Aimee Geroux never met a bruised apple or blemished cauliflower she couldn’t use.
“It’s still good once you cut the bad part off,” says the Richmond Hill food frugalista, who employs several tools to pare $ 600 to $ 800 a month off her family of five’s grocery bills.
In addition to buying marked-down produce and meat, Geroux battles rising food prices with meal-planning, price-matching and flyer-watching — “and not buying more than we actually need.”
Those are strategies other households might want to adopt, with food prices predicted to increase as much as 6.5 per cent in 2021.
“It’s concerning anytime but in the midst of a pandemic, to have food prices rising … people need a break, they can’t afford these increases,” says Geroux, a lifestyle blogger who’s had only one paid gig since March. Fortunately, her fiancé still has a job, she adds.
The just-released 11th annual Food Price Report — a collaborative effort by four universities across the country — foresees the cost of groceries overall going up by three to five per cent. The worst offenders will be meat (4.5 to 6.5 per cent increase), vegetables (4.5 to 6.5 per cent) and bakery (3.5 to 5.5 per cent), said the study’s authors, calling COVID-19 a major culprit.
They calculated a family of four can expect to pay $ 13,907 annually, almost $ 700 more than in 2020. (That jump doesn’t include restaurants or online spending.)
For Geroux, who typically spends $ 500 to $ 1,000 a month on groceries, household supplies and personal care products for her partner, “two bottomless-pit teenagers” and a six-year-old, thriftiness begins at home.
She does an inventory of fridge, freezer and cupboards, then plans meals, writes out a grocery list and browses digital versions of weekly flyers using the Flipp app.
“Price-matching is key,” says Geroux, who shops mostly at No Frills, one of the few major grocery stores that will match a lower advertised price of competitors’ merchandise.
The hardcore dollar-stretcher also scours websites such as Save.ca, SmartSource and ZebraCoupons.com for coupons to print although they’re less plentiful now, laments Geroux. Her website moniker, extremecouponingmom.ca, is a throwback to the days when she saved $ 10,000 a year just through couponing and price-matching.
The savvy shopper also earns cash back using rebate apps such as Checkout 51 and Caddle. (Users are given credit for buying select products and mailed a cheque when their account reaches $ 20.)
Geroux’s membership in the PC Optimum program, operated by Loblaw, generates $ 500 to $ 600 worth of points per year that she redeems for gifts or groceries.
The time and effort she spends to save money aren’t significant, she says.
“Once you get into that groove of checking flyers and printing coupons … you find your flow and it becomes second nature to you.”
Another thrift-minded shopper, Liza Fare, manages to take an estimated $ 2,000 bite out of her annual grocery tab by focusing on sales and snail-mailed coupons.
Known as the “Coupon Queen” at her local Sobeys in Fort Erie, Fare shops for her husband and their little Jack Russell every two or three weeks. She finds a few coupons in-store but gets most of them by writing a “nice letter” to manufacturers, either to compliment them or raise an issue about a product.
For example, an email about a purchased package of 40 dog chews that contained only 38 treats netted her two coupons for the $ 11.99 product.
Another time, a manufacturer gave her a coupon for any sized mayo to replace the expired one she bought inadvertently. She got the $ 9 size for free.
Ninety-five per cent of manufacturers respond with coupons, says Fare, whose emails include a product’s UPC code and her contact info.
“They want to keep you,” she reasons.
The retiree’s couponing history dates back to 1979 when she founded Coupon Clippers of Canada, a non-profit coupon-exchange organization she ran until 2004.
Fare’s proud of her cost-cutting success, which translated to $ 66.31 on a recent grocery bill.
“That’s a 31 per cent savings!” she declares, itemizing discounts that totalled $ 41.05 and coupons worth $ 25.26.
Among the savings was yogurt at two for $ 5 ($ 1.49 less) and a turkey for $ 25.68 ($ 15.99 less), trimmed further with a $ 2-off coupon.
Fare, who stocks her pantry with sale items, recently redeemed enough Sobeys-awarded Air Miles for a cartful of groceries that cost her just 36 cents.
Her advice to other consumers? “Do not be an impulse buyer. You’ve gotta put yourself on a budget. You have to be smart.”
She cites the case of someone she saw paying the regular price of $ 1.99 for a small box of Christmas-themed tissues.
Agri-food researcher Simon Somogyi adds his two cents’ worth on saving at the checkout.
“The freezer is your friend!” says Somogyi, the University of Guelph co-lead on the food price report. “See if you can buy in bulk at places like Costco or Walmart, and freeze the food you don’t need now and remember to use it later.”
Being selective can also help, he says, noting researchers expect poultry, pork, eggs, lettuce and tomatoes in particular to cost more.
During winter when fresh produce takes its long journey from warmer climes — including wildfire-stricken California — consider buying frozen fruits and vegetables which are more nutritious and cheaper, he says.
So, how did I do?
I saved almost 20 per cent off my weekly grocery bill of $ 92 by buying marked-down produce, sale items and price-matched goods. I also collected 3,000 PC Optimum bonus points, worth $ 3 on a future shopping trip.
My go-to store is No Frills but I typically search five other grocers’ flyers for their sales. With half a dozen products circled this time, I toured the aisles, doing the odd quick calculation to find the best deal. For an investment of about 30 minutes, I snared these savings:
- $ 1.74 on a half-price cauliflower with a couple of black flecks
- $ 4.09 on sale-priced olive oil
- $ 1 on sale-priced coffee cream
- $ 1.47 on three cans of sale-priced tuna
- $ 4.09 on sale-priced dishwasher detergent
- $ 1.44 on three cartons of soy beverage, price-matched at $ 1.99 each
- $ 1 on a half-pint of blackberries, price-matched at $ 1.88
- $ 1 on yogurt, price-matched at $ 4.98
- $ 1.78 for 2.5 kg of flour, price-matched at $ 3.99
Total savings: $ 17.61 on the pre-tax subtotal of $ 91.95