The holiday season is almost here and it can lead to out of control food bills without careful planning. Not only do we have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the associated festivities, but sporting events like the Super Bowl have become one of the biggest food spending days of the year.
Even with all the holiday celebrations, it’s still possible to tame that grocery bill. Here are the top 10 ways to assure you are getting the most bang for your winter grocery bucks.
Planning is key to any successful money-saving venture. Many people don’t plan their menus in advance. They purchase items on sale without a clear idea of when or how they will use them. The end result is usually a pantry full of items that sit there unused for months and several additional trips to the store to get items you actually need at the last minute.
Whether it’s a large holiday meal, or daily family menu – having a plan is going to save time and money and reduce waste. There are a variety of phone apps available to make planning and list making simple.
This is a fantastic free app that allows you to quickly comparison shop in your local area. Search and compare prices, find unadvertised sales and even coupons. Some users report saving up to 60% on their bill. The Basket App community is a group of savvy shoppers who share the best prices to help everyone save time and avoid shopping blind. Learn More
Unadvertised Sales & Discounts
Most stores have unadvertised sales. I know when my local stores mark down meats and I also keep an eye on their clearance items. I plan my meals around what I can purchase inexpensively rather than letting my menu always dictate my purchases. For example, if I find a great deal on a roast, I’ll purchase that item and then plan one my
following week’s meals around that purchase. There’s room for some flexibility.
Most people think Summer when it comes to fresh produce, but there are many fall and winter fruits and vegetables with a long shelf-life including apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and onions. Once Halloween is over, pumpkins are inexpensive.
Purchase, cook and freeze them for future use in stews, pies and other recipes. Onions also freeze well. Buy the large bags on sale, then chop and freeze in small bags. Drop a bag from your freezer into your favorite dish as it cooks. You won’t notice any difference.
In November, Aldi carries 3-pound bags of onions for well under a dollar, enough to chop, freeze and use for months. Many veggies can be quickly blanched and frozen for 12 – 18 months. Frozen vegetables retain their nutrition and are superior in quality and flavor to canned vegetables.
Visit your local orchard near the end of the growing season or purchase large bags of apples in bulk. Cook and freeze or can applesauce, apple butter and pie filling for the winter ahead. Bonus, homemade apple butter makes a fantastic holiday gift!
Purchase extra during the holiday season. Top grocery chains incentivize shoppers to use their stores by offering prime deals on turkey and ham with the hopes that you’ll do all of your shopping there.
November and December are excellent for finding pork and poultry, but your best bet for beef is January. This is a great time to ask your local butcher about bulk deals on ground beef and steak. Stock up before the high demand of the Spring and Summer barbecue season.
Meats that are properly frozen can be used for up to a year.
Loss leaders are the deeply discounted sale items grocers use to entice shoppers into their store. Check your stores weekly fliers and take advantage of these deals whenever they are products you normally use, but avoid picking up questionable items merely because they are on sale. These items are where coupons can also come in handy.
Judicious Use of Coupons
Coupons can encourage bad spending habits when not used wisely, but with proper planning and restraint they can also lower your bill. Coupons are best used in conjunction with in-store specials. Avoid using coupons on items you don’t need and don’t normally use.
Also, be sure that the couponed price of an item is the lowest possible price. 50 cents off a bottle of name brand juice may still end up being more expensive than the regular price for a store brand.
The Myth of Buying Bulk Foods
Bigger isn’t always better. The large membership warehouses do their best to lead consumers to believe that buying in bulk is always the best way to save money, but that isn’t always true. Bulk prices can bring savings, but if you purchase more than you can use, it’s not a real value.
It’s also important to note that larger packages aren’t always the least expensive. Always check prices on small vs large containers. Every shelf tag has the “per ounce” price, when in doubt, refer to that.
If you do a lot of baking during the holidays, club stores offer some of the best prices for bulk flour, yeast, vanilla, sugar, nuts and eggs.
Bulk Cooking and Freezing
Once a month cooking or batch cooking saves time and money. Chilly days are great for this and I partner up with my mom and a friend. We purchase ingredients, spend a full day cooking and then we all take home a large stock of freezer meals once a month. Working together saves time and money and it’s also a lot of fun.
A well-stocked freezer ensures less money wasted on eating out during those holiday rushes. Stews, roasts and casseroles all freeze well. When you need a quick meal, pull out the crockpot and set it on low. Open the meal pack, dump it in and let it heat up during the day while you work. You’ll come home to a hot, aromatic wholesome meal that’s ready to serve as soon as you step in the door.
Holidays and food waste are a common problem. Have you ever noticed after a large holiday meal you have some dishes with a lot of leftovers and others that are completely gone? Take note of this and adjust your menu for subsequent years. If 2/3 of your guests hate cranberries, there’s no need to make so many.
Also, have plans for your leftovers. For example, use the carcass from your Thanksgiving turkey to prepare homemade broth. Once most of the meat has been picked clean from the
bones, simmer them in water for several hours. Remove, then add your favorite vegetables, cook until tender and freeze. Blend it up to use in place of broth or use it as a soup base.
Every year, I create several bags of this broth/soup starter – stretching my Turkey dollars much further.
With some good planning and the right tools, the holiday season doesn’t have to break your grocery budget.