Buy This, Not That at the Grocery Store

BRISBANE, CA - MAY 12:  Boxes of Cheerios cere...

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You need to eat or you will die. That’s the state of our existence, which is why being frugal at the grocery store is often more about substitution than it is about eating less.

There are many good shopping rules to help you avoid impulse purchases.  Coupons can also help you lower your grocery bill. However, you should also rethink some of the foods you buy regularly. This is not to say that you cut back on the quality of food or your favorite recipes, but it does mean rationalizing some of the foods you’ve bought for years, because you might be just as well off (or better) for cheaper.

Here are five items you regularly purchase at the grocery store that you should rethink. All of these suggestions hold (if not increase) the quality of the food, but lower the bar for your food budget.

Buy Oatmeal, Not Cereal

Cereal became an American staple because it took far less time to cook. Now thanks to microwaves, there really isn’t much of a point.

The cost of plain bulk oatmeal, per ounce, is about half that of cereal when you add in the costs of milk needed to drown your favorite frosted flakes. Plus, oatmeal is far healthier with fewer chemicals, less salt and no sugar (unless added). Yes, oatmeal takes five minutes in the microwave, but it’s much faster than boiling water.

Buy a Box of Plain Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, Not Just Honey Nut Cheerios

Honey Nut Cheerios is the most popular cereal in the US. I’d believe it, because there is nothing more popular in our house. If there is no chance of switching to oatmeal for you die-hard Cheerio-lovers, consider modifying how you consume your Honey Nut Cheerios. Plain Cheerios cost less than Honey Nut. You can very easily mix plain Cheerios in with your Honey Nut goodness. It tastes the same with plain Cheerios mixed in, but it is cheaper to mix and healthier.

Buy Spices in the International Aisle, Not the Baking Aisle

Turmeric, powdered cumin and coriander seed are far more expensive in those tiny jars you find in the baking aisle. Many spices found in International foods can also be located in this section, only you will get a much better unit price. Stores put a premium on the spices in the baking section simply because they know people are not familiar with the cheaper counter parts in the next aisle over.

If you want to save even more, think about finding the spices in an Indian or Asian Market, because they tend to have lower overhead costs. There is no real benefit to paying more for dried spices, so don’t waste your money buying from the baking aisle.

Buy Chicken Wings in the Meat Section, Not the Freezer Section

Let’s compare buying wings from the meat section and buying wings precooked from the freezer:

  • Wings from the meat section are made out of chicken and so are those in the freezer section
  • You have to cook chicken from the meat section before eating and you have to cook chicken from the freezer section before eating
  • You will want to deep fry the chicken from the meat section and the freezer section chicken has already been deep fried
  • From fryer to your mouth, it takes 12 minutes to cook chicken from the meat section and from oven to your mouth, frozen wings take a half an hour
  • You can freeze the stuff from the meat section and the stuff in the freezer section
  • With wings from the meat section, you have to cut up the wings to make them look like the stuff in the freezer bag
  • Chicken from the meat section is half the cost per ounce compared to freezer section chicken

Now, in all fairness, from time to time I have seen price club frozen chicken wings out-price the grocery store meat section wings. However, the meat section wings aren’t any worse for you, they are generally cheaper (unless you buy 10Lbs of chicken wings) and the quality of the meat is far, far more superior. So is the taste.

Buy Chunk Lite Tuna, Not Albacore

The standard American prefers albacore tuna because it is a firmer meat than chunk lite. I’ve never understood this preference. Primarily because to make a tuna sandwich, we take tuna and immerse it in mayo to make it spreadable.

Chunk Lite is also roughly 20% cheaper and contains about a third of the mercury that’s found in albacore. Fine! Albacore wins the Ms. Tuna pageant, but it’s also eating an unnecessary hole in your food budget. And introducing more chemicals into your bloodstream.

Frugal doesn’t have to mean sacrificing tasty foods. There are plenty of ways to get good quality food for less money. Come back in the coming weeks and I’ll share more grocery shopping tips.

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