Stretch Your Food Dollar with a Little Planning

Want to save some money? Well, sometimes you have to spend a little first. This is one of those times.

One of the best investments you can make to stretch your food budget is to buy a small freezer for your garage or basement. How so? Then you can take advantage of two things: weekly grocery store sales and buying in bulk from club-type stores. This will let you stock up on products, particularly meat, when they are at their cheapest.

As with many strategies, however, there also can be pitfalls. Freezer burn ultimately affects meat, so you’ll need to have a plan to use what you have on a timely basis. Here are some ways you can do it:

Keep a Running Inventory of What’s on Hand

This might seem like work, but otherwise you’ll cover stuff up and never realize it’s there until it’s too late to use it. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you don’t have to have a spreadsheet showing what you have, when you bought it and when you used it. A simple handwritten list will do just fine.

Plan Menus at Least Weekly

Using your inventory, figure out what the family will have for dinner each night. Designate main dishes and sides. Program a leftover night in there if you want. Again, this will help you turn over the contents of your freezer quickly enough that nothing stays in there too long. As an added benefit, knowing what you plan to make each night will help you avoid using packaged foods – they’re expensive and often unhealthy.

Shop Accordingly

Having a menu and an inventory will allow you to plan your shopping trips accordingly. Fill in to get what you need for side dishes, rather than going through the aisles with no purpose. You’ll cut down on impulse buys, which will save you money. You’ll still want to think long term about staples, but you’ll be able to buy only when the deals are best.

Remember when you buy in bulk to repackage your meat or poultry BEFORE you freeze it. Break hamburger down into meal-size portions, and do the same for chicken. One other thing to remember: Cook enough so that there will be leftovers for lunch the next day. You’ll save a ton of money not eating out at lunch, plus you likely will have healthier options than you could get at a restaurant. The smaller portions will help your waistline as well.

The freezer will help with meat, but what about the veggies? What’s the best way to save?

Here’s where you can get creative. Check out the local farmers market to see what you can buy that’s locally grown. Buying fruits and vegetables in season can save you lots of money, and buying fresh ones over canned will help you avoid unneeded sodium and sugar.

Another option to consider is joining a food co-op. Many offer a combination of fruit and vegetables weekly or every other week. You won’t always know what you’re getting, but if your family isn’t too picky, you can get great deals on fresh food. Find out whether the one you’re considering delivers or whether you’ll have to pick up the items.

The main thing about farmers markets and food co-ops is you’ll be getting fresh food onto your table – minus all the preservatives and other additives.

You’ll still have to go to the grocery store, of course, for milk, eggs and other items. But you’ll mostly be filling in around the meat, fruit and vegetables you have on hand. You’ll be surprised at how much further your food dollar will go when you’re strategic about meals. Plus, you’ll be eating healthier and probably better.

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