Grocery shopping is one area where big savings are possible, but I don’t think that frugality should ever be the only consideration. I definitely try to keep our grocery bill as low as possible, but I also want the foods I serve my family to be nutritious and healthy, and I want our meals to be appealing and taste good… with portions large enough to satisfy everyone’s hunger. That’s not as easy as it used to be, but here are a few ideas I use that help keep our grocery bills under control.

  • Every Sunday morning while everyone else is still asleep, I turn on the computer and look through the online circulars for the two grocery stores I shop at regularly. I look for sales and good prices, coupon offers, and any two-for-one or buy one get one free deals. There aren’t many coupons offered for the non-processed type of food I buy, but occasionally these circulars do offer big savings I can take advantage of.
  • After several years of shopping the same stores, I have a pretty good idea of which stores have the lowest prices for the items that I buy on a regular basis. I remember a lot of the prices, but I also keep a price book… it’s nothing fancy, just a small pocket-sized notebook that I keep in my handbag. I write down the name of the item, the name of the store, and the unit price or price per box or container, and then I look through my price book as I make out my grocery list. I can see at a glance which store will have the best buy on a particular item.
  • I achieve my biggest savings by NOT buying for the week ahead. Instead, I buy almost exclusively for the freezer and the pantry. When an item goes on sale, I buy that item in a large enough quantity to last until it will go on sale again. With this method I never pay regular price for most of the items we buy. I also don’t go grocery shopping every week. Depending on the sales and prices, several weeks may go by before my next mega shopping trip, and the only food items I will buy during this time are perishables that I cannot freeze.
  • I also do not make up a menu plan, but because I have a well-stocked freezer and pantry, I almost always have all the ingredients I need for baking or to make any of the meals my family likes. One of the first things I do every morning is to plan (in my head, not on paper) what that day’s meals will be. This lets me suit the meal to the events and time restrictions of the day, and because I start the day knowing what we will be eating, I can plan ahead for any meal preparation.
  • I buy in quantity but I never buy from the bulk food stores. Because I buy almost everything when it is on sale, I can always get a lower price at the grocery store than I would pay at the bulk food store. Another consideration for our family and for any family with allergies… I worry less about cross-contamination when the food I buy is protected by packaging. Food displayed in bins can be easily cross-contaminated, especially if the same scoops or bins are used for different foods. For severe allergies, even close proximity to the allergen is enough to cause a severe reaction.
  • We don’t eat junk food and we don’t eat at restaurants, also because of the soy allergy problem. The momentary pleasure we might get from either is just not worth a possible life-threatening allergic reaction… so we don’t see not eating junk food and not eating out as much of a sacrifice. We make popcorn, pizza, and other snack foods at home. We have the occasional sweet snack of homemade cookies, pies, or cake, but we do not eat desserts on a regular basis.
  • We all drink a lot of water for health reasons, milk, fruit juice, very little tea or coffee, and no carbonated drinks at all. Giving up carbonated drinks was difficult at first but we don’t miss them now.
  • We’re always trying to include more whole grains in our diet. I bake with whole wheat flour as much as I can, and we eat brown rice, lots of rolled oats, and other whole grains. I buy several kinds of dried beans and peas, and we’re even liking lentils now, thanks to some great recipes that readers have sent to me.
  • We’re eating less meat and more vegetables… fresh vegetables for salads and fresh vegetables in season, but mostly organic frozen vegetables that I buy in large quantities when they go on sale. We do not like canned vegetables, so I do not buy them. We eat a variety of vegetables each day, and I have found that buying so many vegetables is often more expensive than buying meat used to be. The same goes for fruits. I try to keep enough fruit on hand to meet the daily serving requirements, but we eat mostly the in season or less expensive fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges.
  • Leftovers never last past the next morning here, because my husband claims them for his breakfast! It makes for a happy relationship, because I do not like any kind of leftovers, and he likes them all.
  • I have no problem buying store brands or generics if the quality and taste are good. Sometimes store brands and generics taste even better than the name brands! And sometimes they do not.
  • Because of the soy allergy, I have to cook or bake almost everything we eat from scratch, so that means I don’t buy prepackaged or convenience foods. A side benefit of the extra work is that we also avoid the preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients.

Some things, like real vanilla extract, for example, are well worth the extra cost. This is where sensible frugality comes in. I splurge where it makes sense, or on items that are important to us, and I compare prices and save where I can. I don’t always buy the least expensive item, but I always try to find the best value.

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StrivingSimply

We make our own vanilla extract, and it greatly reduces the cost. A bottle of cheap vodka and 6 or so pods will keep you in vanilla well through the holiday season.

Alissa

This is a great post! It has been on the forefront of my mind lately, given the drastic price increases for food. It’s tricky to find that balance between healthful eating and staying within budget. We normally try to eat organic whenever possible, but lately I’ve had to be more choosy about which foods I buy organically and which will be non-organic. I would prefer to buy everything organic, but the reality is that the dollars only go so far. I try to make sure that anything the kids eat a lot of is organic. The rest is negotiable. We follow a lot of the same principles as you do: drinking water, no pop, whole grains, cooking from scratch, etc. I find that it’s the best way to do healthful eating on a budget, as coupons are normally for processed items that I would hardly call food. I like your idea of shopping to stock your pantry/freezer rather than shopping for the week. I’ve been contemplating this lately as a way to reduce costs. I typically meal plan for the week, and then shop for the meal plan, picking up a couple of extra of something if the price is good. But I think your way makes better sense. If you run out of a staple, do you add it to your list immediately, or wait until it goes on sale again to purchase it?

