Does it sometimes feel like you're spending more money on food but getting less in return? Well, you'd be spot on. A study by the Sunday Independent newspaper in Ireland found that, between January 2008 and May 2013, the average rate of inflation had risen by 2 per cent. The cost of certain groceries, however, had climbed by a whopping 40 per cent. An unsteady economy and global warming have been blamed for this startling figure. But, although there is little we can do to curb these factors, we are still in control of our spending. And so, to prevent you having to give up your favourite foods, I've compiled a few tips and tricks to help you trim your grocery bill and get the most out of your budget.
Before even setting foot out of the door to go shopping, sit down and draw up a list of all meals for the week ahead. Take stock of what you already have in your pantry and formulate a detailed menu for each day of the week. To save time and energy, you may even plan on preparing a double portion on one evening to be had as leftovers the following day. As a guide to save you a few extra pennies, check the weekly pamphlets of your favourite store to see what specials are on offer that week. And, probably the biggest tip I can give you, have a snack before you leave the house. Shopping on an empty stomach can lead to hasty impulse buys and unnecessary spending.
What's in season?
You'll recognise seasonal produce as the cheaper, more abundant vegetables in your supermarket. If you're unsure about the cost versus quality of a product, the cost per unit rule comes into play here. Check the price of staple vegetables such as potatoes and onions in bags compared to those that are set out individually and priced per kilo. Another top tip is to plan your meals according to seasonal stock. If it's avocado season, why not buy a bulk tray, allow them to ripen at home and incorporate them into a variety of salads and meal combinations? And choose whole vegetables over the cut and packaged variety. Yes, they may be more convenient and time-saving, but those added luxuries come at added cost.
Keep it fresh
When shopping, think of your food choices in terms of nutrients as opposed to calories. Instead of opting for items packed with empty calories, rather go for foods dense in vitamins and minerals. If your family has a sweet tooth, for example, consider buying a bag of lychees (or whichever fruit is in season) over a bag of cookies. They may cost the same amount, but instead of paying for refined sugar and additives, you're investing in nutrient- and fibre-rich foods instead.
Don't fall for 'promotions'
You know the huge display at the end of the grocery aisle promoting a one-day-only offer? Don't be fooled. These items may appear cheaper at face value, but are not necessarily the greatest in value. Be sure to study the label and calculate the cost per kilo. Also, when it comes to the layout of the shelves, bear in mind a little thing called "eye-level placement". Companies pay good money to stock their items at the customer's eye level. The more affordable, less expensive products can most often be found on the top or bottom shelves.
A meaty matter
By now, we all know that red meat is not the healthiest option when it comes to our choice of protein. But it is good to indulge every once in a while. And so, when shopping in the meat section, consider a cut of meat by its cost to you per serving, and not by its cost per kilo. Look at the fat and bone content of each tray of meat. The lower-priced tray of lamb chops suddenly doesn't seem as appealing, does it? Rather, settle on larger cuts of meat versus those chopped into smaller pieces. It's often easier to trim the fat off large pieces of meat than off the small cuts anyway. If you're worried about storing the bigger whole cuts, many butchers will chop these up for you at no extra cost. Here's another way to save on pricey meat purchases (if your family will allow, of course): make one night per week "vegetarian night". Get your protein from less expensive sources such as beans, or whole grains like quinoa and tofu. This is also a great opportunity to use up all of the veggies that may be nearing their use-by date.
While there is little we can do about rising food prices, we do still have a say in which foods we choose to buy and from which sources. Maybe you're an organic food convert or a believer in bulk buying. Now is truly the time to shop with our heads and develop a special interest in food trends. With all things considered, it's great to know that good prices do not need to come at the expense of good nutrition.
Janelle Malone is a wealth commentator, writer and author. You can read her blog at www.womenmoneyandstyle.com