Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Reduce Your Grocery Bill

Hanging in my Mom's House


One of my readers, unprocessedgal commented on the last post and wanted to know "Would you please consider giving a sample monthly or bi-weekly shopping plan for food?"  Retirement is looming and they want to reduce their grocery spending. My answer?

There is no plan. Sometimes I blow most of our budget for the month in the first week to take advantage of the best deals.  Sometimes there is nothing on sale so I avoid going to the store for a week to ten days at a time.  The answer is different for everyone. This week we had taco soup, barbeque pork chops, fried fish, meat loaf and a stirfry. I only usually meal plan a day or two out based on what is in the freezer and cupboards and based on what we feel like eating.  Crazy right?  But I have gathered some tips that might save you money that I generally follow:

1.  Buy ingredients rather than prepackaged meals -  cook from scratch. If making spaghetti make your own sauce and freeze batches for later use.    You  end up eating far less chemicals when you cook from scratch than from prepackaged foods and can alter the recipe to meet your family's dietary requirements.  We prefer our sauce spicy and now can no longer stomach store bought sauce.  I throw anything in - leftover salsa, hot sauce, celery, tomatoes, and use a splash Heinz Ketchup instead of tomato paste (I find it too sweet) as the my secret ingredient to both chili and spaghetti sauce.  If new to scratch cooking soup is one of the easiest tastiest things to make.  Use a store bought stock base if you don't make your own stock, add veggies like celery and carrot and throw in a hand-full of rice or pasta.  Cut up a chicken breast and throw that in.  Potatoes are one of the most processed foods that are the least expensive to buy whole.  I can buy 5 pounds of spuds for $1 on a regular basis.  A bag of specialty homefries  is $4 for one or two meals.  Ripoff alert!!  Make your own.  Alex from Living The Small Life and I have recently been delving into the world of dried beans, my most recent try was at blackbeans for chili.  You can buy them much cheaper dry than canned but need to prepare them either by use of soaking, slow cooker or as Alex does, by use of Pressure cooker.  I also love using dry barley in my stews - cheap and tasty!

2.  If you spend the money on a warehouse club membership - use it properly.  We recently chose to give up ours as were under-utilizing it.  I have better luck finding great deals on loss leaders at my local stores and am trying to reduce grocery waste so sometimes find their sizes don't work with our requirements.  Others live by them.  My recent post Letting The Warehouse Membership Go received a lot of comments on both sides of the fence.  From those that use them well like Hawaii Planner who has children and is a busy full-time working Mom they are vital to allowing her to stay within her grocery budget.  Chy uses them for groceries but also finds she saves big bucks on prescriptions and books. Others have let them go preferring to shop local like Powell River Books. Vonlipi pointed out she let hers go 17 years ago as was buying things she didn't need there and no longer wanted the temptation.  Connie  is single and doesn't have one herself but shares one with her daughter (great idea!) thereby reducing the cost.  One Family let hers go when her employer no longer paid for it.   She hated the lineups and crowds (I totally agree and this is also a reason we let ours go).  Clamco let theirs go and only misses the rotisserie chicken (hubby misses their sandwich stand at the exit).  Lili at Creative Savv has never had one and prefers to use restaurant supply stores and Cash n Carry's.  I think that is an excellent idea and one I will be exploring.

3.  Freeze or can.  I personally don't can  but try and freeze batches of spaghetti sauce, stews, soups and chili as our easy go-to meals when I don't feel like spending time in the kitchen.  Convenience costs big bucks.  This also saves on your eating out budget.  One of my favorite bloggers, Frugal Queen, does batch cooking on the weekend and freezes/refrigerates it for easy dinners through her working week.

4.  Think outside the box on where you buy grocery items.  Groceries can be purchased in a lot of non-traditional stores.  I recently discovered I can buy a very large quantity of Splenda much cheaper at Staples than I can anywhere else.  It does require me to spend $60 for a three year supply but I will save at least $30 a year by buying it this way.      There is a direct from farm market near where my mother lives that sells great produce - all the misshapen veggies that don't make it to the regular grocery store due to not meeting their exacting size or shape requirements.  Prices are 50-75% less there and I so I can load up on great fruit and veggies that may not normally make it into our diet.

5.  Be careful of brand loyalty.  I recently started trying different low cost brands of laundry detergent keeping in mind hubby is sensitive to harsh chemicals (Tide is a no no in our house). I can get them much cheaper than my old brand (even with coupons and sales) as they are a little known low-marketed brand.  The results?  Fine so far.  The brand I am talking about is Old Dutch which I bought for $2 for a 75 load HE bottle of liquid detergent at Canadian Tire on sale.  You may have to experiment until you find a good low cost brand or may even prefer to go with a no-name one.  There are a few items that we will only buy the name brand on (like Heinz Ketchup) so only buy them when on sale or when using a coupon makes it a better deal.

