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Stretching the grocery budget

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 

I need to grocery shop (again!) and I've been looking at recipes for cheaper meals and trying to do better with meal planning to make sure I'm making the most of what I buy. The budget is still getting crazy though. I had serious sticker shock the last time I went shopping because I thought my list was going to cost a lost less than it did. I thought we could share some ideas to stretch the grocery budget and save some money because it sure doesn't seem to be going as far as it use to! I found a grocery store that offers meats in a 5/$18 special and produce in a 5/$9 special that I want to go back a buy. I really need to start shopping the sales more too. I hadn't thought of it in a while until today but I want to look at getting the food packages at Angel Food Ministries too. They offer food packages for good prices and there are usually a couple of packages to pick from each month. They even take food stamps if you have them! So far that's all I've come up with but I'm hoping I can find some more tips to help so what ideas do you moms have?  

post #2 of 44

Our grocery budget is still being worked on too.  I feel like it's a never ending process!  Some things that have helped me - one or two meatless meals a week.  I try to find meals where the meat isn't the center - soups, stews, casseroles.  It's a little easier for us the winter.

 

We have an area of marked down produce at our local grocery, and that's what I buy for the week.  We buy a half cow once a year, we just bought a 1/4 pig.  Our local butcher always does a $50 gift certificate for $30, so we buy that once a month and use that when chicken goes down to 1.99/lb... this way it ends up being $1.19/lb.

 

We always use cash.  I try to menu plan (not so great at this), I try to buy what's on sale, and if there is any produce on the mark down section, I buy that first.  Actually, that is the first place I go.

 

We use coupons for boxed items and other household items.  We are not brand loyal.

 

We still have a little bit to go, but we're better than where we were a few months ago!

post #3 of 44

One of the best ways I've found is to have one night a week be "breakfast for dinner" night.  Pancakes & waffles are inexpensive & I'll throw a few scrambled eggs on everyone's plate for protein.  I cut up an apple or two, and dinner is done.  :)

 

Also, I've started doing a soup night as well.  Soup and bread for dinner are pretty inexpensive, too.

 

I'm getting away from the meat/starch/veggie combo my dh is accustomed to, but I'm trying to do it gradually so it's not too painful for him...

post #4 of 44

I shop sales and meal plan from that.  Once you figure out the sales cycle, it's pretty easy to keep stocked up on what you buy.

 

Buying meat in bulk is cheaper too if you have the freezer space.  We also do the breakfast for dinner one night a week.  I make pancakes and waffles in a big batch and freeze so it makes those nights really fast and easy and my kids love it. 

post #5 of 44
I make a lot of ethnic foods , they are so much cheaper. Great way to use up leftovers. I also tend to make meat the side dish ...
post #6 of 44
Thread Starter 

Breakfast for dinner is a good idea. Usually this is a last minute dinner when we do it but planning it in place of other meals would probably save us a little too. I've been trying to get us away from the meat/starch/veggie dinner too and do a meatless meal at least once a week. That is probably the biggest saver here lately and hopefully I can up the number of those meals once I find some recipes we like. I hadn't thought of making ethnic meals to save money. Could you share a couple of the best money saver recipes you have? 

post #7 of 44

I make 2 big pots of soup a week.  Just a basic soup w/stock made from bones (so in my house that would be: rabbit, chicken, guinea, goat, lamb, duck, wild pig). I add whatever veggies I have.  Then before each meal I take part of the soup and add to it whatever it needs to make it go w/whatever type of meal we're having.  If we're having Asian food, I'll add fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, thinly sliced cabbage, bell peppers, snow peas, etc..).  If we're having Tex-Mex I'll add a can of green chilis, cumin, tomatoes, sour cream, fresh cilantro, etc.).  Or I might make some baked potatoes and turn the soup base into brocolli cheese soup.  Soup really stretches the budget and you can do SO much with a basic soup! 

 

Only buy what's on sale.  Stockpile when it is if it's something you use regularly.  Buy at ethnic stores.  Grow your own if you can this spring and summer. 

 

I want a greenhouse. 

 

Immediately freeze leftovers.  That saves me SO much money!!  I just stick it in a container or foodsaver it and voila!  there's lunches for the week in the freezer!

