Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.
Better Groceries for Less Cash by Randall Putala has a subtitle that pretty clearly describes what you’ll find inside the covers: 101 Tested and Proven Ways to Save on Food. While organized into chapters, this fairly short book’s main purpose is to simply relate a lot of methods for saving money on food purchases.
My wife and I already do a lot of things to reduce our grocery bill, from using grocery lists to making meal plans and clipping (some) coupons. Yet we still look for ways to trim our food costs even more, so this book was a welcome read.
While Better Groceries for Less Cash is organized into chapters, the focus of each chapter is simply to deliver a few specific tips on how to save money on some aspect of grocery shopping. So, rather than giving my usual chapter-by-chapter review, I picked out ten interesting tips to share and discuss.
Start your own cookbook The key to saving money on food preparation while still getting delicious meals is simply knowing how to cook. Randall suggests simply making up your own cookbook where you jot down notes on what works for you for every new thing you try. Just list the steps you take in a way that you can understand later. If it doesn’t quite work, note that and make a change to your steps (changing cooking time from seven minutes to eight, for example). Then try doubling the quantity (six eggs scrambled instead of three) and seeing how that works. It’s all about learning how to do it so you feel confident with raw foods.
Ignore lying signs Just because there’s a big sign advertising a great deal doesn’t mean that it’s really a great deal. Often, it’s the same old bad deal you’d get otherwise – they just put up a sign to make it look good. Stick to your list and ignore the “sales” you find inside the store unless you’re absolutely sure that they’re great buys.
Clip for products, not for brands If you need toothpaste, clip every toothpaste coupon you can find. Then, when you go to the store to buy the toothpaste, you can match the coupon to the toothpaste brand with the best price (possibly one on sale in the store). This often results in items that have an extremely low price, sometimes even free.
Ignore the picture The picture on a coupon is there for advertising purposes, to try to instill knowledge of that brand in your mind. It may or may not even be the item that the coupon is good for. Instead, read the coupon and know what the coupon itself is good for – it might be for a different flavor, a different size, or something else entirely.
Generics are often exactly the same as store brands Yes, sometimes you have to do a little bit of testing, but many store brands are identical to the name brands. The best way to find out is to compare ingredients and try it yourself. If the ingredient list is identical, then the item is probably identical. If it doesn’t have an ingredient list on the store brand (like toilet paper, for example), try the store brand (or at least research it online).
Sign up for frequent shopper programs at every store They’re often effortless (you just swipe a card and coupons are applied to your bill automatically) and send a signal to store management that you’re seeking low prices. If you’re concerned about privacy, then sign up for a post office box or a work address.
Use leftover ingredients If you prepare a meal and find some ingredients are left behind, actively seek out a way to use the items in something else. Throw some leftover chicken into a salad to make it more filling. Put leftover scrambled eggs in a tortilla with some salsa tomorrow morning. Use those vegetables in a stir fry. It simply stretches out the number of meals you can get out of the items on hand, meaning more time between grocery store trips and less spent per month.
Raw foods simply are cheaper Food manufacturers don’t sell food kits because they’re a bargain. They sell them because they make a healthy profit. The only difference is that they’re just sticking their fingers in the pie between you and the actual food producer. Instead of buying prepackaged meals, buy the same raw ingredients and make it yourself. It’s usually not much harder, it’s often cheaper, and it’s usually healthier and tastier (thanks to a lack of preservatives).
Focus on core ingredients If you know how to make a lot of meals with a few core ingredients (like tomatoes, for example, or flour), then you can always buy those and always turn them into something delicious. You can also cross-match them with whatever’s on sale to make unique meals for the week. For us, core ingredients include chicken, broccoli, cheese, rice, tomatoes, apples, and spinach.
Cheapest is often best when it comes to produce Why? Because the cheap items are the ones that lots of people buy. Thus, the stock of that item has to rotate more frequently, which means you’re likely to get the freshest produce by buying the cheapest stuff. Sweet corn in August comes to mind here, as it gets heavily rotated and it’s very cheap around here.
Is Better Groceries for Less Cash Worth Reading?
If you’ve reached a point where you recognize that your food spending is a financial black hole and you actually are willing to invest a little time in cutting that spending drastically (netting as much as $100 in savings an hour for your efforts), Better Groceries for Less Cash is a worthwhile read.
Of course, the more grocery savings you already do, the less effective Better Groceries for Less Cash is. Many of the tactics were things that we already do, though there were a few good ideas sprinkled in there.
This book is perfect for someone new to the art of cutting spending in their lives because if you shop for groceries like the typical American, there is a lot of spending you can cut.