Need a foolproof way to cut your food/grocery expenses by 25 percent this month? Announce to your family that there will be a complete ban on the consumption of food during the first week of every month. There. That should do it! Twenty-five percent right off the top.
What?! Don't think you can pull that off? Me either, but not to worry. Here are some less painful — and, I hope, more realistic — ways to chop the high cost of food.
Create your shopping list at home when you are hungry. You will be more creative and thorough.
But never shop when hungry. You will be compelled to buy everything in sight regardless of what's on your list.
Leave the kids at home. You will stick to your shopping list with much less frustration and stress if you fly solo.
Don't shop at convenience or specialty stores. You won't find many bargains there.
Groceries online. Online grocery shopping is the latest and greatest for many (me!). It keeps me out of the supermarket, where even with a list, I'm an impulsive disaster just waiting to happen. I shop at King Soopers (part of the Kroger Family of stores) and pay a flat fee of $4.95 per order for its ClickList service. Online grocery orders with free same-day store pickup are now available at hundreds of Walmart stores nationwide. Walmart does not charge a pickup fee but has a minimum order requirement of $30.
Stretch fruit juice. Make a 50-50 mix of generic brand club soda or seltzer. If the juice is concentrated, always add 1 can of water more than instructions state. You will be pleasantly surprised when you detect little difference, if any.
Drink water. Your doctor will love you, and so will your food bill. Keep a pitcher of chilled water in the fridge. Rave about its wonderful qualities to your young children. They'll think it's a treat if you are convincing enough.
Eliminate choices at meals. Stick to your plan and let your family know that from now on there will be only two choices: take it or leave it.
Learn to make homemade snacks. Popcorn is easy to make and usually inexpensive if you buy the kernels and pop it yourself from scratch.
Buy in bulk. This will cut down your trips to the grocery store and often save as much as 50 percent of the unit cost. Reorganize your kitchen and pantry. Find places outside of the kitchen to store dry and canned goods. Repackage large amounts into small quantities.
Consider generic and store brands. Some generic items are awful, and others are exactly the same product as the name brand. Do some experimenting, especially if your store offers satisfaction guaranteed! If you don't like it, get a refund or exchange it.
Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. This is where you will typically find the produce, meat and dairy. The center aisles are the prepackaged and processed high-priced items, a.k.a. the danger zone.
Keep a price book. Start keeping a notebook that lists the prices of regularly purchased items at various stores. Keep it with you so that as you see specials or ads you'll be able to determine whether they are really a bargain or not.
Shop midweek. According to studies, on Wednesdays, most supermarkets reduce prices on food that is about to expire. This is also the day that the majority of stores start their new sales.
Shop the sales. Check grocery ads for specials, and then base your week's meals on what is on sale. The closer you can stick to buying only what's on sale, the more you'll cut your costs.
Weigh all produce, even if it is priced per item. You won't believe the difference in weight of the prebagged carrots, for instance. Even with a weight printed on the bag, the real weight may be quite different (and it can be, provided it is not less than printed). Heads of lettuce priced individually can differ in weight by as much as half a pound.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.