 

LOL, I keep eta:  One more thing is honey baked lentils.  Just last night I made a huge chafing pan full of that.  I used 1.5 bags of brown lentils, so very cheap.  Added bone stock and the bits and pieces of leftover veggies to clean out the drawers.  So it ended up having parsnips, carrots, celery, bell pepper, onion, turnip greens, cabbage, mushrooms, and lots of ginger.  As soon as supper was over I made dh's lunch for today and froze 2 packages and saved enough for lunch today.  Served over brown rice.  The 2 in the freezer may end up as soup, who knows?  But it's quick and easy and super cheap!

post #8 of 44
The USDA website has a monthly meal plan (broken down by weeks) for cheap and easy meals:

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/MiscPubs/FoodPlansRecipeBook.pdf
post #9 of 44

FWIW, OP, just a couple of days ago I sent my oldest dd to the store w/$100 cash.  I thought for sure she'd bring home at least $30 in change.  She brought home $1 and had to put back a peanut butter!  On my list was oats, bananas, apples, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, yogurt (ran out of home made), peanut butter, cheddar, tortilla chips, and toilet paper.  Granted for us, "bananas" means at least 4 big bunches, "apples" for us means at least 2 bags, at least 6 bell peppers, etc...It's just sticker shock.  For now we get a discount on produce and non grocery items because my dd works at the store where we shop.  That is about to change as she makes a job change (more $ and hours so can't complain too much!), though, and I figure that will knock our bill back up another $50-$75 a month. 

post #10 of 44

I shop at multiple stores and check their sales fliers.  I only buy loss leaders at the more expensive groceries and then get the bulk of our food at the less expensive store.  I also go to BJs once or twice a month.  They let you double coupons- you can use a BJs coupon and a manufacturers coupon on a single item.  I saved $30 off a $70 purchase there the last time I went because of coupons. 

post #11 of 44

I'm another vote for breakfast for dinner! French toast is a great way to use up any bread that is a bit too stale for sandwiches, like others have already said pancakes or waffles are super cheap and easy to make. Also, I often do a breakfast casserole: I start with eggs and cheese (any kind I have on hand, a mix if I have a few kinds, you can use cream cheese, too, for a creamier texture) then I add leftovers and odd bits of food- leftover ham, sausage, or ground meat (beef or turkey) work good, plus veggies, whatever I have around (spinach is particularly yummy) I try to use up anything that's too past it's prime to be eaten alone...you can grate a potato and mix that in too, makes it a little more filling. Then you pop it in the oven, easy, delicious, cheap and a great way to use up little bits of stuff that might otherwise go to waste.

 

We have several vegetarian meals each week, and I rarely serve meat as the main dish. If we're having tacos for dinner, we usually use ground turkey, but one pound can make 3 or 4 meals for my family of 3 (often 4- my mom eats with us frequently) because I mix it with either 'nonfried' beans or black beans. Like another poster mentioned we eat a lot of ethnic inspired dishes. My families favorites are fried rice (another great way to use up leftover meat and veggies), and any Indian inspired dish, especially chickpea dishes. We eat a lot of pasta dishes too, spaghetti (make your own garlic bread to go with it, yum), pasta (or rice, actually) alfredo (make the alfredo sauce with regular milk instead of cream- cheaper and healthier, too).

 

And, of course, all the standards that have already been metioned- use coupons, buy what's on sale, etc. My only word on coupons though, some people jump in too quickly, and get "caught up" in the saving, buying things they don't need just because  it's sooo cheap...but it's still wasted money if it's not something you'll eat, ya know? I'm not a major couponer, there aren't a ton of coupons out there for the things I buy, but there are a few so I do clip coupons for anything I would buy anyway. Also, I always check the sale ads for store-specific "super coupons", those are often really good deals, and they are more often things I'll buy, like fresh fruit or milk, that kind of thing.

post #12 of 44

We eat vegetarian 95% of the time to save money. Instead of meat we eat tofu, beans, eggs, and cheese. When I do buy meat it's usually a whole chicken which can then be at least 3 meals: roast chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken soup.

post #13 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chicky2 View Post

FWIW, OP, just a couple of days ago I sent my oldest dd to the store w/$100 cash.  I thought for sure she'd bring home at least $30 in change.  She brought home $1 and had to put back a peanut butter!  On my list was oats, bananas, apples, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, yogurt (ran out of home made), peanut butter, cheddar, tortilla chips, and toilet paper.  Granted for us, "bananas" means at least 4 big bunches, "apples" for us means at least 2 bags, at least 6 bell peppers, etc...It's just sticker shock.  For now we get a discount on produce and non grocery items because my dd works at the store where we shop.  That is about to change as she makes a job change (more $ and hours so can't complain too much!), though, and I figure that will knock our bill back up another $50-$75 a month. 


