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this omnivores dilemma

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I’m frustrated. I think this is one of the most common frustrations for homemakers–grocery shopping.
I feel like I am spending so much money on groceries every month and our tight budget just can’t take it.

I love to cook for my family. I love preparing meals and desserts and healthy snacks, breads and soups. But I just can’t seem to figure out how to do it wisely. I take my list to the grocery store, spend tons of money and tell myself, "okay, this is the last time I’m going to the grocery store for a long time. I’m especially not going again this week." And within days, I feel like I could make another trip. Not a huge trip, but inevitably there’s always a few things that need to be purchased again, whether it’s something I forgot, something we’ve run out of already, or some ingredient I didn’t know I needed for the thing I want to make.
And those little, in-between trips add up, too.

Part of me thinks maybe we eat too much of the same things, so I’m not really getting in to the depths of what’s in my pantry, thus not really using all that I have. Dan and I both are pretty samey-same about breakfast each morning–for him grapenuts with honey and milk, for me some kind of fresh fruit, vanilla yogurt and granola. Sometimes I hold back from trying new recipes, because I shy away from the ingredients I’d have to purchase just to make that recipe.

I think we do a good job of using up leftovers in Dan’s lunches for work, or for me and the girls the next day. I try to clip coupons, but sometimes that just leads to me buying things I wouldn’t normally need. I just get it because the coupon is sitting in front of me.

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I also like having fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and buying those at my farmers’ market as much as possible. There’s nothing that makes my stomach turn more than going to the store and realizing that the grapes are from Chile, or the mangoes from Brazil. (I made that last one up, but you know what I mean.) And reading this book surely doesn’t make any of this easier, either. For one thing, it makes me think I should be only eating the fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season locally. (Part of the reason why I’m freezing every fresh tomato I can get my hands on these days.)

But that’s all another topic.

So, what do you do? How do you keep from going to the grocery store four times a week? How do you make sure you get everything you need? How do you keep from spending hundreds of dollars on food each month? How do you find the space in your grocery budget to buy the ingredients to try new things?

I want to enjoy grocery shopping. But right now, I don’t. I leave with this sick feeling about all the money I’m spending, knowing I’ll be right back there in a few days doing it all over again.

Alright, thanks for listening to my whine-fest. I needed to unload and see if anyone out there has the secret to my grocery success. I’d love to hear your tricks. Is it menu-planning in advance? Is there some better kind of list I should be keeping? Is there a better way to stock my pantry that I’m missing? Do tell.

******
Emma and I started our first week of Kindergarten home school, so I may be a little sparse around here until I get my new routine figured out. Ironically, I’m more organized now, with less time, so maybe you’ll be seeing me more…who knows!

P1010036
I’m frustrated. I think this is one of the most common frustrations for homemakers–grocery shopping.
I feel like I am spending so much money on groceries every month and our tight budget just can’t take it.

I love to cook for my family. I love preparing meals and desserts and healthy snacks, breads and soups. But I just can’t seem to figure out how to do it wisely. I take my list to the grocery store, spend tons of money and tell myself, "okay, this is the last time I’m going to the grocery store for a long time. I’m especially not going again this week." And within days, I feel like I could make another trip. Not a huge trip, but inevitably there’s always a few things that need to be purchased again, whether it’s something I forgot, something we’ve run out of already, or some ingredient I didn’t know I needed for the thing I want to make.
And those little, in-between trips add up, too.

Part of me thinks maybe we eat too much of the same things, so I’m not really getting in to the depths of what’s in my pantry, thus not really using all that I have. Dan and I both are pretty samey-same about breakfast each morning–for him grapenuts with honey and milk, for me some kind of fresh fruit, vanilla yogurt and granola. Sometimes I hold back from trying new recipes, because I shy away from the ingredients I’d have to purchase just to make that recipe.

I think we do a good job of using up leftovers in Dan’s lunches for work, or for me and the girls the next day. I try to clip coupons, but sometimes that just leads to me buying things I wouldn’t normally need. I just get it because the coupon is sitting in front of me.

P1010030

I also like having fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and buying those at my farmers’ market as much as possible. There’s nothing that makes my stomach turn more than going to the store and realizing that the grapes are from Chile, or the mangoes from Brazil. (I made that last one up, but you know what I mean.) And reading this book surely doesn’t make any of this easier, either. For one thing, it makes me think I should be only eating the fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season locally. (Part of the reason why I’m freezing every fresh tomato I can get my hands on these days.)

But that’s all another topic.

So, what do you do? How do you keep from going to the grocery store four times a week? How do you make sure you get everything you need? How do you keep from spending hundreds of dollars on food each month? How do you find the space in your grocery budget to buy the ingredients to try new things?

I want to enjoy grocery shopping. But right now, I don’t. I leave with this sick feeling about all the money I’m spending, knowing I’ll be right back there in a few days doing it all over again.

Alright, thanks for listening to my whine-fest. I needed to unload and see if anyone out there has the secret to my grocery success. I’d love to hear your tricks. Is it menu-planning in advance? Is there some better kind of list I should be keeping? Is there a better way to stock my pantry that I’m missing? Do tell.

******
Emma and I started our first week of Kindergarten home school, so I may be a little sparse around here until I get my new routine figured out. Ironically, I’m more organized now, with less time, so maybe you’ll be seeing me more…who knows!

51 comments on “this omnivores dilemma”

  1. My mother in law told me her trick and she had four boys and a hubby to feed, so it must be pretty good! She planned out her entire budget for the week , or two weeks, however often you get paid. That way, she knew how much she had to spend on food. Then, she planned out a menu, including snacks and deserts and such and shopped that way. If she had less money, they boys would eat more potatoes and eggs and such that week. Considering that when the boys got older they went through a gallon of milk and a sheet cake a day, it seems pretty sound advice!

  2. hmmm, my first thought is that i so totally hear you on this! (i am still trying to get over that a quick stop the other night to pick up orange juice and milk cost $9.58!!! for just 2 basic things. when did these prices get this way? and i thought i needed to be over the age of 80 to say something like that.) as far as better meal planning it sounds like you are making great choices – the freezing, using leftovers, coupons, etc… i think it is hard sometimes to see so much of the budget go to food, but it is probably really worth it for you and your family to eat this way, with “fresh” and “homemade” as priorities. at least that is what i tell myself.