6.  Make your own.  There are a bunch of make your own laundry detergent and liquid hand soap recipes going around the web.  I prefer to use manufacturer laundry soap as am fearful of wrecking my High Efficiency Washing machine but am definitely going to try the liquid hand soap recipe when I run out of the current stash.  I recommend the blog Frugally Sustainable as a great resource for finding recipes for making things on your own.  She also has a great blog hop every Wednesday to share ideas from other bloggers.

7.  Stock-up - only when on sale at absolute lowest price.   Right now I have a lot of ham and chicken as got great sales on those items in the last two months.  I have set limits on what I will spend on certain things and we go without if the price is above those.   For instance, I only buy fresh tomatoes when they are less than $1 per pound.  This sometimes means I eat a different variety than usual to stay on budget - Roma tomatoes sometimes go much lower than beefsteak tomatoes.  It makes for a nice varied diet to change things up and staying on budget at the same time.  A couple months ago I bought 8kg (17.6 pounds) of rice which will last up to a year in our household.  Buying any more than that might be wasteful.  I was paying a fortune previously buying rice in smaller bags.  I figured out it will save at least $30 this year.  I refuse to pay more than $1 per kg(and can usually get it cheaper) for sugar as it comes on sale in regular cycles.   Sugar is one item that has an unlimited shelf life (hundreds of years!) if kept in the proper dry environment.

8.  Just because you are out of something does not mean you need to go buy it.  Leave some items on your grocery list until they go on sale.  Plan your meals without that ingredient (*only if non-essential  item to daily living - I refuse to go without toilet paper :)). We were getting low on peanut butter and I was willing to go without it but found a great sale last week on it so am now restocked (I was able to add a coupon to the sale for an even better deal!).  I ran out of baking powder one day and through the magic of the internet found this recipe (who knew that baking soda and cream of tartar equal baking powder!) without going to the store.  Can you use something else already in your fridge or pantry for an equally good result?  Allrecipes.com has a great feature where you can search by ingredient to make the best of what you have.

9.  Read the grocery flyers, even if you do not get the paper.  Almost every store has their flyers online.  Figure out what day the sales cycle starts and ends for your top one or two stores and scour their ads before you go grocery shopping.  I stock up on the loss leader that way.  Many free couponing sites have group forums that match the advertised sale price with coupon to help you make your grocery list.  My favorite in Canada is smartcanucks.ca.  I spend about five minutes a day on the site looking at the latest freebies, coupons and deals.  If you don't have that much time then only look at it once a week but I guarantee you you will save money.  I would only recommend free sites as don't think the paid sites are worth it.

10.  Consider signing up for freebies.  Only sign up for items from companies you know and trust.  I recently received a coupon for a free package of Butterball turkey bacon that sells for $4.50.  We now have two breakfasts worth of free bacon (mmm bacon!).  Expect a certain amount of email spam for doing so.  Everything I get for free means less that I have to pay for out of our grocery budget.  I use a separate email from our main email for this purpose.

11.  Be price aware when bulk buying.  Bulk is not necessarily the cheapest way to buy products if you don't know your prices.  Some bulk deals are more expensive than buying a package of the same product on sale.  A great benefit to buying is bulk is less packaging which is great for the environment and if you only need a tiny bit of an ingredient  or spice you can buy the exact quantity required.

12.  Coupons.  They are not for everyone - use them at your own discretion.  I have a love/hate relationship with them and only use coupons for items I would already be buying.  In saying that - I keep all coupons that are sent to me on the off chance I hear of a really great deal or for free.  Recently French's mustard went on sale at Walmart for $1 in their smallest bottle.  I had four .75 off coupons making it .25 each bottle.  I bought four bottles keeping in mind their expiration date 1.5 years off.  If I don't use them all by that date I will donate them before they expire to our local food bank.  Mustard is a great low calorie flavoring aging that I now use in homemade salad dressing and on roasted potatoes with some Cajun spice added. Approximate savings over 1.5 years is $5 - money that now can be spent on something else in the grocery budget.

