I don't do my shopping weekly, but every other week. There are 3 members in my family, but I only buy for 2...my daughter only eats formula right now. I was just wondering if you had any suggestions on how to shop for less. I only have around $100 to spend and that has to last me 2 weeks. Any ideas?
Amanda in Cal.
Make a List and Check It Twice
With a little planning, you can easily feed a family of four for $50 a week! I also live in California and I do my weekly grocery shopping at Vons (or sometimes Ralph's) because they double coupons. I make my list from the grocery ad that is mailed on Tuesdays. From the ad I select meats and fresh vegetables that are on sale, then plan meals around those items. Side dishes can be gotten for free, or close to it, when you use coupons and shop at a store that doubles.
If possible, try to do some stockpiling when items you use go on sale. For instance, Barilla pasta was just on sale for 4 boxes for $1.00. I used a $1 off 4 coupon that Vons doubled and received 4 boxes of pasta for just $1.00! Ragu pasta sauce was on sale for .99, I used my coupons for .25 and received each jar for .49. The stores limit doubling to three of any "like" coupon, so I buy to the limit, and store any extras.
For after-school snacks I picked up Bagel Bites (on sale for .99, less my .50 coupon doubled = free) and Ortega Fiesta Dips (on sale for $2, less 1.00 coupon doubled = free). I rarely buy an item unless it's on sale and I have a coupon for it. It took some time, but my family now understands this and the begging stops when I remind them.
Words of Experience
My husband has been unemployed for the past six months, and I have been managing on $20-$25 per week for my family of five (three boys, aged 3.5, 2 and 2 months). Now that he's working again (as of today), I'm really looking forward to increasing that though!
There are so many things that can be done to cut grocery bills. My two biggest pieces of advice are first to tackle it slowly, if possible, by taking on one or two new ideas at a time instead of trying to make huge changes all at once.
Second, get familiar with your public library. There are great books out there on cooking from scratch, saving money, gardening, preserving foods, etc. And there is a wealth of information online. Most of the ideas I've seen fall into a few categories: saving on what you actually purchase, learning to use (or like) less expensive items, and storage issues (buying in bulk, freezing, canning, etc.)
Saving on what you actually purchase is what most people seem to address: clip coupons, watch sales, keep price books so you know a good deal when you see one, try store-brands, use online services like WebBucks and SmartSource. Also, I make a list (using grocery store ads) and I have to rationalize any deviations from it. My kids know better than to ask for a treat at the store, because they don't get one.
Learning to use less expensive items is one area I've done well with. I buy very few convenience foods (macaroni and cheese, on sale, is the main exception). I keep trying to find a better alternative. My kids eat oatmeal for breakfast (store brand 42-ounce container for $1.29 feeds them 8 meals). I make pizza dough in the bread machine, use homemade spaghetti sauce with sausage for the topping, and whatever cheese was the best price at the time.
I've spent the last four years making baby food from fresh produce over the summer, freezing it in ice cube trays. I make my own jellies (taught myself a couple years ago). My kids get one glass of milk or juice at a meal, and refills are water (from the refrigerator. It tastes better really cold). I use powdered milk in almost all my baking (unless I have purchased marked down milk at $1/gallon and am trying to use it up!)
Storage has been a huge issue for us. I make extensive use of our freezer. I watch for marked-down meat, and take it home and process it immediately, by frying up ground meat and packaging it in 1 pound packages in the freezer, or by cooking up a stockpot of chicken, cubing it and storing in 1- or 2-cup packages in the freezer, and storing the broth as well. I try to get 3 or 4 turkeys when on sale at Thanksgiving. I purchase butter at Christmas, and freeze that as well.
I purchase marked down produce as well and process it immediately as well. One afternoon I turned 3 $1 bags of strawberries into a dozen jars of jam, three packages of frozen sliced strawberries, and two nights of dessert for everyone. I try to get bell peppers that way as well, and chop and freeze them.
I try to cook in bulk, making a huge stockpot of chili or spaghetti sauce and freezing the rest. It's nice when you can use the huge cans. I used to do once a month cooking, but I don't have the energy for that at this stage of life. If I made the effort, I probably could do it with three boys underfoot, but I'm exhausted just typing the sentence.
My project for this year is to tackle gardening, as that is something I haven't been able to really do. I'm planning to concentrate on items that really pay off. Peppers and tomatoes are the only for sure items on the list right now.
I also made an effort to get creative with my gift lists this Christmas I received nice spices, a Belgian waffle iron, gourmet coffee (my weakness), and a Sam's Club membership among other things. I'm making waffles about once a week in triple batches, and, you guessed it, freezing what we don't eat. In the past, I've asked for and received a pressure cooker, a pressure canning machine, a bread machine, an espresso maker (told you coffee is my weakness), and practical cookbooks.
Work From A Plan
One hundred dollars should be enough to get your family through two weeks, if you shop carefully and do a little pencil and paper work ahead. I have spent $100 to feed a family of four for two weeks at times, and my daughters are 17 and 12.
The first thing you should do is check to see what you have on hand. Plan as many meals as possible out of what you have in your freezer and cupboards. Then sit down with the weekly ads and make your list and the rest of your menu plan from them. Carefully record the price and the amount you will be buying. Put a priority on the things you must have, for example, formula, and keep in mind the things you would be willing to do without. Finish out the menu plans with this information in mind. As a final step to the planning stage, add up the things you are planning to buy and make adjustments as needed.
