It’s important that we save as much money as we can these days. I figure since we all have to eat, an extra-added benefit for grocery shopping would be finding and taking advantage of the best possible deals we can find on our food items. It’s the smart thing to do.
I’m not a fast-food eater or a frequent patron at restaurants. I love to cook my own meals at home. Cooking at home has so many benefits, and for me, the biggest benefits are that I pick exactly what I want to eat when I want to eat it, I know exactly what goes into my food, and I prepare and season it just the way I like it. I can cook a lot and store it for later or cook just a little bit. And I have to have the freshest ingredients.
My mom cooked every day in spite of having a busy teaching career and taking care of me, my siblings and being a wife to my dad. She taught me about grocery shopping, food deals, cooking and baking. My son and my friends are so spoiled by my cooking. I cook every single day and I enjoy it. It’s really healthy and it just makes a lot of sense to me.
I discovered that I don’t have to spend a ton of money on what I like to eat. I’ve found ways of saving money and getting some really good deals on food. Some items are actually free! Here are some ways to save on groceries.
Membership “big box” stores. I pay a nominal fee, $40 to $50 per year to belong to what I call the membership “big box” stores. They have a variety of fresh foods and packaged food items. I belong to Sam’s Club, BJ’s and Costco. These stores also offer other items and discounts on travel services, tires, over the counter medicines, health and beauty items, cleaning supplies, paper goods, clothing and shoes for the whole family, computers and electronics, jewelry, eyeglasses and much more. They have specialty sections, such as a bakery and a cafe, and they have seasonal items too. But I have gotten the biggest bang for my buck in the food section. The prices are way better than in a conventional grocery store. Items move quickly so things generally are fresh.
They do sell in bulk and large sizes so if you don’t need a lot, freeze portions to cook later if the items lend themselves to freezing. Or share with a friend or family member. I buy Honey Nut Cheerios that sells for almost $6 for a 21.6 ounce “Family Size” box in the grocery store, but it sells for $7.49 for two 27.5 ounce boxes in one of the “big box” membership stores, and since they’re bundled together you get two huge boxes for a little more than the price of one in a grocery store. You can’t beat it. They have their own coupon flyers in the front of the store with coupons that you can tear off and use. Milk and orange juice is much less expensive than it is in grocery stores too. Seasonal fresh locally grown produce is also sold at great prices. Another huge benefit is that you can buy gas from their gas stations at a big discount. I just love these places.
Grow a vegetable garden! Even if you have very little green space, you can grow a vegetable garden. Get some pots and plant some tomatoes or peppers. I’ve planted cucumbers, okra, tomatoes and even watermelons in a relatively small garden space and in planter pots. I’ve had planter pots for growing vegetables on apartment/condo balconies. I like to grow flowers with the vegetables too, giving my garden some color and variety. The garden will require some tending and care, but it will be so worth it when you enjoy your beautiful flowers and taste your fresh (and free!) produce.
Community gardens. Expanding on the garden idea, I have to mention community gardening. Neighbors and friends get together and either rent garden plots or find some donated free garden space in the community to plant gardens. My dad always had either a garden in the yard, participated in a community garden or both. When it’s harvest time, pick and dig, taking your share of free and fresh vegetables and fruit. Participants take turns tending the gardens, but it’s well worth the time and effort. I’ve eaten vegetables and fruit out of beautiful community gardens, and sometimes the tall sunflowers and other flowers are planted right along with the vegetables and fruit. Check your local newspaper and online ads for those looking to either start or get participants for a community garden. Or better yet, start one yourself!
Farmer’s markets, roadside produce trucks and stands. I love to go to the farmer’s markets on the weekends. The produce is picked that day and put out on display to sell at the markets. The prices are good and the produce is guaranteed to be fresh. Fresh ingredients make all the difference in the taste of the meals you cook. There are lots of roadside produce stands too, and I love browsing in them and buying. The produce is locally grown and fresh picked just like in the farmer’s markets. I also love the farmers who open the backs of their pickup trucks parked on the side of the road to sell their homegrown produce. There is a local farmer who parks near my neighborhood. He always has a truck bed full of watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydew melons he grew himself. I look for him every summer. Those melons are so delightful! I’m always on the hunt for fresh local corn too. It can’t be beaten for the taste. Look around your local area for farmer’s markets, roadside produce stands and for local farmers selling their own produce from their truck beds.
