Friday, August 25, 2017

Grocery Wars - In The Trenches

This summer has been a bit of a fight to stay on budget in the grocery department - prices just seem to be going up and up.  I recently commented on another blog how I try to keep our suppers at $5 total for two adults.  Some are higher, some are lower.  Our monthly grocery  bill including all over the counter medicines, personal products and household cleaners comes to $550.  It has been tougher recently to stay on that budget but I am trying.  How do I do that?


1.  Buy meat only when on sale or if not on sale in bulk.  I buy 3-4 kg of skinless boneless chicken breasts at a time which is the basis for a lot of our meals.  Usually I buy it at Costco but once in a blue moon the grocery store will have it cheaper.  You need to know your price per pound at wholesale rates in order to be able to recognize if a sale is really cheaper than the large bulk price. We love chicken legs and once in a while local grocery stores will have them cheap.  I then stock up.  We don't usually eat other bits of the chicken though as whole chickens and other parts are more expensive in our area.  Your area might be different.  Beef is incredibly expensive here, but sometimes I can buy reduced steaks far lower than hamburger - so we eat steak!  I use them in stews and we bbq them.  We eat a lot of pork as it is relatively cheap and leaner than beef.

2.  Buy or raise the best produce you can afford - and don't let it spoil!  I bought a cantaloupe the other day and cut into it yesterday and it was spoiled.  Fortunately it was on sale for $2 but spoiled produce is just money down the drain so I will try and prevent this in future.  I usually have apples, oranges and bananas in the house.  If the bananas go south they get frozen for muffins.  The apples last almost forever in the fridge and if they get a bit mushy they get cooked into apple sauce.  Oranges are great in smoothies which I make a lot of so usually never have a chance to go bad.  My tomatoes are all coming ripe at the same time right now.  We had them in a salad on Wednesday, Thursday we had bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches made with $1/loaf bread and $1.49 day bacon and tonight we are having a hamburger tomato ragu dish made with some pasta and hamburger both bought on sale.

3.  Stock up on foods that don't go bad easy and that are staples.  Pasta, rice and potatoes are staples in my house.  You may have different staples, that's fine, just stock up in bulk or when at lowest price.  In a couple of weeks when our weather cools down I intend to buy a large amount of potatoes, carrots and onions from our local farm market before they shut for the year.  I can store these in the garage where it is cool.  I bought 40 lbs/18 kg of jasmine rice September 2015 for $26.88.  Even with eating it about once every week/10 days I still have enough to likely get me to November/December (see original post here).  Whenever I cook rice for a stir fry I always cook extra.  Cooked rice can be turned into chicken and rice soup or one of our recent favorites, fried rice.  Cooked rice lasts really well in the fridge and makes cooking suppers much faster.  Of course, if you have 40 lbs of rice you need somewhere to store it.  I found 4 2 gallon glass jars at the thrift store in January of 2016 for $4 each/$16 total which fit the bill nicely.  I store them in a lower corner lazy susan cupboard so they are out of the way.  I have smaller jars that are refilled for daily use in the wall pantry.
Storage Jars found January 2016 at the Thrift Store - 

If you live in a city you likely have access to buy food grade storage buckets but I couldn't find any in my area.

4.  Try and stick with whole foods.  No, not the retailer!  I mean non-additive foods like meat, fish, fruit, veggies, rice, beans and grains like barley.  There are a few exceptions of course but generally processed foods are more expensive and not nearly as good for you.

5.  Keep a well-stocked spice cabinet.  This does not have to cost a fortune and if you have access to spices in bulk you could buy a small amount of each so nothing goes stale between uses.

6.  Use coupons only for things you would already be buying.  I use very few because in Canada couponing is not great due to strict rules.  I do find that I can use a coupon along with a rebate program like checkout 51 to my advantage so do that for most of our non-food items.

7.  Make a list - but don't buy it if you can't get a decent price.  Right now I have nothing on the list.  Cumin was on it until a few days ago when I managed to buy it in bulk instead of the expensive little jars.  What is on my list is which stores have what on sale so that if I am in the neighborhood I can pop in and buy the loss leaders. This is compiled from weekly fliers that I go through every Thursday.  I will not use extra gasoline to go buy one loss leader, that simply doesn't make any sense but yesterday I bought bread, sour cream, bleach and lettuce on sale all for $1 at the expensive neighborhood store as they had dollar days.  We eat very little bread these days so I bought 2 loaves, used some in our BLTs and will freeze the rest.  I also use the app Flipp to find out what store has items on my list on sale.  I have three main stores I shop at plus the farmers market in summer.  One is generally the cheapest but has the worst meat so I rarely buy it there, buy most everything else though.  One is super expensive but has great mark downs on meat and occasionally great loss leaders.  The 3rd has $1.49 day and is within a block of our house so very handy but usually more expensive on most items so I really have to be careful there.

