by Reader's Digest Magazine, on Wed May 19, 2010 6:48am PDT
From Dollar Savvy
With the rising costs of groceries, we'd all love to save a few bucks at the checkout line. Now you can easily slash your bill with some clever shopping moves and DIY recipes. Manufacturers would like to make you think you're getting a good deal in exchange for convenience, but it's really just eating away at your food budget. Don't be fooled any longer. Cross these items off your list for good!
1. Bottled water.
Bottled water is a bad investment for so many reasons. It's expensive compared to what's coming out of the tap, its cost to the environment is high (it takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce and ship all those bottles), and it's not even better for your health than the stuff running down your drain!
Even taking into account the cost of filters, water from home is still much cheaper than bottled water, which can run up to $1 to $3 a pop.
If you have well water and it really does not taste good (even with help from a filter), or if you have a baby at home who is bottle-fed and needs to drink safe water, buy jugs of distilled or "nursery" water at big discount stores. They usually cost between 79 cents and 99 cents for 1 gallon (as opposed to $1.50 for 8 ounces of "designer" water). And you can reuse the jugs to store homemade iced tea, flavored waters, or, when their tops are cut off, all sorts of household odds and ends.
2. "Gourmet" frozen vegetables.
Sure, you can buy an 8-ounce packet of peas in an herbed butter sauce, but why do so when you can make your own? Just cook the peas, add a pat of butter and sprinkle on some herbs that you already have on hand. The same thing goes for carrots with dill sauce and other gourmet veggies.
3. Premium frozen fruit bars.
At nearly $2 per bar, frozen "all fruit" or "fruit and juice" bars may not be rich in calories, but they are certainly rich in price. Make your own at home — and get the flavors you want. The only equipment you need is a blender, a plastic reusable ice-pop mold (on sale at discount stores for about 99 cents each), or small paper cups and pop sticks or wooden skewers.
To make four pops, just throw 2 cups cut-up fruit, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice into a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. You might wish to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water so the final mix is a thick slush. Pour into 4-ounce pop molds or paper cups, insert sticks, and freeze until solid.
4. Boxed rice “entree” or side-dish mixes.
These consist basically of rice, salt, and spices — yet they're priced way beyond the ingredients sold individually. Yes, there are a few flavorings included, but they're probably ones you have in your pantry already. Buy a bag of rice, measure out what you need, add your own herbs and other seasonings, and cook the rice according to package directions.
5. Energy or protein bars.
These calorie-laden bars are usually stacked at the checkout counter because they depend on impulse buyers who grab them, thinking they are more wholesome than a candy bar. Unfortunately, they can have very high fat and sugar contents and are often as caloric as a regular candy bar. They're also two to three times more expensive than a candy bar at $2 to $3 a bar. If you need a boost, a vitamin-rich piece of fruit, a yogurt, or a small handful of nuts is more satiating and less expensive!
6. Spice mixes.
Spice mixes like grill seasoning and rib rubs might seem like a good buy because they contain a lot of spices that you would have to buy individually. Well, check the label; we predict the first ingredient you will see on the package is salt, followed by the vague "herbs and spices." Look in your own pantry, and you'll probably be surprised to discover just how many herbs you already have on hand. Many cookbooks today include spice mix recipes, particularly grilling cookbooks. But the great thing about spice mixes is that you can improvise as much as you want. Make your own custom combos and save a fortune.
7. Powdered iced tea mixes or prepared flavored iced tea.
Powdered and gourmet iced teas are really a rip-off! It's much cheaper to make your own iced tea from actual (inexpensive) tea bags and keep a jug in the fridge. Plus, many mixes and preparations are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, along with artificial flavors. So make your own, and get creative! To make 32 ounces of iced tea, it usually takes 8 bags of black tea or 10 bags of herbal, green, or white tea. Most tea-bag boxes have recipes, so just follow along. If you like your tea sweet but want to keep calories down, skip the sugar and add fruit juice instead.
8. Microwave sandwiches.
When you buy a pre-made sandwich, you're really just paying for its elaborate packaging — plus a whole lot of salt, fat, and unnecessary additives. For the average cost of one of these babies ($2.50 to $3.00 per sandwich), you could make a bigger, better, and more nutritious version yourself.
It's always great to find new areas to save money, especially when it benefits your health! Keep in mind that processed foods (which are typically more convenient than healthy foods) are filled with preservatives, MSG and many other genetically engineered ingredients, loaded with sodium, high in calories & generally speaking awful for you and your health. So take these tips, apply them to your habits & feel better in more ways than one.