I recently accepted a challenge to feed our family of 4 (2 adults and 2 teenagers) for $25 for one week. I read that the average government aid recipient gets about $200-$225 per month for food, so I wanted to see how hard it would be to live on that amount of money and what challenges I would face. We did the challenge and had plenty of food to eat. And, I learned some interesting things on reducing grocery bills from the experience.
Beginning is the most difficult step: The first few days of this challenge were hard. I didn't use the store of food in our home, but calculated everything we ate and the price I paid for groceries purchased that week, as well as food we used from home. I had $3.57 per day to feed us. Any food we did not eat on a given day was saved for the rest of the week. After the first couple days, the food built up and this gave me more freedom to add other things. Whenever we start something new, it is good to remember that it takes time to be successful. Whether it is reducing grocery bills or paying down debts, it is important to realize that you need time on your side to succeed.
Menu planning: This is a very important step if you want to be successful when reducing grocery bills. Plan menus around items that are on sale each week. Set an amount of money you are going to spend and stick to it. Make a list of what you need and buy it. If you have extra money, stock up on things that you use, things that are very inexpensive, or things that are free. I carefully decided what to cook for the week and cut down amounts or items until I was able to stick it in the $25 budget. For example, I made half of the recipe for bread, muffins and tortillas. I also left out ingredients that we would normally use. When we had salad, we had lettuce that was marked down and skipped the tomato, feta cheese, etc. When we had jambalaya, I put very little meat and used a quarter of an onion or pepper. I bought cookie mix for 38 cents with a coupon, because it was cheaper than making it myself. I chose to fix recipes that cost less to make.
Look for bargains: I thought I did a good job shopping for our family. I had no idea of all the opportunities for free food. There are coupons on the Internet for tuna, etc. that enable you to get many things for free if you wait until it goes on sale. There are also coupons that you can get to save on your next shopping order. I had the chance to fill out two surveys. One was for $2 of food and one was for $10 of food. These just happened to come my way, but it helped me realize that there are opportunities out there if we just look. Find out what is available in the stores in your area. Some may have good markdowns, some may have better prices, and some may double your coupons.
Garden: Having a garden gives you fresh produce and you can also preserve the extra through freezing or canning. I wanted each of us to have five fruits and vegetables each day. It would have been much harder to succeed with this if I hadn't preserved food from our garden the summer before. Not everyone likes to garden. Organic food is very expensive so you can save money and eat healthier if you garden.
Coupons: I have recently started using coupons. I didn't realize how much I could cut off our grocery bill if I used them wisely. You need to be careful not to get carried away and buy things you don't need just because you have a coupon. Only use coupons when you can get the items at a very low price. This past week I got free deodorant, soap, lotion, power bars, dog treats, body wash, lettuce, cold cereal, cinnamon rolls and yogurt to name a few. The deals are out there if you just look! There are coupon sites on the Internet with coupons you can print and use. If you live in an area that has coupon inserts with their Sunday newspaper, it would be wise to get a subscription even if it is only for Sunday. You will save more than you pay for the paper. Network with people who are like-minded and share good deals.
Cook from scratch: I found that making bread and tortillas was much cheaper than buying them. On the other hand, I was able to purchase biscuits for much less than I could make them from scratch. I also got free cinnamon rolls. I still haven't figured out how to make them for nothing! In these situations, you have to factor in your health and what you are willing to eat. There are preservatives, lots of salt, etc. in packaged foods. Cost is not the only factor. We got canned soup for free, but in my opinion, it doesn't taste nearly as good as homemade soup. The decision to cook from scratch depends on your situation and your preferences.
Start slow: If you are spending $100-$200 per week, I wouldn't go trying to spend $25 or $50 per week. Start slowly and cut down $10-$25 per week until you feel like it is too much. You are more likely to stick with something if you take it slowly than if you make a drastic change.
There are numerous opportunities for reducing grocery bills, but it takes time. You need to figure out if you have more time or money available and what the right balance is for you. It may take some time, but you will be able to figure out what is best for your situation.
Marianne Giullian enjoys reading and finding ways to cut costs so it is possible for her family to live on one income. To find out more, visit her website at SPENDWISE.org
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