Extension Agent: Learn how to reduce your food expenses

By Brenda Anderson
April 29, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 28, 2014 at 11:29 p.m.

In these challenging economic times, hard budgeting decisions must be made. Unemployment is high, job security is unsteady, and the price of food and other items continues to rise.

As a result, more people are trying to pay off debts, reduce unnecessary expenses or buy used instead of new items. One simple way to save money is to cut back on food expenses by shopping smarter.

Buying only produce that is in season assures more affordable prices and better quality. Choosing store brand products over national brands is usually more budget-friendly, and eating out less can also help to cut down on food expenses. Another great way to cut back on grocery costs is to explore what is offered at dollar and closeout stores.

Many people shop at dollar stores and closeout stores for paper goods, kitchen gadgets and seasonal decorations. Shoppers might be hesitant to buy food at dollar or closeout stores, but contrary to some popular beliefs, grocery shopping at dollar and closeout stores can help to save money on food expenses.

Dollar and closeout stores often carry the same national brands of foods as conventional grocery stores for a similar price. Some dollar stores even sell perishable foods, fresh foods and frozen items. Getting to know the different types and brands of foods dollar stores carry can help stretch a food budget.

But keep in mind, just because a food item only costs a dollar does not mean that it is automatically a good buy. No matter where food is bought, it is helpful to know typical costs of foods in order to compare prices at all locations and keep from paying more than necessary.

Also, check with individual stores to find out if they accept coupons, SNAP or WIC. Using food benefits and coupons together will help to stretch food dollars even further.

Dollar stores, closeout stores and convenience stores often carry foods that are highly processed and can stay on store shelves for a while without spoiling. For individuals who rely on dollar stores to stock a pantry, following a low-sodium or low-fat diet may be hard to do, so always read food labels and try to choose those that are nutrient-rich when possible.

No matter where you purchase your food, make sure it is properly labeled with a nutrition facts panel, list of ingredients and an address for a producer, manufacturer or distributor.

In order to get the best quality food, check expiration dates and do not buy foods that cannot be used before those dates. Finally, make sure packages are intact and cans are not heavily dented. Never compromise food safety to save a dollar.

The only way to get a feel for what foods all types of stores offer is to visit them and take a look around. So, explore dollar and closeout stores to discover some healthy, wallet-friendly options.

Source: "Dining at the Dollar Store" curricula from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Better Living for Texans program.

Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.



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