Starting a permaculture garden, however large or small is a significant step to reducing the cost of your food. Even just having a few containers on a balcony with herbs and tomatoes growing in them, will add up to significant savings across the ear, while those with more space to institute vegetable and fruit cultivating garden beds and perhaps even an orchard and space to raise some livestock will see even bigger savings. But however much space one has to devote to food production, chances are you will still need to go shopping to purchase some foodstuffs.
Some of your shopping may be done at a local farmers’ market where you can purchase goods from and have a direct relationship with the producers of the food. There may be local businesses that source products from the surrounding area, or make them themselves, such as butchers and bakers in the town. But even if these options are available in your area, you are still likely to need to visit a supermarket.
Supermarkets tend to have larger carbon footprints than smaller, local shops as they use economies of scale to buy products in bulk and transport them to their outlets. For this reason alone, it is preferable to limit your patronage of supermarkets as much as possible, but practically most people will need to use them. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of money you spend in the supermarket.
Have a List
One of the easiest ways to spend more money at the supermarket is to go without a set idea of what you want or need to buy. Supermarkets are in the business of maximizing profits, so are always looking at ways to tempt consumers to part with more cash. This includes techniques such as buy-one-get-one-free offers, placing items next to the check out, and prominently displaying certain items at the end of aisles. (These extra items are only good purchases if they are things you would buy anyway and you can store the extra items.) Spending a little time planning meals and making a list of what you need – and sticking to it – will help prevent impulse buys that up your bill. Doing your supermarket shopping online is another way to avoid impulse purchases. Also be aware, that supermarket stores are often designed so that essentials are at opposite ends, so you are forced to pass aisles of more expensive goods to get between them. Having a list will help keep you focused.
Don’t go Hungry
Customers are more likely to make impulse purchases when they are hungry. That’s why supermarkets often site the bakery section of their stores next to the entrance, as the smell of baking bread can cause hunger impulses. So always eat something before you go to the supermarket.
Wherever possible, shop around to get the best prices. While a supermarket will try to cultivate loyalty among its customers, there is actually very little advantage for the individual in patronizing a single store. Schemes such as loyalty cards that give you points against your shopping that can be redeemed for products when you have accrued enough are rarely good value if you take into account the savings that can be made by shopping around for the lowest prices in the first place. And by signing up to loyalty schemes you are sacrificing your privacy, as the supermarkets will use data about your shopping habits to market directly to you. Of course, it is not always practical to shop in several places during one trip, particularly if stores are at some distance from one another meaning you would drive further, or if you are short on time, but often supermarkets are in close proximity to other stores, including local traders such as butchers and bakers. Also, these days you can usually compare prices of goods at different stores online.
Buy in Season
Fruit and vegetables, and even meat to a certain degree, that are in season are not only cheaper – due to the fact that there are more of them on the market and they are usually produced locally – they are also more nutritious and more flavorful then out-of-season varieties. And because they are typically sourced locally, they have a smaller carbon footprint due to shorter transportation time and less need for refrigeration or storage.
Go for Reduced Items
The ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates on products are far from an exact science. They may well give some kind of guide about when to eat a product, but the supermarkets themselves largely determine them. The stores will typically reduce the price on items that are close to their best before date, and as long as these are items on your list that you need, go ahead and buy them. They will be good to eat for some time after the printed date. How long will depend upon the type of food, but use you eyes and nose to tell if something is still okay to consume. Alternatively, you can freeze the items and use them when you are ready.
Processed foods are more expensive than wholefoods. This is because they require more energy, labor and water to put together, often combining ingredients that have been transported from several different locations to be centrally processed than transported back out to stores, and have more preservatives contained within them. Where possible, purchase unprocessed ingredients and combine them into meals at home. This is also a healthier way to eat.
The cost of food is also higher if the food is packaged. The costs of fabricating the packaging material and the energy of applying it to the product are factored into the price the customer pays. Wherever possible, go for unpackaged options, such as loose fruit and vegetables rather than those in sealed bags, and meat cut at the deli counter rather than already packaged in cling wrap. Besides reducing your food bill, this also helps prevent more packaging ending up in landfill sites.