Often, being poor, or simply dealing with economic recession conditions, causes people to panic and make bad decisions. Barbara Ehrenreich deals with this in her classic Nickel and Dimed, an account of what it takes to work a poverty-wage job, and the recent Washington Post article The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More offers another take on the subject. In many aspects of life, there are no easy answers- but a simple workaround can usually save money when it comes to eating well.
Money Saving Strategies: Tips for Cheap Food Shopping
Two resources necessary to manage in food shopping are time and money. Many people sacrifice money to save time, but this isn’t always necessary. Teamwork can help the careful shopper avoid making this tradeoff.
Busy workers can ask unemployed friends or family to help source food at cheaper supermarkets. If discount food stores are not nearby, team up and carpool to buy a month’s worth of staples at the same time, thereby saving gas and money.
Cooking may be time-consuming, but it pays off at lunchtime. A smart planner who prepares school lunches or work lunches all at the beginning of the week can turn a $10 daily expense into a $2 daily expense. Wraps, sandwiches, and salads are foods which can be made in large batches and easily transported later.
Avoid instant soups and other low-nutrition, convenience-store food items. People tend to still feel hungry after eating them. Instead, go for real food – highly nourishing, low-cost ingredients like beans (available by the can to save time, or in dried form to save money), real pasta, and root vegetables. For those who eat meat, using small amounts can save money and is no less satisfying when paired with quality ingredients.
A starving student might have a different target spending amount and different food needs than a busy mom, who is trying to feed a family. With this in mind, aim at finding a supermarket that fulfills individual needs.
Salvage Grocery Stores and Overstock Groceries
These markets offer overstocked items, food near its expiration date and sometimes generic staples. Their prices are often extremely cheap; the prices are, on average, about half price from the tag price normal supermarkets charge for the same food. Quality ranges from gourmet to no-name. These places frequently carry foods ideal for people who live alone. Grocery Outlet, on the US West coast, is an example. Generally each locality has its own favorite chain.
For anyone who has access to a grocery salvage market, these discount food stores are often the best available options for a cheap meal.
House-Brand Discount Groceries
House brand markets produce or package food under their own brand as a way of lowering their prices. Trader Joe’s offers gourmet food items, as well as staples: although their gourmet food items can be expensive, they are usually cheaper than everyone else’s, and their staples (mayonnaise, pasta, peanut butter, milk and cheese) are often very inexpensive, and better quality than other stores.
Aldi, Save-A-Lot, and Costco are other examples of house brand markets; Costco mainly carries bulk, and is more useful for very large families, as they require a membership fee.
Buying Food at Dollar Stores
Dollar stores, perhaps surprisingly, don’t always have the best deals. The food they carry is often at least middling in quality, but the portions can be small: a dollar store shopper is best advised to read the labels and compare prices based on amounts. Still, dollar stores remain a good source for condiments and some staples such as pasta, beans and rice.
These do not exist everywhere. Winco is one West Coast chain. They offer food in large bins, by the pound or by the item, as well as inexpensive produce and meats. Quality is comparable to Costco but without membership fees, and a customer can buy exact amounts of staple food such as rice, pasta, beans, nuts, dried fruit and cereals.
Saving Money with Sale Prices and Regular Supermarkets
For those who don’t have easy access to a discount market, there are still ways to make better use of the local shops. First, take down a list of prices on favorite food items. Make a note of which ones are expensive, and which are more affordable. The foods bought most often are worth going out of the way to buy cheaply, or stocking up on at a sale price.
Say a family goes through three pounds of pasta each week, ten pounds of potatoes a month, and three jars of honey a year. The nearest discount supermarket is an hour away, and the person in charge of shopping only gets there once each month.
The local supermarket charges $2.19 for a pound of pasta, $1.60 for a pound of potatoes, and $10.50 for a jar of honey; the discount store has these items for $1.00, $1.30, and $6.00, respectively. To simplify the problem, let’s say that when the local supermarket has a sale, they mark items down to the discount store price.
For the family above, buying pasta at the discount store or on a sale saves them more money than either buying potatoes there (small price difference) or honey (low quantity required).
If the family tracks how much pasta they consume, they’ll realize that buying thirteen pounds of pasta every time they visit the discount store can save them up to $185 per year, whereas the honey only gives a difference of $13.50 a year and the potatoes, with their small price difference, $36.
In the long run, saving money is possible through being crafty and thinking ahead. This creative problem-solving can make a real difference in food shopping expenditures for a family or a person living alone.