Bulletin #4152, Cutting Food Costs

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Mom and kids at a grocery store checkout

Developed by John Rebar; updated by Kate Yerxa, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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Cutting costs may be a necessity for your family. When you look for ways to cut costs, you might put off buying a new car or appliance or taking a vacation. However, one thing you have to buy regardless of the economy is food. With some knowledge and a little practice, you can cut food costs.

Plan Your Meals

Cutting food costs starts with a plan. Plan the meals you intend to prepare before you go shopping. Use this plan to develop a shopping list. Plan for leftovers to stretch your meals and weekly budget. When you go shopping, stick to your list. Avoid tempting displays or advertised bargains, unless they are items you really need and use. If you shop with coupons, be sure the savings will reduce the price below that of other brands. Some name brand items are still more expensive than store brand items even with coupons and sales.

Time Your Shopping

Shop when you have time to compare items and find the best buys. Shopping in a hurry will rush your decisions and prevent you from finding the best buy. Also, avoid the grocery store when you are hungry. Shopping when hungry makes you more likely to buy more than you need or buy impulse items that cause you to spend more money.

If your children are a major distraction, shop alone. If you have no choice but to take the kids along, have them help. Teach them how to shop wisely. It will be a lesson that will last a lifetime.

Advertisers target many items for children. They can have a huge influence on what you buy. Plan ahead for ways children can help when they go with you.

Be Wary of Convenience Foods

With all the demands on families today, it is easy to see why convenience foods are popular. They can save time, but they usually cost more than foods you prepare yourself. A good rule is that the more food is prepared by someone else, the more you pay for it. Additional packaging also adds costs to convenience food.

Convenience food may also be precooked or have seasonings, sauces, or toppings that raise the price. Unfortunately, convenience foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. You can create your own convenience foods by making wise use of leftovers that can be quickly turned into a delicious meal.

Comparison Shop

Compare brands for the best buy. The nutritional difference between brands may be very slight. The best way to comparison shop is to use unit pricing. Most large grocery stores have electronic price scanners, prices may not be marked on individual items. Unit prices are usually listed on the grocery shelf below the food item. They allow you to compare brands and package sizes to find the lowest cost. The unit price stickers might look slightly different among stores, but they offer the same information. They will give you the size of the package, price of the item, unit of measure, and unit price (see below). The unit price is the cost of the item per quart, gallon, pound, ounce, or other unit of measure. By comparing unit prices between brands and sizes you can quickly see which item is the best buy.

Unit pricing allows you to compare brands and package sizes to find the best buy. Even though the 12-oz juice is more expensive, it’s a better buy when you compare unit price per quart.




Cut Costs, Not Nutrients

Cutting food costs is important, but your family also needs a healthy diet. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that we all eat a variety of foods and maintain a healthy weight. Choose a diet that is low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Include plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products in your diet. Use sugar, salt, and sodium in moderation. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. These basic rules can help you make nutrition decisions so that you can eat right and save food dollars.

Some other helpful cost-saving ideas to consider include buying produce that is in season or grown locally. Plan to do your shopping weekly, rather than running to the store each time you run out of something. Plan nutritious snacks. Processed snack foods may contain a good deal of fat. They’re also costly. Having fruits, vegetables, and dairy products available for snacks is nutritious and inexpensive.

Buy what your family will eat. A sale item is no bargain if your family doesn’t like it. Pay close attention to the dates on packages. They will tell you when the foods are freshest or how soon they should be used.

For additional information on eating nutritiously and cutting food costs, contact your UMaine Cooperative Extension county office.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1991, 2007, 2011

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