Lately I have received a lot of comments and emails asking how I manage to keep our grocery budget so low. It seems that people are struggling in their effort to stay within a set budget while others are flat out having a hard time putting food on the table. I truly hate the thought of anyone having to go without. I've been there myself, way back when, and it sucks.
I am a self confessed grocery nerd. Grocery shopping and meal preparation is more than a necessity to me. It is also a hobby and I devote a lot of time to it. Not an astronomical amount of time, but I do invest a fair amount. It is fair to say I am quite passionate about feeding my family.
I probably spend a good 3 hours each week "hunting and gathering" food for my family:
Twice a week I check out ads online - Fred Meyer on Sunday, Albertson's on Wednesday and Cash & Carry puts out their "Hot Deals" ad about twice a month. I do not shop at Costco because the membership is high, in my opinion. Cash & Carry does not have a membership fee and their prices are better, again, in my opinion.
|5 pounds of cheese from Cash & Carry|
Twice a month I check out the online coupon sites - Coupons.com and Smartsource.com. I only print the ones I know I will use and to maximize savings I try to use scrap paper whenever possible to print them on.
I am constantly making and updating my shopping list, always planning ahead. I shop more for food for the future than I do for the present. Only about 30% of our grocery dollars go toward dairy and fresh produce each month.
I am a meal planner. I keep meals simple and use a monthly calendar to plan out our dinners based on what I already have on hand. I keep a running list of breakfast and lunch ideas. Most of our lunches are reheated leftovers. I have a microwave at work and both girls have thermoses.
I regularly rotate my stock and keep an inventory of my pantry and two freezers so things don't get forgotten and I always know what I have on hand. I keep a Pantry List so I know if I am getting low on something I can put it on the shopping list and watch for it at a good price.
I cook a lot from scratch and keep the pre-prepared stuff to a minimum. I can jams, jellies, salsa, pickles and when I get a really good price on fruit I do that too. I make as many of our condiments as possible - salad dressings, tarter sauce, fry sauce, marinade, etc.
I use my slow cookers and my bread machine a lot.
I bake a lot of our bread, rolls, buns and biscuits. If I buy it at the store I get it from the markdown bin - bagels, English muffins, and multi grain bread. I'll pick up hamburger and hot dogs bun when they go on a really good sale. I buy my flours and yeast in bulk.
I do what I like to call investment cooking. I'll make a big pot of chili and put it in two cup containers to freeze rather than buy canned chili. I make my own refried beans. I freeze soups in two cup containers instead of buying canned soup. About the only soup I do buy is cream soups for recipes and Progresso clam chowder, because we love it. But I always wait for a really good sale and use coupons too.
We eat a lot of salads and I prepare a homemade soup at least once a week. I also make a meatless meal once a week, sometimes more often. I cook a lot of beans and use beans to stretch out meats. For example I like to add black beans to my taco meat and my black bean soup recipe only uses a half pound of Italian sausage.
|Homemade Hawaiian Pizza|
I'm a bit of a skimmer. For example if I cook up ground beef or sausage I'll put a little bit in a small freezer container to save for pizza topping. When I make spaghetti sauce I'll put half a cup of it in a container and freeze it to use for the pizza sauce.
We dilute our milk. I buy whole milk and mix it 50/50 with filtered water. We used to drink skim milk and we like the flavor and texture better of the diluted whole milk. I don't worry about a lack of nutrition in doing this as a serving of milk is only one cup and none of my kids has ever just drank a cup of milk and called it good. They always go for the big glass and fill it to the top. Sometimes twice. Plus we get calcium from a lot of other sources - fresh spinach, broccoli, fruit, legumes, cheese, ice cream, homemade yogurt, etc.
I buy spices from the bulk bin in little plastic baggies and refill my spice bottles. This saves a ton of money. I also use a lot of fresh garlic.
We eat our leftovers. In fact, a lot of our meals are planned leftovers.
In addition it is important to know your prices so you know whether you are getting a good deal or not. I primarily shop in three stores but I've also found good prices on certain things at Winco and Walmart. Neither one of those stores are close to me and I have to factor in the cost of gas when I shop there.
|Dollar store finds|
We also have a grocery outlet store near Walmart that I'll check out from time to time. Lately our dollar store has really expanded their grocery section and I have found some super deals on good quality products. Right now they have the best prices on dried beans and long grain rice.
I'm also willing to go without and make do with something else if I don't find what I want at the price I'm willing to pay. Flexibility is important, especially when working with a meal plan.
|Making "frozen burritos" using some ground beef and homemade refried beans|
As time goes on I'll be doing more posts on this subject and of course if you need help I'm here for you. You can always email me if you don't want to post a comment too. No one needs to go hungry or struggle with paying for groceries.
Don't forget to check out the recipes I've posted too. Just hit the link on the right of the page and you'll have access to all of them with more on the way.