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can you help me spend less on food??

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
I'm not sure if I should post this here or in frugal / finances???

I'm so frustrated right now!
(sorry this is kind of long)

Ok, we use to spend about $1000/mo. on food for me and dh, when we both worked (50+hrs a week). About a year ago I started working part time, and it got a little better. Now I just went on maternity leave & I am hoping to not have to go back to work. We spend way to much! We also charge on our credit cards every month! Last month we spent about $750 on groceries. I just added up what we spent in the last 30 days... $961.51!! WTH! That's not including pet food (adds about another $120 mo.) I am aiming for $400. We live in the Bay Area, California, we are vegetarian and try to eat mainly organic.

Being that I just got maternity leave this past week I have been cooking a lot more. But I still feel like we haven't cut back enough. I now have the time and motivation, so any suggestions are welcome! These are the obvious areas I can cut back on~

We spent $180.89 in a month eating out. Most of it is going with dh on his days off for coffee and bagels or other small breakfast (usually spend $5-$12 each time) Only once was for eating dinner out, which was $32. A few other times it's when I am at work and go to Whole Foods for lunch.
To solve this we bought a big 3lb. bag of coffee beans at Costco & are only making coffee at home, no more coffee out (it's $2 a cup), and along with coffee I will make breakfast.

Produce seems to add up a lot! The market by us is all organic, local grown...great produce, but not cheap. Two days ago I spent $35 on produce alone and all we have left tonight is about a cup of cauliflower and 4 tomatoes. That means tomorrow I'll have to go buy some fruit at least.

We started going to Costco once a month and buying just a few things that they have at really good prices.

I use to go to the farmers markets a lot, but they aren't much cheaper. I don't know, I'm going to try again this week.

I tried meal planning, but I can't stick to it. I am now just trying to meal plan dinners, and usually only a few days at a time.

I try to buy minimal packaged food, I don't like to eat things from cans, sometimes I buy frozen meals on sale. Organic cheese is the only dairy we eat and it is so pricey, but I just haven't been able to give it up!

This is the only area of our budget that we can cut back on, we have got to stop charging!

Can you help me??
post #2 of 46
There's no such word as can't- as various pesky nanny/ teacher types used to say. It's a choice- you either keep on cooking and eating the way you are doing or you stop running up debts and are therefore able to stay at home.
It's a shift in your way of thinking. Learn to eat seasonal and look for what's cheap at the market (root veggies are on their way in- super-filling and very cheap). Eat beans and pulses and wholegrains, and buy in bulk. Cheese is, really, a luxury- it's not particularly good for you and you shouldn't really be eating it more than once or twice a week- so think of it on a par with your dh's morning snack habit.

Also, try a few batches of baking and leave some muffins in the freezer, ready for your dh to grab in the morning. Better still, get him to do it.
The long-term solution is for you to start growing some of your own stuff- particularly herbs and greens and other expensive items- but, like everything, this takes time.
Good luck
post #3 of 46
Have you looked into local organic CSAs? Most people think it's a good value for produce, unless you're a picky eater and waste a lot. There are organic food buying clubs, too and you may be able to get a lot of staples there.
post #4 of 46
I second the suggestion of a garden. Seeds are so cheap and just-picked food is so incredibly tasty!
post #5 of 46
Thread Starter 
I do have a HUGE garden space, last year we grew some. This year we are dealing with a red tag on our back house and had to demo it, so all outside efforts have gone toward that. Our property looks like a mess right now! The good news is, with the back building gone, we have even more space to plant stuff! Next spring dh will set up irrigation, and we will be gardening a lot. We also have some fruit trees, but they are not producing much yet. In a month or two I'll have tons of persimmons...I've never had them before, but I love most fruit & am really excited.

I will look into the csa, I know there is a local one. Thanks!
post #6 of 46
Try reading Miserly Moms - lots of good suggestions!

