Living Well on Less saving money on your food bill

Back in October I started a blog series called Living Well on Less.
I had great intentions of writing a monthly post on my best tips, but after writing the first two posts in the series
saving money on your cell phone plan
how to survive without cable
I realized that a lot of thought {and time} would have to be put into each post.
Both of which became super intimidating as each month rolled around.
As the new year starts again, I wanted to continue on with my promise to teach my fabulous readers just how we are able to live well on less.
This month the focus is on food.
Food, while a necessity, is a discretionary expense.

As the primary food shopper, I have control over what comes in to my house in the way of food.
If I am frustrated because my kids are eating chips with every meal, it's my fault because I bought the chips {or cookies or ice cream or other sweet treat} and brought them into the house.
As a consumer, I have control over what I am buying at the grocery store.
Yes, we all need to eat, but no, we don't need to eat steak every night.

I make this disclaimer because in the past I have shopped with coupons and followed websites like  I do continue to shop with coupons making the most of my money by buying items on sale and matching a coupon with the item.  I would never have considered myself to be an extreme couponer. 
Once television shows about extreme couponing became popular several years ago, I have been against the kind of couponing {hoarding} that they encourage.  No person in their right mind needs to stock up on 48 bottles of ketchup just because it was on sale for pennies.
I am frustrated by the popularity of the shows because it has encouraged retailers to come up with all kinds of restrictions on coupons and not only that, extreme couponers frequently clear out the shelves of on sale items making the normal consumer {like myself} go without.
The following tips are for normal people, not extreme couponers.
That said, let's get started.
Tip 1: Eat vegetarian at least once a week
While our family is not vegetarian {I'm from down home Indiana!  I practically have cows as neighbors!}, choosing to eat meatless meals at least once a week {and usually more} saves our family money.  
When we do eat meat, our portions of meat are typically half {or more} what is recommended in a recipe.
For example, our family of five {three big eaters, two smaller eaters}, will consume 3 chicken breasts.  Or if I am making a recipe that calls for 1 pound of beef, I will use around a quarter pound of beef.
**buy ground beef when it's on sale in bulk, then brown it all at once.  When it's cool, place in individual serving ziploc bags so it's ready when you need it.**
Meat is probably the most expensive thing you can purchase at the grocery store.
If you can limit what you spend on your meat purchases, you can save yourself some money at the grocery store.  My mom always told me to set a limit on price per pound for various meat products.  When I was first married, I wouldn't pay more than $1.49 a pound, now my limit is more around $3.99 a pound {with the exception of lunch meat, then my max price is $5.99} depending on the type of meat I am buying.
As you can see, I had to take into account the increase in the price of meat through the years.
Tip 2: Buy from the bulk bin
Most large grocery stores now have bulk bin food items.  Many only carry spices in bulk bins, other stores like Winco carry pasta, cereal, baking items (flour, flax, oatmeal), nuts and beans. 
I do most of my cooking from scratch and spices are the key to helping me add flavor to meals.
Also, when you buy in bulk, you can control the amount that you purchase.
Waste is the number one expense households face in their food costs.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council American's waste about 40 percent of its food. By its calculations, a family of four will throw away more than $2,000 worth of food a year. 
Controlling the amount of food that you buy will help you cut down on waste throughout the year.
Tip 3: Buy staples when they are on sale
We just finished wrapping up the holidays, and many of you noticed lots of baking staples on sale.
I stocked up on chocolate chips, flour and sugar {to name a few} during the holidays.
After the holidays, I noticed packages of dinner rolls {apparently the store overestimated their needs!} at a discount of around 75% off.
I keep a running total {like with the meat} of my max price that I am willing to pay for an item, and then when I see that item for sale at or under that price, I stock up.
For example, our family eats cereal
While the average cereal my family loves is around $4.50 a box, I know that it often times goes on sale {with a coupon} and I will never pay more than $2 a box.  Which leads me to my next tip...
Tip 4: Know the best price
Ignorance isn't always bliss.  
Knowing the best price for your frequently purchased items {and what store those items are at their best price at} is one of the best ways to save money.
 Some people do this by keeping a food price diary.  I just keep a running total in my head.  
I've been grocery shopping long enough that I can usually name off the best price for the item {it's a wonder I've never been on The Price is Right!}
A food price diary helps if you shop several stores.  For example, the best price for lunch meat is at Winco.
This food price diary also helps if you haven't ever paid attention to price per ounce before and are just now becoming a savvy shopper.

