Cutting Your Grocery Bill

Kim Tilley

Here is a collection of strategies and tips for cutting your grocery bill. Some of these ideas I use religiously, others I am working on or struggling with! I have gleaned some of these from books, frugal relatives and my own improvising. By far the best resources are any relatives you have who remember the Great Depression (or check out cookbooks and stories from/about that time period) and The Tightwad Gazette books, my favorites! !

Start with strategies that you can implement without causing major revolt in your family, moving gradually to a goal of a lower budget for food that is healthy, wholesome and homemade! If I have left some out, please email me with your hints and tips, I would be happy to include them here! 

Note: I have tried to arrange these in order from least difficult to most difficult. I hope they make sense! This way, you can see the changes along the way and be willing to make more frugal choices as you and your family gets more comfortable with this way of eating and shopping! Start with a few things and keep adding, soon you will see a HUGE difference in your food budget!

1. Attitude of gratitude- A long journey begins with a single step and this is your first step. Begin with your own attitude towards being frugal, because it will impact the rest of your family! How can they be excited about changes if you aren't? So start by being thankful for all that you have, even if your life seems far from perfect (guess what? We ALL feel that way! LOL)

2. Use Everything- when you are cooking, think about how you can get every last food mile out of what you are making. Meat bones and vegetable trimmings can be made into wonderful stocks. Leftover vegetables and meats can be thrown into the sam estock for free soups and stews or put into pot pies, homemade "hot pockets", crepes, casseroles, you name it! Look at food waste in an entirely new light, try to get every thing out of your food dollar!

3. The Price Book- This is the most useful tool in making sure that every food dollar you spend is spent well! The basic idea of the price book is to have a system for tracking prices so that when you see something on sale, you will know whether it is really a good buy or not. I use a three ring binder and looseleaf paper. At the top of each page, I put several column headings: Date, Store, Item, Size, Price, Unit Price, Sale. At the top right hand corner of the paper, I put the name of the item (such as "bread", "milk", "cereal", etc). When I see a sale or even a regular price, I write it down in the price book. It is easier to do this at home with store receipts or sale ads, instead of in the store, where some employees may mistake you for a competitor's spy! It does happen! After a few months of tracking prices, you will know what is a good deal and what is not. The most important section of the price book is the unit price, because that tells you, no matter what size the item, how much you are actually paying per pound or ounce or other unit of something.

4. Bulk Buying- With the price book in hand, you will be able to bulk buy with much more confidence! Now when flour goes down to 49 cents for a 5 pound bag, you will know that this is an excellent price and to stock up! Then when it goes back up over a dollar, you'll still be using the flour that you bought for the lowest price and smiling! Bulk buying can be a little scary at first. Buying so much can be intimidating. How will I use this all? How will I store it? The answer is to get creative! Things that can be kept at room temperature can be stored under beds, in closets, anywhere! This is especially true of canned goods. Flour can be frozen (to prevent weevils) and then stored in airtight containers at room temperature. 

5. Use your freezer- Eventually you will want to have a deep freeze to stock up on good deals on meats and other frozen items. A freezer is a great investment and tightwad tool! If you can get an older one cheap, it may be a good deal if it is still efficient (10-15 year old models are ok, but a 30 year old freezer will cost a bundle in energy!) Check out newer, more efficient models and put the word out that you are looking for a freezer. We got our freezer (now 15 years old ) from my husband's grandmother who found they just didn't eat enough to justify having a big one anymore. It has served us well and saved us thousands (in the 5 years we have had it) on groceries! 

6. Cut down/out on the junk food- If you can get the tribe to completely give up the soda, chips, cookies, candy, etc, good for you! We have been working towards this goal for some time now, and have managed to cut out soda (we still drink kool aid and sun tea), most cake, and alcohol (I consider this to be junk! You have to decide for yourself). We have cut down on baked goods, and I make any we eat from scratch. We still buy chips for lunches only, and enjoy popcorn and homemade pizza on our weekly movie night.

7. Make it yourself- Ban those convenience foods! If you can't totally cut out junk foods, make them yourself! A large homemade pizza costs about $2-$3 to make, compared to frozen pizzas which are typically $3-5 for a small size and delivery pizzas which run you about $8-10 each. If you bulk buy the ingredients and make the dough and/or sauce from scratch, it can be even cheaper to eat in! Which leads us to the next idea:

8. Cut down or stop eating at restaurants-Make it a special occasion to go out to eat rather than a common event. Eat out once a month and use coupons to cut costs even further. If you can be strong, put your foot down and refuse to eat out! Use the oamc recipes here to cook ahead, so that you still get the night off from cooking, but you are eating at a low price ( and you know who is handling your food!) 