I have shaved a LOT off of our food bill by cutting out eating out (lunches & coffees do count), eliminating all processed food (I love the indian curry spice mixes - those are out now), and planning my meals to the sales.

On Sunday, we now get the paper and I take out the grocery fliers for the three nearest food stores to us. I then sit down with my planner and look at the week and plan meals according to sales. I have a list of favorite recipes by main ingredient and then I improvise too. We're not vegetarian but we do have a mess of food restrictions - I'm allergic to dairy & some shellfish, DH is to wheat, DH doesn't eat pork or beef, we buy mainly organic produce, and DS is a finicky toddler. We're living with my dad temporarily and he gets sick of the chicken & turkey, doesn't like tofu, and doesn't like pasta.

I lay out the week by main dish. Some tips I've found to make cheaper meals - lots of beans (dried), grains (bulk), and day-old veggies. I try to shop at farmers markets too for cheaper produce. I've switched from vegetarian fed eggs to regular eggs. And when I go to Wild Oats to pick up DH's spelt bread, some produce and bulk items, I no longer get anything else there.

I've started writing down the items we buy most often and what the cheapest price I've found, so I can see if it's a good deal. For example, locally made tofu at Wild Oats is $1.79 per pound, but at Stop & Shop, the national brand of firm tofu is $2.49. So I make sure to pick up tofu at Wild Oats. But brown rice at Wild Oats is $.50 more than at Stop & Shop, even though it is bulk at WO. You get the general idea.

You have to rethink your menu and your shopping. I spend 30 minutes a week planning meals & cutting coupons, and now an extra 2 hrs a week grocery shopping. But I have cut our groceries down from $150 per week to $110. That means I'm "earning" about $15 an hour for my planning & shopping. And that is with three adults, one toddler, three cats and a dog. And since DH works from home that is pretty much 21 meals a week.

GL! It definately CAN be done.
post #7 of 46
I second the other ideas. I would also consider doing a grocery delivery service if you have one in your area. Nobody believes me, but despite the delivery charge (5.95 if I order at least $100 worth of stuff) I save money every week! It's because I can plan so much better using the online service. I take my time when the kids are napping and get exactly what I need. No temptations in the store, no distractions, no sales that are "too good to pass up". I save about $20-30 a week using the service. I can use coupons and get the same sales as in the actual brick and mortar store, too.

HTH some!
post #8 of 46
We also use the grocery deliver service, here its called "peapod". It totally removes the impulse buy (well most ), gives you all the sales and if you have any coupons the driver tallies them up and adjusts yoru sale. Also, as you shop you get a running total of your purchases. So if you can or only want to spend 90.00 you can see how it adds up. Delivery charge discounts are also available for certain delivery times.

Now if i can only get them to take returnable bottles and cans
post #9 of 46
Thread Starter 
Ok, so I added up what we spent on the last month and it was....$615! It's a step! That even included being out of town for 5 day and eating out half the time (the other half family paid for). I went to the farmers market last week. The one by us is small & didn't really have that much, but I still think it helped. I'd love to go to the big farmers market, but it's about 30 miles away (so that's like $6 in gas, but it may still be worth it) I've also been freezing stuff that I think may go bad and prepping food for the next day. The best part is we spent $615 and I still see areas that we can cut back on!

I'm going to check out the grocery deliver service, but I'm not sure there is one in my area. Thanks for the suggestion though!

I've also been cooking more dried grain and beans, and once a week making a big batch of soup. This week I made homemade pumpkin soup, but it went really fast!

If we can find a way to store it, we would like to buy grain in bigger bulk amounts. How do you store it so no buggies get in? I mean, we have big glass jars we store stuff in, but they only hold maybe 5lbs. worth. Any suggestions?
post #10 of 46
Definitely make friends with your freezer. Since squash and pumpkin are in season now, you should be able to get the pretty cheap. Chop them up and freeze them. They freeze really well, and since you cook them till they're soft anyway, any texture issues freezing might cause are not noticeable. They also keep for a really long time in a full freezer (not the top of the fridge ice-box kind). You could probably freeze enough to last you till next year when they're in season again.

