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cash and kerry

A basket of food

Eating is an expensive habit. I learned this lesson the hard way – by keeping myself fed.

If you haven't been living off leftovers or under a crockpot, you've probably had time to chew on the recent spike in food prices.

According to a report released last month by the Food Institute at the University of Guelph, the unsavoury combination of a weak loonie and the El Niño weather system means keeping the average refrigerator stocked will cost $345 more in 2016 than they did the previous year, and that's on top of the additional $325 we spent in 2015. Expect to dig (way) deeper when buying meat, fruits, nuts, vegetables and fish.

Keeping my family full on less food and at greater cost is a little hard to swallow. So what's a hungry Canuck to do? Short of mooching off relatives (don't do that), I have a few tactics that will help you take a bite out of rising food prices.

Save up to 40 per cent by buying fresh produce at discount grocers.

The price of that tasty fruit salad is set to rise 4.5 per cent this year, according to the University of Guelph study, because 81 per cent of all vegetables and fruits consumed in Canada are imported. When winter makes it hard to shop the local farmer's markets, one money-saving ideas is to skip the premium grocers and check out the discounters.

Over the years I've surveyed items sold at big name grocery stories and at their discounter arms and found that both chains stock fresh fruits and vegetables of the same produce grades. The biggest difference is price – the discount grocers produce costs 40 per cent less.

In an interview I did several years ago with Andreas Boecker, Associate Professor in Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph back, he said that "quite often there is not much or no quality difference between the premium and the discount banner."

Shop generic and no name brands to cut your bill by 25 per cent.

I've done the research and a bit of math – switching from brand name packaged products to store brand or No Name alternatives can save you 25 per cent. Be sure to read the ingredient order and compare the nutritional content with the original to ensure a similar taste and healthfulness. Because many generic products carry a "money-back guarantee," you're covered if you don't like the copy.

Check out at a dollar store.

Canned beans, bagged pasta, and even a box of cookies can cost dollars and cents less at the dollar store. I nearly got booted from a Toronto-area dollar store last year when I surveyed the price and best before dates on 129 pre-packaged foods. Turns out, only the small independent dollar stores sold past-due food.

Of the out-of-date items, the biggest culprits were cake and bread mixes sitting on store shelves for an average of 86 days past the best before date. Condiments, canned goods, cookies, crackers, chips, pasta, and jar goods were all stocked months or years ahead of their best before dates.

While it may not be possible to find all the items on your grocery list, enough deals can be found to make the trip worthwhile. Limiting your food purchases to the larger dollar store chains is likely your best bet if freshness is a concern.

Stop garbaging your groceries.

Canadians are trashtastic when it comes to food. In 2014 we chucked $31-billion worth of food from our households, that's up from the $27-billion we trashed in 2010 says a study from consulting firm Value Chain Management International.

In a nutshell, Canadians throw out around 25 per cent of their groceries – a loss of roughly $1,300 to $2,200 every year for a family of four.

It's like we're saying, "Food is so plentiful, let's just throw it away."

If you find all this wasted food and money a little hard to digest, maybe it's time to get your family on board and create a food waste diary to record every morsel getting canned. By knowing what's being tossed, it's a lot easier to adjust your shopping habits to buy less of the uneaten items.

Planning your grocery trip before hitting the stores is always a cost and time saver. Knowing what food is already stocked in your kitchen, planning your weekly meals, and buying only the fresh foods you need will prevent food spoilage and financial waste.

If you need an extra boost, check out my food waste challenge where I show you how to properly organize your fridge, plan meals, and stock your freezer. You could save thousands on your grocery bill.

Use a grocery app.

I used to hate clipping coupons and browsing grocery flyers to find the best deals on chicken and toilet paper. But smartphone apps like Checkout 51 take the paperwork (and paper cuts) out of that search. Checkout 51 allows shoppers to earn cash back by buying brand name products. Snap a photo of your receipt and Checkout 51 will send you a cheque when your account hits $20.

Using apps like this one has helped me save at least 30 per cent on my groceries, with little time and effort.

My final tip? Never shop on an empty stomach. Bon appetit.

Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at

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