Unless you’ve somehow got full-time staff ensuring that things get done without you so much as lifting a finger, you probably go to the supermarket at least once a week to stock up on essentials.
Personally, I rather like going to the grocery. I like seeing new products lining the shelves, comparing the prices of toiletries or snacks I might need or want, and occasionally, trying out free samples. What I’m not so keen on is how my supermarket bills seem to eat up nearly half of my paycheck, but isn’t that the case for everyone?
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that you can actually cross certain grocery “must-haves” off your list AND save a buck or two. If you’ve ever wondered how you can significantly cut down on your grocery bills without risking food poisoning (i.e., buying edibles past their sell-by date), here’s a list of items you’re better off leaving on the shelf next time:
1. Pre-Cut Produce.
I’m talking about those fruits and vegetables that have been washed, peeled, cut, and then packaged into styrofoam containers. Sometimes, these also appear as individual salads in plastic bowls with fancy labels like “Chef’s Salad” or “Mediterranean Medley.”
Sure, they’re convenient. Who wouldn’t want to just nosh on a couple pieces of fruit or open up a salad bowl instead of washing, peeling and chopping their components first?
However, produce tends to cost more when it’s been processed and bundled together, so you’re actually better off just buying the whole fruit or the vegetables that go into that pre-mixed salad. And here’s something that will put you off even further: supermarkets wouldn’t mutilate fresh, top-quality produce, so pre-cutting is often a last-ditch attempt to salvage stale, less-than-ideal fruits and vegetables from the garbage.
Thus, when you buy pre-cut produce, you’re actually paying more for subpar merchandise. Eww.
2. Salad Dressing.
You know those fancy bottles of salad dressing that cost at least Php100 (around AUD2.4) f each? Guess what? You can easily make them at home, and for less than half their retail price.
The basic formula for salad dressing is three parts oil (olive, canola, or vegetable), one part acid (lemon juice, calamansi juice, or vinegar), and a pinch of salt and pepper. THAT’S IT.
These items are usually already in your pantry, and best of all, homemade salad dressing is so easy to put together that you don’t need to stock half-opened bottles that will probably expire long before you use them up.
3. Olive Oil.
Look, olive oil is sexy, I get it. Heck, it’s even called extra virgin sometimes. What other food product has got that sort of street cred?
Here’s the thing, though. Real, honest-to-goodness olive oil, the sort that smells and tastes really good drizzled, rubbed, massaged into food? (I told you it was sexy.) That stuff costs a lot. We’re talking nearly Php350 (around AUD8.50) for a 50ml bottle. That Php180 (around AUD4) f 100ml bottle at the supermarket? It’s most likely nothing more than canola oil with green food coloring, or olive oil that’s been diluted with soybean oil.
Unless you really, really love olive oil and have the budget for the real thing, best stick to good, old-fashioned vegetable oil instead.
4. Canned Chicken Stock.
Ready-made stock is not only expensive, it’s also high in sodium and preservatives.
The good news is it costs almost nothing to make your own stock at home. Beef bones, chicken bones, vegetable scraps- these can all be thrown into a pot of water and set to boil for a couple of hours to create a flavorful broth. This also allows you to control how much salt goes into your food, and you can make and freeze big batches of homemade stock at a time for convenience.
5. Branded Products.
Gone are the days when generic brands were of terrible quality, and buying only name-brands can really hurt your wallet. For instance, I find that supermarket brands of fruit cocktail often taste just as good as more expensive brands, and they’re sometimes a good Php10 (around AUD0.24) f cheaper.
Pro-tip: Take a look at the packaging of a branded grocery item and that of a generic product. If they look very similar, chances are they came from the same manufacturer and are most likely of the same quality.
Inflation will always be a fact of life, so we can expect the prices of commodities to increase every year. Most of us may feel the pinch the most when our weekly budget rings up less and less pantry or fridge staples as time goes on, but it’s possible to still live a well-fed life if we choose to be more mindful of the things that go into our grocery carts.