Hubby and I have been trying to get back on track with our money-spending habits- we were doing really really well for a while and then we got our tax return and -bam! all of a sudden kinda went on a crazy spending spree. We bought things that we needed, (mostly...) but didn't stick to a budget at all really, and now most of that money is gone. We did manage to save a little bit, which is better than we did last year, but since we're getting ready to move across the country we really want to buckle down and be wise with the money God has given us and use it to its full ability instead of just throwing it away on "stuff."
We also have a savings account to help with the cost of moving or for an emergency (hopefully we won't need it for that!) and want to put as much as possible in there while still being able to break even.
Anyhoo, I thought I'd share a few tips that we use to help us save money on groceries, since that's where a lot of families spend a large chunk of their income, and its an easy place to shave off expenses from!
(warning: I am very passionate about eating quality food, so forgive me if I go off on a tangent about that subject at any point...I can feel myself getting all riled up already about it!)
Here are some tips on healthy, frugal shopping:
1. Plan your meals out, make a list and stick to it.
Before you ever set foot in the store, figure out what you are going to eat. Wandering around trying to put meals together as you shop is going to cost you lots of extra time and money. And for those of us who take our kids shopping with us, it will also possibly cost you your sanity!
I usually make a big grocery trip every 2 weeks, so I make a menu for two weeks worth of meals.
I include space for eating leftovers; most of the time I make a menu that has about 10-12 meals on it. I don't designate specific food for specific days- I think that would be too restricting for me, so I just post the menu on the fridge, look at it every morning (ideally-sometimes I forget until, say 2pm and then slightly panic) and take the meat out of the freezer if I need to do so.
To make my menu I go through my cookbook, see what ingredients I need and make a grocery list based on those recipes I'll be using. Of course, I add in anything else that we might be out of (like..honey or mayo or something that you don't notice is gone til you need it). This way, I have a sort of game plan when I get to the store and I can get in, get out, and hopefully save some money because I'm not buying random things that don't make a meal together. (that's the worst, isn't it? When it's dinner time and you look in the fridge to see what to make and there's peanut butter and....tortillas and ...olives. yikes. been there.) Plan out your meals. Make your list according to the layout of the store, so its easier for you to remember everything. Then, when you get to the store.....
2. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store FIRST.
Now, I realize with some stores this doesn't apply as much. But for your basic grocery store, the perimeter (edges) of your grocery store is where the healthiest food will be. (produce, dairy, meats, etc.)
The interior is where "they" (the evil "they") get you off track with all of the processed food, sugary cereals, chips, ice cream, etc. If you're trying to eat well, stay away from those aisles as much as possible and shop the outside part first. Treat yourself to your favorite kind of fruit for instance, or some yummy yogurt instead of ice cream or cookies. I really enjoy buying plain Greek yogurt and putting honey and fruit in it. Seriously, its better than ice cream. Really.
Buying processed food (read: food in a box) costs more because you're paying for the time it took someone else to prepare that food for you. If you don't have time to cook, maybe buying more processed food is more convenient for you but I find that it's usually (read: always) not as nutritious, has way more sodium than you need and is just generally lower in quality than what you could be eating if you made it yourself.
(I feel a tangent coming on about the evils of processed foods......) Another time, I promise. :)
3. Don't use coupons, go generic!
This is a good general principle. Usually the generic store brands of food/paper goods/ OTC medicines are just as good as the name brands but cost way less. For example, we get headaches easily. (Unfortunately.) If we were to buy Excedrin Migraine, it costs around $8.00 a bottle at Tar-jay. But, if we buy the up&up store brand, its only like $3.50 or something close to that. We save around $4.50 every time we buy it, just by getting the store brand.
A word about coupons: They can be useful. I use coupons for things like shampoo, toothpaste, face moisturizer, body wash.
But: usually for groceries, the store brand is cheaper than what you would pay for the price of the name brand minus the price of the coupon! So, go generic! It won't hurt you. Or your pocketbook.The whole extreme couponing thing seems like a waste of time to me. And who needs 25 boxes of toothpaste, even if they're free? Not me. I don't have room for them either.
4. Make Homemade Bread Instead of Buying Bread.
This can get semi-time consuming, but it really really saves a lot of money! Store-bought bread is anywhere from $1-$4/ loaf, depending on what kind you get. We eat whole wheat bread because its a lot healthier. So a store bought loaf usually costs us around $4. When I make bread or rolls at home, it costs me around $.60 a loaf! Yep. Its easy too, to get the bread started first thing in the morning, let it rise for a while, then finish it around lunch time and then you have all afternoon to enjoy your yummy homemade bread and the wonderful aroma that is floating around your house from baking it. I'll post a recipe for bread and rolls soon. I like to make a big batch of rolls and freeze them, then I have an instant side dish that never goes bad. Love it.
5. Eat Less Meat
Uh-Oh. Yes, I said it. Did you know the American portion sizes are WAY out of whack? I mean, incredibly "super-sized". Which is one good reason why America as a whole is sadly, 60% overweight. Yeah. It's that bad. Super-size the portion sizes; super-size a nation.
Most servings of meat you would get at a restaurant are 8-12oz and the recommended portion size is 4oz.
4oz is about the size of a deck of cards, or for those of you who haven't seen a deck of cards in awhile, around the size of your palm, from your wrist to where your fingers begin. Its not really that much.
This is what I do when I buy our meat: we have a family of 4, and usually if we have some sort of dinner that calls for ground beef I only use 1/2lb instead of a whole pound. We haven't noticed a difference in the taste at all, and we still get full. And its cut down on food waste, since half the time I would make the full pound of meat it didn't get eaten and just went bad in the fridge.
Also, when I buy chicken I only buy boneless,skinless chicken breast which tends to be the priciest part of the bird. (we're kinda picky about fat, and that's also the leanest part so we just buy that.) To make it stretch further, I cut each piece of the breast in half. That way, instead of paying $11.00 for 4 breasts and only making one meal out of it, I can get 8 pieces of meat, which can stretch out to at least 2 meals for us, sometimes 3 with leftovers. We also decided to eat more vegetables and only eat meat as a main dish for 2 or 3 nights out of the week instead of every night. This saves a bundle.
6. Make Soups, Stews and Chili
I am a huge fan of making a big pot of any of these three and then eating off of it for days. Its inexpensive to make, has nearly limitless options of what you can put in there and if you get tired of eating leftovers, they freeze well and taste even better after being frozen and thawed! I guess its because all of the flavors get to sit together longer, I don't know. The beef stew I froze and then we ate about a month later was the best beef stew I've had in a long time. And even if its hot outside, chili still is delicious. I know. We had some for dinner two nights ago, and it was nearly 100 degrees outside.
7. Drink Tap Water!
Sugary drinks are gross and bad for you anyway. They are full of all kinds of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup made from genetically modified corn. Ditch the pop (soda, coke, whatever you call it), juice and bottled water and go natural. If you regularly drink sugary drinks and you give them up, most likely you'll have more energy and possibly even lose weight! And you'll save some money while you're at it. I like water just plain, but if you're needing some flava, try putting lemon or lime or cucumber slices in your water for a refreshing, healthy change. Keep a pitcher in the fridge on hot days.
All of this talking about food has made me hungry; excuse me while I go get a snack.
I hope these tips are helpful! What do you do to save money on groceries/eat healthily?
I have a lot more ideas about eating well, and I'm planning on doing another post about that soon. Until then, shoot me some questions, I'd love to hear from you!
~All photos courtesy of morguefile.com