News flash – it’s getting more expensive to feed a family. Inflation may be low, but that isn’t stopping prices from going up at the supermarket. Not only are prices rising, packages are getting smaller. Consumers are being asked to pay more for less (kind of like Canada Post).
In response to a recent Globe and Mail article I wrote on my goal to be mortgage-free by 31, I received many questions from readers, the most common being how I manage to spend only $100 monthly on groceries. That’s not very much, considering food is the second highest expense for most families, behind mortgage and rent. However, while saving money on groceries requires a lot of strategy, I've found once you get it down, it isn’t that challenging. Here how I save big bucks on groceries and how you can, too.
Planning Ahead Pays Off
With a Tim Hortons or Subway on almost every corner, it can be tempting to cave and buy fast food, especially after a long, stressful day at the office. After all, no one feels like cooking a five-course meal at 8 p.m. But those dinners out can add up quickly. If you dine out twice a week, spending $10 at each meal, that’s over $1,000 you’re spending each year on fast food – do you know how many loaves of bread you could buy with that?
Packing a snack so you’re not starving on your commute home can help stop the urge. An apple or granola bar will give you that boost of energy you need to get through the day.
As well, instead of cooking every night, I prepare meals in advance. On the weekend, I’ll throw on a box of spaghetti, which is enough to last me three days. When I get home all I have to do is boil some water in a kettle and heat up some spaghetti sauce and I have a piping hot meal ready in less than five minutes (less time than it takes to stop for takeout pizza).
Meat Costs More
As a vegetarian, I’ve been fortunate to avoid the soaring cost of meat. You’ll have to fork over $10 just for a measly strip loin steak these days! While not eating meat is a good way to save money, I get that it’s not for everyone. But you can still enjoy your favourite steak – just wait until it’s on sale. You can often find fresh meat like steaks and chicken breasts on the front page of flyers. Being disciplined and can add up to big savings. If you can, you should listen to your doctor and limit yourself to red meat once a week. Not only will you be healthier, you’ll save big bucks, too!
Stock Up During Sales
The good news is you don’t have to buy no-name food just to save money. You can still enjoy your favourite brands; you just have to be a smart shopper. When you buy in bulk, not only do you save time, you save money, too. When you see a grocery item on sale you regularly buy, it’s the perfect time to stock up. But, before you load up your shopping cart, there are a couple things you should consider. For example, unless it’s a front page deal, I generally only buy enough to last me until the next sale. It’s important to keep an eye on the expiration date – even non-perishable foods like spaghetti sauce have a limited shelf life. You won’t save any money if it spoils and you end up throwing half of it out.
Stick to In-Season
Fruits and veggies may be part of a healthy diet, but these nutritious foods can cost you a bundle if you don’t shop in season. Similar to how you shouldn’t wear white after Labour Day, there are certain types of produce to avoid in the fall and winter. Keep in mind that the price of your favourite fruit or vegetable comes down to the laws of supply and demand. When crops are plentiful prices are low, but when the crops are scarce (usually during winter) prices skyrocket. Have you ever seen the price of cherries in January? Yikes! Summer is perfect to enjoy cherries, peaches and watermelon, but you should consider eating less costly foods like apples and pears during winter.
Price Match Your Way to Savings
I’m not really a big fan of couponing; I just don’t have the time to go hunting online for coupons. Instead I save a lot of money by price matching. Most discount grocers like Food Basics, No Frills and Walmart will match prices offered by competitors. Once you get into the habit of price matching it’s a breeze. Each week before I go shopping, I spend 10 minutes browsing the weekly flyer for items on my shopping list. When I find a great deal, I circle it in pen and put a posted note on the page. This saves time and money – when I arrive at the cashier I don’t have to waste time flipping through the flyer for the items on sale.
Couples and Families Can Still Enjoy Savings, Too
As a bachelor, I’ve managed to carefully plan my meals ahead of time and save money, but could a couple or family do the same thing? Why not? There’s nothing stopping a family from price matching, buying in season and eating less meat. It all comes down to planning ahead of time and motivation. Saving money isn’t that difficult or time-consuming, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.
Sean Cooper is a personal finance freelance writer and blogger living in Toronto, Ontario. He is a first-time homebuyer and landlord who aspires to be mortgage-free by age 31. You follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite and read his blogs and request his services on his personal website: http://www.seancooperwriter.com/