Friday, October 12, 2012

Living Frugally: Eating Well on a Budget

I am going to do a new series about living frugally.  We have been working hard to save money and live well below our means lately.   I will be sharing my tips and tricks that we learn along the way.  If you have any you would like to share, I would love to include you in this!  Just leave a comment.  Thanks! 

I don't know if you have noticed but food prices are insanely high lately.  Maybe we have noticed because we are buying for 5 people (it's amazing how much school aged kids eat!), but in the past six months at least we have most definitely taken a hit.  Every few months or so we re-evaluate our family budget to see where we are spending too much, what we can cut out and save, and what has changed.
We realized our biggest expenditure (other than our mortgage) was actually our monthly food bill. It was amazing to me how much we were spending on our groceries, and then eating out instead of eating what we had already spent money on.  In my opinion, there is no point in eating out on a regular basis if you have a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer.  We have all 3 all of the time.  There is technically no reason for us to spend money on eating out during the week.  Even with a hectic schedule of softball games, drama classes, Girl Scouts, and so on it is still pretty easy to find time to cook. It may not be a gourmet meal, but it will be healthy and homemade (and already paid for).

When I sat down and did the math for our grocery shopping I realized with 5 people in our family we eat roughly 105 meals a week at home. (Since my husband works from home some of the time or takes his lunch and/or breakfast with him when he's not I am rounding this up.)  That is A LOT of food!  Add on to that the fact that we are trying to eat a lot of organic foods and fresh foods that are just getting more expensive.  I had to find a way to cut costs without cutting quality.  I thought I would share some tips and tricks that have been working for me lately.

~ Make a bi-weekly menu and a detailed grocery list. Take both with you when you go to the grocery stores. Mark next to your list the items you have coupons for with a "C".  You'll remember you have them and actually use them.

~Buy meat from a local farm. We buy a quarter of a cow twice a year.  The price per pound is considerably less, and our beef is organic and free range. It's a lot of money up front, but in the end you actually save quite a bit. If you plan ahead for this it won't be so tough on your budget.

~Visit your local farmer's market or farm stand weekly for your produce.  When they have a surplus of something- like tomatoes or peppers- buy a large quantity and freeze them.You can freeze peppers whole (don't wash them first), and you can find the method for freezing tomatoes here.  The owner of the farm stand we go to weekly gave me at least 20lbs of tomatoes for $10 just because I asked.

~ Repeat a few meals, or plan other meals from the leftovers. If you make chili, have nachos the next night, or make empanadas. If you roast a chicken, have chicken salad pitas or curried chicken salad the next night.

~If you can, don't take your kids shopping. I know, this sounds TERRIBLE, but if you shop alone you will pay better attention to what you are buying and spending. Plus the kids won't be hounding you for the extra junk food they "have to have".  I always grab a special treat for my girls when I shop but it's always a healthy treat.

~If you have to take the kids, make your husband go too. We almost always shop as a family.  One wrangles the kiddos while the other shops.

~If your kids are older, turn shopping into a math lesson.  Not only will they learn something, but you'll pay closer attention to the prices of items as well.

~Make a list of the things you are throwing into the cart along with their prices.  This takes some extra time, but you'll watch the cost add up and you'll be less likely to throw impulse items into the cart.

~Buy in bulk the items that you use often and a lot of.  But be careful! Sometimes bulk doesn't mean cheaper.  You have to pay attention to the unit price.

Some things that we buy in bulk:

  • canned tomatoes
  • cereal 
  • bread
  • peanut butter
  • sandwich buns
  • pickles (my kids LOVE pickle chips)
  • Mayo
  • Ketchup
  • Broths
  • Organic Juice (100% organic cranberry juice is a lot cheaper at BJ's!)
  • Chicken breasts and wings
  • Snacks- pretzels/animal crackers/graham crackers
  • Nuts (almonds, pistachios)
  • Vinegar and baking soda (for cleaning)
  • K-cups
  • Almond milk
  • toilet paper 
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce (makes easy meal starters)
  • pasta
  • olive oil
  • flour for baking
  • applesauce
  • laundry detergent and dyer sheets
  • beer - seriously.  Our BJ's has a huge beer selection and we found that buying a case there to keep in the beer fridge saved us a ton of money rather than having my hubby stop and grab some on his way home. We  like Sam Adams Oktoberfest, which is more pricey than other beers. Our club ran a special, so we grabbed a case, which we are still working on. 
Of course we buy other things, but that's a good example. Our BJ's actually carries a lot of organic items, and even has coupons for them often.  I save a ton on our organic food.

I don't go to the grocery store in between pay days unless I run out of a staple- like almond milk.  This saves me time, gas, and the risk of impulse buys in the check out line.:-)

By following these tips, I have managed to come in under budget for a few months now.   We eat well, have full healthy meals 3 times a day, but it's not breaking the bank.

We do work in one night out a pay period.  Usually that is the night we get sushi.  But on average we eat home as much as possible.  I don't feel like I am missing out by not eating out. I would rather have the extra $5.00 than a Starbucks that I can make at home.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share for saving on your grocery shopping?  

1 comment:

  1. I WISH we could buy our Oktoberfest at BJs!! Jealous! BOOO PA! Love these tips... Dave and I are moving in December and I will be revisiting this then!