  3. I totally agree with you. We shop at Whole Foods, and while I love that they bring “natural” foods to the masses and I buy a lot of their house brand, I am utterly shocked each time I check out. We tried a CSA for the last two years, and we wasted a lot of food, it was too much food for us. One think I’ve been thinking of doing, because time is of the essence for us right now, and we don’t spend hours preparing a meal anymore, is to come up with a plan– sort of like our grandmother’s did, but even more simplified. Like, Pizza Friday (homemade), eat out Saturday, Grill Sunday (and grill a lot of extra stuff), Monday Soup and Salads (using some of the grilled stuff), Tuesday Fancy Sandwiches (like clubs or panini), Wednesday Pasta, and maybe Meat and Potatoes for Thursday. There, I did it, months of mulling it over, and I typed it up in three minutes.

    Also, we found a service that delivers fruits and veggies (local produce when possible) every week. I figure if I stock up on pantry items (grains, etc.) and buy a large quantity of meat (we belong to a coop that sells raw milk and grass fed meat), then grocery runs could be less frequent. This also would keep the focus on whole foods, rather than processed stuff that we fall back on (cereal bars, etc.) that cost SO much money.

    Here’s the link for the fruit and veggie delivery, maybe it is available in your area.http://michigan.doortodoororganics.com/

  4. I read your post nodding in agreement the whole way through! We shop every Sunday after lunch (so we’re not hungry) and use the same supermarket every time. We tried a few different stores but I found we were spending more buying the ‘fancy’ bits that we didn’t really need, or indeed like! My time of discovering baking(!) has happened at the same time as we are really scrutinizing our budgets and as you say, to make a dish but have to spend outside the budget for ingredients makes me sad!I’m scouring the vintage cookbooks that I find in charity shops for inspiration, the kind that use basics like flour and water! For breakfasts we’re more dependent on boxed cereals which can cost a bit..so first week back at school and we’re trying make-your-own from bulk buy bags, and huge pots of yogurt. What has made a difference is a weekly menu planner. I got in a right state, so resorted to using one A4 sheet per day for all 3 meals and snacks. It has helped, but still needs refining! Luckily there is room in there for white wine…it can only help the planning!Phew..long comment! I’ll be checking what other people do…thank you for writing the post..xxx

  5. I’m the same way, but recently I started using a “perpetual” grocery list. I made a list of all the pantry, fridge and freezer items I could possibly want (except fruit and veg because we get a veg delivery from a co-op) and now I only stock up on those things as they are needed. I am going to the store a bit more often, but feeling less gulity about spending hundreds of dollars. We’ll see how it is working in a month or two…

  6. How strange to be sitting here, writing out a post about the very same issues… You know, food prices have increased pretty dramatically lately (I can’t remember the stats) and it seems more and more difficult for us. Reading that book I mentioned (“Living the Good Life”) has me thinking about all of this so much. So rather than write a whole huge thing here just know I’m wrestling with the same things. I’ve decided to embrace smaller trips rather than the big ones because I found I was letting things (especially produce) waste. I get just what we really need for a day or two (I can walk to a grocery and coordinate visits to the shop I prefer with other errands so I don’t drive too much). I also just joined our coop and was overwhelmingly surprised with how much cheaper some things were (I simply can’t afford our Farmer’s Market produce) while still being local and of high quality. Canning, drying and loads of soups and pastas help us. Also, slow cooker meals that use cheaper cuts of meat (though we go without meat most days now because we just can’t afford it). I’m with you on the dread for shopping (it’s the money). I’m trying to make more at home (homemade vs. store-bought bread, etc.). My mom’s tip is pretty much how we shop: stick to the outer edge of the store. We essentially bypass everything but the veggies, dairy, etc. which most stores place on the perimeters. I try to help our family equate simple with fresh/healthy/yummy rather than alternative mindsets. Did you see this great list?: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/dining/18mini.html?ei=5124&en=e76301c448a572af&ex=1342497600&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&pagewanted=all

  7. Meal planning. Sit down each week – I do this on a Sunday night – and plan out the meals that you want to have for that week. Look up the recipes, check the pantry to make sure you have what you need, list out the things you need to buy.. viola. I promise it will save a lot of time and energy when it comes to prep time. I have also found that it saves a lot of money when I go to the store for my family. If I have a list of things I have to buy to make certain meals… I will stick to that rather than just grabbing things off of the shelves and hoping to make a meal out of them at some point in time.

  8. I sit down on Sunday, newspaper in one hand, scissors in the other – and get started… Oh – and I’ve got Microsoft Excel closeby, too – but that’s b/c I am a geek. Paper and pen work fine.

    There are two groceries at which I like to shop – so I go through their circulars, and I jot down everything that I think is a good buy (usually focusing on the chicken/fish/butcher stuff – b/c that’s what helps me decide what we’re eating that week…)

    Then, based on what’s on sale – I make some notes about what we might eat that week. Over the last year or so, I’ve created a huge binder with recipes that we’ve deemed to be “keepers”. So, if boneless pork chops are on good sale, then I look to see if there is a “keeper” recipe we have for that. If nothing in the binder floats my boat, I then have two other options:

    * also begun over the last year, I’ve scanned into the computer all the recipes that I’ve clipped out of magazines, newspapers, etc. that I “thought looked good”. I’ve got these organized into various folders – so then I’d see if the “pork” folder had anything that looked promising. If I find it, I’ll print it out. (And if we try it and like it – it gets put into the kitchen binder so I’ll remember it…)

    * lastly, if the binder and the “to try” recipes fail me – then I go to CookingLight.com, or epicurious.com and see what looks good using boneless pork chops.

