There are many things you can do to save money on food when you have free time such as baking from scratch, growing your own vegetables or clipping coupons. These ideas work out great for some people, but not everyone has the time or desire to take on such time consuming tasks. Even if you are a busy working parent, there are still a few ways you can keep costs down on your food budget that require a minimal amount of time and effort. Some of my tips are listed below.
1. Stockpile. Buying nonspoilable groceries and other items that are necessities on sale is one of the best investments you can make with your money. If your local grocery store has a buy one, get one free sale, then as long as the original price of the item is not marked up above the going rate, you are making a 100% return on your investment by taking advantage of the sale. For example, if the toothpaste you like normally sells for $2.50 and you buy two tubes for $2.50, then you are making a 100% return on your money, risk free. You usually won't get those kinds of riskless returns in the stock or bond market. So take advantage of those loss leader sales at your local supermarkets when you have the chance and stock up.
The caveat here is that you have to only stockpile necessities that you will use up before they spoil. My worst bargain hunting faux pas was buying a large quantity of biodegradable, disposable pooper scoopers to clean up after our dogs on walks. The scoopers all started to degrade in my closet before I got to use most of them. So if you are going to stockpile, learn from my mistake and don't buy anything you can't use up before the expiration date. Obviously, you also don't want to buy anything you don't really need or wouldn't normally buy anyway.
2. Shop at Costco or Sam's Club, even if it is only once a month. According to a recent price survey by a local consumer magazine in my area, you can save up to 37% at Sam's and Costco compared to prices at retail grocery stores. Even if you only have time to go to a warehouse store once a month, stock up while you are there. We bought a stand-alone freezer and put extra shelves in our laundry room and garage for our bulk purchases. If you can buy $100 worth of groceries at 37% off for $63, then that is like getting a 59% return on your money because you are "earning" $37 more in groceries for your $63 investment.
3. Avoid wasting food. A 2004 study on food waste found that the average family throws out almost $600 of uneaten food each year, so be careful not to buy more spoilable food in a week than your family will actually consume. Some ways to avoid food waste include:
a. Planning your meals in advance so you know exactly how much food to buy each week.
b. Dating items in your fridge and freezer so you know how long you have before they need to be used up.
c. Storing your leftovers in glass containers so you can easily see what you have in the fridge.
d. Using crock pots to make easy soups and stews from leftovers.
Last night after dinner we had bits and pieces of leftover roasted chicken, spaghetti, ravioli and green beans. I put them together in the crock pot with a little chicken stock for the next day's lunch. It tasted great and used up a bunch of odds and ends of food that may otherwise have gotten thrown out.
4. If you pay you off your charge card bills in full each month and do not incur any finance charges, consider paying for your groceries and restaurant bills using a rewards card. Many rewards cards offer 1% or more in cash or merchandise rebates on your total purchases. According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, the average family of four spent $9,478 on food in 2008. If that $9,478 was paid for using a rewards card with a 1% rebate, the value of the rebate would be $94.78 annually, or $947.80 over ten years.