Beware: prices change often!
My favorite salad dressing {Brianna's Real French Vinegrette} vaires in price at Winco from $4.59 a bottle to $2.49 a bottle.  Guess when I stock up?

Bigger isn't always better.  
Sometimes buying the larger box or jar, isn't saving you money. 
Do some math and find out if you are actually saving money by buying the larger size.
It's one way manufacturers like to "trick" the consumer.
We almost always assume we get a better buy if we buy the larger size.  It isn't always true.

Tip 5: Don't be loyal to just one store
It isn't rare for me to shop at three different grocery stores in one week so that I can stock up on the best prices on the items our family uses.  I follow the loss leader sales by reading the grocery store flyer, and if there are three or more items below my max price that our family needs, then I will visit that particular store.  There are several stores that I frequent only a few times a month.  Winco and Costco {when I have a membership}.  You can read more about my love/hate relationship with Costco here.  My list of things to avoid buying at Costco here and my list of things to buy at Costco here.
If you only shop at one store, you are missing out on the deals and loss leaders that another store just down the block is offering.  Don't limit yourself and your wallet!

Tip 6: Buy fruits and vegetables in season
I love love love fruits and vegetables! The best deals to be had {and the best fruits and vegetables to be had} are when the item is in season in your area.  During the summer, I frequent our local farmers markets and fruit stands to get healthy organic produce at a fraction of the cost.  It's not hard to know what fruits and vegetables are in season, usually the price dictates the seasonal items.  For instance, right now oranges and grapefruit are in season. My kids know that during the winter, it's rare for them to get watermelon.  Sorry kids, but mama doesn't pay more than $6 for a HUGE watermelon.  Stock up on the in season items, and be cautious about those that aren't in season.  

Most experts will agree that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as ripe vegetables.
Don't feel guilty about feeding your family frozen.

Fruits and vegetables are items that can quickly go to waste.  You can follow this tip to help you use those extra ripe produce items without wasting money.

Tip 7: Shop less often
Fridge size in Europe limits the amount of food that Europeans can buy, forcing them to grocery shop nearly every day.  But we are in America, the land of super sized and excess, our fridges are large {like our booties...wait did I just say that?} and we don't need to grocery shop every day.  

But we've all done it.
Quickly run into the store to buy "just one thing" and walked out spending $50.
Grocery stores love it, our wallets do not.
Meal planning for the week as well as shopping with a list can help you combat this "quick trip" problem.
Many grocery stores having thriving hot food or convenience food inside taking advantage of the "quick dinner run".  
Failure to plan is planning to fail.

Tip 8: Shop the discount bins
In my grocery or produce store, I always head to the discount bins first.  Meat after a big sale is typically deeply discounted, ripe produce is ready to purchase at a fraction of the cost, and day old bread is never stale but always cheaper.  Sometimes grocery stores discount an item simply because the product has new packaging.

