Jun 16, 2010

Keeping Groceries from Eating Your Budget (Janssen)

There are some categories in your budget that you could cut out (you could live without a cell phone or without the Internet or without any entertainment category or go without buying new clothing for a year), but groceries, unfortunately, is not one of those categories, at least not in my experience.

And so, because I don't want lots and lots of my money going to groceries, I put forth a fair amount of effort to keeping my costs low. Our budget for groceries is $200 a month (just around $50 a week).
  • I grocery shop every single week. I know some people (like Merrick) do two week trips, but that has not worked for me. It is easier and less stressful for me to go every week and know that if I can't afford something one week, it's only one week until I go again. Also, then I can get through my produce without throwing it away or running out of stuff too early. Figure out what works for you and then stick to it.
  • Find out what kind of deals your grocery store offers. Shortly after we moved to Massachusetts, I started doing some reading about couponing and store specials and I was so sad not to live in Utah or other states where I was reading about these amazing deals or programs my stores didn't run. But over the last eight months, I've made a real effort to figure out what my store policies are and now I feel like I'm getting some good deals. I know that they double all coupons under $1.00. I know that there is a reduced produce section (a huge tray of various slightly bruised or very ripe produce for $1.29) back by the deli. I know that if something rings up for the wrong price, I get it free (if I ask). I keep learning ways to save at my grocery store that I was missing before.
  • I am militant about that budget. If we run out of something, that's too. dang. bad. Bart can live for three days without eggs. I can do waffles for dinner if I suddenly realize my spinach for my quiche has gone bad. No syrup? Put some jam or applesauce or powdered sugar on your pancakes. Running out of something is not a reason to go to the grocery store. I make one midweek trip to the grocery store for bananas but I do not buy anything else. Nothing.
  • Read your store circulars. I get the circulars for three different grocery stores, all of which are within about two miles of my house. I have one store that I generally shop at, one that I NEVER go to, and one that I go to on occasion if they have enough good items or coupons to make it worth my while. Use this to plan your menu.
  • Make a menu. I cannot say this with enough emphasis. If you are not planning out what you'll be eating every night, you are very likely going to have a hard time sticking to a grocery budget. I make my menu in Google Docs so that I can access it from anywhere, so that it's on file for me, so that I can share it with Bart if he wants to know what I'm making for dinner, and so that I can copy it every week and copy the things I didn't make (I almost ALWAYS end up with one meal I didn't actually make because we had leftovers or decided to have waffles instead or Bart had a work dinner or something).
Next week I'll talk in more detail about how I make my menu and what my grocery shopping trips look like (complete with coupons). What do you do to keep your grocery costs low?


Lisa said...

I do find there are things that I'll go to the store mid-week for- namely milk and bread, both of which the boys in my family eat faster than I ever expect. We tend to not make a menu but to go to the store and shop whatever is on sale, and then come home to plan around that. It works for us since we tend to eat very simply, for example grill some kind of meat, side of something fresh in the summer.

Lisa said...

When you say $50 a week on groceries do you mean strictly food items? I've been aiming for a similar budget, but I don't separate household items from food, so I've been forced to go a little higher.

Janssen said...

Lisa - that includes household items too. So toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent, garbage bags, etc are all part of that total.

Stacy said...

I really need to work on this...our current grocery budget is about $350 - just for food.

One thing we cut out when we were getting to the end of our student loan funds was juice. We all love it, but I would rather we all eat our calories rather than drink them. So all we have in our fridge to drink is water and milk. I guess it's a good thing my daughter likes water.

Lady Susan said...

I a big proponent of menu planning. I find that we waste less food and money that way.

One thing I have started doing lately, which I have mentioned before is taking inventory of both the freezer and the pantry and planning my menus around what is in there. Often I forget that I have frozen cooked chicken that I could use, and we have a number of dried beans and lentils that sometimes get left by the wayside. So this week, I planned our menu to use up some french green lentils we had hanging out in our pantry and the last pound of frozen pork tenderloin in our freezer. My grocery list was pretty small and it showed we the items were rung up.

Chelsea said...

I used to be horrible with menu planning. I would just buy stuff that looked good. Of course I would forget what I had and stuff would go bad! I've gotten much better at using what I have.

Haley Baker said...

