Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How I Do It

A reader left a comment recently wanting to know how I developed my shopping/saving skills. because obviously nobody can shop the way I do out of the gate of adulthood before learning a few tricks.

Here are a few pointers and ideas that I use to keep our food spending in check.

* Keep a price book.  If you know when foods you buy are going to be on sale for the lowest they are on sale for, then you will know when to purchase them.  Grocery stores work on a cycle of pricing.  About every 6 weeks that great cycle/circle of pricing runs through and then repeats throughout the year.

* Use Coupons Judiciously.  When appropriate use any coupons you have to make an item you are going to buy anyway cheaper.  Don't buy things just to use coupons.  And if possible wait and pair any coupon with a SALE PRICE.  This is how you get the most bang for your bucks.
Buy on lowest sale price.
Use a coupon too if available.

* Buy Enough.  When an item is at it's lowest price for the sales cycle in your area, buy enough of that food to last you until it goes that low again.  If your stores operate on a 6 week pricing cycle then buy 6 weeks worth of that item so you don't have to pay full retail price for it until you can get it again at that lowest price in the cycle.
This will take some forethought and planning on your part to take advantage of this pricing cycle.
You will need to know A-what your family eats on a regular basis and B-figure out how much of said item your family will eat in 6 weeks time.

* NEVER Make UnexpectedUnplanned Trips to the Store.
The worst thing you can do to blow up your food budget is to be one of those people who is constantly running out to the store because they need 1 item, or forgot an item and it's needed for tonight's dinner.
How many times do these "last minute need 1 item" trips turn into a basket of $30 in items?
It's just like going into warehouse can't just buy 1 thing and you always end up spending at least $100 when you set foot in those.  Same thing goes for "but I only need 1 item" trips to the regular market.

* Substitute.  So what do you do if you are missing an ingredient for that night's meal?   Just come up with a substitute you already have on hand.  Many items can be substituted for another.
Your recipe calls for ground beef?  Try ground turkey/lamb/chicken/pork instead.
Your recipe calls for fresh produce?  Try something frozen.(Well this won't work with fresh
Your recipe calls for milk?  Try powdered or canned.
Your recipe calls for mayo or ketchup?  You can make your own mayo or ketchup.
You get the idea.

And if in the rare case you can't substitute an ingredient?  Don't make that meal but come up with something similar or something altogether different with the ingredients you have on hand.  There are online sites where you can put in a mix of ingredients and possible recipes will be generated for your perusal.

* Never Buy an Item for Full Price if it Goes on Sale.
Once you have built up a stockpile of pantry/freezer goods this is quite easy to do.
I hardly EVER buy anything for the full regular retail price!
In November the only items I paid full retail price for were 1.5 gallons of milk(dairy is regulated here in PA so it NEVER goes on sale)and 1 package of coffee filters for Hubs.  I don't keep a close eye on the state of coffee filters here as I don't drink coffee.  That's my bad.  8-)
By stockpiling you can "shop" from your pantry when items aren't a great deal at the store. Everyone should have a stockpile.  How large or small it is is up to you and your needs and space.

* Meat is ALWAYS bought on sale and/or with an Instant Discount Sticker at the grocery store or on sale at the Restaurant Supply Store(except for Christmas).
Baked goods are ALWAYS bought off the 50% off rack, on sale with a coupon, or at the Bread Outlet Store for a savings in the 75% off reg. retail range.
Produce is ALWAYS bought with a 50% off sticker on it, on sale, or at the Restaurant Supply Store at deep discount(if I don't grow it myself or get it at the farm stand).
Dairy(other than milk)is ALWAYS bought on sale and/or with a coupon.
All the stuff in the interior aisles of the grocery store is bought on sale and/or with a coupon.

If I don't have an item on hand we either do without until it can be bought at a discounted price or I substitute that item for something else I do have.

* Find unexpected places to buy what you need.  NEVER restrict yourself to just one place/type of store.  You never know where you'll find a deal on groceries/toiletries/paper goods/HBAs.  There are good deals to be had everywhere you just have to think outside the box sometimes.
Restaurant supply stores can be great places to find low prices on meats/dairy/fresh produce.  If you buy the deals in bulk you can often get an even better price(but you don't always have to bulk buy for a good deal).
Bakery Outlets and Grocery Outlets(places that sell overruns or product needs it's "sell by date")can be very good to your budget.  Bread products as well as canned/boxed goods will be fresh well past that "sell by date" if stored properly.  Bread can also be frozen to extend it's "'shelf life".
If you live near a farm see if they will sell you their "ugly" veggies not good enough for the farmer's market at a discount.  This only works out in season of course.  If it's a large farm operation ask about whether they will allow you(and your neighbors)to glean their fields after they harvest a crop.
If your neighbor has a garden and you are on friendly terms with them let them know you'd love to have any overflow that they can't use up.
If you are a social and organized leader type who wants to take on a big commitment, think about setting up a food co-op with your friends and neighbors.  Google to find out how this is done and what is involved.
Look for foods at places like Big Lots, Ollie's, various Dollar stores.  Some allow you to use coupons and some do not but most run specials.  Big Lots has a family & friends discount day about 3-4 times a year when you can get 10% off your purchase.  Dollar Tree has also run a few of these discount days.  Sign up for an Ollie's card and they will send you 15% discount cards a few times a year, plus for every $200 you spend in their stores you will get a one time use 10% off everything you buy discount card.  Most of these type stores now even carry frozen foods, dairy and meats.  And even if you don't want to buy boxed/canned processed foods they carry items like condiments, spices, vinegar, and staples like rice, pasta, dried beans, etc.
Paper goods that are holiday specific can be found on clearance after said holiday in places like Target and Walmart, etc.  50% off napkins or TP are a great deal if you don't mind using Easter egg napkins in August or Santa face TP in May.