8.  It's ok to buy expensive ingredients - just use them wisely.  We regularly eat shrimp.  It is usually on sale at least once a month so I keep it in the freezer for when we want a fancier meal.  Last week on holidays I brought shrimp, scallops and steak from our freezer.  All were purchased at the absolute lowest price so even though we had a calorie rich week it didn't cost us a fortune.  If the budget was lower we would not be eating shrimp.  The scallops were a splurge from earlier in the summer as we hadn't eaten them in a couple of years so I bought a bag from Costco, not cheap but worth every bite.  Last week we ate them with pasta and it was scrumptious!

9.  Disregard best by dates - they are usually sell by dates.  Use your nose, if it's off you will know rather quickly.  Eggs and milk are a prime example of this.

I don't meal plan more than a day or two in advance, that way I can take advantage of what's on sale and eat it immediately.  We also work from home so it is one of the little pleasures we take in planning what we are going to eat for the day.  If I worked out of home I would plan more than that but it works for us.  Why did I make this list? To remind myself that if I really try I can stay on budget and I need to live up to the title of this blog.

Right now it is the 25th of August.  The budget is $550 for the month and I am at $484.77 so as long as I keep hubby out of the store(he is a budget killer!) it is doable.  Could we afford a higher budget? Yes, we are in that time in our life where we have paid all the debts and mortgage off and have extra money to spend...but I prefer to spend it in other ways like having fun and traveling.  How are you keeping up with increasing grocery prices?

37 comments:

  1. Nice post! I have noticed prices climbing here too.

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    1. Everywhere unfortunately...but there are still bargains to be had, I just need to find them :)

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  2. I also always buy discounted meats/fish/shellfish. I buy bread products at the bread outlet, I cherry pick the loss leaders and deals, I shop the restaurant supply store for items for cheap in bulk, and utilize the farm market stands in season.
    Most OTC, personal care and cleaning products are "bought" at Rite-Aid with points or at the Dollar Store.
    Some weeks it does feel like being at war with the grocery stores.

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    1. I wish we had rite aid. We do have a couple of points programs but nothing like that. We have no restaurant supply stores here, we do have a bread outlet but it is more than the occasional grocery store sale. I also do Costco, forgot to put it in but in our smaller towns it is a necessary evil for our OTC, also buy my pork there as it is best in town.

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  3. $9 left in my budget until Friday, so I'll be pantry and freezer cooking but I know I can make it. Great tips above.

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    1. Go Sam! Just keep your family out of the store lol

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  4. great post! I tend to plan from what I have on hand and only shop the so called loss leaders (we have a fair amount of grocery competition here). We still have a freezer even with two of us. I am seriously finding that for some produce, we need to go to that little "prepared" display they have in front so things like melon and strawberries dont go bad before we eat them. There was a time when I would not have touched the things. I have rite aid, but what I REALLY wish we had was CVS. And Aldi (sob). I miss Aldi. so very much.

    When you get a chance, if you dont mind to terribly could you change the link on the LIving Richly in Retirement link to www.richyretired.blogspot.com? It seems that the other one is lost in space and neither the Blogger nor Google Gods know how to reinstal. The link in this comment should work!

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    1. All updated! I noticed I couldn't access your blog yesterday, so sorry you lost your old info but glad you didn't stop blogging, we have lost a few this year to those whose wind have gone out of their sails.

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  5. Food is the fuel of life and the major key to our health and well-being. So, naturally buying and storing food requires much thought and planning. We want our food, fresh, or with good shelf/fridge life, cheap, non-fattening etc...

    You seem to have figured out a good way to do all that. Kudos to you!

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    1. Yes, definitely the fuel of life, also one of life's simple pleasures if done correctly. I have upgraded the quality of olive oil we use after going to so many Mediterranean countries the last couple of years and realizing what a good one tastes like. Fortunately if I buy in large quantity I can get a price I can live with - and we use it so much in place of other oils now.

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  6. There are certain foods that we only eat in Mexico due to the price being much lower. Things like avocados, fresh shrimp, dorado.

