It can be easy to blow the food budget and come up short on nutrition, but these tips can help shoppers keep both in check.
We’ve all had those weeks where the checkbook balance is low and the wallet is full of dust instead of dollars. There are the times that cheaper processed foods seem to call out to shoppers, fooling them with the illusion of getting a bigger bang for the buck. Nutrition does not have to suffer for the sake of savings. Smart shopping and menu planning can make a $20 week taste like so much more.
Smart shopping is key to making a frugal food budget work, and a stocked pantry is vital. Setting up the pantry need not be difficult or expensive. Basics such as rice, grits, pasta, canned beans, flour, sugar, and select condiments can be mixed, matched, and combined into countless meals. When these items are on sale and funds are available, stock up. If the wallet is screaming for mercy, then purchase pantry staples one at a time. For example, pick up a five pound bag of rice instead of one or two pounds. The one time purchase could last at least a month.
Coupons can help stretch a dollar and then some. Combining them with store specials and customer loyalty cards are like finding free money. In Charleston, both Publix and Bi-Lo accept competitor coupons. Publix considers Bi-Lo, Food Lion, Whole Foods Market, and Target competitors, and offers a different item for a penny every Wednesday with coupon. Some couponing blogs post the mystery item, but a call to customer service will provide the most accurate information.
Bi-Lo does not offer penny items, but does offer e-coupons. Shoppers must have a Bi-Lo BonusCard to use their e-coupons, and could also earn discounts on gas. Harris Teeter has a customer loyalty program, the VIC Card, and offers e-VIC card holder additional savings every week. In addition, Harris Teeter doubles and occasionally triples coupons. Piggly Wiggly and Food Lion also have customer loyalty cards that help boost savings, and The Pig just started doubling coupons.
To help save time on coupon cutting and sales paper viewing, check out one of the coupon matching websites or blogs. A good one for Charleston-area shoppers is Southern Savers. Not only are sales specials posted every week, the site lists the available coupons for each sale item, including links to printable coupons, the date and name of the flier clippable coupons can be found in, and what the final item cost will be when coupons are used.
Becoming a vendor or retailer’s fan on Facebook and following their tweets may lead to savings. So can subscribing to newsletters. Earth Fare sends out freebie coupons weekly. Some coupons require a $5 purchase, but most of the time the free item has close to that $5 value. Sometimes specials can be posted on Twitter and Facebook.
For savings on fresh produce, check out the farmer’s markets and farm stands. While these options may not be available in cooler months, Charleston shoppers can find savings in The Vegetable Bin and ethnic stores all year round. The Vegetable Bin on East Bay Street stocks a variety of in-season produce at farm stand prices. Local jams, jellies, relishes, and baked goods can be found on store shelves as well. $10 can go a long way here. Daikon is notoriously expensive, but at an Asian market, a 3 pound radish may cost as little as $2. Carrots, greens, potatoes, melon, yams, peppers, mushrooms, sprouts, and greens can be found at similarly low prices.
Some blogs and books provide excellent advice on low cost vegetarian menu planning. Donna Klein’s Supermarket Vegan is a good choice for veggies who want to avoid natural food stores. Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap is full of frugal menu ideas and recipes anyone can prepare. Eat Vegan on $4 a Day is one of the newest frugal veggie guides on the market, and the Melomeals blog and Facebook page shows how to eat healthy vegan meals on just $3.33 a day. Many of these are available at Charleston-area bookstores, Amazon.com, and the Charleston County Library.
Keeping costs in check does not have to be boring. Explore the options, look though the sales circulars and the pantry, hit the stores, and start cooking.