Friday, January 14, 2011

Frugal Friday: Tips to Trim the Grocery Bill

Frugal Friday posts contain personal money-saving tips
and/or are collections of news articles or blog posts related to finances or frugality.

I frequently post deals and bargains on my Facebook page, so recently a friend asked if I could share some money-saving tips for a luncheon she's speaking at soon. I compiled a short list for her, and I thought I'd share the same information here. Much of this information is not new -- I've shared tips before by either by writing about them or by putting them into practice -- but all of the information bears repeating.

Trimming the budget is a good idea regardless of income. In most cases, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce spending. Being honest about how money is spent and truly tracking your spending is the first step to determining ways your personal budget can be trimmed. Look back at bank statements to determine how your funds are spent, then begin researching money-saving alternatives. Unless you’re an extreme couponer and are already filling your pantry for free, there are always ways to trim the grocery budget. Again, this is just a short list of ways to save -- there are so many ways to whittle away at the grocery budget and implementing even some of these ideas will leave money in your pocket.

(1) Use coupons. Coupons are an easy way to save money, and they're not just for "poor people" or people with lots of time on their hands. I once heard Dave Ramsey talk about the #1 coupon user being the rich person,* and while I don't see Paris Hilton whipping out her coupon binder, I know plenty of people who have large salaries and still get excited about saving on paper towels. Find coupons in the Sunday paper, print them off the internet ( or other websites), load them into your phone (, store websites), load them onto your store savings card (store websites), visit manufacturer websites to request coupons, buy them on eBay or through an online clipping service, ask for inserts from friends and family members, etc. Save more by “stacking” coupons – use one manufacturer coupon plus one store coupon on a single product, or pair your individual manufacturer coupons with a dollars off store coupon.

(2) If you only purchase groceries at big box retailers, you’ll likely save by switching stores. A simple switch from Wal-Mart to Kroger will often reflect savings. Not only are many items similarly priced or cheaper at Kroger, Kroger has great sales, frequent markdowns, and they double and triple any coupons you apply. Check out stores in your area to compare prices, then ask about sales, markdown dates and coupon policies.

(3) A simple way to save no matter where you shop is to switch from name brand to store brand. Most stores offer identical products under their own label – so identical, in fact, that many grocery manufacturers make the generic product as well, they just slap on a different label. Try some products and make the switch.

(4) Keep your eyes open and look for savings everywhere. I’ve purchased some incredible grocery and diaper deals at Walgreens while in the store to fill a prescription.

(5) Shop more than once per week. For people prone to impulse buying, this is not a good plan, but for those with restraint, this is a way to save money over the long term. The sale prices will not change, but markdowns occur daily – ask when markdowns happen in the store you frequent. As an example, our family is eating primarily organic products now. I’ve learned I can find most organic dairy and produce markdowns at the beginning of the week at the store I shop most often. That’s when I plan my biggest shopping trip.

“What, markdowns? Isn’t that stuff bad?” No, it’s not. Stores cannot sell products past their expiration or “sell-by” date, but they mark them down significantly just before products reach those dates. Also, a "sell-by" date is not the same as an expiration date -- keep that in mind when purchasing anything. I personally do not recommend consuming food or using products that are expired.

** Milk is often marked down 5-7 days before the “sell-by” date, and while experts agree that milk (especially organic milk) is good for ~2 weeks after the “sell-by” date, kids and cooking consume the product well before the date comes into question. In a pinch, milk can be frozen for later use, just pour a little off the gallon to allow for expansion. After thawing, shake to remix.

** Eggs and cheese also last beyond their “sell-by” dates – information is available online – and they can also be frozen. I store bags of shredded cheese in my freezer and use it in casseroles and soups from the frozen state. I let cheese thaw to use on tacos, etc. There is no difference in taste or texture when thawed. Do not freeze eggs in their shell. Crack them into ice cube trays to freeze.

** Meat is marked down 1-3 days before the “sell-by” date, and should be used right away. I typically prepare markdown meats for dinner that day or the next, I prepare it as a meal starter for use in the future, or I freeze it immediately for later use.

** Produce might be marked down because of bruises, but if you plan to use the produce to bake/cook with or to use in smoothies, a few bruises won’t matter. Sometimes produce is marked down because the store has abundance. During the summer, I bought bags and bags of firm, fresh tomatoes for $0.69 per bag. I cut each tomato in to 6 pieces, spaced them apart on a baking sheet and froze the pieces. Once frozen, I gathered the pieces together into a freezer Ziploc bag to store. I just pull out individual pieces to drop into soups and stews. I’ve done the same with other veggies and fruits.

** Some stores also offer markdowns on processed foods. Just look for a clearance section. A friend I took shopping bought full-sized boxes of name brand cereal for $0.52 each (dented boxes). I bought triple packs of Gerber baby puffs for $2.00 – three for less than the price of one (package change).

(6) Consider shopping at discount/markdown stores like Big Lots, Dollar Tree or the 99 cents store. Exceptional savings can be had on all manners of grocery or household products. With regard to food products, all items are “in date” – often the packaging has changed (seasonal, etc.) and the product can no longer be sold in regular stores.

(7) Be open-minded and don’t limit yourself to familiar stores. I visited a large Asian food market while hunting for a particular ingredient and found incredible deals on fresh produce, bulk items, meats and seafood. I live in a smaller town 20 minutes west of FM/HV and find that my little local IGA often beats the prices of the big name brand store down the road. Meat markdown prices at that store are unbelievable.

(8) For more extreme savings, consider shopping at “banana box” stores. These are “scratch and dent” wholesalers who buy food and home goods by the crate or truckload. Many things are neither scratched nor dented. Because these items come to the wholesaler in large box lots, be responsible about checking dates for freshness. Most items are in perfect condition and can be purchased at an incredible savings.

photo credit: thebsreport

* I can't find a printed quote from Dave Ramsey about the couponing rich -- I just heard him say that on a radio show one day.


  • Randi

    Great tips, as always. I love saving money and I think I'm decent at it but you're my saving guru. :)

  • Jenny

    I love you thoughts that couponing is not just for the poor. I remember when I read "The Millionare Next Door" and realized the people with true financial wealth are just the average people who are smart with their money.

    And I never thought of freezing tomatoes... hmmmm...

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