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The Wicked Smart Investor: How to Save Money on Food


By Chris Hanson

I wasn’t going to disturb Ma, as she was too deep in thought on a sunny Thursday afternoon studying the supermarket circulars; It’s a weekly ritual for her, just like Sunday Mass.  At the age of 92, she no longer does the grocery shopping but her money-saving expertise is still valuable as food prices are sky high! She makes the shopping lists, and my brother Tom goes to the store.

Maybe you have not heard of my Ma, but she’s a somewhat prominent member of the South Shore Senior News community. She was roaring long before Helen Reddy sang that iconic ’70s song. Born during the Great Depression, hard times educated her on feeding a family on a tight budget.  And it was a good thing, because years later she found herself widowed with 13 kids to feed. Ma knows how to make a buck cry, do cartwheels, and dance a jig at the supermarket. There is no one better, so let me share a few of her tricks.

  1. Make a Plan: This is exactly why Ma scrutinizes the supermarket circulars. She is planning next week’s meals based upon the food on sale. For example, if ground beef, green peppers and pasta are on sale, she’ll make American chop suey. The internet has a plethora of recipe sites, and you can search by ingredients.

  1. Use all leftovers: Many people save entire meals, but you can also make good use of individual components. If you serve baked potatoes and zucchini with roast beef one night, include the leftovers in breakfast or lunch the next day. Zucchini works well with scrambled eggs and potatoes make great home fries.

  1. Shop at more than one store: I am partial to the Market Basket for the prices, but other stores offer good value on sale items. I can’t tell you how many times Ma sent me to stores to purchase only the sale items. Study the circulars and ask for rainchecks if the store runs out of stock.

  1. Limit takeout: When you’re extremely pressed for time or just plain wiped out, takeout works great. It can also be a nice treat, but if you order takeout regularly your pocketbook will cry foul. Always have a list of easy to make meals handy to reduce the temptation of ordering pizza or fish and chips.
  1. Consider buying generic brands: Not all store brands are created equal. Some are comparable to the national brands and others…well. Determine which store brand you can use without sacrificing taste and quality. One other thing, sometimes the national brand and the store brand are made by the same company, but no store will advertise this “secret.”

  1. The reduced rack: Day old bread and frosted treats in the bakery are just fine. When the Patriots lost playoffs games the reduced rack provided the silver lining. I bought the Foxboroesque decorated cakes, tossed them in the freezer and used them for future Sunday dinners. Other racks may offer discontinued items at bargain prices.

  1. Other suggestions include shopping by the unit price, eating frozen vegetables, looking for manager’s specials.

As you can see, saving money on food requires a fair amount of work. There is no way of sugar-coating this, but your short- and long-term financial security depends on cutting costs and saving money. The more you practice these habits it will become second nature.

In closing, please consider donating to your local food pantry if you’re able. The need is so great. Ma always found money for charity, and she insisted on giving quality food to those less fortunate than us. I believe helping others surrounds you in good karma and somehow, somewhere, you will be rewarded for your benevolence.