Church/community organization food banks and food giveaways. My own church has a food bank and has a fresh vegetable program from April-November. All I had to do is sign up for the vegetable program and the program administrators let me know via e-mail when the produce is distributed. It’s totally free of charge. The vegetables vary from week to week, and there are some staple items too such as tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and cucumbers. I’ve had eggplant, squash, snow peas, Swiss chard, collard and turnip greens, bell peppers, onions, and cabbage. They also provide bags for the produce and recipes.
One time last season there was a tasting fair, with cooks making the recipes come to life. We received lots of useful giveaway items and informational brochures on nutrition from local organizations along with our recipes and bags of fresh vegetables. We ate well from every station and we were so full! The dishes were really tasty and so easy to make with all fresh ingredients. Joining a program like this one is a great way to help kids learn to try new foods and start a healthy lifetime love affair with fresh vegetables.
The food banks are for those who are truly in need of food because of economic hardship or other circumstances. It was such a blessing to me when I had been laid off and was unemployed for several months. Individuals and organizations donate food items to the food bank. Our church food bank is open for distribution to anyone on Fridays. It is totally free of charge to receive food. Check locally for food banks in your area. On Freecycle.org free food distribution announcements are posted too. Go onto their website and sign up for your area. Everything is always free of charge.
Discount grocery stores. There are discount grocery stores in my area. One is a German-originated chain called Aldi. It is located all over Europe. They also operate as in the United States as Trader Joe’s. They carry private label brands and they have limited inventory so items turn over quickly. Some items you will like more than others. Some stores also carry wine and beer. They have limited services, and do not accept checks or credit cards (only cash, EBT/Food Stamp cards and debit cards), which helps to keep prices low. Their prices are significantly lower than the national chain grocery stores. If you find items you really like there, you will save a lot of money over what these same items cost in other grocery stores.
Local and national grocery stores with discount cards. All of the large local and national chain grocery stores have free discount cards. You just have to sign up for it. When shopping, you receive a discount at the register on items when the discount card is swiped. Along with clipping coupons, you can get some really great deals. Sometimes the deals are so good the store owes me money at the checkout end! Some offer discounts on gasoline too through a point system. The more you spend, the more points you earn for the discount at the gas pump. The maximum discount at the ones I use is $1 off per gallon. Not too shabby!
Dollar stores. The dollar stores and deep discount stores (Big Lots and others) have great deals on grocery items too. Some dollar stores also have frozen foods. Big Lots has a free discount card that allows you to save even more. For packaged foods, be sure to check the expiration dates.
Get a freezer! To take advantage of some of these great deals, you need a freezer. If you have a place for it, buy one. The freezer in your refrigerator won’t be enough space sometimes to store your fresh items that you need to freeze for later. You can prepare your items, freeze them and cook what you’ve frozen long after the summer has gone. It will save you so much money and time.
Friends, neighbors and family. A lot of times, your friends, neighbors and family members will just offer fresh produce or something out of their freezer when they have too much. A giveaway from an overload of fresh tomatoes or cucumbers from a garden is something I always welcome and gladly accept. I’ve received fresh vegetables and fruit from coworkers who brought it to work to give away. If you find that it’s too much for you after you get it home, you can give it away too! Pay the favor forward!
Last quick tips. Be smart about your shopping, check and shop the sales, and if you’re a coupon clipper continue to do that. Download the grocery store apps on your electronic devices and use them to get even deeper discounts. If you like certain store and private label brands, continue to buy them over more expensive national brands. That’s a tip my mom taught me. You will definitely save a lot of money and you’ll be eating so well in the process too!