*  Eat leftovers.  Come up with meals using leftovers.  IE-Serve a baked chicken 1 day, use the leftover meat in a casserole, soup, stew or as a filling(enchiladas, sandwiches, pot pies, etc.) on day 2 and day 3 if you still have chicken leftover.  "Planned overs" or plan to cook more than you will consume in 1 meal.  This not only helps for the food stretch out but saves you time in the kitchen too.

* Be flexible in what you WILL eat.  Since I buy meat when I can find it discounted I never know WHAT types of meats I'll be buying.  This means I need to be flexible on what I plan for meals any given week.  But since I stockpile(have a deep freeze)I have many different meats available to me most weeks and am not limited to whatever I find at any given week in the store.

* Once you get the food you want home, EAT IT!  Sounds simple right?  But most households waste their dollars spent on food by letting some of it go to waste.  Not eating leftovers is the big culprit here.  Some folks love leftovers and some don't, I get that.  If your family won't eat leftovers you can do one of two things--either disguise the leftovers in another dish or don't cook so much so that you end up with leftovers after a meal.  And if those don't work, try using leftovers up for lunch in the next few days by giving them to whoever will eat leftovers as their lunchtime meal.
And if you don't think you'll get to the leftovers before they become some weird science experiment in your fridge then freeze them for a later meal in the future.  At the moment I have some barbecue pork, half of a turkey roulade with stuffing from Thanksgiving, a container of turkey broth also from Thanksgiving, and a ziploc bag full of homemade chili all in my freezer, waiting to be thawed and served or as a component in another dish in the future.

At the moment I am well on my way to having spent under $4,500 for 2015 on groceries/toiletries/HBAs.  That's under $375 average per month.  The USDA statistics on food spending for even the least expensive guideline's plan(the Thrifty Plan)would be $554.60 a month for our family of 3.  At that only covers food, not toiletries/HBAs/paper goods.  I am pretty sure most Americans spend way more than the Thrifty Plan amount anyway.  Outside of housing, transportation and insurances, food is one of the largest outlays of our income.
ccompared to what I see around me, I figure I am doing something right when I shop. 8-)

So what tips do you have to keep more money in your own pockets when it comes to eating?



  1. Excellent list, I use most of your tips already :) Less coupons here in Canada but still use them to offset cost. I might add: Cook from scratch! So many people don't do this anymore (*your list indicates that is a given), and just because it is on your list to buy doesn't mean you buy it. What I mean is that celery was on my list and I refused to buy it as the prices had been jacked up. I waited until I found a store with a reasonable price a few days later and bought it. I buy whatever fruit is on sale, not just because we ran out of apples or oranges. I make dinner with what we have in the fridge/freezer, not whatever strikes my fancy (*hubby likes to cook whatever strikes his fancy which drives me bananas as he goes out to buy ingredients that are not on sale, fortunately he only cooks once in a while so I try and keep my mouth shut :)

  2. Is that all? Snort! You amaze me sluggy!

  3. Great advice. I have frozen cooked meat in meal size bags. Also broth in wide mouth jars. This is the place I start, then starch, vegetable is interchangeable. Since we are retired I like the big meal lunch then soup and sandwich at dinner. Saves me from a mountain of dishes.

  4. I do all that except using a price book and organizing others. Not having a freezer is holding me back. I never turn down anything free! I do freeze and dehydrate vegetables and fruits.

    I suppose I should keep a price book, but generally know prices of produce. The one thing I would like to stock up on is Miracle Whip, but won't buy more than I can eat by the use-by date. However, if I have it on the shelf, I will eat it.

  5. Merry Christmas Eve! I like your tips but honestly, I try to buy organic as much as I can for the health aspects and use very little processed foods. That habit might make for a higher grocery bill but IMO the benefits outweigh that. I am rarely sick. I also eat next to no meals out- I find most restaurant food mediocre unless it's something I don't make like the red curry I had yesterday for lunch! This year I am eliminating all ice cream from my grocery budget. If I want any, I'll have to buy one serving at a frozen yogurt store. I already eliminated peanut butter- those two are red light foods for me. They call my name when I have them in the house. There also will be no junk food in my house, even when my kids are home. They will have to use their own money to purchase it and dispose of it when they leave. I'm giving up diet soda too! Now that will be a sacrifice LOL.

  6. Merry Christmas to you and yours!


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