Budgeting Personal Finance Smart Spending

Buy This, Not That to Save at the Grocery Store

Written by Beth Trach

When it comes to saving money, the easiest advice in the world is just to stop buying things. That’s simple to say, but life has a way of reminding you that you do need to spend some cash once in a while.

For example, you’re going to get hungry.

So how can you save on your grocery bills while making sure you get enough (nutritious, delicious) food to eat?

Welcome to Buy This, Not That.

Sometimes sticking to your budget is more about knowing what to buy than trying to buy anything at all. Think of your budget like a diet: If you have unrealistic expectations about what you’re going to eat, you’re just setting yourself up for disaster.

The same is true for your spending. Sure, it would be nice to say you’re only going to spend $10 per week on groceries, but that’s not possible. When you go bust, you’ll have to get the money from somewhere, so why not get your budget right the first time?

Knowing what buy to get the best value is much more powerful than blindly slashing away at your budget on paper. It’s a way to make your savings real — and eminently doable.

In this series, we’ll take a look at the best alternatives in some of your most common spending situations so you can know that you’re getting the most for your money.

First, up: the grocery store.

Buy Whole Chickens, Not Boneless/Skinless Breasts

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably gotten used to eating only white meat chicken. Unfortunately, buying boneless/skinless chicken breasts is a bad habit. When you pick up this package for convenience, you’re paying more than twice as much as you would for a whole bird. That’s a lot of money for the luxury of having someone butcher that chicken for you.

Besides, a whole chicken can provide more than one meal if you play your cards right. Oh the first night, roast the bird whole — it’s easier than you think! — and serve nicely carved breast slices with some veggies and dinner rolls. If your family isn’t into the dark meat on the thighs, shred that up and use it for enchiladas on another night. If you have more leftovers, cube it up to make some chicken salad for lunches. When you’ve finally picked the bird clean of meat, toss the bones in a pot with some onions and carrots to make your own broth for future soups.

Just think: You can spend half as much per pound on meat that will give you three meals. That’s a no-brainer.

Buy Rolled Oats, Not Processed Cereal

The cereal aisle is one of the most dangerous in the whole grocery store. All those bright boxes of new flavor combinations are enticing, but they’re also really expensive — and the worst ones are packed with so much sugar they’re pretty much junk food, anyway. This is why you should stick to a nice bowl of oatmeal in the morning.

A 42-ounce canister of plain, old-fashioned oats costs just $3.98, or 9.5 cents per ounce. Compare that to spending the same price for 18 packets of flavored instant oatmeal, and you’re spending 14.7 cents per ounce for the privilege of someone spiking your morning meal with sugar and cinnamon. You can do that yourself for a penny a serving.

Even worse is spending your money on boxes of cold cereal. A 21-ounce box of plain Cheerios costs $3.64, or a whopping 17.3 cents per ounce. And don’t even get us started on sugar cereals, which cost a lot more.

The bottom line? A nice bowl of oatmeal is a nutritious breakfast, and you can have fun adding your own brown sugar and fresh or dried fruit combinations so you don’t get bored.

Buy Large Tubs of Yogurt, Not Individual Servings

If you love your yogurt cups, you can save money every day by buying a nice, big 32-ounce tub instead of those little 5- or 6-ounce cups. This is another example of a place where you can save by doing just a tiny bit of work on your own instead of paying for convenience. You’ll also do a solid for sustainability when you give up all that extra packaging.

Prices vary wildly depending on the brand, but a quick comparison of even a generic yogurt shows that a 5.3-ounce cup costs 76 cents, or 14.3 cents per ounce. The same yummy yogurt in a 32-ounce tub costs $3.78, or 11.8 cents per ounce. It takes about one minute to scoop a dollop of yogurt into a reusable container for lunch, so you should start doing that STAT.

Buy White Vinegar, Not Windex

Trips to the grocery store are about more than just food — and you can save on lots of other household items by making smart choices. For starters, you can rethink your cleaning regimen to embrace the power of vinegar. This mild acid disinfects and breaks down hard water scale, making it a solid all-purpose cleaner with loads of uses around the house.

One excellent use of vinegar is as a glass cleaner. Use it on windows and mirrors instead of Windex, and you can save a bundle on your household chores. White vinegar costs only 3 cents an ounce when you buy a big bottle, while Windex costs 13.5 cents per ounce. Even if you have to buy a separate spray bottle as a start-up investment, you’ll still save a ton of money y making this switch if you stick with it.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to saving at the grocery store, there are so many ways to make sure you get great value. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, and you can apply the lessons here to plenty of other items you need. If you can forgo the convenience of individual packages and loo for items that aren’t as highly processed, you can reap big savings on your weekly grocery bill.

About the author

Beth Trach

Elizabeth Trach is a writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in frugal living and extreme gardening at Port Potager.

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