Friday, April 08, 2011

Ways We Save On Groceries, Part 1

If you aren't already following the Eat Well, Spend Less series spearheaded by Life As Mom, you should. Every week throughout the month of April, seven different bloggers are sharing how they spend their grocery dollars wisely in spite of the rising food prices. All of these ladies approach this topic from a different perspective concerning eating habits, using coupons, cooking from scratch, etc. so there's something for everyone. I've really enjoyed the posts I've read so far. I even tried a new garlic-herb dressing recipe I found through this series and it is delicious!

I know food prices are going up. To be honest, I haven't noticed too much increase in our area recently but I do know that already grocery prices are a good bit higher than they were 3 years ago.

All this talk about beating the rising prices while still feeding our families good and filling meals has caused me to think about the main ways I am able to save money on groceries! If you've been reading here for any length of time, you'll probably recall seeing these tips mentioned before, because they have been. :-) For the most part, these are tips that I've used for a long time and probably will continue to use as I work to stretch our grocery dollars with or without rising grocery prices.

1) Menu planning. We all know how much I love my menu plans. I love them because they work for me. I make a plan based on what I have on hand and what I will be purchasing at the grocery store. Having a plan helps me to more wisely use my resources. I don't feel bound by my meal plans and I frequently switch up days or even ditch the plan altogether and make something else we're in the mood for. And that's ok. Having a plan in place means that I'm not arriving at 5 pm trying to come up with something for dinner and running out for fast food or to the grocery store to purchase something else. I've also noticed that when I follow my menu plan, we eat much healthier and more balanced meals than the ones I throw together at the last minute!

2) Detailed grocery lists. I make store-specific lists with coupon match-ups clearly marked. I usually have a pretty good idea of prices and try to take the time to figure up my total before I head to the store. With a smaller budget, this is important. If I'm over budget, I can scratch a few things off the list and make substitutions and changes to the week's menu plan.The more detailed my lists, the more successful I am in sticking to my budget!

3) Using basic inexpensive ingredients. The more basic the ingredients the more versatile they are. When I have my freezer and pantry stocked with some kind of meat, canned tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, potatoes, rice, pasta, frozen veggies, eggs  and basic baking supplies (oil, baking powder, cornmeal,  flour, sugar, etc.), the sky's the limit on what dishes I can prepare. These type of ingredients are among some of the best bargains you'll find at the store, regardless of sales and coupons.

4) Doing without. To save money, there are items we simply do without sometimes or find other substitutions for. Parmesan cheese, chocolate chips, pepperoni, special baking supplies are among the items that sometimes get scratched off the list if there isn't quite enough moolah to go around. So far we haven't suffered from this and we always have plenty to eat!

5) Cooking from scratch. This saves a lot of money over buying pre-made meals and mixes!

6) Different types of meals. Instead of all "meat as main dish" meals, I try to plan a variety of different types of meals each week. If you look closely at my weekly menus, you'll notice that most weeks I plan one or two meals with meat as the star, a meatless meal or two, often a soup, sometimes breakfast for dinner, then other meals with meat as an ingredient rather than the main dish. This stretches our budget! We've recently changed our eating habits to exclude a lot of carbs so it will be a challenge to continue varying the types of meals.

7) Minimizing waste.While I am not perfect at this, I do my best to keep food waste to a minimum. Making your own chicken and beef broth is easy and makes use of something you would throw away otherwise. Since eating more veggies, I've been saving the scraps (well-washed, of course) in a freezer container and making a pot of broth once a week. If I have chicken bones, I'll add them to the pot, otherwise, just make vegetable broth. I also save water that I've steamed veggies in and either add that directly to soups or put them in my veggie broth. Day-old bread gets turned into croutons, stuffing mix and egg casseroles; even bread pudding if you like it (I don't!). Day-old milk can be used in pancakes and waffles or frozen for later use in cooking. I throw a lot of leftover bits and bobs of veggies, meats, pasta and rice into soups and stir-fries. I freeze veggies for later. In the long run, using almost every bit of your food saves a good bit of money.

8) Watching store sales. My goal is to buy very little that is not on sale. This practice alone saves me 40-50% on my grocery bill almost every shopping trip. We buy most of our meat and produce this way, which shows that you can save a bundle even on these more healthful items! Most store sales come around every 6-8 weeks or so, so you only need to buy enough to last that length of time.

