $.40 off six yogurts, which the store doubled to $.80, shaving another $.13 off the cost of each cup of yogurt. In the end I paid $.47 a container, almost half of the regular price. You can bet that I stocked up on dozens of cups of yogurt. Even in the absence of a coupon, it’s smart to stock up on food you know you use regularly when it’s on sale, such as when pasta is less than $1 a box.
Use Your Slow Cooker To Make Meals on Busy Days. Rather than calling for take out on a busy night, take out your slow cooker. A slow cooker can save big on time and money. A great blog for getting easy-to-follow slow cooker recipes is A Year of Slow Cooking, my go-to Bible for turning low-cost cuts of meat into high-flavor meals. The only trick to making your slow cooker work for you is planning for time in the morning to throw together dinner in the slow cooker so that it will be ready by 5 p.m. I find that if I budget time while making lunches in the morning with making dinner–sounds odd, I know–then it all works out OK.
Food Shop Outside the Grocery Store. You can save a lot of money on fresh fruits and vegetables by shopping the farmers markets and farm stands rather than the supermarket. Take apples as an example. In season at my local orchard, they are about $1 per pound. At the grocery store they cost double, sometimes triple, that amount. You can also find savings in dollar stores and drugstores. Oftentimes milk is cheaper at CVS or Rite Aid than it is at the supermarket. Add in the drugstore rewards programs, such as CVS Extra Bucks, and you might walk out having gotten your milk for free.
Get Coupons In As Many Ways as Possible. Before I go food shopping, I’m printing out coupons from websites, gathering up coupons that came in the mail or with my Sunday paper, and identifying any store-specific coupons that appeared in that week’s circular. For instance, my local grocery store will often include “coupon doubler” coupons that allow you to double a coupon worth $1 or more. (Normally, the store doubles only coupons up to $.99.) Some supermarkets let you register your affinity card through their website and then download coupons directly to the card, adding even more coupons to your savings arsenal.
Eat Out at a Discount. I’ll put in a plug for my weekly Suddenly Frugal Freebie Friday roundup, which always includes at least one place you can go that week to eat for free. Additionally, many blogs–mine included–have sections on “kids eat free.” This way you can take your family of four out for a meal but you’ll pay for the adults’ food only. Also, smartphone apps can help you track down restaurant coupons. For example, Valpak has this great GPS-powered app that you can use to find discounts at restaurants in your area right on your phone. It tells me that right now I can enjoy 15% off at my local Middle Eastern restaurant, get $2 off a pizza pie at a nearby pizzeria, and save 50% on frozen yogurt at a close-by sweet shop.
Leah Ingram is a lifestyle and frugal-living expert, and the author of two books that focus on living more on less: Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier on Less (Adams Media) and Toss, Keep, Sell: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Getting Organized and Making Money from Your Stuff (Adams Media). The latter book focuses on getting cash for your clutter while organizing your house. She’s also the creator of the nationally syndicated money-saving blog called Suddenly Frugal and a regular contributor of frugal-living segments for the “10! Show” on NBC 10 in Philadelphia, including segments on grocery shopping, gift buying and saving money. In 2011 Leah launched her second frugal-living blog called Philly on the Cheap, which focuses on deals and discounts in the Philadelphia area.