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How to save money on food (part 2)

Here is the second part of my previous post on reducing your food costs.

6. Coupons
Companies want you to buy their products, and they will entice you with coupons. This includes the companies that make the products you are already buying. To save money, you need to find and use these coupons. A good place to start is your grocery store flyer. Scan the coupon section and cut out any coupons that interest you. You can also find coupons online, on consumer websites, company social media pages, and so on. You may be tempted to buy things just because you have a coupon, but that would be a mistake: if you never buy that product, you are spending money in order to save (less) money. However, if you find a really good deal on a product you've been meaning to try, go ahead. Watch for expiration dates and small print on coupons: they're tricky!

7. There's an app for that!
Recently a series of grocery apps have made it easier to find a good deal. Some grocery stores have their own apps, where you can read their flyers, pay with coupons from your phone, etc. I'm very happy with Checkout 51, a Canadian grocery app that offers money back on weekly deals. If you buy a featured product and take a picture of your grocery receipt, they will credit you with the amount of the coupon. Once you've saved $20 or more, they will send you a cheque; they're like coupons in reverse.

8. Be loyal (to a point)
Store loyalty cards are a mixed blessing. By showing a card every time you shop, you can earn points redeemable against future purchases. However, you may be sacrificing your privacy as a consumer, because the store can track your habits, send you email or flyers tailored to your purchase history, etc. You also might make the mistake of shopping exclusively at one place when the same products are available elsewhere more cheaply. This strategy works best if you have found one store that offers reliably competitive prices. If you would be shopping there anyway, you might as well earn points. Be cautious about store credit cards: their high interest rates aren't worth the rewards unless you never keep a monthly balance, and they may be bad for your credit rating. 

9. By your powers combined...
Deals that you combine with other deals give you the best savings bang for your buck. For example, if you shop on the day of a sale with a manufacturer's coupon, you'll get the item at an even lower price. The same goes for buy $X, save $Y sales, 20x the points days, double-coupon days and so on. The best employers of this strategy are the famed "coupon moms" of reality TV, who buy thousands of dollars of groceries for free. Just remember that in the real world, looking for the best deal shouldn't be a full-time job.

10. Know what things cost
How much do a dozen eggs cost? A carton of milk? A can of beans? If you pay attention to the prices of things that you buy regularly, you'll know when to stock up and when to try another location for the item you want. That's why it's often best to shop before you run out of something, rather than when you've run out and are desperate enough to pay $8 for a brick of cheese.

11. Read the price tag
There's lots of useful information on the grocery shelf sticker: the price of the item you want, and its price per 100g. Sometimes you need to spend a little extra to get a better overall deal. As long as the food isn't perishable and you can carry it home, it doesn't hurt to pay double for quadruple the flour, rice, or coffee in a larger size. And be careful not to make a beeline for a "sale" sticker; sometimes the sales are only a few cents, or the brand on sale is still more expensive than the no-name brand right beside it.

12. Stop throwing so much food away
This simple tip is the most significant of all: stop throwing food away. We waste up to a third of all food produced worldwide, including table scraps and expired food. It's immensely counterproductive to cut coupons and track spending, then recklessly toss groceries into the garbage. With slightly better habits you can eliminate this waste: buy only the food you want to eat, plan meals with previous meals' leftovers in mind, keep food closest to its best-before date at the front of your fridge or cupboard, eat the food in your house before buying more, know what's in your fridge to plan cooking with what you have, and understand what expiration dates really mean. To really make your food go further, you can try to repurpose your food scraps: a chicken carcass and the ends of a few veggies will give you litres of stock, stale bread becomes garlic bread becomes homemade croutons become breadcrumbs...

Thanks to Greg Lusk for the brainstorming session.


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