In tight economic times, expert grocery shoppers advise: Cut costs, not nutrition
No one really relishes the notion of paying more for less at the grocery store. But even with prices for many grocery store staples likely to increase by more than the customary 3 percent inflation bump over the coming year, savvy shoppers and di...
No one really relishes the notion of paying more for less at the grocery store.
But even with prices for many grocery store staples likely to increase by more than the customary 3 percent inflation bump over the coming year, savvy shoppers and dieticians say there are plenty of easy ways to cut costs, while not sacrificing on taste or health.
Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietician and nutrition professor at Boston University and author of "Nutrition & You," fears the price hikes will prompt people to cut back on food and thereby nutrition.
She wants to convince the public that nutrition and high prices aren't necessarily linked, if shoppers remember a few hints while strolling down the aisles.
"I want the public to cut costs at the supermarket, but I don't want them to cut nutrition," she said.
So what does she advise?
"Don't pay for things you can easily do yourself," Salge Blake said. For example, quit buying the higher-priced baby carrots. Instead, buy big carrots you can cut and peel yourself.
"It takes seconds to peel a carrot," but saves $1.93 per pound, according to a survey she did this spring at a local grocery store she frequents.
While most of her ideas save pennies an item, that adds up, she said.
Frozen strawberries are cheaper and just as nutritious as fresh strawberries.
"Frozen and canned and juiced are as nutritionally fresh, and can save you money and can save you time," Salge Blake said.
Frozen broccoli and bagels are also a better buy.
Instead of grabbing more expensive sliced deli meats, purchase turkey breasts and slice up them up for sandwiches. While it takes more initial preparation, employing this technique saves $6.50 per pound, she said.
She also advises buying multipacks of poultry or meat, because they're typically cheaper by the pound.
"I buy bulk upfront, freeze it, use it down the road," Salge Blake said.
While shopping at places such as Sam's Wholesale Club is helpful, Salge Blake said shoppers shouldn't assume buying in really large quantities is always worth the additional cash.
And sales at supermarkets sometimes are better deals than normal price at wholesale clubs, Salge Blake added.
Larger containers often are cheaper than smaller, individual packets, Salge Blake said.
Lisa Faust of Duluth buys larger containers of yogurt and then puts them into smaller containers for her kids.
Also, Salge Blake said, keep in mind that making something once and then reheating it the next night is often far cheaper than buying a ready-made meal.
There's really no cheap substitute for milk or eggs, although the fewer middle-men involved, often the cheaper items tend to be, Salge Blake said, so take advantage of farmers markets.
"It's cheaper because it is locally grown," she said.
And, while some might disagree, Salge Blake asserts that organic food isn't any healthier than non-organic.
Patti Peterson, a nurse practitioner at Duluth Clinic, said she's not bothered that food prices have jumped.
A vegetarian for the past six years with her husband, she said she's used to having to spend a little more to eat healthy, but said not having kids at home provides more income for eating tofu, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
"I haven't stopped buying the things I used to buy," she said. "I just feel much better. That's worth any extra money I have to pay."
Most people also don't realize what ailments they avoid, and what money isn't spent on seeing a doctor, thanks to eating healthier more regularly, Peterson said.
"That's the problem with being preventative," Peterson said. "You don't see it, so you wonder how you saved."
You don't have to be a vegetarian to take advantage of the savings, though. Peterson said simply adding more vegetables to meals can make a difference. It makes the meat last longer, and makes for healthier dishes, she said.
Janice Taylor of Two Harbors said she buys steak, but will split a piece with her husband instead of them each having their own. And she always tries to buy vegetables that are in season, and therefore often cheaper.
"I feel the increased cost of food is making us eat healthier," Taylor said.
Christina Brown of rural Bovey, near Grand Rapids, doles out all sorts of deal-saving ideas on her blog northerncheapskate.com.
"The big thing that I've found that helped me save money is the whole idea of stockpiling," she said. Buy extra of items on sale. That should often get you through the weeks between when items go on sale, she said.
And that's why one month her family's grocery bill might be $380, while a different month the figure could be $160.
"You really need to abandon brand loyalty," she said, if you want to save. For example, most pastas taste about the same regardless of price, she said.
And while newspapers offer coupons, she said the Internet is also full of coupons and information on specials at chain stores.
Major spots for virtual coupons include SmartSource.com; Redplum.com; and Coupons.com.
In addition, on some forums like afullcup.com, shoppers tell one another what deals national chains are offering, and at Freebies4Mom.com, you can find out about free items being given away by companies.
You also can sign up to have coupons from a variety of companies land in your e-mail box daily.
If you want to sign up for regular e-mail offers, Brown advises creating a dedicated e-mail account on a site like Gmail.com or Hotmail.com, because it's bound to attract healthy helpings of spam, she said.
And sometimes you can couple coupons from manufacturers with store specials, Brown said, and actually get the product for free, or even get money back.
For example, she had a $2 off coupon for a box of Honey Bunches of Oats.
She took it to Wal-Mart, which was running a $1.98 sale on a box, so she was technically paid 2 cents on the deal.
"People say, 'Oh, it's too much work,' " she said, but estimated she spends about an hour a week clipping coupons.
And don't overlook your neighborhood store outlets. Brown often can nab four loaves for $3 at a Sara Lee bread outlet.
For those who don't enjoy clipping coupons, take heart in Faust's story.
The Duluth mom has sliced between $40 and $60 a week, just by employing some of the same techniques Salge Blake uses, such as not buying shredded cheese or prewashed, bagged lettuce and making meals from scratch.
"We've cut our grocery bill initially by making some pretty easy changes, I think," Faust said.
Now she has a simple recipe for pasta sauce using vodka, tomato paste, cream and butter. She also grows her own herbs to save money and occasionally slips a vegetarian meal into the family's routine.
"The key is to eat that produce," Salge Blake said.
PATRICK GARMOE can be reached at (218) 723-5229 or firstname.lastname@example.org