    So – that’s how I figure out what we’re eating that week. I usually map out the first half of the week definitively, with ideas for the latter half (I go to the store 2x a week b/c Schecky drinks SO MUCH MILK and my fridge is too small to store more than 2 gallons at a time…) I frequently try to get more than one meal out of a sale ingredient. (For example: half of the 1 lb of Italian sausage might be the star of a tomato/sausage pasta dish one night, the other half pound will be used in a sausage/clam pizza* dish – this is one of my favorite one-two combos…)

    Then – I figure out what we’re eating with the main dish.

    Once I’ve got the the menu – then I make the list.

    Before hitting the store – it’s time to do the couponing.First rule of couponing: only clip coupons for things you already buy. period. Or things you already had on your “to try” list. If you buy something just b/c you had a coupon, you didn’t really save any money… I personally don’t look at the coupons until I know what we’re eating, so that it doesn’t sway me.I’ve got a coupon organizer (so dorky, and I carry it in the car at all times.) so I put the new coupons in their respective places, and also go through all the coupons – pulling out and discarding any expired ones, and setting aside any any that I can use.

    I then make notes on my grocery list – what was on sale (and it’s sale price – a lot of the time I’ve notice the store won’t have everything marked accurately…) and what I have coupons for. Then I print out the list, stick it on a clipboard with the coupons and I’m ready to roll…

    The final piece of the process is that I always try to have a dollar amount in mind that I am expecting to spend (or that I don’t want to exceed…) So – to keep an eye on that, every time I throw something in the cart, I make little “tick-marks” on the list. You know, the four little lines with a fifth slashy one??? Each “dollar” I throw in the cart gets a tick. I find that’s an easy way to keep an eye on the total, so that there is no nasty surprise when I get to the checkout. It also helps to keep the impulse buys to a minimum – “hmmmm – those cookies are on good sale, but I’m already up over $60. I think I’ll leave ’em”….

    Sweet cracker sandwich. Going back and proofreading this? I realize that I must be the most OCD/TypeA/analretentive quack on the block. Ah well… what can I say? It’s not easy being frugal…

    Actually, it kind of is, now. Now that I’ve got the system that works for me in place. But it took for flippin’ ever to actually get the recipes organized in a binder (I had a drawer jammed full of loose ones, with no order.) and to get all the recipes scanned into the computer (seriously, I had an obscenely large box filled with torn out recipe scraps…) So that was a huge investment of time, but one that I felt was worth it.

    I think the key is to find what works for you. Also – I’ve got to admit, I do enjoy my Sunday routine. Everyone is kind of puttering away, doing their own thing and giving me time to plan and plot. It’s kind of like a big puzzle that I get to solve each week….

    This was w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y more than you wanted to know, isn’t it????

    ——*and I know, I know – sausage/clam pizza probably sounds gross, but it is so, so, so, good!

  9. This is a thought-provoking and practical post – I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments! We don’t have kids yet, but we’ve tried to run a pretty tight ship as a newly-married couple with a single, small income. Meal-planning has been the best for us: if we get all or most of the ingredients we need in one visit to the store, we save time, energy, and the temptation to buy stuff we don’t really need. At the same time, we only get the fruit and veggies that are on sale for snacks.

    That said, I have no idea how extra mouths to feed affects the equation…

  10. How interesting to read this right after I trudged through my menu planning this morning.

    For one thing, to echo a commenter above– the steep food bills are not your imagination or purely based on how you’re shopping– food prices have gone up so much!

    I seventh the menu planning suggestion– and with that I both keep a list of our “regular meals” and try to work in a new recipe or two. (Ideally, with sales flyer in hand, when those unusual ingredients are on sale.)

    I stick pretty strictly to my list. Right now we don’t have the budget for all the organic and grass-fed items I would like to be feeding us, so we don’t have the $$$ for all my impulse buys either.

    In the past I have used grocerygame.com, which for a small membership fee, matches up recent coupons and sale prices at your selected store or stores. It is great for what it does, but I found it was guiding me toward more processed foods than I wanted to purchase.

    Lastly, my ace in the hole, breakfast for dinner. It is cheap, the kids love it, and I always have the ingredients on hand.

  11. We’re working towards homeschooling in a few years, so that means sticking to a budget NOW!

    We have a given amount for each week PERIOD! My husband (who likes to cook as well) and I make a weekly menu and buy for that. I do my shopping Wednesday afternoons at my lunch hour, so I know I have a limited time to get what I need.

    The usual milk/bread/egg/half ‘n half needs require a follow up visit to the store and my husband can usually take care of on the way back from work one night a week.

    Lastly, a family walk into town for a Saturday morning farmers market run for fresh produce half way through the week reminds me that shopping can be enjoyable.

    I don’t do coupons as it takes up too much time and, when I have tried it, I’ve ended up buying what we don’t eat or what doesn’t have the nutritional content we strive for.

    The budgeting took us some time to firm up, based on our first month of trying to stick to a set amount of money. But it’s made me see that perhaps ‘treats’ are best to be enjoyed infrequently and not daily to truly appreciate them. (I personally enjoy Trader Joes cinnamon & sugar pita chips and Turkey Hill vanilla ice cream.)

    In the past I’ve found sticking to a budget has meant fewer trips to the store and I’m all for that. It means more time doing what I’d rather be doing. And budgeting will, in theory, allow me the future pleasure of being a fulltime homeschooler. So I have oodles of incentive!!!

    In regards to CSAs, I know two families who split their share because they found they were throwing so much out.

  12. Nothing new from me.

    We have a weekly menu – because there is nothing I hate more than standing in front of the pantry for 20 minutes saying “what am I going to make for dinner?”

    I have a notebook of torn out recipies that are favorites – nothing as detailed as LLA, but they don’t get pasted into the notebook until the are family-approved.

    I try to plan our menu while we are waiting for our food on “out to dinner night”, which is Friday. That way I get family input. If they decline input, they get what I decide to cook. I keep our weekly menu in a small spiral journal. I make the grocery list below it based on what ingredients we need, after checking what we’ve got on hand. The great thing about having every menu, by week, in the same notebook is that you can go back and remember “hey, that was good and we haven’t had it in a while”. I also keep in mind what is in season when menu planning.

    I buy all the produce I can at farmer’s market on Saturday morning. I have a $20 allowance each week at market. Sometimes I go over, but for the most part, it is enough and allows me a cup of coffee and a scone and whichever kid might be with me a cinnamon roll.

