Guide to Grocery Shopping on a Budget + DIY Food Waste Log
May 26, 2020
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If you’ve ever grocery shopped while hungry, you know how quickly your bill can climb. Even routine grocery trips can cost quite a bit.
Households in the U.S. spent an average of $378 per month on groceries between June 2018 and June 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, there are a number of unique ways to shave off several dollars from the monthly bill. Skip to those tips for grocery shopping on a budget.
You can also cut down on costs by not throwing away as much food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30–40% of the U.S. food supply winds up in the trash.
That’s money thrown away. In some cases, households can save as much as $1,500 per year just by reducing their food waste, according to the USDA. That’s in addition to the numerous environmental and community benefits of slashing the amount of waste.
How to Save Money While Grocery Shopping
From when you should shop to what you should buy, there’s a certain science to grocery shopping on a budget. Know these tips before you head out.
Stock Up on Wednesdays: Wednesday is the best time to grocery shop because it’s when many stores’ new weekly deals take effect. At the same time, deals from the previous week are usually still in effect throughout the day, according to reporting from Business Insider.
Avoid the Ends of Aisles: As in real estate, location matters within grocery stores. Food manufacturers pay a premium to have their products placed at the ends of aisles since those are the areas that naturally draw most shoppers, according to the University of Southern California (USC). Additionally, stores place more expensive products at eye-level. To avoid making impulse purchases based on strategic product placements, look for products above and below eye-level and away from the ends of aisles.
Look Into Rain Checks: Yes, they exist, even though many shoppers have never used them. If there’s a sale, but a product is out of stock, ask for a rain check. Rain checks act as future coupons to be used when products are back in stock.
Get Lucky with Pre-Bagged Produce: According to Consumer Reports, you can sometimes save more money with pre-bagged produce than with produce you have to weigh and bag yourself. That’s because the produce in a pre-bagged pack sometimes weighs more than what the package says (for example, 3.3 pounds of potatoes in a 3-pound package).
But Beware of Pre-Cut Produce: According to the Kitchn, pre-cut fruit and bagged lettuce, though convenient, are some of the worst deals offered in the produce section. On the other hand, pre-sliced mushrooms can be an excellent deal.
Shop Online to Reduce Impulse Buys: Research shows that shoppers plan for about $11 in impulse buys every trip, according to USC. If you shop online, instead of walking the aisles of a store, you’re probably less likely to purchase items that you don’t need. However, it’s also important to note that online grocery shopping often comes with additional fees.
Don’t Forget Convenience Stores: Drugstores, convenience stores and gas station markets can sometimes offer lower prices on milk and eggs than traditional grocery stores, according to Consumer Reports. However, make sure to check that these products are still fresh.
Best Seasons for Grocery Savings
Meats, fruits and vegetables are the most expensive items in Americans’ shopping carts, according to BLS data. Households in the U.S. spent almost $1,000 on meats and almost $900 on fruits and vegetables between June 2018 and June 2019.
Experimenting with meatless Mondays or substituting high-protein foods for meat every so often can go a long way toward reducing costs.
Meanwhile, it’s important to buy fruits and vegetables in season when they’re cheap and store them in your freezer until you eat them. Here’s are some fruits and vegetables that are unique to specific seasons and, therefore, the least expensive during those times, according to the USDA:
- Spring: Asparagus, rhubarb
- Summer: Bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, honeydew melon, lima beans, okra, peaches, plums, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, watermelon, zucchini
- Fall: Cauliflower, cranberries, ginger, grapes
- Winter: Grapefruit, leeks, oranges
How Reducing Food Waste Saves Money
In addition to saving money while shopping, you can also cut costs significantly by reducing how much food you throw away.
The average household wastes about 32% of the food it buys, according to research in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. The USDA estimates that households could save about $370 per person per year by reducing their waste. For a family of four, that works out to about $1,500 saved per year.
On top of those savings, certain waste companies charge you less if you separate your food waste from other trash and send food scraps to a compost facility instead of to a landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Food waste is the most common material in municipal landfills, and when it decomposes, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. In 2017, landfills accounted for about 14% of human-related methane emissions in the U.S, according to the EPA.
Keeping food out of landfills reduces methane emissions and also ensures that the land, water, labor and other factors that went into producing it are not wasted.