Thanks,
Alissa

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Alissa, with staples I try to have enough on hand so I can buy more before I run out. Some things, like molasses, I will put on my list when I open one and have only one left. For something like canned organic crushed tomatoes that we use a lot of, I buy them in packs of six 28-ounce cans. When I get down to the last two packs, I’ll put them on my list. That gives me time to wait for a sale. It usually goes quite smoothly… unless “someone” forgets to put the item on the list!

Jon in France

Leftovers, leftovers, where would we be without leftovers?

When the girls are at school my Dear Wife and I can make whatever was roasted on Sunday last for a week of lunches. A typical sequence might be:

Day 1 – fry an onion and a pepper off. Chuck in the leftovers and serve with bread.
Day 2 – add a tin of chopped tomatoes and reheat. Serve with rice.

Wednesday is not a school day in France and the girls demand proper, recognisable food, served in three courses, comme à l’école. The leftovers sulk in the fridge.

Day 3 – Liberated from the darkness, the leftovers are heated up again and some fried chorizo sausage, another pepper and a can of toms are added and the mixture served with pasta.

Day 4 – The sludge on the sides of the pan is scrapped down to the bottom (NB: it is very important that the pan is NOT washed during the week. This is necessary for the flavours to properly develop), stock and a tin of lentils are added to make what my late mother would have refered to as “workhouse soup.”

Oddly, neither of us have caught anything from our leftovers. I think this might be because it was largely what we lived on as children, and, actually, I rather like it.

Natasha

I trying vey hard to cut back but it seems when I go shopping the majority of the food is gone within a few days no matter how long I thought it would last. We started living without carbonation yesterday and praying it goes well.

Terri

I don’t know how people can make menus for the week, or the month, for that matter. For someone like me who hates to cook, but loves to bake, I had an idea of having a blank calendar page on the fridge and just writing down what you make for dinner each day. You can see what your pattern for meal planning is and base your stocking-up on that. I do belong to a warehouse club (never full price), because cheeses, powder milk, cooking spices, oils, and other basics are dollars cheaper and I feel the membership more than pays for itself. I try not to buy boxed items when I know I have the basics to make it from scratch. I also just stock up on items as they go on sale. By far our best buy is a whole frozen turkey breast for $1.69 lb. The first day we roast it, then slice and pull all the meat off. The carcass gets boiled for broth. That first day we’ll have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables. The next day we make sandwiches. The third day we make soup with crackers or biscuits, and there’s usually leftovers for the freezer. And if there’s enough for a fourth day, we usually make the first day’s meal again. That’s four meals for four people. We love it.

Vicky

Hello!
I’m enjoying reading through your site. I also have multiple food allergies, soy being one of them, others are egg, wheat, peanuts and related. I also try to buy on sale for the pantry, but I’m not as good at it as you are. Yet. Still working.

Here’s a recipe for making your own real vanilla for cooking. Take one cup vodka (I use 100% potato vodka to avoid wheat – Chopin or Luksusowa are two that I have used – and two organic vanilla beans (if your local store doesn’t have them, amazon does). cut the vanilla beans lenghtwise and add to vodka in a jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid and make sure the vanilla beans remain submerged in the vodka at all times. Shake the jar daily for two weeks. Strain. Excellent Vanilla Extract.

I’m still reading my way through your website – love it! Thanks for sharing.

Vicky

Piper

This is good! You’ve given me some different ideas to think about and I’m going to try alot of them.

Sarina

Money is really tight for us right now because my husband lost his job 6 mos. ago and is yet to find another one. I try to be very frugal but I agree with you that nutritious food is the last area anyone should cut. I will try your buying-for-the-pantry-and-freezer idea. It makes a lot of sense to me.

Rick

Interesting idea to shop for the pantry rather than for the weeks’ meals. I’m afraid it would take more organisation than I’m capable of though. It’s an idea worth trying though.

Catherine

Fabulous post. I do make up meal plans for the week. Generally I know what is going to happen and most meals are quick and easy. Occasionally the odd event crops up that I wasn’t told about but then I just make up something on the spot. I don’t stress about it too much. Thank you for telling us how you shop. I’ve been cutting back more and more on the non essentials and stockpiling my pantry and I’m going to try checking out the supermarket deals too. Makes more sense to be prepared before I get there than while I’m shopping.

suzi w.

still learning how to live soy-free, but one thing about house brands–sometimes they don’t have soy, when the brand name does. As a girl who lived mostly on restaurant and Lean Cuisine for YEARS, it is a HUGE lifestyle change, but your blog has made it easier. Thank you!!

Dmarie

GREAT post…chock full of frugal to-dos. thanks for the reminders of what I should be doing!!

Pam

Thank you for validating the freezer and pantry strategy I’ve used as long as I can remember. I’ve taken some criticism for having larger-than-‘normal’ quantities of peanut butter and spaghetti sauce, and almost everything else, on hand. I am mildly obsessive-compulsive, a condition related to hoarding, so that is the basis of my family’s concern. I’ve long known, however, that I spend less money this way. I’ve also learned to read the ads ahead of time, and decide in advance what NOT to buy; that really helps. If the weekly specials don’t interest me, I just go to the store with the cheapest milk and coffee, which is only possible because I have all the basics in stock. Also: Lately I’ve gotten away from scratch cooking…it used to be all I did. I began reading labels lately, and recently put down a condiment I’ve been using for years that has high fructose corn syrup. It’s hard to change, to give up things I’ve enjoyed for decades, but now I’m inspired to try, at least to a small extent. I won’t be making my own ketchup or raising chickens, but I can make an excellent blue cheese dressing, hollandaise sauce, etc.; no need to buy many of the bottled sauces with preservatives and flavorings.