    For all the other items, I hit the grocery store on Saturday or Sunday. I’ve found early Sunday morning to be a good time. I stick to my list and only buy extra things if they are a very good bargain (especially meat on sale) and can be stuck in the freezer for later. They often have steak on sale cheaper than stew meat, so I buy the steaks, chop them up and freeze them for Irish stew at some future time.

    I buy 5 lbs of hamburger at a time, brown it all and then freeze it for adding to spaghetti, tacos, etc. I also buy a whole chicken and cook it in the crockpot then debone, chop and freeze it for use in tacos, enchiladas, pita sandwiches, etc. My crock pot is my friend. Especially in the winter.

    And ditto the Breakfast for Dinner option. We love BFD. 🙂

    Good luck!

  13. Well, we too have a very tight budget and spend much more on groceries than we’d like. We have food sensitivities, so no wheat, dairy, soy or gluten and everything you replace those with costs a fortune.

    But we have found that planning the weeks menus in advance helps with the budget and lessens trips to the grocery store.

    Also, buy bulk! Bulk flours, dried beans and fruits, granola, etc. all helps with money and also gets rid of the nasty packaging most food comes in now.

    We also buy all organic meats which is tough on the budget. I used to be a vegetarian, but with the new diet restrictions, I just can’t anymore.

    But buying bulk, planning ahead (on paper, not just in our heads!) and deciding “do we really, really need this $4 chocolate bar?” has helped with our budget. We also limit packaged foods and make most things from scratch.

    GOod luck 🙂

  14. Cheap – Fast – Good Quality : Pick 2

    That’s what Stefan likes to say about software development and I think it’s true of grocery shopping too. It doesn’t seem possible to have all three. We shop at Whole Foods and I like the guarantee of quality and the convenience of shopping all in one place but it is definitely not cheap.

    Some things I do to lessen the bill:

    – when something non-perishable/freezeable is on sale I buy a bunch. The better the sale, the more I buy. We have an extra freezer and a big pantry for just this reason.

    – mail-order pantry basics. We get our spices from Penzey’s (www.penzeys.com) and things like yeast, some flour, corn meal from King Arthur (www.kingarthurflour.com). For heavier things like flour I often wait for a shiping sale but I find the quality and price are generally better.

    – split bulk items with friends/family. Most notably we’ve done this with meat – we bought a whole cow and split it up among 4 families. I think you have meat covered but you can do this with fruit too. A bushel of apples (or a few bushels) will be cheaper per apple. You can also do this with more obscure ingredients like spices where you only need a teaspoon or two.

    – freeze and can all that you can. That bushel of apples can easily be made into applesauce that can be canned (or frozen) to be enjoyed all winter long.

    – eat with the seasons. Katie’s favorite thing is strawberries but in the winter she’s out of luck. We have exceptions of course but I try to do this as much as possible.

    Okay, these all sound fairly obvious but that’s what we do. It’s so unfortunate that to put a good healthy meal on the table costs so much more (in time and money) than a run to a drive-thru.

  15. Wow- lots of good suggestions!

    I just unloaded my week’s worth of groceries and I could not agree with you more! I always feel so ill on the way home from my trip!

    I find making a budget that is MORE than enough helpful. It’s when I want to be frugal and cheap that I overspend. Since my husband is a diabetic and he eats a high protein diet- that means lots of eggs (3-4 dz. a week), cheese, meat, and lots of vegetables I need to take this into account- we are investing in the longevity of his life! But I still would get all stressed out until we sat down and came up with a $ amount…$180/ week actually. This includes dog food, garbage stickers, and other household items as well.

    I really don’t go to the market until the next week. My mom was a day to day shopper and I totally resented it as a teenager when I was the one going to the store for her :). I usually plan my meals with the higher perishable items to be eaten first (like salad and some fruits). I also found going to the same stores (Jewel and Trader Joes) keeps me focused with what I know we need!

    Great topic to discuss Molly. It would be fun to see what meals people plan for their families…hmm, maybe we could have a week of meals and people could post what they are having!

  16. I shop for meats, cheese, bread, milk, cereal, gas, etc. at the wholesale club. I have saved MORE than the annual fee.

    With six kids (mostly boys), I can buy a large piece of meat ($9-15) and get at least 2 meals or more out of it (in a crock pot one night, with gravy and noodles a few nights later). I’ve been buying the double pack of whole chicken breasts, roasting both and using the leftovers for chicken and rice or quesadillas or chicken caesar salad.

    It not only saves time, but money. If I can feed my family a decent meal for $10, that’s cheaper than a pizza! (Which we need 2 of.)

  17. AWESOME post, Molly.I am soooo with you.I just finished readingKingsolver’s book, too.Lots of food for thought there!Read all of the above comments,and ditto on everything…Three favorites:-budgeting for stock-ups-planning meals-perimiter shopping

  18. Glad, again, to know that I’m not alone in pulling my hair out over my grocery budget.We too have a tight budget and discovered much to out dismay that it is far more expensive to feed our family fresh healthy meals than boxed crap.So, I menu plan and I try to use recipes that call for similar ingredients so I don’t end up with way too much of something or unused ingredients rotting in the fridge.Like buttermilk. I don’t use it very often and its not that expensive but the smallest quantity I can buy is a quart. The week I buy it I’ll plan to make Fried chicken and buscuits and my grandmothers buttermilk chocolate cake. I make the cake first and use the rest for the chicken. I soak the chicken in buttermilk (with seasoning) overnight and then use the same buttermilk in the biscuits – they get baked to a temp well above what is needed to kill any poultry related germs so I feel fine doing this. In the end I use it all up and don’t feel guilty about the dent it made in the budget.Its not always possible or easy to work around new or strange ingredients so I swap with my sister sometimes.”Hey you got anything in the fridge you wanna swap before it goes bad – I’ll trade you some lemongrass and coconut milk!”

