Managing what you spend on food is like deciding what you’ll spend on any other category in a budget, with the exception that you need food every day all year long. It isn’t possible to defer spending on food until some later date when you feel a little more flush, as you can do with, say, clothing.
By making decisions about what you value, what you can do with less of, what you can live without, though, it’s possible reduce the amount spent on food.
I am particular about how I do this, as I view good food as an important tool in living a healthy life and essential for having a good quality of life. What’s up for interpretation is what constitutes good food.
Here are tips that I have collected, some of which I use, and others that I don’t. There is no one best way to manage food expenditures.
Use what you have. Check what’s in the freezer and cupboards, and especially the fridge, before shopping. It is a shame to buy good food and allow it to go bad, but it can happen if you forget about the bag of spinach and piece of cucumber in the crisper or the piece of roast chicken carefully wrapped in foil and hidden behind the yogurt. I have done it more often than I care to admit.
This is where planning your meals comes in. It is the best way to take control of grocery spending. Take a look at what’s on hand, refer to flyers for weekly specials at the store, and make a plan for the week or two weeks, if you shop at two-week intervals. Use paper and pen or do it electronically.
The best way is to include all meals, but if that’s overwhelming or if it’s unnecessary because breakfast is predictable (cereal, fruit and coffee every morning), then planning the big meal for each day is good.
Incorporate anything perishable in the fridge early, and consider things like any winter vegetables you have stored in the basement, your schedule, your tastes, and what you can afford. There are cookbooks, such as Cinda Chavich’s “The Waste Not Want Not Cook Book” (Touchwood Editions, 2015) with suggestions that will help if you have lots of a particular food to use, old standards such as the “More-With-Less Cookbook, 25th Anniversary Edition” (Doris Janzen Longacre, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 2000), and less conventional newer offering such as Emily Wight’s “Well Fed, Flat Broke” (Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2015) that offer ideas and inspiration. It’s useful to have recipes for economical dishes like lentil soup, pasta, and egg-based main courses at your fingertips.
The menu plan is the basis for a grocery list, and sticking to the list is a good way to avoid buying unneeded items on impulse.
There are several ways to inform yourself about special prices for groceries. You can refer to flyers, either paper or electronic and plan your meals around items that are on sale. You can use a smartphone app that will identify the best price in local stores for a food on your list.
You can, as my friend reminded me, stock up on canned foods that you use (I do this with canned tomatoes, for example), and foods with a long best-before window, such as cheese, when they are on sale. Stocking up is only possible, however, if you have the cash flow to spend a little extra now for food that you won’t use immediately, and it’s only useful if you have space to store the extras and if it is something you will actually use.
My observant friend pointed out, also, that the regular price for particular items such as canned cream soups and milk are always lower at certain stores.
It’s time for me to put more effort into saving money on food by planning economical meals, using what I already have, watching food costs, and buying only what I need and can use. More on this next week.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com