Hello dear friends! Bet you didn't expect to hear from me so soon. Dear Anonymous asked how I keep my grocery bill so low, so I thought I'd write this post now, instead of waiting until next Sunday.
Shopping On A Budget
The first thing I do is to take inventory of what I have and what needs to be used up soon. That way, when we go to the grocer's I have an idea of meals already in my mind. I study the sales flyers and make a list of things I might buy dependent upon if I find better deals while shopping. You'd be surprised at how many times once you get to the store you find the sales weren't the cheapest items. For example they will advertise a national brand of canned tomatoes on sale, but the store brand is cheaper than the sale item. So be flexible. After I'm home, I then make out a menu for the week.
Secondly, we carry cash. Just knowing that all you have to spend is a certain amount keeps you from overspending. I mentally tally up the groceries as I go, but I'm sure the new phones have some sort of calculators on them or you can bring one of those cheap little ones. If I go over the budget, I put something back. Once you give into the thought that it's only a dollar or two, the next thing you know you are way over budget. It's a slippery slope.
We avoid the middle section of the store, that is, the processed and convenience foods. Most of the food I buy is in it's natural state, i.e., a bag of potatoes as opposed to a box of dehydrated ones with fixings for scalloped potatoes, plain rice as opposed to rice pilaf, plain oatmeal instead of those packets of flavored ones, a head of lettuce instead of those bags of salad greens.
We especially avoid the cereal aisle. To me, paying $3 for what is essential less than a pound of flour with some flavorings is ridiculous. For breakfast we either have oatmeal, rice (good when cooked with milk and a little cinnamon sugar on top), toast or English muffins with homemade jam, eggs when they are cheap, homemade pancakes on occasion, yogurt or fruit.
We buy in bulk those things that we use regularly, such as; flour, yeast, sugar, rice, dried beans, brown sugar and oatmeal. And certain spices such as; cinnamon, chili powder, turmeric (plus we grow and dry quite a few of our own). A bulk food store can be your best friend. We allow a certain amount of our budget each month for stocking up.
We have set limits on what I will pay for certain items. I won't pay over $2.50 for butter or more than $2.50 for beef. If the prices are above that, we do without. We love cheese, it's our little luxury, but when it becomes cost prohibitive, we go without.
We find substitutes for expensive items. When butter prices are higher than my limit, I will resort to margarine, or not bake as much, or bake with recipes that use shortening. When eggs get to high, I have a bag of flax seed in the freezer that I substitute for eggs in baking. I'll bake something with cocoa to get my chocolate fix, rather than buy expensive chocolate chips, etc.
At least half of our meals are meatless. Today we are having bean burritos.
I always check out the reduced-for-quick- sale items. I don't think I've paid full price for coffee in years or tea either. The reduced produce is almost as good as the regularly priced fruits and vegetables. You learn what stores have those sort of best deals after a while. Why pay full price for bananas if you are going to use them in banana bread? Apples, peaches and such that might have a bruise, can have the bruise cut away and be used to make crisps or stirred into yogurt.
We're not afraid of carbs. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, etc, are filling.
We don't always follow recipes exactly. Just because a casserole recipe calls for 8 oz. of cheese doesn't mean you can't use 6 or even 4 ounces. I bake chocolate chip cookies with only half the bag, they're still good! Often when a recipe calls for two eggs, I'll only use one. I'll substitute plain milk for cream in soups, etc. Who says chili need 1 pound of ground beef? 1/2 a pound and more beans or no meat at all, is ok.
We make meals stretch by adding cheaper ingredients. To make chili stretch I'll add more beans, I'll add extra breadcrumbs or oatmeal to meatloaf, more noodles to soup, etc. We sprout our own seeds to add to or salads (and to make eggrolls) to make our winter lettuce purchases go further.
We have very little waste. In the evening I'm planning tomorrow's meals by taking stock of what we have left over, what we need to use up before it goes bad, etc. All my vegetables scraps go into a bag in the freezer to be made into vegetable broth, once I gather enough. This is used for a basis in soups. One of the cheapest meals you can have is Have-Not-Waste-Not Soup.
We do a lot of prep work. All our beans are dried, so we have to plan ahead. We make our own bread, crackers, noodles, soup stock, pie crusts and tortillas.
I only bake once a week and we portion out the goodies throughout the week. We eat things like my home-canned peaches for dessert.
We take advantage of lost leaders to stock up. Lost leaders are bargains stores offer to get you into the store, so that once there, you'll buy more. At Thanksgiving time, it's turkey at Easter there's eggs. We use those sales to stock up. We can our turkey but there's always freezing. If you don't have room for a turkey, you can always cook them and take the meat off. Eggs can be frozen simply by whipping them up and pouring them into ice cube trays and freeze. After the holidays we stock up on corned beef (post St Patrick's Day), cranberries, chocolates (that can be chopped up and used as chocolate chips), etc.
We limit snacks. We only buy one bag of tortilla chips from Aldis per month. We like them in chili as well with our home canned salsa. Popcorn is the cheapest snack out there. We also like cheese and (handmade) crackers, just a few ounces, sliced very thin. Or homemade hummus and carrot and celery sticks. If someone gets hungry later in the day, there's always leftovers.
We pay attention to the "price per unit". This is a common error I see people do all the time, people always assume that the largest package is always the cheapest, but it isn't always. They think they are getting bargains at the dollar store, but often the cake mixes and such are actually smaller-sized. And the canned goods are most often cheaper in the regular grocery stores.
If a recipe calls for some exotic ingredient, that is costly or hard to find, we don't make it. We stick to basic ingredients and make simple meals.
We explore different shopping outlets. Recently we found a discount grocery store. We stop at farm stands in the summer and stores such a Big Lots are fun exploring. Sometimes you really get some amazing deals there.
We shop less frequently. We do a big main shop at the beginning of the month, then only shop once a week for fruits and vegetables and staples that we run out of. The less often you shop the less temptation to spend money.
AND finally, as everyone that reads this blog knows, I grow and preserve most of my own vegetables and fruits. I truly believe that owning your own piece of land and having a garden is one of the surest paths to self-sufficiency, and that self-sufficiency is the only path to true freedom.
Some other posts you might find helpful are: Of Pantries and Pricebooks, Grocery Shopping 101, More Pantry Talk , and Bare Bones Baking Pantry.
Hope this helps!