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.