We buy peppers, celery and onions in bulk when they're cheap. Chop them and freeze them. Use them in soups, sauces, etc. Once again, the texture issue is not noticeable since you'll be cooking them. Obviously you wouldn't use them in a salad.
post #11 of 46
: I need help too. I am so used to shopping for 2 that I don't yet know how to shop for one and a half people I say half (as DS doesn't doesn't eat as much as an adult) I usually only shop twice a month latley unless I run out and need perishable stuff like milk/eggs/veggies. I have decided to cut back to once a month though as I tend to buy too much. looking for any other tips too.
post #12 of 46
lurking too-thanks for the tips ladies-i'll be back to read and will post if i think of anything great to add...
post #13 of 46
Breakfast for dinner once a week is a trick we use. We also stay far away from anything in a box that we can make from scratch, and I mean anything. If you've never tried, you'd be surprised how EASY it is to make cakes, brownies, cookies, etc. from scratch. I often double whatever recipes I can, and freeze them. That way, the days I just DON'T feel like cooking, I can go to the freezer rather than the phone to order carryout. This goes for desserts, too. Cookies, muffins and brownies freeze well. Then, when you have a sweets craving or have company coming, pull it out instead of picking something up! We use potatoes and sweet potatoes a lot, especially in the fall and winter. Hooray, too, for growing your own in a garden. Especially in CA, where you have such a long growing season. It saved us TONS this year in produce. We grow peas and beans (soup and snap) that climb only. That way we can use vertical space on trellises and porch posts, using otherwise wasted space. The tomatoes are STILL going strong (I have put sheets over them twice this week to save them from frost...)but we'll be making fried green tomatoes quite a bit in the next week or two, I'm afraid. With the toms, we're putting up salsa, tomato and spaghetti sauce. We're also putting carrots, potatoes and yams in the basement. I have asparagus ready to come up (finally!) in the spring, as well as berries and fruit trees in the woods' edge and along the lot line. Next year they'll all be ready and we'll save some for fresh eatin' but will put up LOTS of jams and butters to get us through (they can be expensive). And all this on a fairly small lot. I have found a huge difference in our produce bills. Even onions and garlic save us money, we plant them around our rose bushes to keep away the aphids, and harvest them when they're ready. Breakfast foods are homemade... muffins, english muffins, bread for toast, hot cereal. Lots of choices that can be perked up with organic yogurt bought in the great big container, or nut/seed butters. Lunch is often leftover dinners. We actually have come to prefer the hot homemade food over cold cuts! Hubby never eats out anymore unless someone else is buying. Soup IS a big hit in our house and I usually make two pots a week...one just for the kids' lunches (they LOVE it) and one for dinner one day. I buy meat seasonally when posssible, on sale. Easter time we get hams dirt cheap, winter holidays we get turkeys( cut into meal sized portions and freeze them), costco has best everyday prices on pork loin, shop with grocery store loss leader fliers for meat specials on other things. Miserly Moms and Frugal Families(books) are great resources, too, for other places you can save, making your own taco seasoning (not bad, either), etc. We make our own bread (saves like $2/loaf) with our bread machine, which we got as a wedding gift. I DID just buy one, used once, at a garage sale for $5 for my little sister's first apartment. So, if you don't have one, try St. Vincents or Salvation Army, or ask your parents for Christmas. Not as great as "handmade" but with a new baby, tons less time consuming(plus, look at a lable sometime, they put a lot of weird stuff in bread lately commercially)! Pack lunch and snacks when you're going out, in a cooler pack, whether you think you'll be out "that long" or not. The convenience food really adds up! Besides, it's healthier and quicker to be able to reach down and grab something out of the bag. Hope that helps a little. Good Luck.
post #14 of 46
To answer your question about grain storage. I use lard buckets (holds over 25 pounds of flour or sugar). I will put smaller portions in canning jars for easy accesiblity, for example brown sugar for baking. I also order wheat berries in 45 pound increments. I can order a plastic bucket and have. The lid seals much better then anything else I have tried.

