How to save money on groceries and eat healthy: tips
How to save money on groceries is a topic that is close to my heart, because for me healthy and conscious eating is not and should not be only the prerogative of the wealthy people. And that’s why my revolution is called CHE: Cheap, Healthy, Ethical! Designed to show you that it’s possible to eat healthy while on a budget.
The frenetic rhythms of everyday life can be a ballast to reach the goal, but this does not mean that aspiring to a healthy and balanced nutrition means becoming homemaker.
Crucial points of how to save money on groceries
And now answer the following questions with all frankness so that you understand your level of awareness about how groceries should be done:
– Do you know how much you spend on food?
– Do you stick to your shopping list?
– Do you ever make your purchases based on a weekly menu, even if only hypothetical?
– When you buy, do you read the labels for information on expiration date, origin, quantity, consumption and/or storage conditions?
– Do you prefer to buy foods that have not undergone any processing? In other words do you avoid ready-made meals, washed and bagged salads or vegetables, prepared sauces, soups or risottos, etc.?
– Do you manage to consume all you purchase without wasting anything?
– Do you ever read those small numbers which indicate the price per kilo/unit?
If you answered YES to each question, you are free to close this page: I have nothing to teach you on this topic!
If not, maybe you’ll want to figure out once and for all how to improve your attitude to stocking up your food.
But before we go any further, let’s define the issue of savings!
The savings contemplated by CHE Food Revolution are based on various factors: the purchase price is just one of them.
If we objectively spend very little to buy a product it is likely that it will come from the bad production, transformation and distribution practices; which will result in the usage of chemical substances harmful for health and the environment. Therefore at the end the food item under consideration will not cost little: only its first payment has a low value… sooner or later, as individuals or as a community, we will have to face much greater expenses to remedy the damage done, because of this apparent and short-sighted cheapness.
That’s why all my advice is not about getting (or only) the lowest nominal price, but about saving money that doesn’t negatively affect health (ours and the planet’s), and social ethics of workers.
And a family trying to lead a decent existence in a big city, with 3 thousand euros a month, with a rent or mortgage to pay, of course should have the same right to eat well as a single person, living in a property house and maybe with an income of 5 thousand euros a month.
Personally, having made the choice of life undertaken 13 years ago together with my husband, I certainly do not belong to the second category: to say that the following advice is the result of direct experience.
How to plan your food purchases in a professional way
First of all let’s learn the rules of the game, from those who invented the game!
We may be horrified by the intrinsic concept of large-scale distribution, but we must recognize its great capacity for savings: so let’s take inspiration from their criteria listed below.
1 – Define the characteristics of the products to be purchased and negotiate the supply budget: let’s read it in a simplified way, so prepare a “grocery list” and define a budget to deal with this expenditure.
If you don’t use a list, you will never learn how to save money on groceries. Keep the list in a place easily accessible to all family members, where you can add things that are missing and/or running out as you go along. When shopping, stick to the list categorically (obviously I’m not referring to oversights, but to those superficial yet “very efficient marketing” products put there just to catch your eye).
Budgeting is important, especially if you use electronic payment methods: it’s easier to overspend if you’re out of touch with rustling reality! While you are still filling your cart, to avoid bad surprises, try to calculate what will you pay at the end.
2 – Research and selection of suppliers: in our case it is a matter of choosing local markets; weekly farmers’ market; grocery stores; O KM or Mile farms; supermarkets and discount stores especially who accepts discount coupons and make weekly promotions; always following the most international criteria, that is the quality/price ratio.
3 – Conducting purchase negotiations: nowadays, we mere mortals, not even at the market we can bargain (at most we will be given some herbs), but for some goods we can set up our own buying groups, or participate in those already existing, better with an ethical view to food sector (in Italy they are called solidarity purchasing groups GAS) and contact the supplier directly, at which point we propose the offer for a higher quantity than the single package, or propose them to go personally to the farm / factory, so as to reduce the costs of transport and packaging. All this should result in a tangible discount.
4 – Plan purchases from an operational point of view: in simpler words, monitor your stocks.
It should be put in place periodic control of the pantry, fridge and freezer according to daily needs; reduce or increase the amount of goods to be purchased in advance to deal with extraordinary events without negative consequences: such as the arrival of guests or the possible departure for a vacation and so on. In addition, maintain a certain order in the pantry, so as to easily view the food, avoiding duplications or forgetting: otherwise we will see the budget increase unnecessarily; the iron rule of any self-respecting warehouse is “First in, first out“, or consume first, what was bought first.
5 – Monitor the relationship with the suppliers: simplifying, “trusting is good, but not trusting is better“.
Our task doesn’t end with the purchase, on the contrary it needs an in-depth evaluation of the chosen product among other similar ones on the market. A qualitative analysis, but why not also quantitative, is a must to continue or not the relationship with the same supplier: for example, if the lentils purchased from the organic market are full of worms; or the farmer who provides you with the weekly box hides rotten fruits and vegetables into the bottom; or if we have found expired items or items not in good condition in our shopping bags; finally, if we find elsewhere the same food at a better price… but also checking the receipt is important, to find any inconsistencies (I often find errors, but never to my advantage) and/or verify by you the net weight of the products.
In conclusion, if we find any of these examples, we can communicate the discomfort to the supplier; if they are unable to remedy the situation, we will knock on another door.