9) Using coupons. I don't coupon as much as I used to and using coupons has never been my primary way of consistently saving money on groceries. But it is a practice that should not be overlooked. I primarily use coupons for non-food purchases such as toiletries and paper products. Our local health food store issues a store coupon booklet once a quarter. Many times there are coupons included for chicken and pork as well as other products they carry. It's always worth a look and I've been able to get healthful products at good prices this way. We don't have a Whole Foods nearby but I've heard they have some store coupons as well. This dispels the myth that you can't save money on healthy foods! A local grocery store mailed me a flier including store coupons for the month of April-one for each week. I wasn't interested in some of them, but the 2- $5 off a minimum of a $10 purchase for meat and dairy products (separate weeks) caught my eye. You bet I will use these on the appropriate weeks, utilizing sales to stock up on some products I don't often see coupons for. By simply keeping my total right about $10, I will automatically save 50% just by using the coupon.

10) Produce and meat markdowns. My eyes are trained to spot clearance stickers throughout the store but the main places I look for them is in meat and produce. For my local stores, Food Lion often has excellent meat markdowns and Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter have marked down produce racks. It's hit or miss as to the selection or quality but always worth a look! Generally speaking, I've found mornings to be the best time for these deals. Check these items carefully as they are marked down for a reason. Only buy what you can use within 2-3 days or freeze for later use. Bananas, tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach are items that I often purchase this way. I'm very leery of buying marked down avocados as they are often too soft by this time. But there are good deals to be found if you look for them and ask your produce manager what they do with overripe produce.

To be continued next week...

How are you saving money on groceries these days?

** This post is part of Frugal Friday!


Anonymous said...

I always make a grocery list and only take cash to the store. The cashiers are always surprised to see me come through their line twice within an hour because I go in and shop twice. I go in and buy dry goods like pet food, paper products, toiletries, etc., take it out to the car and then go back in and buy my actual food items.

It's one small way I conquer my ADD and don't get overwhelmed. I do have a list and I keep a running tally of the price of each item as I put it in the buggy, but there are always a few impulse buys. Like today, I realized that I should probably go ahead and get some items for my son's Easter basket. Making two trips into the store helps me control the impulse buys and keep track of my money better!

I'm wondering, what do you do when you cook a dish that doesn't turn out so good? I made soup the other day and we have eaten two-thirds of it, but it's really not that good. I'm thinking of trashing it instead of putting it in the freezer. What do you do in situation like that?

Mary Ann said...

Mary Bailey--

Thanks for sharing! As for your soup, can you add anything to it to make it palatable or share it with someone who might like it? If not, then I would say to toss it. There's no use freezing it if you aren't going to eat it.

We like most things that I've made but on occasion, there have been dishes that we really didn't care for all that much. If it's just a little bit, we'll eat it up and not make it again. If a new recipe is a big batch, I usually make only half so there's not as big of a chance of waste.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Mary Ann. I shop very similarly to you. It's encouraging to be reminded of the things that we can all do. It's easy sometimes to forget some things (I know I do at times). :)

Looking forward to your part 2. Oh, I just wish I could find markdowns. They don't exist where I live. If I find something marked down, it's a big deal, lol.


Annette Campbell said...

Thanks for these tips! I try to plan our meals but don't always succeed. Your blog is motivating me to put a plan down in writing...

One thing I learned from my mother is to never buy pre-chopped vegetables, as tempting as it might be. It takes only five minutes to chop veggies, and buying them means more plastic and usually styrofoam.

Another thing my friends and I do is buy in bulk (often directly from the distributor) and then split the goods. It's been a blessing because we don't have the space or money to buy in bulk by ourselves. The tricky part in "splitting" is getting organized. We use a free online tool called SplitStuff ( to coordinate our orders, and it's been working great. If you want to buy in bulk, but don't have space, I highly recommend getting together with some friends. As for fresh produce, we take turns going to local farms and buying in bulk...It's a great way to support local businesses and get great prices on produce!

Thanks again for your tips! The next time I shop, it will be with a meal plan in hand. :)