Stretching your dollars....Are you paying for trash?

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams
With the rising costs of many consumer items many people are looking for ways to stretch the family dollar. The portion of the household budget allotted to the grocery store usually has the most lee way and has the most unneeded expenses. If you are trying to cut down on your grocery bill one of the first things you need to do is evaluate the things you tend to buy right now. Some of the first things that should be eliminated are frivolous convenience items. The increased cost of these items is often related to the extra packaging. When you buy them you are buying trash! Single serve packaging makes sense in a few cases but most of the time it is far cheaper to buy items in larger quantities or even bulk Canned fruit can be ½ the per oz cost if you forego the single serving cups and spring for a larger can containing two or more servings. Just refrigerate unused portions.  You have to be the judge of how far you want to take the convenience food elimination. Few people are interested in purchasing whole wheat to grind into flour but most households can find a few items that they are willing to compromise on convenience for cost. Also look at some of the “junk” food in your pantry. Bags of chips, cookies, crackers and processed food not only hurt your health they hurt your pocket book. They really contribute nothing as far as nutritional value and are often relatively expensive. Think of it this way; you are paying for something that is virtually worthless (Trash). Consider eliminating all “snack food” that doesn’t meet strict criteria for nutritional value. Your wallet and your waistline will appreciate it.


Check out the name brands that you find in your pantry, frig and freezer. We often get in the habit of picking up a particular name brand because that is what we have always bought. Or we have been victims of the advertising schemes we are bombarded with daily. Fancy packaging designed in an attempt to catch the consumer’s eye is more expensive and that cost is passed on to the consumer who passes the package right to the curb on trash day. With many food items you pay more for nothing but a name. The products are often exactly the same having only been sold by the manufacturer to different companies. There are some differences in quality for some items. Check out the label and compare ingredients. If in doubt purchase one off brand item to compare to the name brand to see if there is really a difference in quality. Some items that rarely have a difference between name brand and off brands are cereal, frozen and canned vegetables and dairy products. Make sure that when comparing off brands you are actually comparing items that are equivalent to the name brand. For example - if you compare frozen name brand “broccoli florets” with off brand “chopped broccoli” you will certainly be disappointed in the off brand.  


The most important thing to do when trying to save your dollars at the supermarket is to plan, plan, plan. The importance of planning meals ahead cannot be overemphasized. Many ingredients can only be purchased in quantities much greater than a single recipe requires and to prevent waste you must plan for use of the excess ingredients. For instance, German potato salad uses bacon, but not a whole package! Have a plan to use the rest of the bacon in another meal and shop accordingly. Food going bad before it can be used is a big drain on the food budget. You don’t have to plan exactly which day a particular meal will be cooked but you should have a timeframe involved. Plan your meals based on ingredients you have in your pantry, frig, or freezer already. Are your apples getting soft? Make apple pie. Is your leftover ham been in the refrigerator for a week? Purchase potatoes and cheese and make scalloped potatoes and ham. Be sure to have plan for the unused ingredients that you purchase to make it. Maybe you could have loaded baked potatoes a few nights later. That brings to the forefront another essential strategy which is also in the realm of planning. That is, choosing recipes with many of the same ingredients. If you can find three recipes using shredded cheese to make in the next two weeks, it will make it worth your while to buy that large bag or block of cheese that is ultimately a better deal. To prevent a tedious menu take into account which items freeze or store well.  Look for meat that is on sale because it is almost out of date. Same goes for dairy products. There is nothing wrong with it at that point, just throw it in your freezer when you get home and thaw it as you need it. If you have the storage (and the items are not perishable or can be frozen) buy commonly used or easy to plan around items while on sale or in bulk so that you have things at home to inspire meals (and therefore shopping lists) and that were a great deal. Plan meals around low cost items; pasta and potatoes or on sale meat and in season veggies are great examples. With practice you can formulate some meal plans while in the grocery store to take advantage of current sales and deals.  Frozen vegetables are very affordable because they can be picked while in season while plentiful then preserved, and they are just as healthful as fresh in most cases. Try to work vegetables, either frozen, fresh (in season) or canned, into each meal for the health of yourself and your family so that your low cost filling meals don’t become all starch fests!


Lastly check out some things outside of the food budget. The ideas about name brands and buying in bulk and on sale apply to items beyond groceries too. Don’t be frightened of off brand bandages, topical medications, and pain relievers they likely come from the same place as the name brand products. There often does seem to be differences is the quality of some beauty products but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save some bucks on them. One of my favorite tips is concerning hair conditioner. Save your old bottle and divide the new one in half between the two. Top both with water. Most conditioners are much thicker than necessary and do just as good a job when they are a bit watered down. Experiment with off brand items to find out which ones really are worth less and which ones are just as good as the more expensive brands.  Skip the expensive smelly pump soap and stick an old fashioned bar soap next to the sinks in your home. Most of the pump soaps are antibacterial which contribute to bacterial resistance and are not recommended anyway, aside from being outrageously expensive. Cleaning products are often hyped. Experiment to find out if you really need a different cleaner for everything in your home, and find out if less expensive off brand products are just as effective. A spray bottle of diluted bleach or all purpose cleaner can cover a lot of your housekeeping expenses for very little money. Ask yourself if you really need paper cups, plates and towels around. Is it worth the costs over the convenience? When you think about it, you are buying these items knowing full well that you will just throw them in the garbage, you are literally paying for trash!

Peter Tamura
Coldwell Banker Select - Tulsa, OK

Hi Karla,

This is a great article.  I never thought about anti-bacterial soap contributing to bacterial resistance and your blunt assessment "You're paying for trash!"  on most packages of food and household products.  How true.

I hear the word carbon footprint used a lot.  I always thought of this as how big the garbage bag is on trash day but I guess there's a lot more to it.

I found this site from Youtube for measuring your carbon footprint, it's an EPA site.

I need to do more on this, your article has some good ideas.


May 15, 2008 06:40 PM