Here are some ways that you can reduce the amount of food you waste at home.
Food Preservation Printable
Reducing food waste begins with buying only as much as you need. That means you shouldn’t wander aimlessly around a grocery store without a list of items in mind.
Additionally, you should purchase fresh fruits and vegetables strategically. Strawberries and avocados tend to ripen fairly quickly, but there are plenty of other options that last longer, according to the Kitchn, like apples, cabbage, carrots and winter squash.
Here are some helpful tips to make several common foods last longer.
- Asparagus: Store it upright in an inch or two of water in the refrigerator
- Bananas: Wrap the crown of the bunch tightly in plastic wrap to slow down the ripening.
- Berries: Rinse them in a mild vinegar solution before storing.
- Bread: Store it at room-temperature in an airtight container.
- Brown Sugar: Soften it by storing it with marshmallows or apples.
- Butter: Keep it in its original container or freeze and store it for six months.
- Carrots: Remove the green tops, which suck the moisture from the carrot.
- Celery: Store it in foil, not plastic, to keep it crisper for longer.
- Cheese: Wrap it in a breathable material like parchment paper, not foil or plastic wrap.
- Eggs: Keep them in their carton and store them in the back of the refrigerator.
- Flour: Freeze it for 48 hours to kill insects and transfer it to an airtight container.
- Grapes: Leave them on the stem to prevent mold and bacteria growth.
- Green Onions: Place their ends in water and watch the tops continue to grow.
- Herbs: Wrap them in damp paper towels and seal them in a plastic bag.
- Lettuce: Store it with paper towels to absorb moisture.
- Milk: Keep it in its original container and store it at the back of the refrigerator.
- Pineapples: Cut off the top and store it in the refrigerator upside down.
- Potatoes: Prevent sprouts by placing an apple in your potato bag.
- Sour Cream: Turn it upside down in the refrigerator to create a vacuum in the container.
- Squash: Coat it in a layer of olive oil and store it at room temperature.
- Tomatoes: Store them at room temperature (above 55°F) to avoid flavor loss.
Download the food preservation printables and attach them to your refrigerator, the inside of your pantry or your kitchen island.
Give It a Second Date! Food Printables
Food manufacturers print “best if used by,” “sell by,” “freeze by” and similar dates on food to let you know when food is likely to be the freshest. With the exception of infant formula, these expiration dates are simply guidelines, not federal requirements, according to the USDA.
In other words, food could be safe to eat after the listed expiration date. People typically throw away food after the expiration date has passed, even though the food’s still okay to eat.
Here are some examples of common foods that you may be able to eat past the expiration date, according to the Food Network:
- Applesauce: 18 months past listed date
- Bread: 2 weeks past listed date
- Cake Mix: 4–5 months past listed date
- Canned Goods: Up to 4 years past listed date
- Cereal: Up to 6 months past listed date
- Chocolate: Up to 8 months past listed date
- Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: 8–10 months past listed date
- Hard Cheese: 1 month past listed date
- Ketchup and Mustard: 6 months–1 year past listed date (in refrigerator)
- Milk: Up to 5 days past listed date
- Pasta: 1–2 years past listed date
- Peanut Butter: Up to 8 months past listed date (in refrigerator)
- Pickled Vegetables: 1–2 years past listed date
- Pudding: 3–4 weeks past listed date
- Yogurt: Up to 3 weeks past listed date
Download the Give It a Second Date printables to remind yourself that expiration dates can be stretched.
DIY Food Waste Log Printables
No matter how hard you try, you’ll likely throw away some food. Even the least wasteful households in America throw away about 9% of the food they buy, according to research in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.
You should track how much food you take in, how much you throw away and how much the discarded food costs to keep yourself accountable.
The cost of groceries can really add up, but it’s easy to save money both by shopping smart and knowing how to make your food last longer. For more grocery savings, check out these Target coupons. Or, if you’d like to invest in new food containers, check out these Container Store coupons.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics | U.S. Department of Agriculture | Business Insider | University of Southern California | Consumer Reports | The Kitchn | TODAY | U.S. Department of Agriculture | American Journal of Agricultural Economics | Environmental Protection Agency | The Kitchn | Taste of Home | The Daily Meal | One Good Thing | USDA | Food Network
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