At MSN Money, Liz Pulliam Weston has an article about fighting what she calls food-budget killers, those items at the grocery store that can put an extra strain on your pocketbook.
Weston's story gives tips for how to save money on the five foods with the biggest price jumps in the past year: flour, eggs, sweet peppers, milk, and dried beans. But the article got me thinking about food-budget killers in a different way. High costs on staple foods put a dent in everyone's budget, but often the real culprits are the foods we splurge on to treat ourselves.
I picked up a bottle of maple syrup the other day, for example — real maple syrup, not the imitation stuff — but I was so fixated on the nutrition information that I didn't notice the price until I got home. $10! For a bottle of syrup! That, my friends, is a budget killer. Fortunately, it's not a regular occurrence (and that bottle of real maple syrup will last me a year).
We do have a few recurring weaknesses, though, such as:
- Fancy cheeses. Kris and I like good cheese. We often treat ourselves to fancy cheeses we find at Costco or natural food stores. Not cheap. We control costs a little by buying only what we know we'll use, so that nothing goes to waste.
- Juices and protein drinks. Since starting to focus on fitness, I've tried to cut back on soda pop — I mostly drink water. For a bit of variety, I've been picking up protein shakes and juices from Naked and Odwalla. These are expensive, so I make a point of only buying them when they're on sale.
- Coffee beans. Quality coffee beans are expensive, but Kris isn't willing to settle for second-best. She doesn't make coffee very often, but when she does, she wants it to taste just right.
- Dinner parties. When we entertain, we spare no expense. We just spent a small fortune on six pounds of fresh halibut for our book group tomorrow night (at which we're discussing M.F.K. Fisher, who believed that eating well was one of the “arts of life”). Fortunately, this only happens a few times a year.
The costs are high when I make clam chowder, too, but it's worth it. (It's delicious, and it produces a huge batch.) I stock up on clams and clam juice if I notice them on sale, which doesn't happen very often.
If these examples were typical of all our food purchases, we'd have a problem. They're not. Most of the time, Kris and I are pretty good about shopping for bargains. Kris, especially, makes a habit of planning her purchases, waiting for sales, and finding coupons for products we use often.
I suspect that even the most frugal shoppers have certain foods that put a dent in their grocery budgets. What are your weaknesses? Do you have any strategies for keeping costs down, even on the things you splurge for?
Author: J.D. Roth
In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he's managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.