Cooking from scratch is often the cheapest way to go. For example, a ten-pound bag of potatoes goes for .99 around here, on sale. Potato chips, on the other hand are 2.69 for a thirteen-ounce bag. Dried pinto beans can be bought in the bulk section of the grocery store for .39 a pound (great for making chili), but a can of those beans cooked up is .89 and you don't get nearly as much.
When you get to the store, weigh your produce carefully so that you do not go over what you planned to purchase. If you are buying your produce in bags that are a certain size (like potatoes), weigh them, too, and take the heaviest bag. I got twelve pounds of grapefruit in a ten-pound bag last week. Keep track of your purchases as you go along on a calculator. When you go over your amount, be willing to put things back. This helps you to avoid impulse purchasing.
Most of all, make a game out of it to see how far you can make your food dollar go. You might even end up with a little left over! Wouldn't that be nice?
Use the Flyers and Store Brands
I am in the exact same situation as you described. I buy groceries for my husband and me and have a baby on formula right now. While it is difficult to keep the grocery bill to a minimum, it is possible to buy a lot of food for less. Here's how I am doing it. I start by looking through the circulars every week to find out the sale items. Then, I plan the menu for the week based on these items. I also use coupons when needed, but it's important not to fall victim to an item just because you have a coupon. Check the unit pricing to see how much you are actually getting. Many times the store brand is less expensive and just as good as a name brand. This includes diapers and baby wipes too. I recently purchased a store brand of diapers that cost $10.99 for 168 diapers! That's 7 cents per diaper - what a deal! And they work just as well as the name brand.
It's important to stay focused on exactly what's on your grocery list and buy only the items you need and not want. There is a difference, I've noticed. I also try to remember that stores are in business to make money, and as a consumer, I need to be smarter than the store.
Some of the inexpensive meals we have include a delicious homemade Mac -n-Cheese that my husband makes and is very simple. He combines Cheddar Cheese soup and cooked Macaroni (sometimes Rotini) topped with any kind of cheese you like and crushed Ritz crackers or potato chips of any kind. Then it's baked for about 20-25 minutes. The soup on sale is less than a dollar and the store brand pasta is 3 for $1.00. Can't go wrong with meals like this. Also, creativity in cooking goes a long way!
Take Your Time and Keep Your Eyes Open
The biggest thing I do to save money (I have $70 to spend weekly for 2 adults and a teenage boy, for all the household items I need including personal items) is to take my time shopping and never assume anything. I look at what I'm buying, for instance the prices fluctuate sometimes but the sizes also change. I've noticed some sizes of things getting smaller while the price stays the same! The store will also sometimes charge less per ounce in a smaller size item then for the larger "economy size", that makes buying 2 small cheaper then one large one!
I take 2 small calculators with me on my shopping trip. One I use to keep a running total (it lets me know if I can afford the extras, which very seldom happens) and one I use to check per unit prices on brands and sizes, especially important with things like toilet paper where you have to compare the price of a 6 double roll against an 8 single roll item....they do make it difficult.
Also I try not to be demanding about the brand I buy, I switch between different comparable brands to get the best price. I do have some things I just really like and I buy a good quantity of it when it goes on sale. I do taste tests for my husband. I went through I don't know how many biscuit mixes and recipes before I found a home made recipe he loves and costs much less for me!
I found that per pound the deli meat is sometimes a much better buy for lunch meat (I didn't expect that!) and I order it according to the number of sandwiches I need from it, not by weight (they've gotten used to me saying "6 medium slices of the turkey ham") I stopped buying cereal for my stepson (it is horribly overpriced!) I now buy a package of pancake mix and premake 2 weeks worth of pancakes and freeze them (in a large zipper bag, between layers of wax paper). My husband and stepson pop them in the toaster oven and have a hot breakfast while I fix lunches!
The more you are willing to cook from scratch the cheaper it is. Prepackaged is usually more expensive, the more work they do, the more you pay. Also cut down on meat use by making lots of casserole type things. I splurge on Rice a Roni because I mix a little hamburger in it and it's our main dish for less then 2 dollars for the rice and a bit of meat! I found I couldn't duplicate the cheese/spice sauce for less then that! So sometimes the prepackaged is fine!
Don't automatically assume a coupon is a good thing: I've found other brands cheaper without a coupon then the brand I have a coupon for. Also watch the double coupon stores, sometimes the price is so inflated I save more money taking it to my regular store and getting just the face value on the coupon!
But like I said the really important things are to take your time and keep your eyes open! I usually take about 2 hours total to shop (I'm slow though)! But it is worth it.
Cooking From Scratch Helps
The best way to conserve funds at the grocery store is to avoid convenience food and learn to cook with "real" ingredients. Its been said before but it is so true! Remember, convenience food isn't just the pre-packaged mixes or frozen dinners. For instance, I use to buy small packages of boneless, skinless chicken breast and the price was outrageous! Now I buy a whole chicken and have learned to cook it and use leftovers in other recipes.
We often have roast chicken on Monday for dinner, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch on Tuesday and Chicken Tortilla soup for dinner later in the week. All from the same chicken. We don't get bored because the dishes are so different.
Also, learn to cook from scratch. For instance, I was raised on mashed potatoes from a box. My husband had a fit the first time I purchased a box of potato flakes. He showed how to make real mashed potatoes. So much better - and cheaper!
We cook often with grains, such as rice and dried beans. Once you learn to cook them, its a cinch!
Lastly, planning your meals goes a long way toward cutting your cost - no last minute trips to the store and no fast food. Get a crock-pot if you don't have one. Using it helps you prepare your meals in advance and keeps you out of the kitchen and with your new baby!
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