Tip 9: Shop discount food outlets
I have access to a few discount food outlets like The Grocery Outlet and a day old bread outlet.
I usually shop at the bread outlet at least once a month.  Bread freezes well, so when I go, I stock up.
I can usually buy a loaf of bread for around $1.  The same loaf would cost me around $4.29 at the store.  I've looked!  The Grocery Outlet is hit or miss.  You would be surprised at some of the food I have found.  And don't discount an outlet store if you are on a restricted diet.  I found lots of gluten free pasta marked down to around $1 a box, and I often times buy rice milk for half the price as the store.  I do always check expiration dates {though I rarely find expired items}.
**I wouldn't be able to stock up on bread the way I do if I didn't have an extra freezer.  Look into the expense, it may end up saving you money.**
Tip 10: Make Lunches
Our three kids take a lunch to school every day and my husband brown bags it to work every day as well.  Not only are my kids eating healthier {don't get me started on school lunches}, they are also eating cheaper. The average school lunch is around $3.00 for my kids, and if my husband was eating lunch out, we would be spending around $10 for each meal.  For the cost of one school lunch, I am able to feed all four of my lunch packers.
Tip 11: Rethink Prepackaged
Individual sized packages of apples, jello, fruit cups, yogurt and pudding are super cute and very convenient, but very pricey.  I make individual servings of my own lunch add in's in small ziploc container cups.  I can make pudding and jello and fill each cup full as I make it and put them in individual servings in the fridge easy to pull out when I make the kids lunches.  I have some lunch tips here and the tutorial on how to make your own lunch wrap and reusable baggie here.
These days, more than school lunch items come in packages.  Pretty much any food can be found processed and packaged up.  Even your lettuce for a salad.  Unless you have a coupon, and the item is on sale, most prepackaged items come at a higher price tag.  
Tip 12: Eat at home
Eating out is expensive and you would be hard pressed to find a cheap fast food meal that is better for you than something you can whip up.  Our family eats out about once a month.  Total. That's it.  I cook meals at home nearly every night.  I've even started teaching my husband and 14 year old son how to cook.  They have both been quite surprised that reading a recipe isn't that difficult.  Once they get the hang of reading a recipe, then they can start experimenting a bit knowing that just because a recipe calls for a particular item doesn't mean it can't be substituted by another item and become something equally delicious and just as easy.  
Sometimes eating out seems more convenient, but it isn't always.  Planning your meals ahead {and by planning ahead, I mean think about what you could have for dinner when you are eating breakfast} prevents you from getting in the trap that you have nothing to make for dinner.  If you know you will be busy at night with various events, start a crock pot meal.  Have a few meals that your family loves, that are quick to make {less than 30 minutes} and that you always have the ingredients on hand for.  
Tip 13: Give up drinking
O.k. so not all drinking all together, but in an effort to save money {and in turn save the environment} I stopped buying bottled water.  All five of us have camel back water bottles that we use {several were bought at garage sales for 50cents} and fill up when we need them.  We don't buy soft drinks {they aren't good for you}, and rarely have alcohol in the house {it's too pricey}.  I don't buy juice boxes unless I find a great sale.  Milk is a staple drink and for the nutritional value, provides quite the bang for the buck.  I won't pay more than $2.49 a gallon for milk and rarely have a problem finding milk at that price.
Tip 14: Shop the perimeter of the store
This probably isn't new information for you, but the basic produce, meat, and bread items are found on the perimeter of the store.  Rarely do I find myself needing anything down the center aisles of the grocery store.  I don't buy a lot of processed, prepackaged foods {see tip 11}, so unless I need pasta, cereal, or beans, I'm rarely down any aisle. 
Tip 15: Don't be brand loyal
There are a few items that my family will not let me buy the generics or store brand of {nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips anyone??}, but on the whole, you can buy the generic or store brand and save money.  We all have seen the reports that most of the same manufactures of our beloved name brand food items, are also the same manufacturers of our store brand items.  Don't be afraid to try it.  
So what do you think?  
Did you see any new ideas you didn't think of before?
Happy shopping!


Dara said...

great ideas and advice!

Liz Luscomb said...

I wish I could find milk for $2.49 again. We moved to NC from TX about 2 months ago, and I quickly found out that food prices cost a lot more on the eastern side of the US.

I've always been a bargain shopper because of a tight budget (feeding a family of 5 on one income) I purchase groceries bi-weekly and have always been able to stay between $170-$180. (about $90 per week)

Since moving to NC, it takes an average $210. The cheapest place I have been able to purchase milk at is, SAMS. One gallon there is $3 vs $3.60+ anywhere else. In TX we purchased milk for a whopping .98 cents per gallon! Big difference.
Thanks for the post! I really enjoy seeing how other families handle their budget. :D

Erin said...

Thanks for the tip. I think my biggest money saver is shipping my pantry before I make my grocery list. If I see I have a certain pasta I'll plan a meal around that, for example. And cutting back on meat portions in recipes and meatless options is great. I am ALWAYS looking for healthy and cheap meals and meatless dishes. What a great post. Ps I don't use coupons because I struggle with planning my meals around what's on sale. Need to get better at that. Where do you find your coupons? Newspaper? Online sites?

Holy Craft said...

Erin, the coupons that I use come from the Sunday paper. There are many sites that allow coupons to be posted on-line but I have lost my coupon printing privileges because I have crashed our home computer one too many times! If you don't get a Sunday paper, ask a friend if they will give you their coupons. I have a friend who gets the Red Plum in her paper and I don't, she passes it on to me. You can also buy a Sunday paper at the dollar store.

Brandi said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that won't use anything but Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips. :)

twelveOeight said...

Great tips, I love saving money at the grocery store!!!!

xoxo, Tanya

DownTheLaneWithDaisy said...

Great post. Thank you.

Christine said...

Great tips!!! Saving money is right up my alley this year :)

Thanks so much for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer... From Dream To Reality!

K Coake said...

Great tips! I practice a lot of these. I can't wait to go look at your tutorial on making the lunch/snack bags. My sister-in-law made me some and I want to make some.
Take care,

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