As a new mother twenty years ago, I had to learn to cook everything as economically as possible, and in those days I had time do everything from bake bread to freeze and can things from our garden. Along the way I discovered some interesting facts that I’ll share with you here.
In the first place, some convenience foods don’t save any time or money. All they save is cupboard space. This can be important in a one-or two-person household if you consistently throw things out because you can’t use them up before they spoil. Take those noodle based ‘helper’ products. The name brand can cost as much as 3-5 times as much as a package of noodles, a can of soup and a pound of burger. You assemble it in exactly the same way, and the time savings is nonexistent.
Same with dessert mixes—the kind where there’s two or three packets; a filling, say some graham cracker crumbs, and a topping. Time savings zilch. If you buy the ingredients separately and work from a recipe, you end up with twice the product. There is no magic in the box.
Things like paper products and cleaning supplies are at the top of my list of non-bargains. Paper towels and plates are usually so thin you need to use several to do the same job as one of a quality name brand. No savings here! Get the good stuff and you won’t have to buy it so often.
Dish and laundry detergents are the same way. They don’t work as well as major brands, and you end up using more.
The place where you can save big time is in personal care products, such as shampoos and toothpaste. Most of these bargain brands do the job at a significant savings, provided you don’t live in area with hard water. If you do, there are still low-priced brands that will work even in hard water.
When it comes to canned fruits and vegetables, there are off-brands that look like a great savings. In fact, in my area there are a few of these that are often on sale at less than half the price of the major brands. The problem is, since they’re in a can, you can’t see what’s in there. You come home and open the can, only to find they make up weight by adding water. The actual amount of fruit is only about 75% of what you’d get in a same-size can of a brand name. So steer away from off-brand canned goods. The surprise here is that the store brand is often the best deal.
A recent entry in my local area is the dollar store. You can often find significant savings there, on a variety of items. But watch out! Sometimes the grocery store has the same items at 79¢ or lower.
One more thing, before you go off to the grocery store, armed with your list—NEVER SHOP WHILE YOU’RE HUNGRY! That’s the biggest money-blower of all.