That's crazy! I can't believe produce was so pricey...
post #14 of 44

I really can't say enough about stocking up on sales and using your freezer and pantry. I've reduced our grocery bills by about 20% over the past year by being more focused on building and using a well stocked pantry and freezer. Other than some fruits and veggies and milk, there are very few things now I buy at full grocery store price.  Our other big saver has been learning to can/freeze/preserve in season foods and cooking from scratch when it makes sense. I buy things like honey and maple syrup in bulk from the farmers so we get it local and cheaper than I can get in the grocery store.  Every summer I buy seconds of peaches, plums, apples and pears for canning at significant discounts because I know the farmers.  I'm on the email list for a small quality bulk foods store so I can stock up on their sale items.
 

Also check out the farmer's market if they have local farmers. I can get apples from my apple guy for $15 a bushel for seconds which I sort out - often there is only a small bruise on them which I can cut out when doing cut up apples or if I am making crisp etc. The ones that are on the way out can be used for apple sauce and I can or freeze extras for quick breakfasts. We go towards the end of the morning and often pick up deals. Last week I picked up a basket of orange peppers with about 6 peppers for $2 because they weren't going to make it til next week. We ate 2 fresh in a salad and I made sausage and peppers for dinner that week. I buy things like honey and maple syrup in bulk from the farmers so we get it local and cheaper than I can get in the grocery store. 

 

To give you an idea of what this does for our budget, I just made some roasted red pepper and spinach manicotti for dinner tonight. I made 3 trays - one to eat, one to freeze and one for a friend who just had a baby. All three trays (of about 15 manicotti each) cost me $15. Cottage cheese and ricotta have both been on sale this week, I used peppers we roasted and froze and tomatoes we canned this summer, and mozzerella we bought on sale, grated and threw in the freezer a month or so ago. I bought the pasta on sale a while ago.  I made a simple salad and fruit crisp from our apple seconds and fruit we canned this summer and fed 11 people for under $2 each for a 3 course meal.

 

If we are on a tight budget week I typically can spend $30 or so for the week on fresh veggies/fruit and milk/dairy and our dinner menu might be:

soup and salad, chicken pot pie, veggie stir fry, pasta, a crock pot roast of some kind (pork/chicken etc), something from the freezer (ie the manicotti) 

Breakfasts would be oatmeal, granola, smoothies, eggs in wraps, applesauce and muffins/quickbreads and cheese, fruit salad from our canning or freezer

Lunches would be things like veggie chili, beans or beans and rice, soup, a quick pasta, etc.

 

The other thing that has made a difference for my kids is find yummy cheap recipes and to use our "luxury foods" well. For example they are perfectly happy with apple muffins rather than blueberry muffins but love love love eating the blueberries or raspberries we froze this summer on their yogurt and granola or having a few sprinkled on their fruit salad so that is how we use them.

 

I just came across a recipe for baked oatmeal which my kids think is an absolute treat (it takes a bit longer to make than just regular oatmeal but they think they are in heaven in the morning). It's a cheap and super healthy breakfast. It probably costs me about $0.25 a serving.

 

The last thing is to be aware of wasted food. I agree w the PP about freezing leftovers - although we typically plan leftover for my husbands lunch.  But even things like the broccoli stems - instead of tossing them I peel and chop and freeze them and they become broccoli soup for "free", or get used in stirfry.  I keep a 2L mason jar in my fridge and if I am draining liquid from tomatoes or have boiled some veggies, that water goes in there for soups. If we have left over cooked veggies, they go in as well. I freeze chicken bones from other meals and when I get enough I make stock. If all the fruit or veggies from afternoon snack don't get eaten they become part of dinner or breakfast the next day rather than going to waste.

 

hth

Karen

post #15 of 44

I am an American living in Sweden where grocery prices are 30-40% higher than the US.   People eat less!  A lot less.  And they eat simple food.  Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and leeks are all quite cheap right now.  So, that's what we eat.   We eat very little meat since it tends to be tremendously expensive.  We eat yoghurt, milk, Swedish flat bread, cheese, eggs, and lots of hearty veggie soup.   Museli for breakfast.  We eat no snacks and nothing from a package, since anything in a box tends to be imported.  And when I shop, I always stop before going to the register and evaluate everything in my cart.  I usually find one or two things I put back.  

