Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three ways to cut the cost of groceries without coupons

Detail view of supermarket shelves

Saving money on grocery shopping seems to be a popular topic on search engines. Many people seem to find themselves at my site because I discuss going to the grocery store once a month and I happen to be single. With all the other costs in my life (cat has a prescription diet and a chronic condition, a mortgage and associated utilities cost, etc.), saving some money on food and keeping my grocery spending allocation the same is a challenge.

Regardless, I have stuck with my tried and true method of creating a grocery list and putting the items in the order in which I shop (minimize backtracking in the store) and using my calculator to see how the numbers look (giving me feedback on whether I am overspending or no). While meal planning is not as important, I do keep in mind what I enjoy eating as I make up my list prior to the once monthly grocery trip.

For many people, price points are important when figuring out where and how to shop for groceries. With that in mind, I have some tips for those looking to pinch those pennies:

Club memberships: If bulk buying suits your needs (i.e., something you use often, have room to store it and will use it before it spoils), consider sharing a membership to Costco or Sam's Club. To find out if either option will fit your shopping needs, get a trial membership or ask if someone has a membership and would allow you to join them one day. I really only want a few items in larger quantities so purchasing a year-long membership seems unnecessary. Finding a friend who has a membership and asking to use their card once or twice a year, or sharing a membership cost with a family member or colleague is less expensive than purchasing one alone.

A calculator is handy to make sure you are getting a better deal than in your usual grocery store. This is where a trial membershop or trip with a friend is useful--for calculating the unit costs and determining if the membership gives a better bargain. Again, you need room to keep all the food or bulk items and then use them in a timely fashion so nothing spoils, thus eliminating the savings in the bulk purchase.

Food buying clubs: Recently, I have learned there is the Angel Food Ministries option in my area. While I am still debating whether I truly want to purchase some of my food from them, it seems like a nice assortment of items. Again, much of the food is processed and seems heavily packaged from the description, not the greenest items. However, there are fresh produce options, something I would consider buying. There is a minimum purchase amount but if these are items you normally buy, this food buying club may save you some money--if there is room in your refrigerator and freezer for all the items.

There are other more state-centric food buying clubs. One in my state has a pickup just a few blocks away at a church and offers organic and fresh produce options as well. Local clubs may also feature more local produce and food items, a way to support local farmers and save some money.

Food transportation and delivery: This is a combination option. That is, you offer to help an elderly or disabled neighbor by shopping for his or her food and then charge a small fee to do so. Since you were going to the grocery store anyway, you are not using more gasoline, the intended recipient is your neighbor so little additional cost in gasoline there and you just need to spend a little more time finding the neighbor's items as well as your own. A modest fee for convenience would counteract some of the total on your grocery bill and you help out someone else at the same time.

Alternatively, you could offer a rideshare with a neighbor that has no car, and for a little gas money, get some company and a helping hand for unloading groceries. Again, a small fee discussed between parties could decrease your grocery spending each month and give someone the opportunity to shop for more than the few things he or she can carry by hand or on a bus, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Will you try one of these strategies?

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