In addition to the key points just described, there are of course other strategies to guard against high prices
– Little but Substantial: I shop for groceries 2-3 times a week.
Not wanting to use the car for the benefit of the bicycle, I wouldn’t be able to carry several pounds on my back; plus I have an iron determination in the face of promotional tactics and almost 15 years of experience on how to save money on groceries. So if you are a beginner, I recommend that you go as little as possible to places of purchase, so as not to lose control and run the risk of “buying the impossible”.
– You must go shopping with a full stomach: It is mathematical that if you have a pang in your stomach, the tendency will be to buy much more than necessary: it is not only an emotional consequence, but a physiological and hormonal necessity. We do not reason well on an empty stomach and we must be patient and vigilant, as we have to analyze a multitude of information, because saving money is a serious issue.
– Reduce, or rather eliminate, food waste: Even if we have learned well how to save money on shopping, without using our food to the last drop, we will not have achieved much: the greatest domestic waste occurs precisely in the last phase, and very often because of a particular food paid little. So it is not enough to pay little to save money, if we then throw away a third or even all of it: how many times that vegetable was thrown away because there was no time to cook it!
To avoid the “Easy come, easy go” phenomenon, waste must be fought at all costs.
Explore the topic of food waste here, to understand how certain gestures mean altruism and awareness.
Likewise, the following recommendations must be followed for conscious and budget-friendly grocery shopping:
Stay away from snacks (including those sold with a healthy label), these products, which have a low unit price due to their weight, threaten both your health and the environment. You can prepare healthier ones at home without going overboard.
Buy loose tea or herbal tea instead of those sold in the bags.
Buy nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds with their shells and break them yourself; you will avoid both unnecessary consumption of packaging materials and exorbitant prices.
Fruit juices and carbonated, sugary soft drinks should be taken off the shopping list as they form a dangerous habit, especially for little ones: both your wallet and your belly will thank you!
Where and when to buy, what you need?
Fruit and vegetables
Buying fruits and vegetables from organic supermarkets is not an advisable option for those who have to be careful with their budget; however, traditional supermarkets often sell fruits and vegetables coming from very far away, or even from abroad; and often the extremely competitive price hides ethical issues, such as the exploitation of workers (read here for more information) and resources. Moreover as mentioned at the beginning of this article, it should also be kept in mind that in order to last longer on the shelves, foods have been treated with chemicals (1, 2). About one third of the total pesticides used, is used right in this phase (post harvest).
Therefore the best and cheapest addresses for fruits and vegetables, remain those of the farmer’s market, farms with Km 0 sales; of course buying groups and local markets.
Buying when they are in season is the first step, and this is not only for saving money, but also because fruits and vegetables require less pesticides (to learn more click here); moreover their level of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is higher (to know which products are in season now, see here).
If in any case your budget does not allow otherwise, even frozen food can be a better solution than fresh food, if the latter is imported or comes from intensive agriculture.
Finally, if your budget still prevents you from going organic totally (vegetable and non-vegetable), at least give priority to organic products of animal origin: this is because products derived from animals raised conventionally, and therefore with feed based on soy and corn, in addition to the problem of pesticides, there are also those of the excessive use of antibiotics and issues related to animal welfare.
Eggs, milk, yoghurt, meat, fish and so on, are healthy for us and for the planet, if they do not come from intensive farming.
Organic animal products are often very expensive, I know, that’s why I recommend reducing the amount of them (if you can’t eliminate them at all) in your diet: I don’t know of any alternative to saving money and health.
Here is an important insight to understand the issue better
In order to reduce the costs of organic food, you can always turn to the purchase groups and/or choose the pieces that are not preferred (instead of sirloin or ribs, opt for the muscle or organs, for instance); or buy (chicken for example) whole, instead of single parts: you will save even 30-40%; opt for discounted products close to their expiry date (meat should be put immediately in the freezer if you do not want to consume it on the same day; yogurt and cheese can easily exceed a few more days beyond the expiry date; eggs are better cooked and consumed within 24 hours; unprocessed fresh fish if it is not very fresh, is better avoided).
Do it yourself
You must learn to organize yourself, producing on your own the things you consume frequently: bread, yogurt, jams, plant milks, sprouts, pasta, plant-based burgers, are just a few examples.
You can prepare them with the best quality ingredients, obtaining in the end a product that is always cheaper than those you find ready at the supermarket; to start DIY you don’t have to be homemaker but, I repeat, just more organized.
Organization is what makes us free from the slavery imposed by the free market.
Discount stores yes or not?
If you go to the classic supermarkets, I see no reason not to enter the discount stores, where you can also find organic food at a lower cost. These are just as valid as the most famous brands, as long as they have European certification for organic farming: costing less, does not necessarily mean worth less; advertising, lighting and exposure in the premises, are a big part of the price determination. In addition, the brand is not always synonymous with absolute quality, for those who know how to read labels.
These are just a few tips for how to save money on groceries, so I invite you to share your tricks directly in the comments, because you know: sharing is caring!
Have a good grocery shopping and good revolution to everyone
(1) Benbrook, C. (2011). The Organic Center’s “Dietary Risk Index,” tracking relative pesticide risks in foods and beverages. The Organic Center.
2) Sanzani, S. M., Schena, L. and Ippolito, A. (2014). Effectiveness of phenolic compounds against citrus green mould. Molecules 19(8): 12500-12508