I’ve talked to you before about what kind of heart healthy vegetables to buy in my post, Grocery Shopping for Fruits and Vegetables. So, now I wanted to share with you how to save money when buying that healthy produce. You can save lots of money on your grocery bill if you follow these tips about prepping and selecting your produce.
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Prep Your Own Produce
It’s so tempting to just pick up a bag of ready-to-eat salad, but it’s much cheaper and tastier to make a salad yourself. Buying a head of lettuce and prepping it, really isn’t that hard. If you have a salad spinner and a lettuce crisper, it’s easy to wash the lettuce(without making your counters all wet) and store it. The Coupon Mom found out she could save $302 per year, just by washing the lettuce herself!
Buying pre-cut celery, apples, baby carrots, etc. also adds up. The Coupon Mom made a chart in her book, The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half, about how much you can save by preparing various produce yourself. The chart shows the savings per item, percentage saved, and hourly wage for 8 different fruits and vegetables. I used to buy baby carrots too, but after reading her book, I found out that even though the bag of baby carrots goes on sale, it’s still cheaper to buy a 2 pound bag of carrots and cut them up myself. It doesn’t even take very long. In fact, the Coupon Mom suggests a “5-Minute Rule.” She says if it takes you 5 minutes or less to prepare an item, rather than buying it already pre-cut and pre-washed, then your time is worth it, because the savings are worth it.
Tips for Selecting Produce
Even though those fancy and exotic fruits and vegetables seem like the “in” thing, they can be very expensive. So, it’s best to stick with the basics like lettuce, carrots, celery, apples, bananas and oranges. They offer you the same nutrients as the fancier produce, but at a much lower price.
Purchase the produce that’s in season. It usually goes on sale several times throughout the season, and is nice and fresh because it’s from a local source. I always plan what vegetables I’m going to make, according to what’s on sale in that week’s store circulars. You can read more about that in my post, How I Make My Grocery Shopping List. We look forward to all of the melons that go on sale during the summer, for a nice refreshing snack.
Buy frozen vegetables when they’re on sale. It’s even better when you can combine the store sales with coupons. I always stock up on frozen corn, peas and carrots, peas, and mixed vegetables when they’re on sale. I like that frozen vegetables are still good for you because they’re frozen right after being harvested, so they retain all of their nutrients. I also like that if a recipe only calls for 1/2 cup or 1 cup of frozen vegetables, I can just seal the bag and save it for the next use. I don’t waste any food and it saves money.
Be willing to purchase a variety of fruit. Don’t get stuck in always having to have an apple every day, or a banana. Instead, if you shop according to what’s on sale, you’ll save lots of money in a year. Plus, you might find out you like a fruit you didn’t think you would!
If you can eat the amount of produce sold in bulk bags, it’s much cheaper to buy them. I always buy a 10 pound bag of potatoes when it’s on sale and then use it in multiple recipes throughout the month. It’s much cheaper than buying potatoes individually. Also, russet potatoes are usually cheaper than red potatoes. When I buy carrots, I buy the 2 pound bag which is cheaper per unit, than the 1 pound bag or buying them individually. Carrots last awhile, so we always finish the bag before they go bad.
When produce goes on sale for a flat rate, rather than per pound, make sure you weigh it. You can choose the one that weighs the most and really get a bargain, rather than picking one that weighs less, and still paying the same price.
How to Avoid Wasting Your Produce
According to the Coupon Mom, she says the “USDA estimates that households waste between 10 and 40 percent of their grocery dollars, depending on their grocery spending level.” That’s incredible! So, how do you avoid wasting food and money?
When you make your grocery shopping list, think about how many of each produce your family will consume for that time period, and only buy that amount.
Also consider, how much of a product your family will actually eat. If they aren’t going to eat a giant apple, buy a smaller one so it doesn’t get wasted, and you spend less money.
Look at your produce drawer before making your grocery list and see what you already have, and plan your list accordingly. I am doing that very thing this week, in fact. We have a little bit of brussel sprouts, potatoes, and carrots left from last week’s meals, so I’m combining those vegetables, steaming them, and adding a little margarine and dill. You can also make soup with leftover vegetables. If you don’t have time to make soup now, or don’t have quite enough vegetables, you can cut up the vegetables and put them in a freezer container. When the container is filled up, you have enough for soup. I do a similar thing with bananas. When they start to turn dark, I cut them up and freeze them in freezer bags. Then I use them to make smoothies.
Additional Money Saving Tips
Be aware when shopping the sales, and don’t buy additional products. For example, if strawberries are on sale, they often have angel food cake next to it. However, that angel food cake isn’t usually on sale, so you’d be better off making one yourself.
Shop around at different stores to find the best price. Sometimes the best price will be at wholesale clubs, discount stores like Aldi, or stores like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts.
If you shop in the morning, like I do, you’ll see the produce people going through what’s left from the day before and putting in the new products. You can ask the produce manager if they’re willing to sell you the produce they’re going to dispose off at a low price. They might be willing to do that, rather than just throw it away.
Know what kind of nutritional benefit you get from each type of produce. That way, you can substitute a cheaper product for an expensive one. If 2 products both have Vitamin C, but only one is on sale for a good price, buy the one on sale.
Local produce is usually cheaper than produce from other far away places. It costs less for transportation to get the product to the store, so they can sell it at a lower price.
Sometimes shopping at a farmer’s market offers lower prices for produce. Make sure you know your stores’ prices before heading to one though. If you want the best choices, you should shop early. If you want the best prices, go near closing time because they often discount what they have left to sell because they don’t want to bring it back to the farm. Also, sometimes pick-your-own farms can have low prices too. Just make sure and check before buying.
Of course, one of the cheapest options is to grow your own produce. We have several fruit trees: oranges, apples, apricots and nectarines. Some years they give us tons of good fruit, and some years they don’t. Right now, we have lots growing on them, so I hope they turn out to be delicious. We also grow grapes, which are trying to take over the backyard right now! We used to grow zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes, but since we’re re-doing the backyard right now, we haven’t been able to get started yet.
So, it’s definitely worth it to do a little prep, pay attention to what produce you select, avoid wasting your produce, and shop around. The money you save is worth the little bit of extra time it takes to do the work. Plus, you’ll enjoy it more, knowing you made/prepared it yourself.