13.  Find space to stockpile your finds.  Even in the smallest of apartments or dwellings there are areas that can be converted to storing grocery stockpiles for instance under your bed or in a guest room closet.  I have two bathrooms that are both blessed with large linen closets.  The lower half of one contains my non-food items stockpile.  Some people choose to stockpile for 1-3 years worth.  Unless I get an item for free or next to nothing like the mustard I usually only stockpile a 3-6 month supply as know there is usually another deal or sale around the corner and don't wish to tie up my money that way.    Think of your stockpile like insurance against unexpected income drops or emergencies.   One of my new favorite bloggers The Prudent Homemaker lived off their stockpile for over a year after the real estate crises obliterated her husbands business.  She is very talented at being creative on nothing and is a fantastic cook from the looks of it!

14.  Stop listening to advertising!  Do you really need 18 different kinds of room deodorizers or a special tablet to clean your dishwasher?  Would you even know about these items if you didn't listen to their marketing?  Consider this - a room deodorizer does not equate to a need.  A need keeps you nourished, clean and healthy.  Open the windows, give your house a good clean and burn a candle.  Advertising brought about the need for these type of items. Feel free to disagree if you have teen boys or smelly animals - my hamster is pretty non-smelly and hubby always smells good but when I lived with my stepsons there was more of a need for room deodorizers.  Is there a cheaper way to get the same result like making spice muffins which are great for snacks and make the house smell fabulous?

15.  Waste less food!  Reducing food waste was one of my missions last year after seeing leftovers being thrown out that nobody ate.  I now try and cook less or freeze leftovers immediately after the meal for future use.  By making soup, chili, stir-fry or a casserole at least once a week I can use up less than stellar veggies hiding in the fridge.  Last night we made Taco soup with leftover rice from two evenings ago.  I have a personal limit of two days for the maximum for cooked food to remain in the fridge without being eaten.  Your limit may be longer.  By reducing food waste I figure we save at least $50-$100 over the course of a year.  The other night hubby insisted on making lots of fried fish which I cannot eat as a leftover (personal taste- I can only do fish on day 1).  Hubby ate the remainder for lunch yesterday at my prodding.  I am now careful to repackage meat as it goes into the freezer into exact meal portions rather than freeze it in the original large packaging it comes in.  Cook less, eat less (we need to lose a few pounds), waste less.

16.  If you have a patch of ground grow some veggies.  If you live in a condo or apartment consider container gardening - even if it is just a few herbs or chives.  Seeds are cheap.  I am currently starting some cilantro for myself and one for my Mom as use this herb quite often and hate buying bunches for .80 cents when I only need a couple of leaves (I cut it up and drop it in to flavor rice).   A huge packet of seeds was .99 cents.  I used pots that came with annual flowers last summer and some potting soil we had on hand.  Cheap future groceries!  If I get enough for two meals then it has paid for itself plus I have a small gift for Mom.  Save your ground for expensive grocery items.  It does not make sense to use up your whole garden patch for potatoes when you can buy them so inexpensively.  If you have enough land grow everything!  Raise chickens, have a milk cow, make cheese from your billy goat.  These are not options for everyone so if you choose this path remember there is a huge amount of work involved.  Finding a sale might be the easier way.

17. Set a monthly grocery budget.  Just by setting a limit and trying to live within it reduces grocery expenditure.  If you have never done this then calculate all your grocery spends one month and set a limit the next based on the previous months limit.  If you think you are spending too much - reduce the budget.  I loosely used some guidelines from this website to set ours - $425 per month for two adults in Canada for all food and nonfood items which include things like vitamins, over the counter meds, cleaning and paper products.  We use over the counter medication to help control two diseases in our household (nothing that will kill us) so our nonfood items are likely higher than most households.  Your budget may be completely different than mine - I get that - but if  you don't set a budget you most certainly will be spending money on things that you don't need or that are too expensive.  If you decide that you only want free range meat and eggs and organic produce it doesn't mean that you shouldn't set a budget and try and find those items at lowest cost.   Everyone's economic choices and incomes are different and your budget should reflect that.  I use a notebook to keep track of my purchases each month - others like Linda use spreadsheets.  I charge all my grocery purchases to get airline points and then immediately pay it off so I don't have to pay interest.  Others who have trouble with credit cards might find that an envelope with cash system for each week might work better for them.  There is no wrong or right way to do things.  We sometimes get large amounts of payment in November and then have no income for three months as we are self employed - I still stick to the same budget.  Groceries should be looked at like any other bill and money set aside for that.  If you have a budget you know how much to set aside.  We recently raised our budget by $25 per month as grocery prices in general have increased and we moved to a Province with higher taxes.

