Thursday, May 21, 2009

Living on a Grocery Budget Lessons

I have had several people ask me about how I keep my grocery budget in check.  So I am sharing the lessons that I have learned and am still working at applying to my family's lifestyle. 

1. Shop your house before you shop the store!! It is amazing how many things you might find that you forgot that you had on your shelves.  Those items that are close to expiration dates find a way to use first before using older stock or buying more. 

2. Make weekly menus for every meal and snacks AND around the grocery sales. If you are stumped as to what you can make look through your cookbooks or input your ingredients into Allrecipes' Ingredient Search. Looking for a menu planner sheet to write out your menus, this is the one I use that my friend, Joy made up.

3. Make a pantry list of EVERYTHING you buy and post it on your fridge so that when you run out or are getting low you can circle or hightlight that item. I made up a form that has different categories(canned goods, frozen items, produce, etc) and then wrote down everything in those categories that I purchase. One place where you can get some of these forms(pantry list) is at Organized HomeHere is a printable master grocery list. You can either print out or use as a guide to make your own.

4. Start making bread and baked goods/sweet treats from scratch. Actually try to make as much from scratch as possible! You will be amazed at how inexpensive you can make a batch of cookies.   When you make a batch of cookies--double it and once the cookies are cooled immediately put half of the batch in the freezer for another day!

5. Use coupons for items that you purchase consistently! Watch the sales and when those items are sale use the coupon and save more!

6. Start following the sales, and make a price book of items that you buy regularly. You will find that stores have what are called "loss leaders" in the ads...basically an item is advertised for a major discounted price. I am sure that you have seen in the ads where the same items are sale week after week...well track the price of those items and you will see that one of the weeks that an item is on sale it will be discounted more than any other week it was on sale. Also you will find that if you track those certain items that you buy on regular basis you will find your stores' sales rotation on those items. Around in my area, stores like to put those same items on sale every six weeks.  

7. When you find an item at a low price stock up within reason on that item. For example, whole chickens were on sale at one of the stores that I shop at for 59 cents/lb. Instead of getting other cuts of chicken that week I got 3 whole chickens to use in my menus.  This holds true also for in season fruits and veggies---when they are in season is when they are the lowest prices. Discipline yourself not to buy something unless it is available for your 'target price' or less. To determine target prices you need to pay careful attention for six months or so to what items cost, so you know what is the lowest price for which you are likely to get any particular item. If you have a hard time remembering, write information down in a notebook. If I can't get something for my target price, I will do without or substitute unless it's a special occasion or I have extra money anyway that week.

8. Buy store brand items rather than name brand. Do you have an Aldis or Save-A-Lot near you?? You might want to give them a try for your shopping needs.

9. Do a garden and can it! I used to garden all time but I am not able to now because of limited space.  I have thought about doing a container garden but for now I'll just stick to going to farmer's market!

10. Buy items in bulk from Sams/Costco. I go to Sam's on a monthly basis and get only certain things(baking supplies, cheese, cereal, snacks,etc.) WATCH your prices though, because sometimes buying in bulk may NOT be cheaper than buying the item in the grocery store.

11. Make a grocery list and stick to it! The only exception that I make to this suggestion is if there are unadvertised specials or manager markdowns that I was unaware about and I am able to use it over something else on my list. 

12. Don't be afraid to serve leftovers. We have 'smorgasbord' at least once a week. I pull everything that is hiding in the fridge out and tell the family to help themselves. I do require that they choose from each major food group, otherwise at least one person would have rice, potatoes and pasta and not a vegetable in sight on his plate. Leftovers can also be used for lunches or in makeover dinners! I use them mostly in dh's lunches but if I make more than just one extra serving it is fair game for the kids to have for a lunch.

13. Learn to identify convenience foods and eliminate them. A good example is popcorn. I buy it by the 50 pound bag for way less than it costs to buy microwave popcorn. Sometimes though this concept/lesson is a hard one for me because I find that convenience foods can be a meal-saver! Even with planning menus, life just gets too hectic and dinner gets forgotten or something happens where having convenience foods to use is ALOT cheaper than heading out to eat at a restauraut.

14. Learn to recognize if a food has been prepared in a way you could do yourself. Any time you buy something like that, you are paying someone else to do something you could do. You may decide it's worth paying someone, but lots of things are so easy and inexpensive to do yourself it doesn't make sense to pay someone. 

Now a look into my shopping experience....

I feed my family of 7 for $525/month(that does not include the WIC)! However, it does include even non-food/household items like shampoo, toothpaste, cleaners, and paper products.  I shop at least 3 stores when I go. I try to do shopping every two weeks. I also will not shop a store if there is not at least 1/2 dozen "loss leaders" in their ad. I figure that if I am going to waste gas to go to that particular store than it better have good sales! I usually can get my shopping done in about 2 hours and go during a non-busy time of the day. 

I used to take all five kids with me when I shopped but I now have a teenager in the house so I can leave the kids for a couple of hours to get my shopping done. I still involve my kids by allowing them to help make up menus, putting the grocery list together, and then putting the items away when I get home. 

So is there anything else to learn??  Am I missing anything that is important?

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Lisa said...

These are all great tips. One thing I am trying to really work on is cooking and baking from scratch. I know I can save alot of money and it is a whole lot healthier than convenient snacks. I am doing my very first baking day on Saturday and I am very excited about it.

Jen said...

I started baking my own bread about a year ago (found a bread machine at a yard sale for $1). My family will not eat store bought bread anymore! And I've gotten my price per loaf down to about 67 cents a loaf by buying bread making ingredients in bulk.

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