Food prices are predicted to rise again next year, the economy is tanking, and businesses are looking at layoffs of some employees. With a recession looming, many families are struggling financially, tightening up their budgets and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. That doesn’t have to mean eating low-quality food.
Families can still eat well and buy organic and natural foods, even in a recession, but it takes some new skills. Some of these skills aren’t so obvious, so I put together my top ten tips to help your budget, with a focus on grocery shopping. Even if you only use some of them, I think you’ll see a significant change in your finances.
10 Tips to Recession-Proof Your Grocery Shopping:
- Make a food budget. What? You don’t have a food budget worked out yet? This is probably the very first thing you should do to start coping with a depressed economy. Look at the amount you currently spend on food every month (including eating out). It’s probably really bloated because you’ll pay at least twice as much to eat in a restaurant as you would if you prepared your food at home. Next, decide how much you can realistically spend for food every month. Compare it to the USDA Food Plans to see how your family budget compares – Are you thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, or a liberal spending family?
- Make a shopping plan. Create a list of staple foods that you eat regularly, and use that as the basis for a shopping list to be used each week when you’re at the grocery store. Get feedback from the family on your staple and shopping lists (you may like rice and beans every day, but others? Not so much.) Watch the newspaper and sales flyers for the items you buy, clipping coupons for those products and shopping for the best deals. Don’t clip coupons for “extras”, because you’ll ultimately spend less if you just skip those things instead of buying them “to save money” with a coupon.
- Stick to the plan. Only buy the items on your list. Eat the free samples, by all means, but don’t buy those products unless they fit with your plan. Sampling is a great retail practice, because it sells more product, so don’t get sucked in… Make sure that you aren’t hungry when you go to the store, as you’ll end up buying a bunch of snack foods or pre-made items, which will add to your food bill. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.
- Stay on the outside. Spend most of your time in the store on the outer edges, where most of the “real” food (not prepared) is sold. Center store is full of all the boxes and cans of ready-to-eat products, which cost more and has less nutrition.
- Bulk up. Buy your staple foods in bulk and keep them in your pantry or freezer so they’re always on hand. You’ll pay less per serving when you buy large amounts, and most dry goods will keep for a long time. Call around to see which retailers give you the best deal on bulk purchases. Most co-ops will order 25 or 50 pound bags of grains or beans at significant savings. Pasta usually comes in 10 pound boxes, and granola is available in 25 pound sizes. Even peanut butter (my favorite) comes in bulk, usually a 15 pound tub.
- Tis the season… Pay attention to what foods are in season and purchase those first. If you can go to the farmers market or local farm stand and buy fresh food in season, you’re well on your way to eating smarter.
- Count beans. Make a system for recording your food expenditures and keep your receipts. If you’re going over budget, you can easily see that and cut out those extra items. Buying a couple of impulse items on every shopping trip adds up quickly.
- Eat in. If you must go out to eat, make it a special treat, not a regular habit. By the time you add the cost of the meal, the tip, and the transportation cost, you’ve spent enough money to feed the family for days.
- Scratch is best. Find a couple of good cookbooks at your library and copy recipes for your favorite foods that you buy pre-made. Bread making is almost a lost skill, and is well worth the time invested to learn how. Homemade tortillas are even easier, and making soup is a great way to eat on the cheap.
- Sow seeds. Plan a garden using your family’s favorite foods as the starting point, and add some new and different veggies for variety. If you don’t have room outside, consider a container garden on the porch or windowsill, or grow sprouts on the kitchen counter. No green thumb? Buy a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and get a box of farm-fresh food every week of the growing season.
You don’t have to go broke in order to feed your family wholesome food. Start working your plan now, and before you know it, it’ll be a habit.
Image: AMagill at Flickr under Creative Commons