The other day when I did our weekly grocery shopping, I almost laughed when the self-checkout device asked, “Would you like cash back?”
Who has any cash left?
It seems like every week food prices climb higher. Because of rising costs, there are numerous items I either no longer buy or see as a special treat when I do.
Just about everybody I know has felt the sting of our current economic circumstances and we’re all looking for ways to cut the family budget. Cutting costs when it comes to your food budget is the fastest way to see savings.
The biggest tip I have for readers is to take a few minutes each week and do a little menu planning.
People say, “I don’t have time for that.” My question is, “What is your favorite television show?” Chances are you watch at least an hour of TV a week — probably all of us watch much more than that.
I do my weekly menu planning on Sunday afternoon or evening, when I’m watching one of my favorite TV shows. I always have my calendar handy, since depending on what we have going on in the evenings, I plan my menu accordingly.
For example, if you know there is soccer practice one night or are working late, that may be a good night for a slow cooker meal. Yes, you may have to get up a little earlier that morning to get everything into the slow cooker. But imagine your peace of mind knowing dinner is taken care of and there won’t be any pizza ordered or a fast food dinner.
On a night when you have more time or perhaps on the weekend, maybe you can roast a chicken and save the leftovers for a simple casserole for another busy weeknight.
Menu planning also lets you take advantage of another major money saver: using what you have. Before you plan your menu, do a quick survey of what’s in your freezer, refrigerator and pantry.
And take a peek in your vegetable crisper. How many times have you thrown out produce that has gone bad? That is like ripping up dollar bills, something none of us can imagine doing. Jot down what you have on hand and incorporate those in your plan before anything else.
If you really want to save money, you can go to several stores to take advantage of the “loss leaders.” These are items that the grocery store marks down and puts on special to get you into the store.
Marketing experts know that once you’re there, you are probably going to buy other items, things that are not necessarily a “good deal.”
If you have the time, shopping at several grocery stores to take advantage of sales is a smart strategy.
However, most of us are just too busy to do this, so if that describes you, just remember to check out your store’s weekly flyer while you are doing your menu planning.
If pork shoulder is on sale, plan on cooking that in the slow cooker for one night. The first night you can shred what you need and serve on a bun with barbecue sauce and coleslaw. Refrigerate the rest for a meal a few nights later and use the shredded meat to make tacos or sloppy joes.
If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned coupons, it isn’t because I don’t believe in them. I actually have several friends who are “extreme couponers,” and their success is nothing short of amazing.
I have tried to be a good couponer over the years, but for me, I probably only manage to save a few dollars here and there. My observation is that if you truly want to save the serious bucks with coupons, you have to devote a substantial amount of time clipping, printing and planning.
The 15 minutes I spend menu planning is about all of the time I have. I may spend another 10 minutes clipping the coupons in this week’s paper. All too often they expire before I use them, or the generic item beats the coupon price.
The serious couponers I know really enjoy the process. And to them I say, good for you and I wish I had that gene.
Once you complete your menu plan for the week, make your grocery list and strategize to do your shopping when you aren’t hungry and when you are alone or have a plan to keep the kids occupied and happy. Most importantly, stick to your list.
Please let me know if you have other strategies for saving money when it comes to your food budget.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.