With gas prices soaring while stocks come tumbling down, even folks who weren’t serious about pinching pennies before are starting to wonder where’s a good place to start. Sure, one of the easiest ways to save money is by changing your driving habits, and there’s a lot to be said for ditching convenience or fast foods and cooking at home from a pre-planned menu like those featured in my weekly newsletter.
But even if those ways seem daunting to you right now there are still things you can do to save money starting with your very next trip to the grocery store.
1. Use coupons – In most Sunday papers you’ll find well over $100 in coupon savings, yet fewer than 5% are actually redeemed. In some towns, Wednesday circulars delivered to your mail box contain coupons, too. If you aren’t clipping and using coupons for items you purchase regularly (toilet paper, toothpaste, cleaning products and pet foods being the biggies), then you’re throwing away money every time you toss out — or recycle — the paper. Other places to find coupons: visit the manufacturer’s website or check out Coupon Mom.
2. Save scraps for soup – You’ve heard the jingle “Soup is good food.” It’s also good for your budget, so make a point of making soup more often. Vegetable trimmings and peels that you wouldn’t use in a salad or side dish can be saved in your freezer. When you have enough of them simply bring them to boil in a pot of water, simmer for a couple of hours and strain to make an excellent vegetable broth that can serve as the basis for all sorts of wonderful stews. (An easy one: bring broth to boil, dump in a bag of frozen vegetables and return to a simmer then add chopped, pre-cooked chicken, leftover pasta or beans and season to taste.) Even the leftover chicken bones from your kids’ plates can be saved for later use making chicken stock that can be frozen or used right away.
3. Pitch the paper products – Got a spill? Don’t reach for a paper towel — the instant you use and toss it you’re throwing away money. Use an entire roll and you’ve thrown away $3. Keep a supply of terrycloth towels handy instead, or make your own by cutting up worn-out bath towels. Stash them in an old coffee can or plastic shopping bag under the sink and grab one whenever there’s a spill to clean or counter to wipe. Then, instead of throwing them out, simply drop them into the laundry so you can use them again. While you’re at it, replace paper napkins with cloth ones and paper plates with real dishes (I like this Corelle patternless pattern which can go from oven or microwave to table and is break-resistant). Eco-minded Summer M. even recommends washable toilet paper , but that’s going a little too far for me. (Can you say e. Coli in the washing machine? I knew you could.)
4. Reuse your plastics – Don’t throw out a plastic storage bag you’ve only used once. Ziplocks are strong enough to be reused multiple times. (Wash both sides well in warm soapy water and let air dry.) Those plastic tubs that margarine comes in make great storage containers in the fridge or on the shelf, although they should never be used in the microwave. Plastic condiment jars — like the kind mayonnaise comes in — make excellent clear canisters for holding dried beans, rice and noodles. Those gallon-sized tubs of ice cream can be reused for freezer storage, too. (In our house we even use them to store Legos.)
5. Fill your freezer with fixings on sale. A full freezer is more energy-efficient (though that’s not the case for a fridge). It’s also a great way to stock up and save. Got leftovers? Freeze them for another night’s meal. Next time you aren’t in the mood to cook you won’t have to shell out for fast food, just re-heat a meal you’ve already paid for instead. Freezers also allow savvy shoppers to stock up when there’s a sale on seasonal fruits and vegetables. Just follow my guidelines for freezing produce and you’ll practically have a low-cost grocery store right in your kitchen. (As a bonus, stockpiling produce in your freezer makes it super easy to whip up a pot of soup, too.)
Do you have a tip for pinching pennies in the grocery store? Share it in the comments and I’ll include the best ones in a future entry or newsletter!