By Peggy Jo Goodfellow, Arizona Farm Bureau: For those of you that have not heard the expression… “on a shoestring,” it means, to do something for very little money.
Once upon a time, I was a single mother raising two active teenage daughters on a very tight paycheck-to-paycheck budget. I remember one time, after paying the house payment, utilities and an unforeseen car repair bill I had exactly $12 left to buy groceries for the week. Scary thought, right? I was able to purchase some of the staples… milk, a variety of produce, dried beans, bread and eggs. Fortunately, we had a few packages of ground beef and chicken in the freezer. We not only survived but we actually had fun planning meals around what food we had.
Arizona Farm Bureau's most important suggestion is sticking to the basics including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Fast forward to present day. Last month while I was shopping the price survey for Arizona Farm Bureau’s quarterly market basket suvey, I realized that it’s still possible to feed a family of four good food on a limited budget. Food prices are higher today than when my kids were growing up, but we are very fortunate to have so many year-round and seasonal food choices.
Just in time for the holidays ahead, here are Arizona Farm Bureau’s 18 money saving tips to help you stretch your food dollars:
- Sort your pantry and organize to clearly know what's available. This should be a regular effort in order to make sure you're using everything you have, not buying unnecessary items and can determine what you really need.
- Create a week-long menu. From the planned menu create your shopping list based on local grocery store circulars you receive in the mail or newspaper.
- When planning your menu, think of ways to maximize the use of leftovers. One example is to stretch your food dollar by using left over roast from Sunday’s dinner as taco filling or BBQ beef sandwiches at dinner another night during the week.
- You've created the list; stick to it. If you can stick to your list, you'll curb impulse spending on items you don't really need.
- Don't shop on an empty stomach. Studies suggest you might spend 10 to 15 percent more on your food bill when you're hungry.
- Don't take the kids grocery shopping. As with an empty stomach, kids can influence your impulse shopping. (When I had only $12 to spend I did not take the kids with me!)
- Stick to the basics. While basic food items like dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem expensive, you're gaining more value per unit and certainly more health benefits. The fewer processed food items you purchase, the more you'll save.
- Regularly survey the weekly grocery store circulars. This will build your knowledge of prices for products you regularly use and give you a sense of which grocery stores tend to have the lowest prices. Take advantage of weekly advertised specials, especially for nonperishable staples.
- Be wary of the coupon trap. Use coupons only for those items you normally buy. Don't let coupons cost you money by buying items you don't really need. A sale has no value to you if it means you're spending beyond your budget. Do take advantage of "ad-matching" since lots of savings can be found here.
- Assess the unit price. This shopping tool lets you compare prices between brands and between sizes. Located on a shelf tag in front of the product, it provides costs in like units for the item. Generally, information is given in cost per ounce, per pound or per count.
- Shop the edges of the store, and if items at the ends of the aisles reflect a super deal buy. As aisle-end items are dramatically marked down, they might be a valuable substitute on your grocery list. But they're budget busters if they become purchased food items you don't use in your food preparation.
- Use grocery store club cards; also compare prices to store brands. Store club cards can generate great savings. Plus, while you might love a certain brand, also compare a popular brand to the store brand for price comparisons and possible savings.
- Peak season is prime time to buy fresh produce. The peak of the harvest for fresh fruits and vegetables offers you the best prices and the best quality. Take advantage of this and buy often. To always know what's in season, go to fillyourplate.org and select the tab "Arizona Produce in Season."
- When not buying fresh, consider buying frozen. Most frozen vegetables are picked fresh, immediately flash frozen, are less expensive and will keep longer.
- Buy in bulk, but don't buy more than you will use. Bigger is not always better. Larger-sized packages usually cost less on a per-unit basis. But it's not a better buy if it's too large to use before it becomes stale or spoiled.
- Move in on "family pack" savings. Meat departments often have a section that offers larger-sized packages at cents-off-per-pound savings. Repackage these larger sizes into smaller quantities at home and freeze.
- Be flexible at the meat and produce counters. This is one area to be flexible with your list. This allows you to take advantage of unadvertised "in store" specials and switch from one item to another.
- Use open dating codes, especially on perishables to maximize shelf life at home. Open dating is used on perishable and semi-perishable products to let you know at a glance if the product is fresh. Most stores use a "pull date" - the last day the item is offered for sale. This still allows a few days for using at home. For stores that use a "pack date," especially with meats, inquire how long the product will remain fresh at home.
Even if you have more than $12 left to go food shopping on, your food budget is where you can truly maximize on savings!
Arizona Farm Bureau’s FillYourPlate.org is a great resource for Arizona farmers’ markets, a list of farmers and ranchers that sell direct, recipes and more. Fill Your Plate's blog will give you weekly insights on healhy food, fun food facts and how to cook unique foods. Plus, for more information on agricualture I encourage you to log on to azfb.org. Happy shopping!