  19. Here’s my 10 cents worth…and we know that won’t buy anything! I may be repeating a lot of what everyone said, but I’m feeding a family of 5 on $75 a week. I used to spend $500+ a month. I’m still working on trimming it down. If we run out of money in the food envelope (I live on cash) then we’re done until I get paid and no one has died yet. Some of it may seem a little extreme, so take what you can and toss the rest.

    I make a bi-weekly menu, including school lunches and my lunch for work. I try to anticipate every possible ingredient so that there are no last minute trips. Once I have the menus, I go step by step (in my head or on the recipe) of every ingredient and determine if I have it or if it needs to be bought.

    When I get the weekly grocery flyers, I compare what’s on sale to what’s on my menu. I may adjust if there is a great sale, especially on chicken. A tip I learned is that the items on the front and back pages are the loss leaders…the grocer is willing to take a loss on those because he figures he can make it up with all the other stuff you’re going to buy. Sucka!

    I also keep a price book. When I first read about this in the Tightwad Gazette, I thought I would never do it. But a while back I got fed up like you and decided it couldn’t hurt to do a little research. Things I buy regularly have a section in my spreadsheet (but you can do it on paper…I’m an engineer so I love spreadsheets)and I record the prices at different stores. I know, for example, that I can get flour for 61 cents a kilogram at Costco as compared to 98 cents at another store (that’s a $7.40 savings on a 20kg bag). It also helps when looking at sale papers. I know if a sale is meh or a great deal. When there is a great deal, I buy as much as I can afford and stash it for later. (I’m looking into getting a chest freezer for this purpose).

    The downside of my method is that it involves going to many stores. There are 3 or 4 that I am regular at. If a store that I don’t frequent is having a great deal, I go and buy ONLY that item. That’s why those grocers are suckas! I keep to my list and don’t buy any stray items unless there is a great unadvertised deal. I do have to drive to different stores, but I do it all in one afternoon and plan my route. It’s more driving, but I save more than I use in gas and I don’t ever take plastic bags, so I feel like it’s a trade-off (I use a large plastic tote and fabric bags for shopping).

    Lastly, I cook from scratch. I don’t like chemical additives and preservatives in our food. I bake bread, make pizza dough for pizza pockets and can spaghetti sauce. Cooking from scratch is infinitely cheaper than buying boxed items. I do buy cans of veggies sometimes and as a treat I’ll get Kraft Mac and Cheese, but for the most part I’m cooking it from scratch. I thought my kids would die, but they’re proud that their mom can make anything. We were on powdered milk for a while (I told you some of my tactics were extreme) and it was fine until we got a bad batch that didn’t taste so good. Now I buy milk for drinking and I cook with milk made from the powder.

    A great resource is, as mentioned, the Tightwad Gazette. There are tons of ideas, not for just food. I’m no where as extreme as some of those folks, but I’ve gleaned tons of information that has helped me to cut our costs.

    Finally (did I say that already?), it takes time and effort, but it can be done. I’m a single working mother of four kids rangning from 15 to 8. My kids help in the kitchen and I try to stick to my menu so I don’t get confused (but I’m way off this week with school starting). We’re out of soy milk and I get paid next Friday, so I’ll be having homemade yogurt for breakfast instead of a banana smoothie. I won’t die; I’ll be well-fed and properly nourished. My kids will be, too.

    Hope this helps.

  20. Re: grocery shopping – it’s one of my least favorite things to do and since I don’t enjoy cooking it makes it even more of a bore. It looks like you’ve gotten a lot of good ideas, I’ll have to come back and take notes 🙂 Re: homeschooling – yea!! I’d love to hear how it’s going although you’ve actually been doing it since the day she was born but I’m sure you know that. Hugs, Cassi

  21. Wow. Lots of thoughts on this topic! I second the Tightwad Gazette suggestion – some of the suggestions in that book are over the top, but there are lots of do-able ideas.Another resource: the Saving Dinner cookbooks. Leanne Ely. I don’t follow her menus exactly, but they are a great jumping-off point for planning while considering the grocery sale flyers.Oh, and cook from scratch. Build up your pantry and challenge yourself.

    And for the buttermilk (mentioned above) I buy it powdered. I also use powdered regular milk in my baking or other recipes where you can’t taste it. Not to drink, tho. But having it on hand powdered saves a trip to the store, which saves money in the long run whether or not it was cheaper to get it that way to begin with.Baby’s crying – gotta go!

  22. well, since you know that i already go to the store about 4 times a week, i am probably no help to you! i have found that i am making fewer trips now that we joined the csa. the cash outlay to join shocked me, but when i broke it up on a week to week basis, it was less than i was spending on produce at whole foods.

    this is a great topic, molly. i’ll be back to see what others have to say!

  23. I have to ask – what store do you shop at?I have a Safeway right down the street.I have a Super Target about 2 miles away.I have a Shoppers Food Warehouse about 5-7 miles away.

    The safeway is ALWAYS so much more. It’s so convenient though, as it is RIGHT THERE.

    The Super Target is better.

    But I am always amazed whenever I trek over to Shoppers. SO MUCH better!

    I look at everything ringing up and I get that pit in my stomach and then when it’s done it’s a nice surprise. A $70 grocery run at Shoppers is the equivalent to an over $100 run to Safeway.

    And yet I still rarely go to Shoppers.. It’s new and beautiful too, so that’s no excuse. It’s just really out of my way! I’m going to change my ways!

  24. I know just how you feel _ I could have written this! I’m relearning how to budget having been made redundant at Easter. I want to cook lots from scratch but need to buy all the ingredients first. I bought all our fruit and veg for the week (or so I thought) from the farmshop – I already need to stock up on some things! We don’t eat masses,I rarely buy processed food and never buy ready meals but why does a small shop have to cost over half a weeks money and why does bread and milk run out so fast?

  25. I am stunned and shamed at how much effort your other commenters put into their weekly menu plan/shop. I take a slightly different approach, because the thing that irks me the most is the amount of food that used to end up in my bin. I have found that for us, planning a little less actually means spending less.

    Now I plan around half of the meals we eat and make up the others from what I find left over. That way, if we unexpectedly get invited over for dinner at a friends, I haven’t wasted a whole meals worth of food. I have always been a compulsive over shopper and going into the supermarket, even just for milk, becomes an expensive trip. So now I buy milk at the corner shop if we run out between supermarket visits.