Very honestly, the way to cut the grocery budget is to cook everything scratch and start from an unprocessed start. It really helps.
post #15 of 46
If you're marreid to the idea of organic everything and no meat...this wont't work for you.
There is an organization based in North georgia that basically does Coop food purchases for customes all over the country. They fed over 215,000 people in October. As long as they have a truck in your area you can join in. and if they don't already have one, if you're willing to help facilitate collectiong orders/money in your area,they may just send on e your way. Its a Christian Ministry organization called Angelfood Ministries. I think it's baptist or some other denomination to which I don't belong. They don't preach or anyhting...and there's no requirement to join. You just have to be wiling to put up with a "find Jesus and you'll be saved" tract in your box of food when you pick it up.
The way it works is this...
The local affiliates take orders the first week of each month. You have to pay when you place your order. You can buy one unit or multiple units...as many as you want. A unit is a box of food priced at $25 that is enouhg to feed a family of 4 for a week. The value of the box is genrally $50-$75.

Here's the California Menu for the month:

November 2005 Menu (California Only)
(4) 4 oz. Choice Sirloin Steaks
(1) 5 lb. Chicken Leg Quarters
(1) 1 lb. Beef Spare Ribs
(1) 1 lb. Ground Beef
(1) 1 lb. Kielbasa
(1) 1 lb. Ground Turkey
(1) 12 ct. Corn Tortillas
(1) 26 oz. Instant Mashed Potatoes
(1) Bunch, Broccoli
(1) 16 oz. Garden Salad Mix
(1) 15 oz. Yams
(1) 15 oz. Pineapple Chunks
(1) 11 oz. Mandarin Oranges
(1) 28 oz. Pancake Mix
(1) 32 oz. Shelf-Stable Milk
(1) Dozen Eggs
(1) Dessert
...all this for $25.

If you buy a box, you are elligible to but as many of the specials as you'd like as well...

November 2005 Special #1
1 4 lb. Bacon-Wrapped Beef Fillets (16 4-oz.Steaks) - $19
November 2005 Special #2
1 4 lb. Choice Strip Steaks (8 8-oz. Steaks) - $19

This organization is in 32 states and it really is helpful for those of us on a budget. After the orders are placed, the org spends the next two weeks working out the details with wholesalers/manufacturers/producers for that month's boxes. You just show up to your host site on the specified date at the end of the month and bring a box to get your food. anything you don't want will be donated to hungry families...or you can buy boxes directly to be donated.
The website is:

Its a great org because it is so wide reaching they get great deals on food for the perticipants.

Happy shopping!
post #16 of 46
Since you are eating so much produce, then you also might want to consider buying ethyliene disks or ethylene bags. These disks and bags absorb the ethylene given off by fresh produce as it decays. It can significantly add to the usefulness of the vegetables and fruit. My biggest grocery problem prior to these bags was throwing out produce. Sometimes I see something that isn't on my list, is in season, and looks great, but Idon't get a chance to use it before it goes bad. Or I buy a big bag of celery for one recipe, for example, and use half of it and don't get a chance to utilize the rest before it goes bad.

There are also electric devices with a glass top that sit on your counter called Fruit Savers (can be used with lots of produce) that keep things at the correct temperature. The temp in the fridge often ruins some produce and room temp. is often too warm. The fruit saver is supposed to keep it at the appropriate temp.

Just to give you an idea, bananas might last two weeks vs. going bad in a few days.
I have the bags but not the disks or fruit saver. Ny Mom bought me the bags at QVC but I don't see them as available on the website right now. Those bags are reusable up to 8 times and she got a package of 50 assorted sizes for $20.


