* Article last updated December 11, 2011
1. Compare generic with name brands
Some of us have attachments to name brand items, but on things that are less important such as rice, flour, dried beans, cream cheese, frozen vegetables or even fabric softener, the supermarket brand might be just as good or better for less money.
*However, a note of caution. Since austerity-hit households began switching to no-name labels to save money, supermarkets raised prices up to 30 percent to make up for a drop in consumption, and brand names lowered their prices to win back customers. Pay attention.
2. Buy bulk
The tag on the shelf tells you how much the item costs per kilo/liter/piece, so it’s easy to compare the product you’re buying with a similar or larger one. If it’s something you use often, it’s usually (though not always) much cheaper to buy the bigger size in the long run.
When I had access to warehouse stores, I would buy fresh meat and produce en masse and freeze it or share the cost with friends.
3. Go to the counter
Rather than picking up pre-packaged products off the shelves, go to the counter to get your meat, cheese and deli items — they’re the same quality brands and less expensive. If you go at off-peak hours, there’s also no waiting.
Again, you can tell if it’s cheaper in advance by looking at the price on the shelf (per kilo), then compare it with what the counter is selling it for.
4. Refill and reuse
Instead of buying another canister (such as a spice jar), why not reuse and refill it with a large pack of fresh spice or herbs? Saves money and extra waste from the landfill.
During my months in Egypt, Jordan and India, I saw many women keep simple jars and refill them with fresh herbs and spices by taking them direct to the vendor, who measured and poured supplies directly into the container. In the USA, places like Whole Foods allow you to fill reusable plastic bags with flour or beans, then empty them in a container at home. No waste!
5. Get a supermarket card
Supermarket bonus cards are free and require only that you fill out an application once. If it’s in a language you don’t understand, a clerk or manager can usually help if you don’t have someone accompanying you. They normally only ask for your name, address and phone number, so English speakers could write those details on a piece of paper in advance if a bilingual staff member cannot help you or communicating in Greek is a problem.
Once you have a supermarket card, you can take advantage of advertised specials and occasional booklets of store coupons that offer extra points.
It amounts to immediate discounts at checkout or accumulated points that grant you gift certificates redeemable on a future visit. It adds up quicker than you think.
6. Visit the farmer’s market (laiki) or green grocer (manavis)
Farmer’s markets offer fresher produce and are often cheaper, especially if you go later in the day when they’re down to their last items and want to close up and go home. There are also ‘irregular’ items for sale at a big discount — see #10. DeviousDiva rightly points out that vendors who specialize in one or two products usually offer better quality.
If you’re like me and work at the time of your farmer’s marker (laiki), find a good green grocer (manavis). In both cases, developing relationships over time might net you a discount or unexpected extra (‘doro’ or gift) for being a friendly, faithful customer.
Personally, I like the fact I can reuse plastic bags or throw all of my items into one canvas bag, instead of taking new bags at the grocery store or arguing with store personnel over reusable bags.
*Sometimes the laiki is not cheaper or fresher, so pay attention.
7. Look for alternative sources
What I mean by this is not stealing vegetables or fruit from your neighbor’s yard, but look for other places to buy products at a discount. My ex-neighborhood butcher, for example, sells better quality frozen vegetables (okra, corn and peas) by the kilo for a lot less than anything offered at the supermarket. The bakery sells eggs for cheap, and they’re fresher as well.
Avoid the corner store, mini-mart or periptero (kiosk), where prices can be up to 100% higher. You’re paying for convenience, not just the product.
8. Consider frozen
In or out of season, I’ve found that frozen vegetables are cheaper than buying fresh, especially if you’re buying generics. The freezing process (if done right) allows you keep them around longer, cook them quicker and still enjoy the nutrients without compromising taste. If you’re set on fresh or your store does not have a good selection, skip this tip.
Also, should you have room in your freezer and the proper storage containers/bags, buying produce at its peak flavor and cheapest price could go a long way to supplying you with good stuff year round. Not all vegies and fruit freeze and defrost fabulously, but it many times doesn’t matter if using them for casseroles, pitas, pies and desserts, ice cream and blended drinks.
I always make a point to freeze cherries and strawberries, just because I like them so much. Juice from pomegranates or puree from any fruit is easy to freeze in ice cube trays and transfer to storage bags, thus making it easy to use what you need instead of defrosting an entire block. Friends who have large gardens and/or live in villages will put part of their harvest in frozen storage for later use, so it’s not uncommon.
9. Grow your own
City dwellers might have a harder time with this one, though many people have balconies, rooftops and windows with ample sunshine to take advantage of container gardens. Some nurseries also have starter plants, which give you a fighting chance without starting from seeds.
I grow herbs in the window of my kitchen in IKEA containers I bought for 50 cents each. Fresher, cheaper and tastes better.
10. Choose irregulars
As of July 1, 2009, the EU is allowing 26 “irregular” vegetables, nuts and fruit back on the market, including apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergine, avocado, fresh beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, courgettes (zucchini), cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell , cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons and chicory.
The farmer’s market (laiki) can be a good place to shop for these, as some vendors offer half off or more on so-called imperfect produce. The grocery store also displays imperfect produce near the scales.
They taste the same, should not go to waste, and have character! I love them.
Don’t forget the Doro!
Being vegetarian, following the Mediterranean diet or at least cutting your meat intake does a lot to trim money off food bills, though I realize many are adverse to this option, which is the reason it was excluded from the Top 10.
I also took into account that most of us are busy people who work full time, have families and may not have hours of leisure time, a vehicle to visit several locations or a housekeeper/unemployed family member to do our shopping for us.
If you’re one of many out there who can’t cook, TV cooks and Internet sources do a great job of teaching you basics and you can find recipes online for free so you can take advantage of the tips above and save money on takeaway. Laziness is not a reason, it’s an excuse!