Friday, February 13, 2015

Handy Dandy Tips for Saving At The Grocery Store

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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22 comments:

  1. Excellent post! I have been using many of these ideas to save our family money for years...it's nice to see someone else who doesn't coupon or follow the organic and gluten-free trends! Something I discovered recently might help you, if it is available in your area. I was in the health food section looking for an ingredient I needed and discovered that that same aisle has seasonings you can buy by the pound. I put a couple that I needed into one of the baggies they provide, weighed it, and found I could get the same amount I would buy in a little jar for less than .50!! I had to actually press on the scale for it to give me a price for the bay leaves I chose! I was able to get about 6 spices for less than $2. It's also nice if you only need a little bit of a spice you aren't sure you will use again because you choose how much you buy. I shop at HEB which is a Texas only store so I don't know if it's available at other grocery stores, but I would imagine it would be at some! Thank you again for the helpful post!

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    1. That sounds awesome!

      Here, ours doesn't do herbs by the pound, but they do have small containers that are a dollar or less. It makes it a little less costly to try out a spice and see if you like it or not. Me, I like pretty well all of them, so it works out well. I've bought spices at a Mennonite shop in Missouri and they sell it in bulk, which is a little more up front but lasts a long time. I buy half pounds of ground spices, sometimes more, when I get to go there. I also buy my yeast there in bulk, by the pound containers for much much much less than in the local store. I only go maybe once or twice a year, so I make the trips count. :)

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    2. That sounds awesome!

      Here, ours doesn't do herbs by the pound, but they do have small containers that are a dollar or less. It makes it a little less costly to try out a spice and see if you like it or not. Me, I like pretty well all of them, so it works out well. I've bought spices at a Mennonite shop in Missouri and they sell it in bulk, which is a little more up front but lasts a long time. I buy half pounds of ground spices, sometimes more, when I get to go there. I also buy my yeast there in bulk, by the pound containers for much much much less than in the local store. I only go maybe once or twice a year, so I make the trips count. :)

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  2. First of all, I have been a reader of your blog for a few months now and I really do enjoy it so much. It is practical and encouraging :)
    Your post today has been going around in my head... I can't hardly believe you spend 200 a month on groceries. That is amazing and I have read through a couple of times to pick-up some of your skills to do this. Would you believe that for my family of 7, we spend a minimum 200 A WEEK! We are up here in Alaska though. I am curious if you keep a deep pantry? Do you can your garden produce? Does the 200 include household (tp and such)?
    Again, thanks for your posts. I get them in my email.

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    1. Thank you for reading Sunny Patch all these months! :)

      Yes, we keep the budget at $200. Once in a while it may go up to $250, but not often, and during months when the utilities climb up for extreme cold or heat, it goes a little farther down in order to pay the utilities. Our income is rather small for a family of 5, and it's my job to make it stretch as far as it can, right? At big holidays, we've been blessed with extra foods, like at Christmas we were blessed with a huge amount of foods for the freezer and pantry. We're still working through some of it, as we've been trying to make that stretch as well. Hubby is disabled, but uses modifications allowed under KS law to hunt for deer in season, so when he got one, it provided lots of meat into the freezer. On the garden, yes, I've started canning, just learned last year how to do water bath, so that helped with tomatoes, salsa, jellies, jams, fruit preserves. I'm still learning on those, but it has stretched out some of the budget, as we have enough jelly and jam to last through eternity, or sure feels like it! The tomatoes are already gone, still have salsa. I have a pressure canner but am still chicken about using it. Most of the garden things, we eat fresh, or prep it for freezing and put it either in our freezers or over at hubby's dad's house. Same with meats. A couple weeks ago we found chicken quarters for 58 cents a pound in 10 pound bags so we picked up 30 pounds and split them among the freezers. There's still corn in there from the summer. And the long Cuban beans. I shred up zucchini when they're abundant and put it in the freezer as well. What we don't put back, we give away or eat on the spot for meals through the summer/fall months. We grow a ton of lettuce and greens, so those really fill out meals for a while, now if we could get the tomatoes to come in the same time as lettuce, that would be awesome!

      My pantry isn't that deep. :) We use grains, like beans and rice, lentils, etc, that we freeze for 4 days (kills off any extra protein), and then store in containers on the counter. I buy 20 pound bags of rice, large bags of beans, large bags of flour when I can, potatoes by the 10 to 15 pound bags, and a couple times a year a 50 pound bag. A friend of mine cans her potatoes and preserves them that way. Me, I use them up rather fast with the kids loving them.

      Oh, in the spring/summer/fall, we fish too. Hubby loves it, I'm fine with it as long as there's not a lot of distractions, and it produces some fish for the freezer. Our little boat has leaks and the trailer needs work, so it doesn't go out, so we bank/dock fish. After all these years, I still try to convince hubby a few smaller ones work just as well as one large one. :) Here in a month or so it'll be crappie season and one or both of us will be there.

