One of the most noticeable results of the shutdowns has been that Americans spend more time at home. Now, when it comes to saving money on groceries, that’s a big plus and here’s why! When you’re not as pressed for time, “convenience” foods will be a lot less tempting. You probably have time now to chop up a one dollar head of lettuce rather than grab a bag of salad costing three times as much.
Yes, we Americans pay WAY too much for convenience. Here are some of the most notable examples:
Bottled Water: A $2 water bottle costs the manufacturer only about 5 cents to make. Save money and bottle it ahead of time at home. You’re already paying a water bill, right? Check out Lifefactory’s selection of reusable, durable glass bottles and cups for at home and on the go. They’ve got something for every age and stage!
Frozen Seasoned Veggies: Mediterranean veggies in an herbed butter sauce sure sound tempting, but you can make your own by adding – you guessed it – some butter and your favorite herbs!
Pre-Cut Fruits and Veggies: Not only do they cost up to four times as much as whole produce, but they are also more prone to contamination. Even worse, cutting and exposing them to light will result in some nutrient loss, so the quality is not as good.
Prebagged Salad: It only takes about 3 minutes to wash and chop a head of lettuce. I’ve timed it! Do you really want to pay three times as much money just to have someone else do that easy chore for you? Besides, salads are so much more unique (and beautiful in presentation), when you assemble them yourself! A head of lettuce will keep longer than its bagged counterpart, too.
Baked Goods: Those fresh baked aromas are free, but the markups are huge – as much as 100%. A 9×13 sheet cake can cost $1.00 per slice; you can buy a cake mix for that same price! Buy reduced price and freeze. Or use a mix. And if you still think you don’t have time to bake, slough it off on your children and give them a sense of pride and accomplishment! Anyone age 10 or older should be able to follow a simple boxed mix recipe. To encourage more learning, invest in a good children’s cookbook with beginner recipes.
Energy/Protein Bars: Groceries like to put these at the checkout, with a $2 or $3 price tag, to tempt hungry impulse shoppers who might think it’s healthier than a candy bar. Most are very high in fat and calories, however, and you’ll get a better value by purchasing an entire box of a healthier snack.
Pizza: I’m sorry if this makes you never want to order in again, but Priceonomics estimated the markup for meat and veggies on a pizza to be 500 percent! Most pizzarias spend about one dollar or less to make the pizza you’ll happily pay $10 or $15 for. It’s quick and easy to make your own, especially if you start with pre-made, refrigerated dough. Or, if you still crave convenience, try the take-and-bake variety from Aldi, which is a HUGE size and costs less than $6.
Starbucks Coffee: An 80% markup is standard in the convenience coffee industry, so if you want the ease of single-serve, try Wal-Mart’s assortment of k-cups, at just pennies each. My favorite is Columbian, and this is from someone who’s very picky about coffee!
Soda at the Gas Station: Every once in a while, you’re in a bind and have to grab a 2-liter from the gas station. What a sticker shock! It might be two or three times what you would pay at the grocery store. So always keep a few spares in your pantry or basement for a rainy day. And don’t miss the sales on your favorites; Coke and Pepsi products often cost just $1.00 for
Snack and Lunch Packs: When something is prepackaged for you (think Lunchables and P3 Protein Packs), it’s certainly convenient, but the downside is there’s usually some waste because you might not love everything. It’s cheaper and makes a lot more sense to pack up your own snacks, putting exactly what you want in there from the cheese, nut and dried fruit families.
Out-of-Season Produce:– Use this guide to find out what’s in season now, and you’ll pay a lot less for fresh produce. Harness the power of the internet to find recipes using those fruits and vegetables. They’ll taste better, too!
Small Packages of Meat: Buy larger packages and freeze the extra for later. You can save up to 20%. Buy the “Reduced for Quick Sale” packs; use them that day or put in the freezer.
Spices: Name brand spices are sold with up to a 97% markup! You can save considerably with these tips:
- Choose generic and avoid “gourmet” and “organic” labels.
- Borrow from someone else if you only need a small amount, or will only use the spice once or twice.
- Buy in bulk for spices you use daily.
- Check your local health food stores or farmers market where spices can be bought by weight.
Smoothies: A basic smoothie merely desires a quick tumble of yogurt and fruit and milk in the blender, and yet people will gladly shell out from $5 to $7 for someone else to create this for them. Making smoothies at home is fun and satisfying, cheap AND healthy. Your children will have fun with it, too! There’s no need to buy a lot of expensive ingredients like protein powders and premium frozen berries; here are some great ideas for budget-friendly smoothies from the Cheapskate Cook.
Fresh Seafood: Even though the rows of shiny pink salmon fillets on ice in the display case look stunning, shoppers should know that fresh most often means “recently thawed.”
According to Spruce Eats, “Since more than 85 percent of the seafood we eat is imported, most of this fish is frozen before it makes it to our local fish market or grocery store. Some fish that is labeled fresh are in fact previously frozen, and while reputable fishmongers will reveal this, not all fish markets do.”
Modern freezing methods render the fish in the freezer section superior to what’s on display. Most of it’s flash frozen within minutes of being caught. So you’ll not only pay less, you’ll enjoy high quality “fresh tasting” seafood year-round.