18.  Put whomever in your household in charge of grocery shopping who is better at it.  In my house I am the master grocery shopper.  Hubby is no longer allowed to shop as could easily blow our monthly budget in a week. I went and stayed at my Moms overnight and he went to the store and bought sushi as he had a craving and a gigantic bottle of pickled ginger to go with it a few weeks ago.  A couple days ago he said I needed to make something creative as that ginger was expensive and it shouldn't go to waste?  What the heck am I going to make with a large bottle of pickled ginger?!?!

19.  Avoid expensive ingredients unless you use them up - see note 18.  I only buy expensive ingredients as a  treat and only when on sale.  What is expensive to me may be quite different in your geographic area.  For instance, Asparagus is extremely expensive in Canada except when on sale and in season.  We eat it in the winter as a treat only as I hate the texture of frozen asparagus so have to wait for a great sale on fresh.

20.  Keep a well stocked spice cupboard.  Figure out what four spices you can't live without.  Ours are sea salt, whole peppercorns, cayanne pepper and cinnamin. Other spices are great to have but not mandatory.  We use all of these four on a weekly basis.  Spices have a shelf life and need to be used up or lose their potency.  Spices are not cheap so ensure the ones you have are being used on a regular basis or bought in small quantities.  Just because your warehouse store sells 10 lbs of powdered nutmeg for $8 doesn't make it a great deal if you can't store or use it.

21.  Forage, take free food gifts and borrow.  My neighbor wanted to make  a Cajun dish and didn't want to buy a whole bottle of Cajun spice as it was a special dinner.  I happen to have exactly what she needed and was happy to lend it to her.  My Mom's neighbor gave me a huge flat of apples that had fallen from her tree last summer.  I have loads of free applesauce as a result.  I picked 30 cups of blackberries last summer which we just finished the last of - they were incredibly tasty and next summer I shall freeze even more.  I have free jam that my mother gave me as she canned peach, strawberry and blackberry jam for the family.  Often people who garden end up with too much of something and they want to give it away like zucchini or rhubarb.  Don't be shy to ask for it.  If you don't know of anyone who has extra try Freecycle.

22.  Stay away from the stores if you are at the end of your grocery budget!  Keep a calculator on you when you shop.  Avoid temptation and eat what is in the cupboards even if it is a little boring.  Don't shop when hungry.  Shop with a list.  Don't deviate from the list unless it is a rock bottom stock up price.

There are many other tips - feel free to leave one if you feel I have left out something.  I am linking up this week to the Penny Worthy Project over at Hey what's for dinner Mom.  Stop by and have a browse. Cheers!




30 comments:

  1. Excellent tips, Cheapchick!

    I'll add one that we do:
    Instead of eating a meal or treat out, make something special at home. My family loves the bakery items at Starbucks. But at $2 a pop, that's $10 out our pockets (5 of us), before we've ordered drinks. Instead, on Friday afternoons/evenings, each week I prepare a special baked treat to have for breakfast on Saturday mornings. This week, I've made Toffee Schnecken, a yeast pastry filled with toffee, chocolate and nuts. This treat blows the Starbucks scones and muffins clear out of the water. My family actually tells me now that they're glad we don't go to Starbucks so often, because they get *better* treats at home.

    The same goes with a special dinner. You can prepare something extraordinary at home for a special occasion. My family's favorite celebration dinner is Boeuf Bourguignon. It takes a bit of time on my part, but it's fantastic, and equal to or better than most of the restaurants we might otherwise dine at, for a fraction of the price. Champagne taste on a beer budget!

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    1. I completely agree. We cut out eating out for the last six months and now do so only as our once per month date night (hubby has to eat out when on the road but his clients pay for that and he gets reimbursed). My favorite thing to make for a special dinner is barbequed anything.

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  2. Wow great post!! You really covered everything. I am lucky to be able to grow veggies year round here. I wish I had more space. We have cut so much out I am not sure where we could cut more. I love the Splenda idea. I am out right now. Not sure I will renew my Sam's Club membership. We all wear glasses so I am missing the optical dept so I probably will to save the money there.

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    1. The Sams Club membership might be worth the cost based on the savings on glasses as you have a family. I am not sure the same Staples deal applies in the States but certainly is worth looking into!

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  3. Mmmmm. Barley! Yes, we had it for dinner last night. It can stand in place of rice and it's super healthy.

    I don't only consider the price of food, but the health value as well. That's why we hardly ever eat anything purchased with a coupon. HBA coupons are another story.

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    1. One of my favorite new coupons is $1 off any two dozen eggs that the Canadian Egg producer board put out - I love that kind of coupon where you can choose what to buy.

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  4. Thanks for the great tips! I have my grocery flyers bookmarked on the computer too. We did make a shift to eating more organics and that has pushed our costs up, but we have changed from packaged items to many more foods from scratch, and less meats over veggies.

