For what it's worth, our family does not subscribe to the organic craze that is so popular. We are also not on board with the gluten free. We *are* on board with making the grocery dollars stretch to feed 2 teenaged boys and 1 girl who will be a teen soon, a hubby who is a foodie, and myself who enjoys the fruits and veggies.
I keep our budget around $200 a month for groceries for 5 people. There are some months when it is less due to utilities going up or an unexpected expense that cannot be ignored. I've learned through the years how to make the amount allotted in the budget for groceries stretch farther and farther. I had to. We do not lack for food, we have no complaints on the amount of food in our home or on our plates. The kids tend to complain that they aren't getting lots of junk, but that's fine.
What do I do to make the dollars stretch?
First, I do not coupon. Why? Many of the items we eat there are simply not coupons for that we've seen. For instance, I purchase lots of fresh fruit, I have not seen coupons for fresh apples or oranges or mangoes or the like. I wish there were coupons here locally for those! Instead of purchasing with coupons, I tend to purchase items that are not name brand. Most of our items are Dollar General's brand, the Walmart store brand, Always Save, or Best Choice. Don't get me wrong, name brands are great, and there are a few things that I buy that are branded, like freezer bags (they are thicker) and coffee, but most things that we use are available in an "off" brand and are usually cheaper than the name brand with coupon.
Second, when we shop, we take advantage of manager's specials and temporary price reductions that are not advertised in the weekly fliers. Our little grocery store has manager's specials in the meat department, and sometimes that saves a good deal on meats. Temporary price reductions I've found throughout the store, from the produce department to various shelved items. I especially enjoy it when the coffee/creamers and teas are TPR'd. I've found many good deals through the store on things marked down like that. Unfortunately many of the TPR'd items eventually are clearanced, so if I have a little extra in the budget I may buy two or three.
Third, I hit the clearance/reduced meats and produce. Years ago, shortly after graduating high school, I had opportunity to work in a meat department of the local grocery store where I lived in Missouri. I learned a bit just watching as I worked, and learned that brown isn't necessarily bad--it's just where the meat has had air hit it. Green, that's another story. I also learned that the pretty red meats that stay red for days and days have CO2 added to the packaging and usually aren't packaged on site--think big box stores like Walmart and others that sell lots of prepackaged meats that look perfectly packaged and are simply shipped frozen and then put out in the case. With the little local stores, with a meat cutter on staff, the meats do turn brown, but they are fresher, and will be marked down faster to move the product. You also won't be getting a pretty red package that is rotten inside but doesn't show it for the CO2 added. In the produce department, I have no problem with buying slightly wilted peppers or bananas that are ripened very well, if they are marked down reasonably. Our store keeps a cart with daily mark downs, and usually there's bananas in bags for a dollar, lately there's been bell peppers 4/$1, and even pomegranates that tasted just fine. Of course you have to be careful and look for fuzz and odd colors, but if you enjoy fresh produce this can be effective. Last week we brought home lots of green onions for $1 and a few packages of bell peppers for $1 a package, and made some sofrito to add to omelets and such.
Alongside the meat and produce department, I've even found some deals in the deli case. Our store keeps a hot case of ribs, rotisserie chicken, fried chicken, and other ready to eat things. At the end of the day, these items are packaged and put in the cold case at a lower cost. I've picked up a rotisserie chicken for as low as $2.99, a slab of ribs for $6 (sells hot for $12), and even a chicken pot pie that fed 3 people for $2.99. I'm ok with heating things up myself, if it saves half the cost. The chickens I enjoy particularly as I boil the bones afterward for soups, so it's an added deal to me.
Fourth, I buy along with what the weekly ad has for sales/specials. If a certain item we use a lot is on sale, I'm all over it. I really look at the produce and meat department sales, jumping on fresh fruit sales often, especially apples, oranges, and grapes. The meat department sales aren't so much sales anymore, but something I dread, with basic cuts going higher and higher weekly it seems. Sometimes the "staples" are on sale as well, which is great.
Our overall staples are basics, like flour, rice, beans, basic spices/herbs, milk, eggs, frozen veggies, coffee, tea, and then we fill in around those. Again, no name brands usually.
Whenever possible, we buy our eggs from a local farmer. Many times we have eggs given to us by a family member who has a farm and brings his eggs to town to sell. If at the end of the day they don't sell, which sometimes happens, he will give them to us just so he doesn't have to haul them home. We share them with others who would enjoy them as well. Average price for a dozen farm fresh eggs is $2. I buy honey that is brought in from a local beekeeper and sold at our little local grocery store and occasionally the farmer's market
In the growing season, we share a full back yard garden with hubby's dad and work at it to bring a lot of produce up. That saves a ton and it gives us exercise. Lots of corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, butternut squash, lettuce by the grocery bags full, spinach, asparagus, and all kinds of other produce come from there. I grow my own herbs yearly and enjoy the fruits of the harvest often, and dry them out to keep for later.
As mentioned early on, we shy away from the organics and specialty diets. We aren't concerned with it, it's not a battle we choose to fight. Our wallet will not take on the battle either, when organics cost double per pound in the produce department. "Grass fed" beef is not something we worry about either. I grew up on a working Angus farm, learned a ton about tending cattle, what diseases are out there and are preventable with appropriate antibiotics/vaccines, and so on. I couldn't care less if the cow we eat had supplements and corn. I'm glad the cow had it's shots so it wasn't languishing with bacterial infections and viruses that were completely preventable. Our budget does not allow $10 a pound for "grass fed" where it may be $4 or $5 otherwise. I can't justify the extra cost with a limited budget and growing kids.
On the gluten free fad that is going around, we shy away from that as well. We've had people mention to us about trying it with the kids, and they were sincere about it, and we've looked into it. Then we see the $7 a pound flour and the types of replacements that are there for gluten, and say no. The replacement for gluten is rice flour, potato starch, and so on, which makes blood glucose spike, and that's not good either. Many spikes like that from the starches can lead to early onset of diabetes when one may not otherwise have had it, as it overworks the pancreas and the sensors that signal the output of insulin, and then the body stores the insulins and glucose as....FAT. So, we're sticking to the rye, hard and soft wheat, and keeping the rice and potatoes at a moderation. Gluten free is not good for diabetics like the 2 of us adults in the family. None of us in the family have the issues with gluten that a very tiny percentage of the population have, so no need to venture down the gluten free road.
There are other ideas and ways that we keep our food budget under control. I'll elaborate more later as time allows. You're welcome to share your ideas as well!
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