Bags at Gaiam

Fruit saver
post #17 of 46
We also have breakfast for dinner once a week (make whole grain pancakes) and have soup with homemade bread once a week. The soup I make from scratch using a garlic and onion base with a vegetable builion for flavoring and then I add whatever produce is on special.. Sometimes I boil potatoes and mash them and add them to the soup to thicken it.

Best wishes on your saving!

post #18 of 46
Lately, I've been really sticking to going to the store only 1x/week or less. This has been helping immensely. I used to have a tendency to run out when we were getting really low on something, but now, I just put it on the list and wait 'til I can go. And it's cut down on my trips. Simple, of course, but it's what's working for me lately.
post #19 of 46
My advice is going to sound pretty wild, but consider it for just a moment. We are vegetarian and eat mostly organic foods. Our grocery bill used to be similar to yours and included dog and cat food (four dogs, six cats) and disposable diapers and wipes for one child. The thing I did was to start using coupons in a very serious way. We pay pennies on the dollar for lots of categories of our grocery bill, that frees up money for organic food.

These strategies will work if you buy stuff like Seventh Generation, etc., but in a MUCH more limited way. If you are willing to get Bounty instead of Seventh Generation paper towels, you can really do well with this.

I looked at our grocery receipts and figured that a large portion of every bill was for things that are mainstream, like cat and dog food, bottled water, disposable diapers, paper towels, deoderant. Then I started getting this stuff for free or almost for free using a combination of coupons and sales. That did not make an immediate difference, but after three or four months there were entire categories of food that I no longer pay for, and the bill started going down and down.

For example, I used to pay $9.50 for a package of Pampers Easy Ups and 4.50 for a package of Pampers wipes. I now pay $3 to $5 for the same package of diapers and . 25 to .99 for the same package of wipes. I used to pay $2-3 for a toothbrush, now I pay ..5-.10 for the same toothbrushes. When they go on sale and I have a good coupon, I get a bunch of the item. If a toothbrush goes on sale for $1 and I have a $1 off any toothbrush coupon, I take that coupon and get the toothbrush for free. If diapers go on sale for $7 a package and I have a $2 off coupon, I get them for $5. About two weeks ago there were coupons for $5 off for a bag of Iams dog food that is four pounds or larger. I got everyone I know to give me their coupons. This dog food sells for 4.99 - 5.75 a bag, so I got this food for free or .75 a bag. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. If coupons are doubling or tripling or quadrupling then I really go crazy.

After about six months of diligent couponing, I only buy foods that are fresh and organic (like bread, produce, and organic cheese). I continue to out and scoop up free and dirt cheap items when I see a fabulous deal, and that replenishes the stockpile. In fact, the biggest problem I have is learning how much we use and giving it away before it expires. Right now, we have stocked up so we don't pay for bottled water, cat or dog food, baby wipes, butter, mustard, mayonaise, ketchup, Stayfree, bodywash, handsoap, deoderant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, Neat Sheets, razors, shaving cream, hair color, napkins, paper towels, baby foam (for playing with), food coloring, etc., etc. These are mainstream, but when I have a coupon for organic versions and the stuff is on sale, I stock up.

It is very hard to get great deals for organic produce and cheese, but you can find coupons for Organic Valley and Earthbound Farms and many of the processed organic foods. Also, we use Kiss My Face Handsoap and buy it by the gallon at our local food coop. We just started a plot at the community garden and we have big hopes for it next spring.

Good luck, pm me if you need more info.
post #20 of 46
Yes, this is something that we do a lot, too. In fact, if there is something you use a lot of that you never see coupons for, contact the company. Often they will send you several coupons for the item. For instance, my children drink rice milk, which is rediculously priced even on sale. We contacted the company and now use coupons plus the sale price (the grocery store by us uses it as a loss leader about every six weeks or so), and it is much more reasonably priced. We stock up on it when it goes on sale, and then save money because we're not spending the extra dollar a box/jug when it's not on sale. Loss leaders plus coupons is a really great way to save. It takes a little bit of time, but in the end is WAY worth it when you consider what you've saved!
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