Inflation in the Fridge: 15 Tips to Save on Groceries
The current inflationary tsunami has hit most basic goods, not bypassing groceries. Compared to the past, greater portions of our paychecks get literally eaten. We are bringing several tips to armor yourself on this front, saving tens of euros a month.
Along with fuel, energy, and housing, food was another category hit by above-average inflation. According to the Slovak Statistical Office, their prices increased by more than 16% in July 2022 compared to the same month last year. Eurostat unveils a similar trend across the old continent, estimating the July food inflation in the European Union at 13.2%.
Several vegetables (parsley, cucumber, peppers), vegetable oils, fats (e.g., butter), bakery products (of which bread incurred the smallest price increase), and beef endured the highest inflation among items you can find on grocery store shelves (a Slovak dataset was used as a source).
According to the current consumer basket, food and non-alcoholic beverages are the second largest expenditure of a typical European household, after housing. We spend roughly a sixth of our monthly budgets on this category (this figure might even be slightly higher in the CEE region).
Thus, food inflation has bloated the expenditures of most households, causing stress and a lack of funds for other goals, such as transport, leisure, or investing. To help, we are bringing some tips on how to create breathing space in this sphere.
1. Try New Recipes
Europeans love eating meat. An average EU27 citizen consumes roughly 1.5 kilograms weekly, twice the global average. Meat was already expensive before inflation increased its price. Hence, try to save by replacing the meat component of your meal with substitute proteins.
Tofu, chickpeas, lentils, or soya packages are all cheaper and equally nutritious. You'll also help your health, as eating too much red and processed meat increases your chances of colon cancer.
Also, don't be afraid of simpler recipes that may seem 'boring'. You can't go wrong with pancakes or hash browns. My siblings and I used to adore such lunches when we were kids.
2. Create a Food Budget
Do you find yourself dining like the royal family the week after your paycheck and eating leftovers the week before the next one is supposed to arrive? You can fix that by tracking your food expenses on an ongoing basis.
Based on your past expenses and expected income, determine how much you can spend on food each month to leave sufficient funds for other desired expenses. Then divide your projected food costs by the number of weeks to get your ideal weekly consumption.
Afterward, continuously track whether you are staying within this limit to prevent unpleasant surprises at the end of the month. If manual tracking is too annoying (which is understandable, I always get tired of writing down my expenses too), try our Finbot app.
You can link your bank accounts to it, create a monthly food budget, and Finbot will automatically recognize each grocery payment and enter it into your budget. If you spend your food money too quickly, it will simply send you a notification.
It is currently available for linking with Slovak and Polish banks, the Czech and Croatian ones will be added within a couple of weeks. What’s more, all active clients of Finax can use Finbot completely free of charge.
3. Start Planning and Shop with a List
A common problem we encounter at stores is somehow buying a million things we weren’t even supposed to bring home. To make matters worse, if we forget to buy what we actually needed, we drive back and spend more fuel.
Try creating a meal plan to avoid this. You don't have to obsessively stick it on the front door, just sit down with the kids on the weekend to figure out your next four lunches.
A big advantage is the ability to include recipes with common ingredients so you can use up leftovers the next day instead of throwing them out and buying different ones. Did you make soup and have leftover cauliflower? Transform it into a casserole the next day. At the same time, you won't end up buying something unnecessary "in case we ran out of it" – you can ensure it’s in the cupboard when planning at home.
Then make a shopping list and buy everything at once on one day of the week. This will reduce the frequency of shopping and limit the maximum number of items you can buy. That way, you won't end up spending money on unnecessary temptations you spot on the shelves when making smaller purchases three times a week.
4. Prep Meals and Fill Your Freezer
Several dishes can be cooked in bulk, frozen, and used in dozens of recipes, as they go with almost everything. I'm talking about tomato sauce or mashed potatoes (you can find plenty of other recipes for similar dishes on the internet).
Cook them all at once, make room in the freezer, and you have ingredients for 20-minute lunches. The same process can be repeated with ready meals. You'll kill two birds with one stone – save energy by cooking less often, plus you'll buy fewer ingredients to add to recipes.
Speaking of recipe-specific ingredients, try to avoid them. I'm sure you've bought a jar of peanut butter for one sauce in an Asian dish, and it's been lying forgotten on the shelf ever since. The aforementioned frozen side dishes make a tasty replacement.
5. Watch Your Spending While Shopping
Again, a familiar problem: we promise ourselves not to spend more than 80 euros on shopping, but at the fourth item we stop counting, keep mindlessly throwing stuff into the basket, and almost get a heart attack at the checkout. We don't understand where that amount has accumulated. Such shocks can be avoided by monitoring our expenditures directly while shopping.
Simply open a calculator on your mobile phone and type each item into it. If it displays a higher amount than you wanted once you’re done, you can decide which items you need the least. Whether you prefer to skip the packet of sweets and bottle of wine or swap the salmon for cod, buying yourself time to think will help you make up your mind.
For extra savings, you can round up the price of each item before loading it into the calculator (e.g., if something costs €1.79, you'd enter €2 into the calculator). At checkout, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that your purchase only cost 72 euros in the end, down from the estimated 80.
6. Choose the Right Store
Regular shopping at expensive chains like Billa, Delia and Yeme (the last two are smaller Slovak grocery chains) will hurt your account balance at the end of the month. Cheaper stores like Lidl also offer good quality and tasty food, albeit with a smaller offer of products.