    No one has ever gone hungry yet, and far far far fewer leftovers are getting thrown away. It means an odd meal every once in a while, but that’s a small price to pay. And improvising dinner is a great creative challenge!

  26. I’m so with you! I just started a new job which leaves me getting home later at night. After several months of pre and post-wedding craziness and not cooking much at home I realized I had to get a serious planning groove on to make sure we had something for supper each night.

    First I went through my recipe box and my old issues of Everyday Food and wrote out a month’s worth of meals.

    I made a big casserole in the first week, 1/2 of which is in the freezer and scheduled to be eaten in the 3rd week!

    I’ve been shopping once a week. Without the man – he has a tendency to want snack foods and processed foods.

    We have an organic veggie delivery so we get plenty of fruits and vegetables that way. It costs a little more but way worth it. Then when I’m in the grocery store I stick to the fresh areas and skip the middle – produce, meats, bread, dairy cases and only going into the centre – which is all processed – for canned vegetables, baking supplies, etc.

    I always make an extra portion at supper so I have lunch the next day.

    I don’t coupon clip, I just try to cook from scratch, saving money by doing it myself instead of having it done for me!

  27. I have enjoyed reading this post and reading the comments.

    I don’t have a grocery budget that I stick to, but I am always trying to find ways to save grocery dollars. The prices have skyrocketed lately, and it is challenging, for sure. I make a lot from scratch. I have been shopping at my farmer’s market and getting produce from my brothers when I can. I made applesauce and apple butter from apples off the tree from my dad’s farm. I also lately have been walking to the grocery store in town to get one or two items. I take the kids-one in the stroller-and between the high prices at the store and the limited space in the stroller basket it prevents me from impulse buying. (my weakness in the grocery store.) It’s cheaper than driving 15 minutes to the discount store where I would over buy. I am dealing with new issues regarding feeding my family as we recently relocated and I need to find my groove again. Thanks for posting about this very pertinent topic.

  28. Hmmm….the grocery store. How I hate it! And with 2 teen boys and an 8 yo boy, my grocery buying is only going up, up, up….as are the bills. We live out in the country so I refuse to drive into town more than once a week for groceries unless it’s a dire emergency. This means making a list and planning the evening meals. Breakfasts and lunches are pretty much the same around here and that doesn’t require much thought. We have our own beef and chickens in the freezer so I don’t do much meat buying at the store. I try to plan at least 3 vegetarian suppers per week. We don’t get tons of coupons in our paper and I’ve found that most of them are for convenience foods that I don’t buy anyway. I have a recipe box full of things we like for supper I mostly go by that- I do like to try new things at least a couple times a month, and if it’s a keeper I add it to the recipe box. I try to get to Aldi’s once a month and stock up on stuff at their cheap prices, but they only carry so many things that we eat. My biggest challenge right now is healthy, filling, inexpensive snacks for the always-hundry teens to eat!

  29. I have 5 children (4 of them boys) and a sixth child on the way. After our daughter (baby #4) was born, I felt much the same way you do now.I found Once-A-Month Cooking in a google search one day. Although I don’t cook once a month, it did revolutionize the way we do food. I batch cook now–ie, I buy ground beef on sale (10 lbs. at a time) and do a beef session like maybe 5 lbs browned with chopped onion, bagged in 2 c portions and frozen for future uses (tacos, sloppy joes, casseroles, spaghetti); 3 lbs of premade meatballs, flash frozen and bagged; and then maybe two 1 1/2 lb. meatloaves frozen unbaked. I do this with chicken, beans, vegetables, cookies, fruits, etc…the possibilities are endless.

    AND, I do a weekly meal plan. Works so well!

    PS. I really enjoy your blog; thanks for sharing your talents and inspirations!

  30. I’ve got nothin’ for you. Everything you said is me in a nutshell except I have a huge issue with produce. We live smack in the middle of farmland. Small town in Iowa and the two stores here have the most horrible produce, I can never get anything decent, and only one store has organic milk. BlaH, I could go forever, I get too worked up about it. Good Luck.

  31. Everyone’s comments are helpful to me — I’ve also been having problems budgeting our food. I usually plan all our meals and then take one big trip to the store a week, and then a very small one if we run out of fruit or milk. I used to try to buy all organic, but now I’m limiting us to just the dairy and meats without hormones, etc. Organic is a treat for the fruits and veggies. (I figure some organic is better than none.) I try for local when I can. We usually end up spending about $150/week on groceries (I know, I’m not good at budgeting), and I really don’t throw much out. We’re on a cash system now, so I’m trying to watch it. We use coupons for stuff that we actually use. I try to stock up on our usual items when I see them on sale and they are nonperishable/freezable. I’m still not very good at this though, because I don’t like to drive to a lot of stores and I like to have fresh stuff.

  32. I don’t set my budget weekly or monthly instead I set a meal budget.So I know that the components of each meal shouldn’t cost more than so much per head.Obviously some meals are lots cheaper and this allows for occassional luxuries.I really wouldn’t have time to sit and write a budget or a meal plan.So I have stock recipes and ingredients that are always to hand.Like rice dishes,pasta dishes,casseroles and soups etc.If time allows then I’ll try something different usually dependant on what’s in season or on offer.Every couple of months we have a no shop week or so and the only things we buy are fresh milk, and bread (fruit and veg if needed).It means that all the things in the larder and freezer get used up.Sometimes the combinations seem odd but nobody ends up malnurished and nothing is wasted.The kids actually enjoy finding something to eat that they might not normally think of.

  33. Seems to be an international dilemna. I hear you! I have been planning our fortnightly menu and shopping to that which is helping a lot. I am no longer just buying things because they are on special – things I am not sure we needed. I am also going to the local farmers market – that’s a huge saving and local and fresh and cheaper. We are eating more pasta. I have also planned on having a couple of beans on toast nights – not my favourite but we have to pull our belts in!!!!! They are filling, full of fibre and nutritious. I buy my washing powder in bulk, toilet roll, paper towel and dish washing detergent. If you send your husband for milk and bread that’s all they come back with. I can’t stick to those two items – i always buy other things.

