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Today’s episode of Just Sayin’ is one of a four part series on price checking before we buy. I’ll be sharing the various ways we can cut costs and get the best bang for our bucks. Today I’ll be discussing how to be more savvy about spending on groceries.
As everything seems to be getting more expensive these days and often incomes aren’t inflating at the same lightning speed, particularly here in Toronto, Canada, I like to do my homework before making purchases. No matter if it’s groceries, clothing, services or what we need to maintain our websites, it’s a good idea to do our price checking before making a purchase.
In the next three parts I’ll be covering topics on price checking for purchasing website apps, rebates for past purchases in department stores and budget book promotion, but today I’ll start with grocery shopping.
With the escalation of food prices in the past few years, many items such as produce and meat have almost become luxury items. I’m not even going to pretend to figure out why Ontario grown produce often costs more than imports from the U.S. and Mexico, but I’ve learned to work around what often seems fluctuating prices similar to the stockmarket.
From one week to the next it’s not uncommon to see a head of cauliflower or a bunch of asparagus go from $2.99 to $6.99. And those are just a few items to mention. Certainly when the checkout bill is tallied, our grocery bills are exceedingly high and there are only two of us in this household. I shudder to think of the bills for those with children. No doubt these exorbitant prices often lead people to buying some unhealthier, cheaper alternatives. But as I am not a junk food junkie I made it my business to find some workarounds.
Here’s what I do to keep eating healthy while keeping costs down
First, it’s a good idea to shop for groceries where they offer a rewards program or a points card. I downloaded the app to my favorite supermarket and signed in with my reward card number. Every week I’m sent specials of the week, bonus points I’ll receive for purchasing those items (items offered to me are based on my prior shopping expenditures.) These points add up quickly at each shopping venture after swiping my points card. There are rebate levels for accumulated points that I can cash in when I reach which takes money off my bill. This usually works out to anywhere from $20 to $40 every two weeks deducted off my purchase.
Prepare a shopping list before going so I can visually see what items I need on my list. I keep my eyes open for sale items, particularly on items I use regularly but may not need that particular day. If it’s a great deal, you bet I’m stocking up. For example, I may not need another brick of cheese that week but it’s vacuum packed and usually $8.00 and often goes on sale for $5.99, I’ll grab one. On the same note, toilet paper is an ongoing necessity for all of us and when it goes from $12.99 to $3.99 with a usual limit per customer, I buy the max.
Beef has definitely become a luxury item these past few years. Rarely a good steak for less than $15 can be found. Pot roast used to be a cheaper roast but has also become more expensive, albeit, not the same price as prime rib. It’s a great roast to put in the crockpot and slow cook Thankfully I’m not a big meat eater. But I do enjoy it once a week. So when I do purchase meat I look for sales of a particular cut for that week or I buy meat which is discounted because it’s almost reached its expiry date. That’s not an issue because it’s going right in the deep freeze before it’s expired and there for me when I get a hankering. I’ve also noticed that since the price of meat has risen dramatically, I’m not alone in shopping alternatives and because many others are jumping over to more chicken and ‘the other white meat’ pork, as well as organ meats. And because of demand those prices have also risen significantly. I know not everyone is fond of liver or chicken livers but my hub and me are. Even they have doubled in price now but still considerably cheaper than meat.
Produce shopping has become a strategic operation for me when seeing the volatile pricing every week, so I created a workaround for that too. My blood pressure rises sometimes when I see some ridiculous prices of fruits and vegetables. It makes me wonder how much food goes to waste when consumers who are as budget conscious as I am also take a pass on the over-priced items. So drastic measures for leaner times is my policy. I don’t have to succumb to unhealthy eating with rising costs, I just had to become a little more creative about seeking out alternatives. Buy frozen. Frozen produce is the next best thing to fresh. You can steam, saute or roast them just as well as fresh. The winter is particularly expensive here for many fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ll buy what I need if reasonably priced and leave the rest for another day when the price drops. Often I’ll find while one fruit or vegetable is priced dearly another is fairly reasonable and I’ll substitute with the reasonable. These are good times to try out new things we may not normally eat and I can look up a new recipe to incorporate the vegetable in a meal or switch to a different fruit for a period of time.
I can’t help but wonder if everyone would stop buying over-priced food if stores would get the hint with all the waste and consider lowering prices or if all the wastage would fall back on us consumers for the store’s losses causing more increases in pricing. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation.
Cost Cutting Tips and Recap
Meat – Buy on sale, almost, expired, or cheaper cuts you can use in stew or crockpots. Flank steak marinated overnight then cut into cubes make for tender and delicious kabobs you can skewer adding cut up pieces of onions, peppers or whatever you like to add. This is a handy meal for company. Just put them on the BBQ and you have a low cost and tasty meat dish to serve guests. I mentioned a pot roast above in a crockpot. This is an easy meal where you can toss in some vegetables of choice then place your seasoned roast atop the vegetables, cover and slow cook for 6 -12 hours on hi or lo. This can be done in the morning before going on with your day and there will be a meal ready to eat for dinner. The beauty of a crockpot is it tenderizes while slow cooking, thus cheaper cuts of meat are perfect for cooking and coming out juicy and tender.
Chicken has also gone up in price along with everything else, but is still not as dear yet as beef. To cut costs on chicken you can buy it with skin on and bone in which is less labor intensive before packing so the savings are passed on to the consumer. There are also many recipes available online to cook chicken many ways, including again, in the crockpot.
Produce Shop alternative fruits and vegetables at reasonable or sale prices while the ones you prefer are at higher cost. Most vegetables can also be washed and cut up then put in the freezer to use for soups and stews. So if you find vegetables on sale but don’t think you can use them up before they wilt, consider freezing. Besides frozen vegetables, frozen fruits are a good alternative to maintain daily fruit intake. A great way to use them is to make a smoothie by adding fruit of choice, milk of choice and anything else you may like to add such as a protein powder to make it a complete meal replacement.
Weekly Sales and Rewards Cards
Keep check on flyers from your local grocers to learn about weekly deals. Make sure to get yourselves a rewards card for all the stores you frequent. You’d be surprised how much you can save through the year and the perks you can obtain as rewards for being a loyal customer. If you sign up for email alerts from your favorite stores you’ll get advanced warning of specials and deals.
Here are just a few more of my many loyalty cards I have and the benefits they offer:
Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacy – Offers 10 – 20 times the point value of items purchased, sending out emails daily to download. Each level you reach gives free shopping valued at your points level. $30, $60, $85 and $170 of free goods spent if you let them accumulate to each level. Personally, I like to let them add up and once a year I’m able to purchase a free bottle of expensive perfume with my points.
Second Cup Coffee – Offers generous points for anything purchased from coffees to merchandise. This happens to be my favorite coffee house in Canada and every few lattes I get a free one. They also have half price days for members and holiday specials.
Sephora – Ok, I’ll admit I love my beauty products and with a Sephora rewards card depending on annual spend you work yourself up to different perk levels and earned points. Points allow you to purchase their special sample sized products with them – specials often change monthly. I like to save my points for when some of my favorite products become available in sample size, like face cream, and grab 4 or 5 of them to keep for travel. They also give members a free sample pack gift on your birthday. And twice a year they’ll run a 20% off promo for members and that’s when I usually go to shop and replenish my stock piles. They also run various promos throughout the year to earn extra bonus points.
I’ll be talking more about department store discounts next week so stay tuned!
Feel free to share some of your savvy shopping tips here in comments.