We often find that we don't want to go to a more expensive shop, but circumstances force us to. Looking in the fridge at 7 pm, we realize we have nothing for dinner, but Tesco is a half-hour car trip. Rushed by hunger, we decide to just run down to Delia instead.
Again, planning can fix this. If you notice you're running low on essentials, write them down on a list and buy the needed supply during your regular shopping.
7. Reach for Cheap Alternatives
We often automatically turn up our noses at frozen fruit and vegetables. Freezing is said to deprive food of flavor, vitamins, and other nutrients. They must be cheap because they are of poor quality, right? Not really. Studies show that modern freezing methods do not deprive fruit and vegetables of their nutrients at all (fresh food actually loses them more quickly).
Yes, Gordon Ramsay might complain about the difference in taste, but you are not a critic in a Michelin star restaurant, but a witness to the highest inflation in 40 years. You probably won't even notice the difference. Don't be afraid to buy frozen food.
The same goes for own-brand products (such as Tesco, Billa, Clever, Pilos). Their low price doesn't imply lower quality, it's the same food, just in different packaging. In the same way, don't buy seasonal foods in months when they are not ripening. You’d have to pay more to get them (e.g., strawberries bought in March had to be transported, hence the higher price).
8. Beat Your Psyche
Retail chains know the human psyche and are happy to use it to their advantage. Don't buy goods displayed at eye level, they tend to be the most expensive. Instead, explore the bottom and top shelves, you'll probably find the same items at a better price.
Don't shop hungry, you’d make resisting the temptations of an extra sweet or baguette much harder. Be especially careful while waiting at the checkout, shops place their most tempting goods there.
Discounts are a special category. They can be good servants but bad masters. If they force you to buy an item you didn't have on your list, you've spent extra money instead of saving it. Therefore, only take advantage of special offers if you were planning to buy the discounted item anyway.
9. Take Advantage of Good Discounts
If you have meat on your shopping list and notice it on sale, be sure to take advantage of it. Additionally, most grocery chains offer loyalty schemes such as Clubcard or Lidl Plus, which can give you good discounts (but ensure they don't have a membership fee).
If you have time to go to more than one store, most big chains post promotions for the week on their apps. This offers an opportunity to check if you can get some items on your shopping list cheaper at another store.
10. Launch Household Production
If you have the time and will to start a new hobby, try bread leavening (many have already experienced this during the pandemic). You'll get tastier bread, save money, and you won't have to make frequent trips to the store for baked goods, limiting opportunities to splurge on items you don’t need.
Granted that you also have a garden, plant it with vegetables that you regularly use in recipes. Not only is this a popular hobby for many people, but you’ll also get tastier and cheaper food once again.
This way, you'll learn to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, being able to can the surplus for the winter, just like our mothers did.
11. Don't Waste Food
88 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU every year. That’s 173 kilograms per person! And although we like to blame the problem on others, households waste more than food producers and grocery stores. By reducing waste, we can also help our wallets.
Invent recipes from ingredients you have in your pantry or freezer until you're completely out of them (curry, for instance, can be made from virtually any combination of random ingredients). Finish the leftovers from yesterday's lunch before they go bad. If you buy large quantities of meat on sale, freeze it for later.
Also, try googling how to properly store food you plan to use later. Apples will soften at room temperature, so store them in a plastic bag in the fridge instead. Onions should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from potatoes.
12. Stock up Wisely
Stocking up in times of high inflation makes sense if it concerns durable food that you use regularly (pasta, rice). If they get more expensive month by month, buying in advance can save you an inflation 'premium'.
However, this does not apply to foods you use infrequently. I mean items that end up sitting in the back of the fridge until you buy an identical item half a year later because you forgot about it. Once you buy something, try to use it regularly.
Don't buy stockpiles of mustard intending to save them for future potential barbecues. They might end up in the back of the fridge waiting for expiration. The same goes for stocking up on fruit in a naïve hope that the kids will start eating more of it – a waste if it ends up being thrown away.
13. Give Online Shopping a Chance
The pandemic has also brought innovation in shopping forms. For instance, Tesco offers to deliver groceries to your front door or the option of in-store pick-up (Click + Collect).
This method includes several of the benefits mentioned in the previous tips. When you shop online, it's easier to avoid spending on unnecessary, as you can't physically see them in front of you. You don't buy redundant food "just in case" since you can simply walk over to the pantry and see if it's there.
Plus, the price is continuously tallied by the system, you don't have to load it into the calculator yourself. Add the non-monetary savings of time and nerves lost in the checkout queues, and you end up with a pretty good deal.
14. Go Shopping Alone
Do you have chronic "spenders" at home? It can be children who always add an extra snack or a small toy into the basket. It may be a partner unable to resist offers of discounted wine or expensive cheese. If you agree that you need to save more on groceries within your household, leave the chronic spenders at home.
Simply go shopping without the kids or let the partner who is better able to control spending visit the store alone.
15. Bring Your Own Bag
The average Slovak bought 466 plastic bags in 2016 (the number may have dropped as it has since become compulsory to charge money for them). Although one costs just 10 cents, it builds up to almost 50 euros over the year. If you need sturdier plastic bags for large purchases or prefer paper bags, the figure could approach a hundred.
This expense can easily be avoided. Buy two or three tote bags and get into the habit of not forgetting them at home when you go shopping. You'll save money over the year and do your bit for the environment as a bonus.
We'll be glad if these tips help you to enrich your wallet, diet, and good feeling about helping the environment. If you have additional tips you'd like to share with the community of Intelligent Investors, feel free to email us your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.