  34. I have little new to add, but whenever I need, say, just a little bit of some new ingredient for a recipe (for argument’s sake, let’s say bulgur), I hit the bulk bins at the local harvest market or at whole foods, depending on which neighborhood I’m in–that way I can get as much or as little as I need without a giant overpriced box of the stuff from the regular store that’ll just sit in my pantry for the next ten years.

    Also, I stock up on pantry goods–when chicken broth is on sale, I buy a lot of it; when King Arthur flour goes on sale closer to the holidays, we have pounds and pounds of the stuff. It lasts me a long while. I also find that what was costing us a fair amount was what got tossed. This is largely my fault, as I like the idea of fruit but rarely eat all of it. Now I find that multiple trips for things that are perishable–trips as needed–save me more money than buying a lot at once that might get the old heave-ho.

    I’m a meal planner, too, especially now that the summer’s over and I’m back at work and don’t have the time to mosey to the market mid-afternoon to find something for dinner.

    Good luck!

  35. I’d like to chime in here…though I don’t have any solutions for you…I’d like to say I’m in the same dilemma…we don’t have any children but we both work and I am in graduate school so we buy a ton of food for packing up and taking with us but we seem to waste so much at home. I live in Columbus, Ohio and I’ve been searching for a delivery service with no luck…it’s bringing me down…I hate to waste the food and the money….*sigh*

  36. I’m not sure if it works with a family of five but we tend to do a huge shopping once every three weeks and then a weekly veggie trip. During the shopping trips we try to think in terms of meals and basics (those things that can always become a meal) Now living in a smaller town we are going to join a CSA that even has winter shares. The theory is that we will use the veggies that show up to create our meals around. Of course there is always the craving for things like citrus in the winter, we just try to limit these not excluding them completely but drinking more local cider than oj. As for budget I would say that we try as much as possible to by the raw ingredients, preferably in bulk rather than packaged ingredients.

    I read the Kingsolver book about a month ago and wish for a garden to grow a lot of our own veggies for the year, unfortunately our landlord prefers grass to food so we will be in pots on the porch next year again. I may go on a farmstand binge, they always seem to be less expensive than farmers markets, although some my not be organic at least they are loved and sun grown.

    The thing that I have found the most useful is creating time to cook, it seems the more peaceful my cooking time is the easier it is for me to think about how to make something with what is there rather than coming up with something that needs a quick run out to the store because my meal calls for it. Of course this can be a luxury with kids.

  37. Meal planning is certainly one of the best things we’ve done at our house. Also, portion control. In my family, we tend to eat portions that are absolutely HUGE compared to what is healthy or necessary. When we began trying smaller portions (and also eliminating juice and sodas) our grocery shopping and bills changed dramatically.

  38. I really enjoyed reading these thoughts. I imagine I am older than the rest of you, having been shopping and cooking for a family of six for the past 29 years, although the kids have gradually moved out. I have three suggestions:1. Read The Tightwad Gazette books. I can’t stress this enough. The books are fun to read and so informative. Amy cooks from scratch and her family eats mostly healthy food.2. Shop at Aldi, if you have one near you. This is probably the most inexpensive grocery store in the country.3. Record what you spend on groceries (and everything else). I have done this for years, and it really helps to see where your money goes. It is a fun challenge to keep your expenses low (if you are one of those extreme types!).

  39. Hello..lots of comments already but I thought I would add my bit.It`s interesting to read all about everyone else`s take on the subject!.We`re living in Japan on a very tight budget and the way we make it work is by only eating what`s in season. I guess it`s a totally different to the States, we can get cheap rice, tofu, seaweed and fish whereas milk , bread and meat are really expensive..-so we don`t eat much of that. The best place for us to shop is the local farmers store which only sells locally farmed produce..it`s cheap and delicious! Thank you farmers!

  40. It’s just the 2 of us now, but we have learned some lessons along the way:Make lists. Make 2 week menus. But be flexible, in case you find a sale!Shop once a week or twice a month. Saves gas, too.Buy a lot of basic pantry items when they are on sale. If you eat animal proteins, buy on sale in large packages and freeze in smaller packages.Keep a recipe card box of favorites. Rotate these.Have a garden. Freeze and can all you are able.Cook from scratch. I usually do the big fancy cooking on weekends and then we eat leftovers Monday, and I freeze meals for later (label and date them). I used to make large multiple meals/batches of food when the kids were around and freeze them for weeknight meals.When I bake, I freeze some cookie dough for later. I make extra bread and freeze that.I grow herbs and dry or freeze them.I save end pieces of bread in a bag in the freezer. When there is about a half a bread bag full, I make croutons (olive oil, herbs, salt, 250 degrees until light and crisp) or bread pudding or stuffing…the prices of these in stores are outrageous.Buy locally whenever possible.Old cookbooks are a great source of info. I really like the recipes from the early part of the 20th century, and am particularly partial to depression-era recipes. Back to basics and make do/do without is a mantra for me now. The payoff for me is hearing my grown children saying thank you for teaching me these skills. It isn’t always easy, that’s for sure. But I am old enough (58) to remember my own grandparents talking about how much Stuff was available for consumption and convenience and that would mean people forgetting how to do things for themselves. It was tough in the materialistic eighties when my kids were growing up and, for instance, the cool thing was “lunchables” and I would very rarely allow that. No koolaid, no soda pop, no white puffy bread. Veggies and fruit for snacks. The kids were embarrassed several times, but I tried to explain why I chose nutrition over convenience. Not easy! I gave them cookbooks every year and involved them in grocery shopping, cooking, and menu planning.Good luck to you, too! Prices are going to skyrocket over the next several years, I think.

  41. Hi,

    What a great post and great advise in the comments. We order once a month from a natural and organic food farm called Quail Cove Farms, they are located on the Eastern Shore and I am pretty sure they would deliver to someone in your area. This really works well if you have a couple of other friends or family to order with you. Because the more you order of most items the cheaper it is per pound or case. Here is their web site http://www.quailcovefarms.com/index.htmlthat explains most everything and also has the directory of what they have. If you have any question feel free to email me.

