Friday, August 6, 2010

Frugal Friday: grocery budget tips

I spent almost nothing on groceries last month (when I say "almost nothing" maybe I should be more specific: I spent about $50 in the month to feed my family of 5. Oh, and that's Alaska prices... We've been unemployed and are now going to grad school, but in the meantime we were waiting on financial aid and chose to tough it out for a month with WIC vouchers, home storage, and as little grocery shopping as possible.) It was a rough month, but it helped me realize just how much I can do with very little.
So here is a list of ideas for ways to save on your grocery budget. If you can think of others, you know I always welcome comments!
  • When something you use regularly goes on sale, stock up ~ if you never have to pay full price for things you use all the time, then you'll save a lot of money on them.
  • Coupons can be helpful, but make sure to compare prices--coupons are usually just for name brand items, and sometimes $1 off the name brand is still more expensive than the store brand. Personally, I use very few coupons, but I watch sales carefully.
  • Shop with a list. Stick to the list. I keep a paper on my fridge and add things to it as I notice that I'm running low--that is my shopping list. When I get to to the store, I know what I want to buy, and I don't lose time (or make impulse buys) wandering up and down aisles trying to remember what I need.
  • Plan your menus around what is on sale.
  • When things go on sale, get extras if it's something you can freeze or can or otherwise preserve. (Frozen turkeys bought on Thanksgiving sales will keep until Christmas or Valentines Day or even Easter! And blueberries on sale in July can be made into jam or syrup or just frozen plain and used all year long.)
  • Bone-in meat is usually much cheaper per pound than the boneless/skinless. Of course you are paying for the bones, but if you remember to save your bones and use them to make broth, then you are ahead in the long run!
  • Make meat part of the meal, but not the center of it. For example, serve a pasta alfredo with chicken chunks, rather than whole chicken breasts. It's easy to serve about 1/2 breast per person (or even less) when you do this. 3 bratwursts or polish sausages cut up into beans makes enough to feed our family of 5.
  • Buy bigger packages of meat, then use them for multiple meals (I do this by pre-pulling leftovers)
  • Buy staples in bulk: flour, sugar, honey, molasses, wheat, rice, cornmeal, beans, frozen veggies... they are almost always cheaper per pound if you buy them in bigger packages. Plus you're saving packaging too.
  • Grow a garden, or at least be friends with people who do. Almost everybody has extra something at some point in the year.
  • Harvest wild food, whether it's going berry picking, fishing, or hunting. Not only is it cheaper, but it's also healthier than even the best grocery store option.
  • Learn to base your menus on local foods--they will be cheaper (and fresher, and healthier) than things that have to be shipped from far away. Farmer's markets are awesome, and some farmers will bargain with you on prices, and others will barter.
  • Focus on healthy foods. Frosted-puffs-of-air-and-sugar-and-a-hint-of-wheat cereal may be on sale for $3, but for that same $3 you could buy a same sized package of cream of wheat, and I betcha you'll only need one bowl of the latter to fill you up. Beans and potatoes are about as cheap as dirt, but they really will fill you up!
  • Cook from scratch ~ processed foods are less healthy and more expensive than cooking from scratch
  • Learn recipes that are made from foods that are budget-friendly, or storage-friendly.
  • Purchase items in the least-processed form possible. A can of beans costs $1 and gives you 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans. A pound of dry beans costs $1 and gives you about 6 cups of cooked beans. 25lbs of flour costs about $10 here, but 25lbs of wheat is $6 and (by volume) grinds into 1 1/2 times as much as the 25lbs of flour. Rolled oats cost a fraction of what "instant oatmeal" packets do.
  • Breastfeed your babies (and toddlers!) ~ it's so much cheaper than formula or baby foods.
  • Drink water ~ it's cheaper than juice or milk (let alone those crummy sugar drinks) and it's better for you.
  • If your children attend public schools, take the few minutes to fill out the paperwork and see if they qualify for reduced-price or free lunch. I could pack Wolf's lunches for cheaper than the regular price, but when he qualified for reduced-price, well, I can't pack a lunch for 40cents.
  • If something is available to you for free (such as WIC items, or garden produce or fish from your neighbor) then find a way to use it, rather than turning it down ~ I've discovered that babyfood can work in a lot of recipes.
  • This blog post When You Need Food also has some great practical tips for ways to get groceries for little or nothing. Sometimes it requires humility to accept free things (for example she mentions leftovers from church activities) but if you're really scrimping, those things can be invaluable.


Mallory said...

Great ideas! I always get a little tickle of pride when I see that I'm already doing some of these things! :D

throwslikeagirl74 said...

We do most of the same things. Sometimes I'll add a can of beans to a ground meat dish to make it go further as well.

The Prudent Homemaker said...

Thank you for the link!

My children eat athome, since we homeschool. I recently found out that if they went to public school, they would qualify for free lunches.

Since most of our meals are under $5, and many are under $2, (for all 8 of us) I don't feel too bad about it! (I do know about Alaska prices, though, so I know your prices would be higher). Many of our meals make leftovers, so a couple of times a week, we'll have leftovers for lunch, making those meals even cheaper.

I love your baby food post; that's great!

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