DEMONTIS: Grocery shopping hacks to help you save this Christmas

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It’s the holiday season, and the messaging is all messed up.

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One the one hand, we’re all being encouraged to get into the festive spirit with plans for feasts as well as gifts under the tree.

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On the other hand, Statistics Canada is reporting grocery prices have risen at their fastest rate since 1981 — with food prices up 10.8% compared to last year.

We haven’t seen such insane prices for such basics as salad greens and butter for baking in a long time. A simple loaf of bread has almost doubled from one year to the next, a bag of romaine is under $10 in some stores, and Canadians are digging deeper than ever before as basics go through the roof.

Research shows bakery items have shot up by 13.6% compared to last year, as have non-alcoholic beverages. Eggs are up 15.8% from last year, sugar and confectionery goods are up 9.7%.

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Just recently, I sped a can of soup at a local food store — for $7.50.

And Christmas is a week away. What to do to put a decent meal on the table in time for the holidays?

Start shopping now.

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Start mapping out where the sales are, and where the seasonal foods come into play. Menu planning is key to budget planning, and ultimately saving money. Tips include doubling up on batches and freezing what you don’t eat that night. Also:

– Learn to blend big-priced items like meats with more budget-friendly products (beans, legumes) to bulk up a dinner with not only nutrition but flavour.

– Get creative at the cash register. Shop several times a week to take advantage of fresh items being marked down at the end of the day—some of the best times to shop are around 5 pm That’s when you’ll see many items getting marked down for quick consumption.

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– Don’t worry if the fruit or veggies look ugly — inside, they’re just as delicious. If they’re marked down because of this, grab them immediately.

– Meats that are marked down to be eaten immediately are perfect for the freezer to be used at a later date. Look for cheaper cuts of meat that can be reimagined into different dishes — roast one day, sandwiches the next, soup the next.

– Those flyers that come in the mail are godsends — before you toss them, read them. You may find what you’re looking for at your local drug store. Look for mobile apps that offer discounts and coupons. Use your iPhone to compare shop and match price from store to store.

–Local shop. The grocery isolates are going to get mighty busy this week, so keep an eye out for local food options to elevate traditional holiday recipes. Ontario Farmers (OFA) grow or raise more than 200 different commodities—from meat, to veggies, to decadent cheeses—the local possibilities are endless, and seasonal items may be the answer to saving money.

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“I always suggest making things from scratch to save a dollar or two. Another thing to keep in mind is root vegetables can often be bought out of season when they cost less and stored in a cool dry place until needed. Buying in bulk sizes and freezing portions for later can help save dollars in January. Leftover cooked turkey from the holidays is a great example – it can be cut up into meal-sized portions and later thawed and dressed with gravy for a lovely winter meal,” offers Peggy Brekveld, a northern Ontario dairy farmer and president of the OFA Board of Directors.

– Organizations like G’day (www.shopgday.ca) offers a unique platform that directly connects consumers with farmers and producers of fresh, local, products, allowing people to find locally produced groceries quickly and easily, at excellent prices.

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“The concept for G’day first came to light when we saw the supply chain interruptions the early stages of the pandemic brought forward in the grocery sector. We noticed that there was a bottleneck with traditional grocery stores, which we believed could be alleviated by an alternative way of buying food — straight from the source,” said Scott Schoenfeldt in a recent email of a platform started in 2021 with Sean Menzie to connect consumers with local grocery options. The service is now available across Canada.

Lastly, don’t forget about word-of-mouth. Check with family members to see whose spotted what on sale—and where. Shop with others to swap the sales at the end of the day.

Don’t forget that social media’s the new next-door-neighbour—learn to share the deals and comparisons, along with those cute videos of kittens doing silly things.

The Christmas holidays come around only once a year — and, after the pandemic, we’re all in need of an excuse to eat, drink and be merry.

On a budget, that is.

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