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    1. I love avocadoes. The ones we get here are only a shade of the ones you can get in Mexico. We get fresh spot prawns from the dock here in the spring (not cheap but oh so tasty) and the rest of the time I do the Costco thing buying the large ones and just having a few per meal.

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  7. I buy most produce organic so my grocery bill is always going to be more than most people's but it means a great deal to me. We have cut down on meat massively because I'd rather eat less of it and buy organic free range or grass fed etc. We eat out very infrequently don't do take outs and always cook from scratch so no processed foods etc. I reckon with that I can spend a bit more on organic lol

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    1. I do buy organic, but due to us working with a company called BIOBEST with our business I realized that many mainstream large farms right here in BC buy bugs to combat pests versus pesticides. I am sure the same goes for the UK, everyone wants to live in a less contaminated world.

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  8. If one has the storage space, bulk purchasing saves in two ways. Firstly - you don't pay as much per pound/ounce for anything; and secondly you have what you need on hand when you need it. This obviates substituting something more expensive, making a special trip for an item, or worst of all - throwing up your hands and going out or ordering in!

    I don't understand "ordering in", but I see it used a lot when on-hand items are not sufficient to produce a meal. And "going out" because there is nothing in the house also escapes me.

    I notice that your budget includes cleaning products. I don't know what the situation is in Canada, but I buy few different organic cleaners, and always in gallon sizes that are then reconstituted. Why pay to have water shipped to your local store? A gallon of cleaner or dish/laundry soap lasts an eternity, and the comparative price is NOT commensurate with the amount.

    Your points about on-hand staples is key. The time, effort, and dollars that it takes to set up a useful pantry will pay magnificent dividends. I keep some back-up items in their original packaging inside three very large Rubbermaid containers, but some other things lend themselves better to being decanted into lovely jars like you did your rice. Depends on how your storage and pantry areas are set up.

    Two huge money savers - if you can DIY - are bread and yogurt. Once you get in the swing of making sure you have a proper supply on hand, you will wonder why you ever paid those atrocious prices for products that are basically just flour and milk, just because they are in a different form now! ;-> Yogurt is just milk that you have babied for a while. After your first batch, milk is the only ingredient, so compare the cost of a gallon on milk with the cost of a gallon of yogurt, and your eyes will pop out of your head!

    Homemade bread is very easy, especially for someone who is home most of the time. Passive time is the biggest part of making bread. Hands-on time is very low. The very simple and popular overnight artisan bread requires about ten minutes of your time, and 45 minutes in the oven. These premier loaves are sold in the store for at least $5.. Your outlay in ingredients and electricity is probably far less than one dollar, even using the most expensive flour available.

    Sorry to take up so much space, but you hit a nerve with me! ;->

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

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    1. Glad you took the time to comment! I have tried homemade bread, it wasn't great but I have better equipment now (I have arthritis so kneading is out of the question) so need to try again this fall. I buy my dish detergent in 5 gallon jugs when on sale and refill a cute little container at the sink. I am working on my second jug since buying two last summer and it is still 3/4 full. Same goes for laundry detergent. Hubby is allergic to most except Sunlight and fortunately I can buy the large containers both at Costco and my grocery store. My grocery store has them on right now for $7.50 rather than $9.99 which is the usual price so I am stocking up this week, I think I will buy 3 this time around. That should last into possibly the end of next year as I use 1/3 the recommended amount (as advised by a washing machine repair guy - he says people use far too much). I only use 2 other cleaners that I can't buy in bulk but do go on sale. I've never tried making yogurt.

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  9. Now come do our grocery budgeting ;) You've inspired me to get even stricter than we already are. Hell yes to all of this. I lecture people about the sell-by dates all the time. And people so do associate the term whole foods with the store now, I have to say "whole, unprocessed foods" now :P

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    1. sell by dates drive me bananas, especially on non-food items. Really? Shampoo goes bad? lol

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  10. I buy a lot of the things I want, but I go to off-price outlets. I am no longer willing to eat part-skim mozzarella, so I get the full fat fresh version -- but at the discount grocers. I buy most of our meat on special. We don't waste as much produce by feeding it to the dog. I eschew the "fashionable" and trendy grocers and buy at off-price and ethnic markets. I don't say "whole food" any more, I say "unprocessed," which is more a misnomer-- as that brown rice or quinoa had to be "processed" to get into the package!