 

I shop what is cheap and healthy and it helped stretch our budget here.  I still spend $150 a week on food, but that is very low by local standards.  

post #16 of 44

Gosh, I forgot to put in the things we do like canning, dehydrating (you can buy frozen veggies on sale and dehydrate those, too), berry-picking, etc.  Last year a neighbor dropped off 12 gallons or so of peaches because she knew I wouldn't let them go to waste.  We volunteer at the peach/apple orchard and can sometimes get trashbags full of apples that were on the ground.  Those make great applesauce, apple cake, apple crisp, etc.  Just cut off the bruises. 

 

Changing one's attitude can make a big difference, too.  For instance, I have seen my neighbor throw perfectly good apples, oranges, and bananas IN THE TRASH because they had a bruise.  Seriously, I cringed.  (She could have given them to their chickens at the very least!) The offensive fruit had merely not made it into the kids in school, and they brought it home.  She took it out of the lunchboxes and into the trash.  SO wasteful!  One of her kids was at my house one day and was horrified at a bruise on her banana.  She was going to throw the whole thing out and thankfully I caught her.  After explaining how easy it is to remove the bruise and what all is involved in getting that banana to her thru the grocery store and she understood.  And her brothers and sisters all eat their WHOLE apple at my house, where they use to try to just eat part and leave it sitting.  Nope. 

 

We also take full advantage of the fact that my FIL traps wild pigs, which otherwise would get shot and left for the birds because they are so destructive (aerial shooting in OK is done by the state).  We work hard, but we fill freezers for everyone who is willing to help (little red hen and all).  We also forage for wild grapes, plums, pecans, persimmons, Brazos and black berries.  As a matter of fact, we had a berry crisp last night with supper from last summer's berry haul.

 

Sometimes my husband comes home from doing a side job (handyman type stuff), and will bring me a big bag of produce from someone's garden.  Love it!  Last summer we got tons of okra, squash, and beans to shell. 

 

For a year now we've been getting free goat milk straight from the goat.  My neighbor has too much.  I am now making most of the cheese we eat and soon I hope to make all of it when our own goats are in milk.  Even that dang cheddar that cost an arm and leg at the grocery store!

post #17 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Karenwith4 View Post

I really can't say enough about stocking up on sales and using your freezer and pantry. I've reduced our grocery bills by about 20% over the past year by being more focused on building and using a well stocked pantry and freezer. Other than some fruits and veggies and milk, there are very few things now I buy at full grocery store price.  Our other big saver has been learning to can/freeze/preserve in season foods and cooking from scratch when it makes sense. I buy things like honey and maple syrup in bulk from the farmers so we get it local and cheaper than I can get in the grocery store.  Every summer I buy seconds of peaches, plums, apples and pears for canning at significant discounts because I know the farmers.  I'm on the email list for a small quality bulk foods store so I can stock up on their sale items.
 

Also check out the farmer's market if they have local farmers. I can get apples from my apple guy for $15 a bushel for seconds which I sort out - often there is only a small bruise on them which I can cut out when doing cut up apples or if I am making crisp etc. The ones that are on the way out can be used for apple sauce and I can or freeze extras for quick breakfasts. We go towards the end of the morning and often pick up deals. Last week I picked up a basket of orange peppers with about 6 peppers for $2 because they weren't going to make it til next week. We ate 2 fresh in a salad and I made sausage and peppers for dinner that week. I buy things like honey and maple syrup in bulk from the farmers so we get it local and cheaper than I can get in the grocery store. 

 

To give you an idea of what this does for our budget, I just made some roasted red pepper and spinach manicotti for dinner tonight. I made 3 trays - one to eat, one to freeze and one for a friend who just had a baby. All three trays (of about 15 manicotti each) cost me $15. Cottage cheese and ricotta have both been on sale this week, I used peppers we roasted and froze and tomatoes we canned this summer, and mozzerella we bought on sale, grated and threw in the freezer a month or so ago. I bought the pasta on sale a while ago.  I made a simple salad and fruit crisp from our apple seconds and fruit we canned this summer and fed 11 people for under $2 each for a 3 course meal.