      Let's see, I bake our breads a lot too, and basic cakes, rolls, etc--it saves on the cost,

      (continued)

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    2. Oh--tp and cleaning things I keep separate. I'm not picky on cleaners, so if a sale comes up, I'll go for it. TP, not picky on that either. Bleach I buy in the tablet form, and then when needed just use a tablet and make my own strength, which saves accidental spills and kids getting into it. Dish soap is something I buy name brand, like Dawn or Gain, and again I look for sales. I wash dishes by hand, so we go through 3 or 4 bottles in a month. I average about $50 in cleaning supplies, TP, laundry soap/softener, hand soap, shampoo/conditioner. When I made my own soap, it was much less, but hubby insists I use the commercial made after 3 years of fels naptha based soap. I liked the homemade soap personally.

      I would imagine prices up there in Alaska are much higher than down here in Kansas, and that would make a huge difference in budget! From what I hear, our area has a fairly low cost of living, and the Plains/Midwest in general is lower in cost than the coasts.

      Thank you so much for your questions! And for being a long time reader!

      Lots of hugs!

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  3. I thank you so much for your answers. I have some new ideas thanks to you. What a resourceful woman you are!

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    1. Thank you! :) I can imagine you have some great tips from up there in Alaska that we wouldn't normally do down here--would you be up to sharing any?

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    2. Costco!
      And I am big at stocking up on sale prices.

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  4. I use coupons, on things like toothbrushes, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, tooth paste. I rarely pay more than .25 for a tube of toothpaste, or toothbrushes, I rarely pay more than .50 for shampoo and soap. Coupons help my family be able to pay the extra for fresh fruits and veggies, by saving on the basics. I also save by shopping at Aldi, dairy items and produce items are just so much cheaper at Aldi!

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    1. Where do you find coupons for those? Our small town papers don't usually have coupons for things like TP, toothpaste, and so on. It's almost always ads for the pizza places, Hardee's, and so on. That would be awesome to get those things for 25 cents or 50 cents!

      Our Aldi's is pretty good. I don't get there often, but when I've been there, they usually have good deals on fruits/veggies, flour, sugar, and for a while they had milk for $1.88 a gallon. Their spice rack has been a good deal too for a while! ;)

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    2. I never buy toothbrushes... I ask the dentist and he gives us what we need. I rarely buy toothpaste, as the dentist gives us tubes of that too... but when we do buy toothpaste, I stock up when it goes on special at Costco.

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    3. I keep seeing folks talk about Costco--is this one of those big club stores???

      We live down in a very rural area in Kansas (most of Kansas is rural lol), the nearest city is an hour out (Joplin, MO), Kansas City and Wichita are 3 hours away, Springfield, MO is 3 hours away give or take. I've heard of the Sams Club and been to it a couple of times, but never have seen a Costco.

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    4. On toothbrushes, I tend to buy the cheap 5 for $1 packages at Dollar General for myself. Hubby buys the spin brushes for himself and kids. I clean them regularly with peroxide and keep them decent. My cheap ones are turned into little scrub brushes after I get tired of them. Toothpaste I buy for $1 a tube, and even with 5 people using them, we don't go overboard so they last a while.

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  5. This is a fascinating article and so are the answers to the questions. My husband and I have been discussing this and I suppose for us it would be interesting to compare the pay rates. There is no way a family of 5 could only spend $200 a month on groceries. We spend between $200 and $300 a month and we supply all our own meat, eggs, and milk, along with as many vegetables and fruit we can. I am doing a post at the moment about this (encouraged by yours). I have friends that spend $400 a week on groceries and I do know that they buy brand items. I also am not fussed about what brand they are and I shop at Aldi which saves a heap and only go to the other supermarket for things like shampoo and baking products. Maybe we can discuss this further when I have done my post. Thanks again for what you write, I find it very inspirational. Blessings to you and yours.

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    1. awww thank you Terri! You have been such an encouragement all these months!

      Now, I didn't say it was easy to keep it around $200. The months when it dips below $200 it hurts. What helps on some of this, meat isn't the main part of the meal. It's more of an add in, a flavor, so a pound of meat lasts through 5 people and possibly 2 meals. Like a pound of hamburger makes meatloaf burgers (make meatloaf, then fry it in patties in olive oil or pan spray instead of baking) for 2 or 3 meals. A roast lasts days, spread out for meals, usually served with veggies or over rice. The broth makes soup, and usually cooked with potatoes and carrots. A chicken is cooked (usually baked) and de-boned, and diced into a stir fry or soup. Tonight I used one chicken breast and diced it up, added a pound of chopped asparagus, 3 cups of rice, drizzled olive oil in a pan, added a touch of butter, and did a stir fry per hubby's request. It made enough to fill a deep skillet. We also utilize dry beans a lot, which is typical for Cuban diet, along side rice.

