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A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - March 28, 2007 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the time honored adage that entitles this article.  Indeed, in 2005 an Alabama man set a record by cashing in 1.3 million pennies for $13,000; a cache he had been collecting for 32 years.

     Saving money is a fascinating facet of human behavior. What’s intriguing is the extreme variability amongst individuals not only in the amount of saving, but how they approach it.  People run the gamut from the squanderer who blows a multi-million lottery winning to the psychotic miser in the Guinness Book of World Records who allowed her son to lose his leg rather than pay for medical attention.  People also display random and capricious patterns of frugality.  One person is a notoriously cheap tipper but is generous to his church.  Another person turns off the water while brushing his teeth but leaves the lights on in every room.  As for myself, I’ll squeeze the last bit out of the toothpaste tube but dump $200 on a bottle of wine.  If that’s logic make mine vanilla. 

     One place where you can unquestionably conserve money is the grocery store.  And depending on how fanatical you’re willing to be, the amount can be significant.  Below is a laundry list of money-saving tips for food shopping; a miser’s mélange if you may.  Pick and choose what works for you.

    1) Plan ahead.  Know what meals you are going to prepare and the exact ingredients you need.  This will result in better efficiency than aimlessly wandering the supermarket, purchasing items you may not use.  An important part of planning ahead is checking your pantry first.  We’ve all bought things we didn’t need because we forgot the item was lurking in the back of the cupboard.

    2) Compare the prices at the different supermarkets in your area.  Some chains are almost always more expensive than others.  Depending on the price differences it may even be worth the extra gas to travel to a further one. 

    3)  Don’t throw out those sales flyers!  Take a few minutes over morning coffee to peruse the ads.  There will inevitably be something on sale that you require.  You might even opt for one store over another based on the cost savings. 


    4)  Clip coupons.  Many supermarkets offer “double coupons” whereby they double the coupon’s value.  Coordinating sale items with coupons is the pinnacle of smart shopping.  However, coupons can cause you to fall victim to another old adage, namely “Penny wise, pound foolish.”  Only use coupons for products you were going to purchase anyway.  Buying something unplanned just for the discount is still a waste of money.

    5)  Avoid buying perishables in the large size, (since the per-unit price is less), that could spoil before being depleted.  This is another “pound foolish” mistake.  Match the package size to your consumption rate.

    6)  With non-perishables, or foods that can be frozen however, buy big.  Various meats in the “family size” pack are discounted.  Stock up on those pork chops, chicken breasts, ground beef etc.  Break them down into one meal servings, wrap them thoroughly, date them, and rotate your stock in chronological order. 

    7)  Be very picky when choosing produce.  Take the time to search through the stock of fruits and vegetables for the freshest specimens, especially when buying in advance.

    8)  Stores often place last minute coupons on meats that have reached their “sell by” date.  As long as you’re using it within 24 hours, take advantage of the 11th hour discount.

    9)  Check dates on dairy products.  Everyone knows to take the milk from the back of the rack.  Do the same with all dairy products to avoid waste.  Every time I buy cottage cheese there are containers with varying dates.  Scope out the freshest to avoid waste.

    10)  Select foods in their natural state.  The less fabricated the food, the lower the price.  Yes, it means more work but the pre-sliced mushrooms, pre-shredded cheese, and pre-cut chicken will all cost more.

    11)  Compare the prices between loose and packaged produce to determine which is cheaper.  Usually the loose cost less but you never know.  Sometimes a packaged item may cost less per pound but you’re forced into the predetermined amount.  If you don’t have use for the excess the savings transforms into a cost.

    12)  Learn the proper way to store perishables to avoid waste.  For example, don’t just throw the bag of herbs into the fridge.  They’ll be insipid in couple of days. Stand your parsley or cilantro upright in a covered container of water, (like flowers in a vase).  They’ll last a week and sometimes more. 

    13) A final but very important means of saving money on food is to be flexible.  This plays out in many different ways.  Some may disagree but I don’t think there’s a big difference between floor cleaners, steel wool pads, paper towels, toothpastes, etc.  If you’re not married to a particular brand, sales and coupons can be your guide.  If you’re strapped for cash and want red meat for dinner, check out the sale flyer.  Maybe chuck roasts are on special.  So instead of steak make pot roast.  Sometimes foods are interchangeable.  Anything you can do to a sole fillet you can do to a tilapia or flounder fillet.  If you need a white fleshed fish, pick the one on sale.  Finally, depending on the recipe, you may be able to substitute expensive ingredients for economical ones.  For example, when making minestrone soup, basic string beans will do.  You don’t need the haricot vert, (tender but costlier French string beans), just because Pierre la TV Chef utilized them in his recipe.

Now that you’ve saved all this money on your food bill, you can do what I do:  Use it as an excuse to buy better wine!  Bon appetit and happy saving.

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