 

If we are on a tight budget week I typically can spend $30 or so for the week on fresh veggies/fruit and milk/dairy and our dinner menu might be:

soup and salad, chicken pot pie, veggie stir fry, pasta, a crock pot roast of some kind (pork/chicken etc), something from the freezer (ie the manicotti) 

Breakfasts would be oatmeal, granola, smoothies, eggs in wraps, applesauce and muffins/quickbreads and cheese, fruit salad from our canning or freezer

Lunches would be things like veggie chili, beans or beans and rice, soup, a quick pasta, etc.

 

The other thing that has made a difference for my kids is find yummy cheap recipes and to use our "luxury foods" well. For example they are perfectly happy with apple muffins rather than blueberry muffins but love love love eating the blueberries or raspberries we froze this summer on their yogurt and granola or having a few sprinkled on their fruit salad so that is how we use them.

 

I just came across a recipe for baked oatmeal which my kids think is an absolute treat (it takes a bit longer to make than just regular oatmeal but they think they are in heaven in the morning). It's a cheap and super healthy breakfast. It probably costs me about $0.25 a serving.

 

The last thing is to be aware of wasted food. I agree w the PP about freezing leftovers - although we typically plan leftover for my husbands lunch.  But even things like the broccoli stems - instead of tossing them I peel and chop and freeze them and they become broccoli soup for "free", or get used in stirfry.  I keep a 2L mason jar in my fridge and if I am draining liquid from tomatoes or have boiled some veggies, that water goes in there for soups. If we have left over cooked veggies, they go in as well. I freeze chicken bones from other meals and when I get enough I make stock. If all the fruit or veggies from afternoon snack don't get eaten they become part of dinner or breakfast the next day rather than going to waste.

 

hth

Karen

 

So true about stocking up at the farmer's markets in the summer... and having your own garden, and doing lots and lots of u picks!  We have saved a ton doing this!  Looking forward to summer already!  You mentioned honey and maple syrup, and oh my, the price (and quality) difference is huge!

 

I was so inspired reading your post.  :)
 

post #18 of 44

We love oatmeal, but put the oats through a blender first. The oatmeal (porridge to me) is lovely and creamy!  My budget got cut in half so now we live off stir fries and chicken wraps made with the leftovers from a roast chicken, and meals like chicken alfredo, shepards pie or spagetti bolognaise with lots of veg in the sause. Chilli served over rice is also a real filler which my kids love. I add a lot of extra kidney beans to it! A cheap supper is soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers (to dunk into the yolk!). All meals are finished with some kind of fruit. I'm able to get away with more rice and pasta dishes as my kids will reach into the fridge for raw carrots or broccoli or grab some fruit. I also make pancakes and crepes from scratch which go down well (and fast) any time of day.

post #19 of 44

Groceries can seem like such an expense when you're low on funds. I always say I can't wait for the day that I can go into the grocery store and buy whatever I want! 

Anyhow, in response to the OP, one way I've figured how to cut back is to menu plan for 3 weeks and then have the fourth week be eating out of the pantry, freezer, etc. That way you go through things that have been sitting in your pantry or freezer forever and you can get away with minimal spending at the grocery for that week. Also, meals for that week tend to be really easy. I'm always amazed by how little I think I have and how I can feed our family for a whole week with what I've already got. 

post #20 of 44

For me, buying first and then planning meals seems to be cheaper. I never know what will be cheaper - I rotate between Aldi, Costco, and our international grocery store, with occasional trips to the regular supermarket and farmers' markets in season, so sale fliers aren't much use... even at Aldi, I usually find stuff marked down that's not on the flyer.

 

So, I buy whatever is cheap and then figure out how to make meals out of it, and because my kitchen is well-stocked it usually works. I do sometimes find a deal and then pick up something to go with it, like Aldi had avocados for .29 last week so I grabbed some corn tortillas, too, but only because I know their corn tortillas are cheap and good.

 

I usually go to the store with a few things we really need, like eggs, and then some categories, like vegetables, and I buy whatever is a good deal within that category. I also know my stores' prices really well, so I know to buy eggs at Aldi and half and half at Costco and stock up on veggies at the international market. If you go to the store with apples on your list but apples are all $1.29 a pound, then maybe it's a good week to get oranges, or make muffins with frozen berries from the freezer.

 

We also don't eat much meat. Tofu is very cheap at Asian markets, and its very versatile, plus we eat cheese and eggs. Most of my tips have been posted already, except sandwiches... we like sandwiches. I make my own bread so it's cheap but good, and we'll do cheese sandwiches with soup, or reubens, or grilled portobellas with cheese and onions..

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