While I'm a big supporter of the grocery budget, I find ways to cook things I actually really like instead of just ho-hum meals that make me tempted to eat out. I'm not going to buy certain foods that aren't that appealing to me just because they are on sale. Also, it has become so easy just to make a loaf of bread in the bread machine I don't even buy regular bread anymore so I have money in the budget to buy something like naan bread, pita (for mediterranean dishes), or a fabulous ciabatta for a special meal. Plus, an easy, cheap and great meal replacement are home made smoothies. You can't go wrong with a quality protein powder, frozen fruit and yogurt.

Carly said...

I'm definitely a menu-maker and grocery list-maker. I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart since it's hands down the cheapest. Although I will go to another store for produce on sale (and I think Wal-Mart's produce is just about terrible). I do religiously read the ads and will go stock up on something if it's a better deal than Wal-Mart.

I put cheap meals on my menu. I'm not going to plan to make something that requires 5 or 6 produce items when I know I can't afford to buy them.

This might be bad, but I do stock up on cheap "filler" foods for my always-hungry husband. I mean frozen burritos and those awful TV-type dinners. That way he's not eating all the good food for his second or third dinner. I know they are bad for you and processed, but he doesn't care and they are cheap. Someday--when we can afford it--we'll be whole-foods eaters.

I always cut recipes down, particularly on the meat. If it says a pound, I do a half.

Other than the cheap "filler" foods, I try really hard to not buy pre-packaged stuff. I buy 10lb bags of potatoes instead of frozen hash browns or boxed au-gratin potatoes or potato flakes. And then we eat a lot of potatoes as side dishes. I try to make my own sauces instead of canned or jarred. THat way I can make just what we'll eat at a fraction of the price.

Oh and I buy off brand for just about everything (unless name brand happens to be cheaper). I think the key is to actually look for what is cheapest.

artemisia said...

I can't agree with you more about planning a weekly menu and using a list. Oh, you can save so much money (and time!) by doing this.

artemisia said...

Also -

I do an inventory of my cupboards, the freezer and fridge before planning my menu and writing up my list.

I carry a calculator (or my phone) with me to the store and ALWAYS figure out and compare unit pricing.

Sometimes a brand name with a coupon seems less expensive, but still costs more per ounce. I am religous about comparing unit pricing.

Packrat said...

Usually, I do the cost per unit or ounce comparison. There are a few items that I won't compromise on. It is worth it to me to spend the few extra pennies to know that I'm getting exactly what I want.

I buy in bulk (if it is cheaper to do so). Items stored properly will last way past the expiration dates.

I keep a well stocked freezer and pantry so that I don't have to make an emergency trip to the store.

I keep a list and try to stick to the list as much as possible.

Bart said...

Janssen, remember how we used to laugh at that marriage prep book we read while we were engaged because it said the way to a man's heart is his stomach?

I'm not laughing, now. It's the plain and precious truth (for me, apparently). And you're amazing for combining delicious meals and tiny grocery budgets! Because another way to my heart is your wise use of our money.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

Wow, Janssen, I have a LOT to learn from you. We do the once-a-week shopping and plan out all our menus, but we still spend $75-$100 a week - and that's just on food. :-(

We have several grocery stores in town, but one is just two blocks away while others are a ten minute drive. When we have time, we go to the further-away store, because the produce is much less expensive. But other things there (canned goods, for instance) are more expensive. And we just can't fit two store trips into our schedule. (We haven't even gone shopping at all this week - I'm subsisting on apples and old salami!)

So I'm curious... Do you do one store a week, or if both the stores you like have good deals, do you go to both?

And do you plan your menu around the coupons?

Melanie said...

I've read so many blog posts that swear by using coupons, I've spent a fair amount of time on coupon websites, and I've tried to use coupons . . .but I have not been able to find a way to use them to consistently save money. Most of the coupons I find are for processed and/or brand name foods. I buy virtually no processed foods, most of my food budget is spent on produce. Many coupons offer savings if you buy 2, 3, 4 of whatever the coupon is for, but since I cook only for myself, I rarely need that much of something and in a lot of instances the item isn't something that can be stored.

I have used coupons on occasion for toilet paper, bandaids, bagels, other random items here and there, but despite my efforts and the stack of coupons I regularly print out and take to the store, I rarely find that I am able to save a lot by using coupons. It's either cheaper for me to buy the generic brand or I just can't find coupons for what I need to buy.

Any advice?