How to Save Money on Food

Food choices are an easy way to save money. With housing or some of the other basics, you can't switch to 'bulk' or 'no-name' but with food you've got lots of flexibility. So don't assume that cutting on your food costs will mean living on macaroni… you've got great options here.

 

Food Banks and Co-op Kitchens
 

A food bank collects donated grocery items and gives them to people in need, usually on a weekly or monthly schedule.

A co-op kitchen lets you bring in your own food to cook meals in large quantities. Some people swap meals with others and some just freeze extra batches of their meals, perhaps using the co-op kitchen freezer. Both of these services will cut your food costs.

If you're out of school now, you can probably locate a food bank, co-op kitchen or other service to help you if you're financially stretched. See Who To Contact for Help if you can't.

If you're still studying, see if your campus has food banks or other services, such as a co-op kitchen. If it doesn't, use off-campus services. Your student association, campus financial aid or campus counselling service should help you locate these services if you ask them.

Find your store

Ignore point promotions and other 'deals.' You're better off shopping at the cheapest store. But which one is that? The cheapest store for someone else may not be the cheapest store for you because you may buy different kinds of food.

Here's how to find the best store for you:

  • Make a list of the 10 or 15 items you buy most often. More is better, in case a fluke sale knocks your results out of whack.
  • Take your list to the stores you'd prefer to shop at (big selection, handy, whatever). Now price each item and add it up.
  • Once you've done each of these stores, you can see which one is cheaper for what you like to buy.

Bargain Outlets

Some weekend when you have a little free time, go to outlet or other thrifty food stores you can't normally visit. Just make sure your savings are worth the time and cost (gas or bus-fare). If you find out they aren't then drop this option for now.

Joint Venture

Team up with your family, friends or neighbours to make bargain outlet trips, and maybe split the giant-sized items that cost less.

Go Generic

Try out 'no-name' aka 'generic' or 'store' brands. Sometimes the quality is low enough that they're not worth buying over a brand-name item on sale. But sometimes these non-advertised brands are as good or better than the advertised brands.

So try them out and when you find a winner, that's one more item on your grocery list that saves you money at no loss to you.

Eat First

Eat before you shop for food or you could end up over-buying. If you're busy and miss that step, just nibble something at the start of your shopping.

The store doesn't care if you crack a cookie out of the box, as long as you check it in at the counter.

Bulk Buy

This means non-packaged stuff like flour and coconut, not gigantic boxes of cereal that may go stale by the time you get to the end. Bulk food never has to go stale because you can buy the exact amount you need. And it's usually cheaper than packaged items, unless the packaged items are on a really good sale.

Test the prices yourself. Bulk is usually sold by 100 gram amounts, so a kilogram is 1,000 grams, which works out to a little over two pounds.

Let's say a 500-gram package costs $2 and 100 grams of the same stuff in bulk costs 20 cents. In this case, bulk is half the price. Here's how that works: Multiply 100 grams by 5 and you have 500 grams. Multiply the 100-gram price (20 cents) by the same number (5) and you get $1. That's half of the $2 price on that package.

Of course, you don't need to go around doing math every time you shop. You'll pretty quickly know what the good deals are and when you're looking at something new, you'll be used to making a good-enough estimate.

Sales

When there's a great sale on something you like, buy extra as long as it's not likely to go stale before you use it.

Just don't let sales control what you're buying. When something's on sale that you're not really into, buying a lot will likely mean it ends up being old before you can use it all up. And then it gets thrown out.

Use a Freezer

If you can get a freezer (even a small apartment freezer), you can stash the good deals here.

Freezers have an electricity cost too, but if you really do use them to store good deals or food you're cooked from scratch, they're a good investment.

Coupons? Maybe…

Some people like these. They can take time you may not have, though. And you have to have a system so you remember to use them before the date expires.

Go ahead and use them if they're for something you want anyway and you don't have to go out of your way. No point in driving somewhere to save a quarter.

From Scratch

Make your own soups and stews from scratch. It's way cheaper and tastes exactly the way you like it.

It takes time to make in the first place, but you can get some quick meals from it later if you label and freeze each batch in yogurt or cottage cheese containers. That gives you some variety, too.

Compare Unit Prices

Sometimes you see one or two things on sale next to something else and you can't tell which is really the best deal because they're in different-sized packages.

Just look at the store shelf label for the 'unit price,' which is usually below or next to the price of the item. Comparing unit prices will instantly show you which package is cheapest. Often, it's the biggest package, but sometimes you'll be surprised.

If your store doesn't show unit pricing, consider shopping elsewhere – and tell the store manager how you feel.

Bonus

As a bonus, here's the #1 easy thing that will save you money:

Skip the bottled water.

Some people drop $50 a month on bottled water, which is $600 a year. Way to go, if you're rich and want to cut down on your money.

Some people drop $50 a month on bottled water, which is $600 a year. Way to go, if you're rich and want to cut down on your money.

Glass or metal may be safer than using plastic water bottles. Just wash it when you're washing dishes and buy a new one once in awhile. You'll still be saving a lot.