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    1. You are right about brown rice and quinoa, also my white rice, but it doesn't have all the salt and whatever other chemicals they like to put in. We don't have any of those trendy retailers in my town (unfortunately also don't have any cheaper ethnic retailers) so it's pretty easy to avoid that whole smozzle

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  11. We keep up by not looking at the prices. I don't think ours is a very good system.

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  12. Dear Cheapchick,

    I don't coupon very much either (a few a year) yet people think we do because of our low food budget (we shop the sales).

    Have you thought about baking your own bread? In Ontario, "cheap and on sale bread" is $2.50 (regularly $3.79)!? I have a great recipe that uses staples I have on hand and it costs me 70 cents (including electricity) per loaf. I found bread pans at the thrift store for $1 each but Dollarama sells new ones for $3.50. Or, you could find a used breadmaker (I just sold mine for $10).

    Congrats on meeting your goals. Looking forward to next month.

    Besos Sarah.

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    1. I usually only buy bread if less than $1.50 a loaf which is actually doable here, also only buy the number of hot dog buns or hamburger buns I need as they sell them in bulk at Quality foods - but we eat less bread. I have a machine that could do the kneading, just haven't tried enough times for it to come out right, will try again this fall when it cools down

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  13. Lots of great tips. I find that the potatoes I grow will store a lot longer than store bought ones. I harvest in August to early September and they last usually until about March in good eating condition. Then I let them sprout to become my new seed potatoes in spring. That's a big savings as well. - Margy

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    1. It makes you wonder how old the ones you buy in the store are before they even get to you. At least if I buy them from the farm market I know they are fresh

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  14. Great tips! I have five grocery stores less than a kilometer away, six if I count Walmart, so I tend to visit several when I'm picking up groceries. Like you I purchase items on sale, store, freeze, or repackage whatever I can. I can't remember the last time I ever bought meat when it wasn't on sale.

    I've been thinking that in the next year I'll have to start clearing out the cupboards. The freezer stuff gets used up but I'm a bit of pack rat when it comes to canned goods.

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    1. My baking shelf has some old stuff...I admit to throwing a sample out from 2012 yesterday :(

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  15. One thing I'm doing more often to save grocery dollars is eat meatless meals. Lots of toasted tomato sandwiches recently (but no bacon). I buy bulk staples a lot at the Bulk Barn like lentils and quinoa and barley etc. I'm looking forward to soup making days after my trip. I find making soups and stews on a regular basis really brings costs down too. I buy the occasional roasted chicken, once every month or so) as I can get 3+ meals from one chicken. Plus soup with the carcass. I love the challenge of eating well AND frugally :)

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    1. We occasionally buy those chickens too, Costco is the cheapest option with the most meat at $8.99/bird, cheaper than buying a raw chicken and me roasting it! We do a lot of soups too, a favorite is chicken soup over spaghetti, homemade soup of course.

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  16. Loved the tips! We are only $12 over in August (and, done shopping for the month), so I will consider it a win! We had my parents in town for a week, so two extra adults to feed. I also stocked up on some breakfast items so I could make grab & go breakfast meals for my oldest, who is now doing cross country in the morning. Frozen (homemade) breakfast burritos & (homemade) breakfast sandwiches seem to be working out.

    We still have a few areas we can improve for sure. Mostly, just keeping an eye on our food waste, and finding better prices for a few of our core staples.

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    1. $12 over is actually pretty much on budget in my books. I was $35 under for the month but hubby just told me I need to buy some milk and ham...but that should be it for this month! Your breakfast sandwiches sound like a great plan - please feel free to share how you do them

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  17. I agree - just because you CAN afford to spend more doesn't mean you should. If you are comfortable with the amount you spend, why not spend it on travelling (or whatever else floats your boat). That way you feel like you get something for nothing. And your advice sounds pretty darn solid to me. Anna

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    1. I always like to live like I am food insecure, in case it ever happens so that I can maximize whatever money I have. I have been food insecure in my childhood and in early 20s and know I could have done a better job making my food go further (not in childhood though, Mom was destitute at the time)

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  18. Rarely do I pay full price for anything, so everything in my kitchen is on sale when I "shop" for a meal.

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    1. Exactly! That is how everyone should shop.

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  19. Like any habit, if you pay attention to sales and do your planning around what is available instead of what you may read in a magazine or see on a website, this system will become ingrained in your brain and just happen automatically, letting you eat very well for the least amount of outlay. It is also very personally rewarding to know that you have accomplished something really good in life!

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