Grocery Saving 101

How do I feed 10 people for under $500 a month? What I don’t do is stroll through the grocery store dropping everybody’s favorite foods into my cart. I also never run to the store for a missing ingredient for a recipe. If I’m out of something, I change plans or improvise.

I use sales at the grocery store. I stock up on specials, especially half price items. This way I build my own grocery store at home using my freezer, my kitchen pantry and shelves in the basement. An extra freezer is almost an essential for saving money to the degree I do it. Even apartment dwellers can get a small chest freezer. The savings on food will have it paid for within 6 months. I buy much of our food from a frozen food co-op which gives me a huge amount of food for a very low price.

I travel to go to Aldi, a no-frills grocery store about every 3 months. At Aldi I get chips, crackers, canned refried beans, soup, vegetables and fruits. A trip to the warehouse store every couple of weeks is part of our routine too. At Costco I get dairy products like milk, cheese, butter and sour cream. For a family, savings on dairy products alone can pay for your membership at the warehouse store. Costco is also a good source for large size baking supplies like 20lb bags of sugar, 25 lbs of flour and 1lb of yeast.  Paper products are generally good deals too, but often you can do better with a sale at a grocery store or drug store.

I rarely go to more than one grocery store each week. I just select the one with the most good deals. Because I buy in quantity, I use food from my pantry instead of going to the store. Produce and bread sometimes run low, and I’ll stop into the store just for those things. I can go 2-3 weeks without a big shopping trip if I pick up bread and produce between larger shopping trips.

I get free bread from the food pantry. They get more baked goods than they need and make it available to the public. I often find organic and whole grain breads which I use for French toast, sandwiches and bread pizza. If I’m getting free bread, I’m thinking of ways to serve bread. I use whatever comes my way rather than having a meal plan and going in search of the ingredients. The deals come first, then the menu.

While the deals are important to me, it can’t be at the expense of eating healthy foods. We eat very well but we pay very little. We’re not eating white bread and Kool-aid. That would lower our food bill, but we’d spend more at the doctor’s office! We eat simple whole foods, bake from scratch, and eat lean meats. Salmon, chicken breast, roast whole chicken, venison, roasts, steaks and ground beef are all found in our dinner menus. Occasionally there’s some bacon or sausage. We also enjoy some meatless meals like mac and cheese, quiche or cheese fondue. Meat stretchers like rice, potatoes and noodles help us make the meat go further. Lunches include leftovers, soups, and sandwiches. Breakfasts include bagels with peanut butter, omlettes, and cereal with milk. In the winter we enjoy hot cereals with our choice of toppings like raisins, brown sugar, nuts and honey. We have fresh fruit on the counter constantly for snacks. Baby carrots, yogurt, pretzels, popcorn and cheese are also our snack foods.

 How can people get started lowering their food bill? Step one is to get a Sunday newspaper and scan the ads and coupons. I take a marker and circle the items that are good prices. My book has a target price list so you know what you’re aiming for. I cut coupons for any items I ever use and file them in a baby wipes box in envelopes according to category like: baby, baking, cereal… When a sale item’s price can be further reduced by a coupon I can really save. I get some items free and have even had the store pay me for some foods! My Mom and neighbor save their coupon sections for me so I can buy  several of the good deals.

My Sunday paper scanning routine takes me about an hour and a half a week. But it saves me time in the store because my decisions are already made. I can take my ad and list with an envelope of the correct coupons and shop very quickly. I don’t stand in the store wondering what to get. I spend more time planning at home than most, but I pay about half what other people do and shop quickly once I’m at the store. My 6 hours a month saves at least $300 for a payback of $50 an hour. Pretty good pay for a job I can do while watching a movie!

Even if there’s no way you’ll match coupons to sales, grab the ad as you enter the store. Quickly scan it for produce sales especially “buy one get one free”.  Also look for half price deals on other groceries. If you only spent a minute looking over the ad, you could still begin saving a lot by stocking up on your favorites when they are on sale.