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    1. I am trying to make sure to have loads of veggies in the house to make meat less of the focus. Organics is more expensive but if you shop around sometimes there are sales on those too.

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  5. A great, really comprehensive post! We stopped eating meat, fish and dairy last summer. It's not for everyone, but even having a few meat/fish free days each week saves a considerable amount of money. Prices have risen so much here in the UK that I don't think we could afford to eat it anymore. It definitely pays to shop around too - people shouldn't be loyal to one supermarket. I saw potatoes for 2.50 for 2.5kg in one store - that was far too expensive, so I did without until I went to another area of town ( I have to consider fuel costs too). I paid 3.00 for 7.5kg there - next door they were 3.79 for 7.5kg. I will be glad when we are harvesting our own potatoes again - we grow lots of them, and onions too. We decided to grow large quantities of the things we use most and which can tolerate the awful summer weather we've had for the last couple of years. A lot of the other things we love - French beans, courgettes, cauliflowers, beetroot and all of our soft fruits were badly hit by the weather, so there was no surplus to freeze or turn into jam .Hoping for a bit of sunshine this year!

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    1. I think I could go vegetarian but hubby could not as loves his meat. I am trying to cut back on it and use cheaper but healthier cuts of meat at the same time. We certainly eat more fish than we used to.

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  6. Wow! What a great post! (and thanks for the mention). Regarding brand loyalty, my husband likes Eggo waffles for breakfast (3 at a time) but they're so expensive! The store brand just doesn't compare. I've thought of investing in a waffle maker and making our own to freeze. What do you think?

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    1. Thanks! Hubby used to love eggos and we did buy a wafflemaker (he bought it for me but uses it when he wants waffles). I don't think they would be that great reheated but they do taste good coming off the grill the first time! I hate cleaning it though. I do pancakes at our house and he does the waffles.

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  7. Thank you so very much. Basically, I have been quite sick (strep? flu? sinus infection?) and going to the doctor later this morning. Hubs is not a grocery shopper. So...it's been humbling to see I do have food, although directed him to cook/eat since I've been on sofa miserable. Am going to save this post...and print it out for my articles-collection on frugal living. Thank you!

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    1. I hope you are feeling better. You are welcome!

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  8. I spend about $400 a month for the 3 of us. OUr daughter only comes home from college once in a while so I don't count her. But I think I should cuz I always try to send food home with her.
    I really need to start tracking all of our spending though. I think I am spending a little more than what is budgeted. And your post is the nudge that I need.

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    1. Kids really consume more than you probably think - even when they only live with you once in a while. Cheers!

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  9. Some wonderful tips, a few that I already use and some new ones. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. These are some really great tips! I can't wait to go back to freezing ... and trying different, less expensive brands has helped us find some new favorite items in addition to saving money!!

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    1. Although I am sure living in St Lucia was lovely the U.S. is probably waaay cheaper for groceries! Cheers!

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  11. For us it's cooking from scratch and buying NO packaged processed food that keeps our grocery tab down. A week ago we challenged ourselves to continue making meals with what we had rather than go shopping again just because it was Sunday, the day we usually go. We had no difficulties whatsoever and ate very well! We plan to keep going this week as well with NO shopping. On the menu last week: veggie chili, root veggie stir fry, sweet potato/squash soup etc.
    All delicious I might add :) I'm with you on big box store memberships - we gave up our Costco card about 3 years ago. I was only buying a couple of items so it just wasn't worth it. And I found I was wasting money buying things I didn't really need.

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    1. Soup is our go to meal lately. I really want to try a squash soup though.

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  12. Such valuable and wise advice! Thanks so much for generously sharing it with us. We no longer shop at a warehouse store like Costco because we don't have room for a lot of things bought in bulk and I found that I would buy things I really didn't need!

    xo
    Claudia

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    1. I find as a couple we shop differently than when we had the kids living with us full and part-time. We just went there less and less until finally giving the Costco membership up too. Cheers!

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  13. Really great tips here. No. 17 is hands down the best way our family saves money. Setting a budget and sticking to it..and making do with what we have. Thanks for sharing!

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

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    1. Until we set a budget hubby and I had no idea how much we were spending. Now we spend 1/3 of what we were three years ago.

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  14. serious GREAT LIST!! I love all the ideas--you know we dropped our costco membership a few years ago and don't miss it--once or twice a year I ask my friends to grab us this or that and we live!!

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    1. Thanks! I hate how much we have to spend on food but at the same time I love eating (I have the shape to prove it). Cheers

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