9. Clone your favorite brand name and restaurant recipes- this is not as hard as it sounds! Most popular convenience foods and restaurant foods were inspired by their homemade counterparts. Ther secret to recreating these foods well is to go back to the original homemade versions. Many basic cookbooks have wonderful recipes for homemade sauces, breads, etc. There are some great cookbooks that strive to duplicate some of the more favorite purchased foods. One of the best is called "Top Secret Recipes" by Todd Wilbur. He has three books out with more in the works. Check out his website at: TopSecretRecipes . It's excellent! Some other "clone" recipe websites: Copycat, etc.

10. Eat less meat- Does spaghetti really have to have all those meatballs? Does your pizza really have to have all of that meat on it? Only you will know for sure what your family will miss and what it won't. Many other cultures use meat sparingly in their dishes. Check out Asian and Indian recipes in particular.And try to think of meat as an accent to the dinner rather than the main course. If this is too difficult, try cutting portion sizes of meats and adding more side dishes to compensate. There is always a way to cut down on meat consumption!

11. Stretch Meats-you may be able to get away with extending your meat by mixing in extra veggies, grains or even TVP (textured vegetable protein). TVP is made from soybeans and there are quite a few restaurants that use it, so it may be more familiar than you think! It comes in chunks or crumbled. It is dry and can be rehydrated before using or in the actual recipe you are using it in. you can hide it best in ground beef dishes, especially, dark ones, like chili. If TVP is not an option, stretch meats by cutting amounts in recipes and adding more beans, veggies, grains to the dish until your family complains, then ad back in a enough to make them happy.

12. Use your leftovers- Get a free meal by saving those leftovers! If you think you will forget about them, label them and freeze! On leftover night, have a smorgasbord. You can also create "party trays" with smidgeons of this and that arranged prettily. Restaurants offer these, why can't you?

13. Pack your luches- This is a great way to use up leftovers! It is our first choice. Lunches don't have to be boring either. Think of items you might order at a deli and duplicate at home. I send the hubby and kids with homemade hoagies, pitas stuffed with tuna, BLTs, pigs in blankets, cold pizza (they love this),bologna burritos (just a bologna sandwich on a tortilla instead of bread), and homemade hot pockets. I always have them participate in the lunch decisions or in actually making the lunches. This helps stem complaints! I include nonmessy fruits like bananas, apples and grapes, dried fruit, trail mix, popcorn, chips and homemade goodies- cookies, pudding, rice krispy treats, etc. There are lots of great brown bag ideas for lunches on the Busy cooks website.

14. Take drinks with you-if you are working and spend money on coffee, buy a thermos and take your own. Take along water or tea in a big jug on outings, especially during the summer months. This will help you resist the temptation of stopping at a fast food joint and ordering an overpriced, undernourishing soda. Pack drinks for the kids if you pack their lunches. When I did the math with my price book, I found to my amazement that the half pints of milk from the subsidized milk program are much more expensive than sending milk I buy at the store! Here a half pint (1 cup) of milk at school costs 25 cents, but the milk I buy at Aldi is $1.79 a gallon, or 11 cents a cup! I can send my kids to school with twice as much milk and still save money!

15. Fill up on healthier foods - as you may have noticed from the selection of lunches above, I try to include healthy foods in the kids lunches. I try to offer fruits and popcorn as snacks, rather than junk food, I offer them water between meals with the occasional koolaid. I buy whole grain breads only and try to make mostly whole or half white/half whole grain baked goods. Any change is better than none. Whole grains and healthy foods fill you up and nourish you . You will eat less and crave less because your body is nourished more.Think of wholesome foods as an investment in your health. You may also find yourself visiting the doctor less often! Some suggestions for putting more healthy foods in your diet: try eating brown rice instead of white, wheat bread instead of white, offer water between meals instead of koolaid and soda (and try to actually drink 8 glasses of water daily), keep fruits on hand instead of candy and cookies, fix veggie trays ad dips for snacks instead of offering chips. These little changes, done daily can add up-to savings in money, loss of weight and better health!

Copyright 1999-2000 Inc.

About the Author

Kim Tilley, a tightwad at heart, is the mother of three active boys and the founding editor of sadly now closed.. Frugal by force and later by choice, Kim cut her income by 60% to stay at home with her children and discovered that anyone can live better for less. Her work has appeared in print publications such as The Tightwad Gazette. In her free time, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something from nothing!

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