How to save money on groceries every month

Yes, you can save on groceries every month of the year. Here's how. Dan Dalton

Here’s the understatement of 2018: food is expensive. We already know that the average Canadian spends roughly $200 a month on groceries, and food prices are expected to rise up to three per cent in 2018 (most notably, vegetables will see a four to six per cent increase), according to the annual Canada’s Food Price Report.

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But there are ways you can save on groceries every month. With a little strategic planning, and an understanding of what’s in-season as well as what’s going to go on sale, you can cut back on your monthly grocery bill with little major sacrifice. (Although, we’ll admit, January will be a toughie.)

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January: Save on booze

If you’ve heard one person say they’re doing this in 2018, you’ve heard it a million times: Dry January. The average annual alcohol consumption cost across central Canada and the Prairies hover around the $700 mark (it’s considerably higher in the Northwest Territories and Yukon; lower in Atlantic Canada and Nunavut). By opting not to buy booze in January, you’ll save roughly $58 — and that’s just on the booze you buy for your house. If you’re also big on eating out, and by extension, drinking out, you’ll save even more.

It might seem like a daunting prospect, but it helps if you find a buddy to do it with you. And if you combine it with another popular January pursuit — fitness — it’ll be even easier to reach for water instead of wine this month.

February: Save on canned goods

Did you know there was such a thing as a National Canned Food month? There is and it happens in February. In this month, you’ll be more apt to find canned goods on sale, so it’s a great time to stock up on things like beans, peas and tomatoes, which are great for making large batches of soups, chili and stews.

An added bonus is that these large batches will produce lots of leftovers that you can eat for lunch or weeknight dinners, which will save you money and time.

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March: Save on frozen food

The Dietitians of Canada have declared March Nutritious Food Month, which means this is the time to stock up on vitamin- and mineral-packed foods.

“You can get the most nutritious foods for less by buying frozen fruits and vegetables,” says registered dietitian Nishta Saxena. “People don’t realize these foods have really good nutrition.”

She suggests coupling these less expensive nutritious foods with another popular 2018 theme linked to saving money: cooking at home. If you have kids and you’re not going away for March Break, use this time to plan some new family favourites to add to the dinner roster, and get your kids to help with the prep.

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“This is also a good time to learn a new technique or use the slow cooker you got as a holiday gift. We all know that the best way to reduce food costs is to eat at home, and this will help with your money-saving goals.”

April: Save on cupboard staples

Just as you might be inspired to spring clean your closet or your bathroom, do the same for your kitchen cupboards and you could find a treasure trove of savings.

READ MORE: Here’s a $50 grocery list for an entire week of healthy eating

“This is a great time to revive your pantry,” Saxena says.

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It may sound counterintuitive, but as you clear out half-eaten jars of peanut butter and stale boxes of crackers, you’ll likely find staples that you started eating months ago that got shoved to the back of the cupboard. Cook things like rice and pasta before buying more of the same or even more expensive grains (like quinoa).

“If it’s still edible and safe, now is a good time to play around and experiment with new dishes.”

May: Save on fresh produce

This is the time of year that most farmers’ markets come out of hibernation to offer fresh, seasonal and local produce. You’re not only likely to get more nutritious produce, but it’s also cheaper than what you get at the supermarket (especially if you go towards the end of the day).

If you don’t have time to hit up a farmers’ market regularly, you can join a CSA (community-supported agriculture), which will deliver a box of fresh produce to your door. If it’s too much food for you or your family, you can share with a friend, thus cutting your costs even further.

June: Save on snacking

“Science has proven that the more you sit around and look at food, the more you’ll eat it,” Saxena says. “As the weather warms up, you’ll be outside more and will probably find yourself eating slightly less.”

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You can forego buying those expensive snacks you keep at your desk during the colder months which you likely mindlessly eat. Instead, get up and take a walk in the middle of the day.

“The weather is beautiful, so you’ll be more inclined to go outside. Space out when you eat and keep yourself busy,” she says. “After all, when you’re not eating, you’re saving money on food.”

July: Save on specialty drinks

Needless to say, cutting back on buying your morning coffee instead of making it at home adds up to huge savings. If you’ve managed to make a habit of brewing the hot stuff at home every morning, it doesn’t have to stop once the weather heats up and your palate desires something colder.

Cold brew coffee, green iced tea and frappuccinos are just as easy to make at home. What’s even better, since you’re the master of your drink, you can control how much sugar you’re adding (if any at all).

August: Save on preserves

This is a little more of a spend-money-to-save-money tip, but you’ll be glad you did come fall. As summer begins to wind down, it’s time to stock up on all the fresh fruits, veggies and herbs you have access to and preserve them for the months to come. This means spending less on these items in the winter months, especially since they’ll be priced at a premium when they’re out of season.

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Now is the time to can some peaches, freeze berries for your morning smoothies, and use fresh herbs like basil and parsley to make pesto.

September: Save with coupon apps

If you have kids, you know that September means going back to making school lunches and stocking up on snacks. To prevent your grocery bills from skyrocketing, download some coupon apps to save you money in a variety of stores.

READ MORE: 5 ways to save money on fruits and vegetables

Flipp and YP Grocery consolidate weekly flyers from a variety of retailers, including grocery stores, pharmacies, pet and automotive stores, while apps like Checkout 51 and Zweet post a weekly flyer offering deals and work on a cashback model (once you’ve made your purchase, take a photo of your receipt, upload it to the app and when you hit $20 in savings, they’ll mail you a cheque).

October: Save on hearty fruits and vegetables

It’s the season of the harvest, which means the grocery store is teeming with hearty fare that will keep you sated through the cold winter months.

“When you buy fruits and vegetables that last a long time, you’ll spend less money because they have a longer shelf life in your refrigerator,” Saxena says.

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Now is the time to stock up on fruits like apples and pears, and root vegetables like parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips, as well as onions and garlic.

“Not only will your food last longer, but you’ll also avoid paying premium prices for imported items.”

November: Save on group dinners

As the temperatures start to dip, there’s more of an inclination to stay in and entertain. But that doesn’t mean you always have to be the one to shell out for food and drink. Hosting a potluck party means you’ll be able to feed a lot of people at minimal cost.

If you’re the host, offer to cook a main, like a roast chicken or a pasta dish, and ask your guests to make sides and dessert. If you’re a guest, opt to cook a side using in-season vegetables, like roasted Brussels sprouts or scalloped potatoes. Anyone who doesn’t cook can bring wine.

At the end of the evening, there will be plenty of leftovers for you and your guests to take home and enjoy over the course of the following days.

READ MORE: How much of your budget should you spend on groceries?

“Some friend groups also like to host cooking parties,” Saxena says. “Everyone decides to cook something, like turkey chili or shepherd’s pie, and then everyone takes home 30 per cent of each dish. It’s a nice way to [share expenses] and it speaks to how we should always enjoy food in a social way.”
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December: Save on baking instead of buying

With the holidays around the corner, costs inevitably go up. But you can save on holiday presents by baking your gifts instead. Cookies and peppermint bark make a lovely and thoughtful gift. To save money on ingredients, have a baking party where everyone splits the costs or each person is responsible for bringing one ingredient.

Then maybe put some of the money you saved towards a little something for yourself. A full year of saving on food surely earns you a special treat.

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