Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Gena Bigler: As prices climb, cut expenses, consider options other than ‘big box’ stores
Food costs have been steadily climbing. More and more people are using coupons and finding other ways to cut back on food expenses. Television shows are devoted to cutting food costs. Low cost meals are on the cover of magazines and a plethora of blogs. A few days ago, while discussing this, a friend asked where I do my grocery shopping. The answer was a little complicated.
I’d like to say that I have a perfectly orchestrated meal plan with minimal waste and no overpriced junk food on my list, but that is the ideal and I live in the real world with a job, kids and a crazy but wonderful life. My grocery shopping is eclectic but it works for us. We have a few planned meals, a few stock items and a few emergency quick meals on the list. There are several stores I frequent.
About once a month I go to a warehouse club and stock up. When I first joined, I was overwhelmed by the mass quantities and overbought. After the shine wore off, I realized a lot of my bulk buys were not the great deals I expected. Finally I came to my senses and listened to my sister’s advice to create a cheat sheet. I compared the regular prices on the items we actually use at several stores. The price book was pretty low tech, but helped me control costs more effectively.
I also realized that no matter how much we love them a small family cannot eat 5 pounds of grapes before they are past their prime. So now I get my produce from a conventional store that buys from local growers whenever I can’t get to the farmers’ market, which can also be a tremendous value. I also pick up staples like milk and eggs at the mainstream grocer.
One of my favorite places to shop is ethnic markets. I have found some amazing prices at small import groceries. I found a Vietnamese grocer that sells fresh herbs for about a third of what the local chain market charges. Items aren’t always labeled in English, so it’s a good idea to be a little adventurous. The store is also a great place to buy fresh tofu and fish. Beautiful tins of jasmine tea are very reasonably priced and along with a tea set from another import store make a great gift.
The Asian import store has great prices on bulk rice and frozen vegetarian foods. It’s a great place to pick up frozen ‘dim sum’ for lunches. Along with bulk bags of disposable chopsticks (also great for lunches) are little bamboo skewers that are perfect for party food. Again, not everything is marked in English and on my last visit I heard a live rooster crowing somewhere in the back, it’s a fun and affordable way to shop.
My latest favorite is Middle Eastern import shop. Dried herbs like peppercorns are very affordable. Prepared sauces, chutneys and spice concentrates are wonderful short cuts to dress up inexpensive quick delicious meals like curried lentils. A large assortment of dried beans and varieties of olives are reasonably priced. Besides fantastic food they sell amazing olive oil soap.
It sounds like a lot of stores, but most I only visit every few months. Cutting food costs doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Exploring import stores and trying their wares is an enjoyable way to affordably feed a family. Thinking outside of the big box store is creative way to save.
Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of a Kentucky business and serves on the board of the Kentucky RiverKeeper. Gena would be happy to hear from you at email@example.com.