    Valerie

  42. loved the post/comments. everyone, EVERYONE should check out Bonny McCullough’s book “Totally Organized.” It covers pretty much the whole realm of housemaking but her section on “organizing your budget” has revolutionized my life and her chapters about making lists and meal planning have helped me sooo much since i got married.http://www.amazon.com/Totally-Organized-Bonnie-Runyan-McCullough/dp/0312807473/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-2644065-5794254?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1189290717&sr=8-1

  43. Firstly I have to say that I really enjoyed reading all the comments. Secondly I have to say that I hate to cook, hate to plan meals and right now we don’t have to worry about the cost of food…but there was a time. We did the powdered milk thing, I did a LOT of very simple baking and lots of buying things in bulk (even though we had no where to put them in our old tiny appartment). Back then I only had 2 kids, now I have 4. I still buy in bulk at Costco…especially things like pasta, breakfast cereal, flour, yeast etc. I still try to bake a lot of snacks rather than buy…thinks like banana cake/bread from the left over bananas that the kids won’t eat (I stick them in the freezer until I’m ready to use them), and things with rolled oats. I had my own vegetable garden this year and I haven’t bought a single tomato for months…plenty bottled as well. I have also joined a number of supermarkets and shop at them for their specials. As I said, it’s not something we need to worry about now, but I still can’t bear to spend ridiculous amounts. There have been planty of times where we ate our pantry out before payday. Where the kids were hungry and asking for food…I used to get creative. I’d love a freezer…I’d love to be able to freeze fruit and vegetables on sale to use later. I buy meat in bulk and then bag it up into the freezer. I buy solid cuts of meat then cut it up before freezing to use fdr stirfries etc. I make my own bread (buy the flour online in bulk…wholewheat of course).

    Anyway, nothing as extreme as all those wonderful thrifty savers who’ve already commented…but maybe a few ideas.

    I also have to say how impressed I am to see so many people chosing real food over packaged “crap” as one person put it.

  44. I did something a few weeks ago that has totally changed my food shopping life– I completely organized my pantry. I bought clear bins (big = $3, small = $1) and labelled each one with literally EVERYTHING in my pantry. My daughter loves beans so I have one bin for cans of lentils and chickpeas and one for black/ white/ red beans. Now I just look in the bin to see what beans we need and buy only those. I have a bin of oils and vinegars, one of spaghetti sauce and salsa, etc. I can so easily see what I have that I can also see what I need. Before I would ask myself, are we out of rice?– Oh, I’ll just buy more… Now my cannisters are labelled and easy to see into. This has been amazing and it makes putting away groceries really easy too. Lastly, I bought non-clear bins for all the desirables– chips, cookies, etc. so my daughter can’t see into them. She still asks for snacks but doesn’t just open the pantry, see chips and want them. Hope that helps!

  45. molly, i love this conversation. it’s something that i struggle with as well. like erin, i tend to go to the market several times each week. i’m not good at planning the menu in advance and sticking to it – but i can’t stand the waste (of food and money) that results from not planning. i’m so glad that you raised the topic and that so many people have made suggestions.

  46. i must live in your world, because with a husband in dental school, and homeschooling two kids, we couldn’t pare down expenses anymore than we already have. food is our “luxury” item because i’ve always justified being healthy as eating well, but it’s getting rediculous! grocerybill = mortgage payment! (our mortgage is pretty cheap though!)my suggestion: Asian markets, they have absolutely fresh stuff, unique veggies and fruits, and their prices are almost always 1/3 to 1/2 that of other grocers. plus: it’s cute to get hand packaged little eggplants, mushrooms and squash. it’s an extra trip for me, but i’m finding out that i can walk out with full bags of produce and spend sssssssoooooo much less than our whole foods store!

  47. Two things made a big difference in our grocery spending. Meal planning and portion control. When we looked at how much food we were preparing for our (smallish) family, we realised something needed to change. Good luck!

  48. I HAD to come back and comment– and I have been totally stalking these comments to read everyone’s great ideas– and say that the bin idea in the pantry is great– I do that for some things and may expand. It also really helps cleanup if there is a spill or dribble– it is contained within the bin.

    I have learned so much by reading the comments.

  49. What a great read all these comments are.

    I decided to cut down my shopping bill when I realized just how much food was going to waste each week and gave up keeping a car in London.

    I do the majority of my cooking from scratch and in bulk and then freeze my own “convenience meals” for those days when I am either pushed for time or just not in the mood to cook!

    I buy in bulk online and keep my pantry stocked with a good supply of the basics, pasta, rice, dried pulses, tinned produce etc. Meat, poultry and bread I will split into smaller portions and freeze so that I can just take out what I need when necessary. I usually keep some extra milk in there too to save me running to the shop if we run out. Fresh fruit and vegetables I do buy twice a week as my daughter loves homemade fruit smoothies in her lunchbox – we have a fabulous weekend Farmers Market and I just top up midweek from one of the market stalls on our High Road whilst running other errands.

    We also usually grow a small selection of herbs, peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and salad leaves during the summer too which are easy to grow, taste better when fresh from the plant and save us time and money.

    I noticed a big reduction in my weekly shopping bill too when I stopped buying cleaning products etc from the supermarket. I use vinegar, baking soda etc to clean my home and buy washing powder, dishwasher tablets, shampoo, toothpaste, bin bags etc in bulk every six months or so from one of the Saver shops. I only use half the manufacturer’s recommended amount for my machines which makes no difference to the end result whatsoever but it all lasts twice as long.

    Love the Tightwad Gazette too 🙂

  50. One thing that I did several times was bake a turkey (or 2) on a Saturday, serve it for lunch or dinner. After the meal I would debone it, freeze the leftovers in 1 cup and 2 cup and 4 cup portions. That way I was able to use it in casseroles and soups, etc. later. I made broth from the bones and froze it for soup at a later date also. It was hard to find a better deal than 68 cents a lb. for a whole turkey. It takes a day full of cooking and cleaning up (not all hands on time), but it totally paid off to have all the turkey prepped for meals for the next several weeks.

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