      I will definitely have to read your budget post!! I might find some good ideas to try out there too! :)

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    2. For what it's worth, back when hubby was working regularly as a nurse, our budget was around $500 to $800 easily. As income went down, so did the budget.

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    3. She has Darling Downs Diaries, http://darlingdownsdiaries.com/

      You can get to it from here--it's on the left hand side that updates each time one of my favorites posts. :)

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  6. It's all very interesting. It is amazing how much you can economize when you don't have the money to buy big. There is one blessing in all of this and that is when (or if) things get really tough, you and I will know how to live very cheaply and it is a concern of mine that others won't. When we sold our big farm 16 years ago my husband struggled to find work and when he did he only earned $360 a week. In Australia this is a very low wage and we had a mortgage to pay as well. God really convicted us to get out of debt so we sold up. Before then we were paying all our bills off and it seemed that we were never on top of anything. We used to run a market garden selling to the public and we used to grow all our own vegetables. We learned to live on what we had and spent less than $60 a week at the store. We had to do this and it taught us a valuable lesson. We still don't have a big income but we have skills and gifting that help us live cheaply. It is amazing that you have been able to drop $300 to $500 a month on groceries purely out of necessity. I am sure in the long run that is going to be a blessing to you all. Thanks again for all that you write and I am still working on my post about this. Have a great week. Blessings

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    1. OOOOh, believe me it was hard to start with. I simply cried. It was rough, but once we started cutting out boxed meals, junk food, pizza--lots of pizza, packaged chicken nuggets and fries, eating out, and so on, it made a huge difference. We had so much junk and prepackaged stuff that really ballooned what we spent. It was so much convenience food that could be microwaved and didn't make me do much cooking. Hubby worked what he was allowed under disability law--(hubby is an RN but was disabled after injuries and 2 back surgeries left him unable to lift and work the floor and such full time), and it really upped our food budget. When he stopped working and other things dropped our income down to almost 1/2 of what it was, food had to go down fast. I started doing things that I remembered my parents doing, what my aunts and cousins did--they were all from 1920's to 1940's born and were raised on Depression Era cooking and farm family stretch the meals type foods. There was a riot in our house for a bit, but no one starved, no one died, and we were able to bring the food budget down from $500-$800 down to $200 average. Now we supplement income with small side jobs that provide extra as the Lord provides (which seems to go to insurance premiums or emergencies more than anything). Hubby has taken on work that is easier on his body and is a few hours a week and pays much less than a nurse, but still allows him to work. I have a few hours here and there doing the same type of work. I've sewn items in the past to sell, sold at Farmer's Market, and so on to add extra money to the overall budget. I'm considering adding to my Etsy shop soon, some quilted items from repurposed fabrics, maybe some home decor, etc. God takes care of the needs as they arise, and He sends extra sometimes right before the need comes up--it's almost a given if we're given a lot of hours or extra income comes in, there's a big bill/emergency/vehicle breakdown on the horizon that is right there to be paid with what the extra hours bring in.

      Part of what helped bring the food budget down fast was also in growing up with the family I had--as mentioned above they were more or less Depression Era raised, or taught that way of living while on the farms. My parents were very frugal in spending, and while I didn't appreciate that growing up, I learned a lot by watching and doing. I'd let those lessons go to the wayside in my 20's and out on my own, I didn't want to be so tight and down to the bone on things, I wanted to enjoy the money I made as I worked sometimes 2 and 3 jobs and up to 17 hours or so a day. The things I'd learned went to the wayside, and sat collecting dust until our income went down and they were needed again. I even had to cut into the amount spent on laundry (no washer or dryer so had to go to the laundrymat--had to cut the cost on that too, so for 3 years I used a washboard and clothes line, until we moved to the house we live in now a little over a year ago). Frozen jeans can give you a concussion in a strong wind! That whole time wasn't easy, going from a lot to much less, but it also brought along lessons that the kids are picking up on too, like learning we don't have to have something just because we want it, we can wait and save, and most of the time by the time the money is there we no longer want the item anyway. We've learned to enjoy the little treats, the homemade, and so what if the birthday cake is homemade instead of a decorated store bought? So what if the treat for the week is a $1 sandwich from the drive thru? The kids are learning from the examples, and they also have seen God provide in huge huge ways that they wouldn't have otherwise. So God has shown Himself through it all! :)

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  7. What a wonderful example of how God provides for us, we have found the same throughout the years. I don't have a dryer but I have a washing machine but I can't imagine washing it all by hand. What wonderful lessons your children are learning and what a wonderful example to us all. Sometimes when we have so much we don't appreciate it and then it is gone and it is a real eye opener. I am still working on my post but I will get there. I must say I feel a real connection with you and your family and appreciate all you share with us in your journey. Blessings

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Your graceful comments are welcome!