Lowering Your Grocery Budget

Last week a mom started a thread at a forum asking whats your grocery budget like?

I thought I would share some of my tips for lowering the grocery budget here, and ask you to add some of your own. Personally, no matter what my food budget is looking like, I like to practice frugality in the kitchen to avoid waste and because being cheap makes me feel like I’m getting one over on the man. :-)

Here goes.

- Learn to love beans and rice, both of which are among the cheapest sources of good nutrition available, period. You can use your imagination to make this combo tastier, like cooking your rice with some coconut milk to make it sweet and yummy, or adding a little vegetable or chicken broth to your water, or using curry or other spices with the beans. Even if you’re not vegetarian, check out vegetarion cookbooks from the library for inspiration and recipes.

- Eat less meat, period. But remember that some veggies are expensive, like red sweet or yellow peppers which cost more than meat per pound! Variety is important in your diet but you can get those same nutrients from other, cheaper vegetables. Use lots of carrots, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and celery in your cooking, they’re the cheapest veggies and have tons of fiber to fill you up.

- Practice loss leader shopping. I know it’s a pitb to shop at more than one store, but if you stick to the loss leaders in the sales circulars you can save a boatload of money by going to more than one store (easier if you shop without the kids). If shopping at more than one store is too much for you because of multiple kids or being tired due to pregnancy (been there, done that, got the T shirt and the scarf), then ask hubby to stop by the store on his way home and make sure he has a detailed list of what to buy including name brands. The point is to buy the loss leaders ONLY from each local grocery store, and plan your menu around those cheap foods. You know the food manufacturers are in cahoots with the grocery stores and often send out their coupons in the newspaper when the stores are featuring their products on sale, so combine loss leaders with coupons and save more. It’s all marketing, so you might as well use the “system” to your advantage!

- Put together a price book so you know what’s really a great deal and buy more to save you money (great for stuff that saves like peanut butter, beans etc). You can do this the lazy way by simply keeping your receipts and jotting down in a notebook what you’re paying for stuff you routinely buy. Then you know if that buy one get one free deal is really cheaper, or if the store has jacked the price way UP in order to stick it to you (sad but true!). More on pricebooks.

- Cook stuff like chili, soups/stews and casseroles that stretch the protein.

- Do bulk if you can. You can buy 20 pound bags of rice at most grocery stores and eat that for pennies a serving, but it’s white rice. You can get bulk brown rice at Whole Foods or other larger health food stores. You might have to spend more than your weekly budget for the first two weeks of the month in order to take advantage of bulk savings, then spend less the last two weeks.

- Cheap dinner ideas. Baked potatoes with melted cheese, a little diced bacon, green onions or broccoli etc on top is cheap.

Here is another: Slice sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt, then douse with a little olive oil and then sprinkle garlic powder on top. Bake at 375 on a baking sheet. When soft, top with barbeque sauce and black beans. This is delicious and really cheap.

Another cheap dish that’s healthy is fried rice. I heat some oil in a large saute pan and cook some chopped onion until soft, add an egg or two (scramble). Then add garlic, peas, carrots, sugar snap peas, whatever veggies you guys like. Stir in leftover rice and top with a little soy sauce or teriyaki sauce for flavor. Protein, fiber, nutrients and super cheap!

Books like the Tightwad Gazette are great sources of cheap cooking ideas.

Avoid lunch meats, boxed cereals, instant oatmeal and convenience foods like the plague. Not only does this stuff cost too much but it makes your blood sugar crash which makes you hungrier later …. and remember the food additives and multiple hidden flavors the manufacturers add to make you eat more! Proof that this is true: Mindless Eating (this link is a book review)

- You Pick It. In the spring and summer, do pick your own at berry farms and local farms (also organic). Search localharvest.org for local farms.

- Practice extreme rubber chicken. Never buy chicken unless it’s a whole one and on sale for .49 a pound, then buy two. Cook them both first (roast them in the oven with an orange peel or whole lemon cut up inside the skin, plus garlic and rosemary or whatever herbs you have, butter, pepper etc), eat chicken for dinner the first night. Then cut all meat off carcasses, freeze for casseroles/chicken salad sandwiches/chicken soup/etc. Then boil carcasses for chicken stock (adding onion, celery, spices etc for flavor and a little apple cider vinegar to extract calcium from the bones).

- Refrigerator Stew. Keep a container in your freezer for small amounts of leftover vegetables, grains, meat and beans. When the container becomes full, you have the makings of a great soup. Growing up, my mom always made the best soups with everything but the kitchen sink. As long as you start with a base of onions sauteed in butter, it’s hard to go wrong.

- Don’t waste. Never toss out stale bread or the ends that no one seems to ever want to eat. Make it into home made bread crumbs or croutons instead. Throw bread into the blender and pulse until you have crumbs, and use to top casseroles or wherever bread crumbs are called for in recipes. If you have fruit that is over ripe, but not moldy, mash it up and bake it in muffins and breads or use in smoothies.

For health and to save money (and eat less), drink more water and drink a glass before meals. Teach your kids that beverages with flavor (juice, tea, etc) are treats and that we quench our thirst with water. They’ll learn to crave it.

There you have it. So what are your tips for lowering your grocery budget?

See also: Cheap Eats – Inexpensive Frugal Healthy Food

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16 Responses to Lowering Your Grocery Budget

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  2. beth says:

    As an owner of a small neighborhood grocery store I feel compelled to comment. If you have any interest in seeing the small independent stores survive amidst a sea of soulless superstores puhleeze stay away from our shops if all you want to buy are loss leaders. It’s hard enough for us to keep afloat as it is let alone having customers that are only interested in buying items that we sell for a loss. Please help keep small businesses alive!

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  10. carrie says:

    Hi Beth,

    Point taken. This post was mostly directed to those (if you read the thread at the forum you’ll see what I mean) who are on a very, very tight grocery budget – the mom in question has $20 a week to feed herself and her son and recently came off the food stamps program.

    In my other articles I encourage people to support local and small businesses, but this is particular post was aimed at a different audience. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Tina says:

    About the lunch meat thing, it is true. And when you are pregnant you are not supposed to eat processed lunch meats anyway, they can cause Listeria, which can cause miscarriage. You can safely eat them if you microwave them until they are steaming.
    My kids and husband love lunch meat for sandwiches however, so I have found a cheaper way to get them. I buy a big boneless 3 or 4 pound ham when it’s on sale for six dollars or less, then I have the butcher slice it wafer thin for sandwiches. Then I’m only paying $2 or less per pound, where the packaged lunch meats cost at least $3.50 per pound on sale. I just get out a little baggy of the ham at a time, and put the rest in the freezer.

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