These are the "rules" that I have developed over the years, and while every family has their own preferences and circumstances, these are the things that help me stay under my budget of $60 a week for the three (soon to be 4!) of us. We also choose to avoid processed foods, like HFCS, and try to eat healthfully.
This is a biggie. The more you choose to plan, the less excess will work it's way into your cart.
- I plan one beef, chicken, meatless & fish meal for the week. There are other categories I try not to hit more than once in a week, like Pasta or Soup. Check out some of my latest menu plans for ideas or try I'm an Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.
- Working in family preferences: I know that my family likes Mexican, so that's usually one type of meal a week, and although my husband isn't crazy about casseroles, he will eat them every now and then. If it's winter, I make sure I have a soup, if it's summer, I have a salad or cold meal.
- Look for those widows and orphan ingredients: That half bottle of apricot preserves, one salmon fillet, two almost-sprouting potatoes left in the bag, these are the ingredients you want to use up or risk them going rotten or getting freezer burn, and then your money goes right out with the garbage. I go through my pantry, frig, then my freezer looking for forgotten tidbits that should be used up that week.
- I check the sale ads to see if any main dish protein is on sale. I don't talk much about my couponing and shopping strategies, but I'm always thinking if the item I'm going to be spending money on will help make a main dish. If it's cereal, pickles, or condiments, I have a hard time handing over alot of my cash. But, if it's frozen spinach, (Spinach Balls, Crockpot Lasagna) then I can see it having more options.
- Planning a homemade snack for the week (or even buying a bag of apples) saves the late-night grocery store cravings and boxes of Cheez-Its that get impulsively thrown on top of the cart. (Not that I'm speaking from experience here!)
Making Things from Scratch: Some items that I regularly make from scratch include refried beans, enchilada sauce, biscuits, granola bars, chicken broth, pizza crust, taco sauce, pancake syrup, cooking dried beans, cinnamon rolls (sooo much better homemade) cookies, and pancakes. I haven't gotten into consistently making homemade buns or bread because I don't really enjoy that part of baking, so I choose to spend more money on those items.
Planning Ahead and Freezing Food: "Mexican" night gets a lot easier when I have frozen portions of Mexican Rice and Refried Beans made ahead in the freezer waiting for me. I throw together a main dish like enchiladas or tacos, warm up some sides, and dinner is done. I very rarely make casseroles ahead of time to freeze, only because my husband doesn't prefer them, so they end up sitting in there and not getting eaten. I've found it's easiest for me to just double whatever I'm making and freeze half of it, versus spending all day making meals.
Choosing what's essential and what's not: In our house, soda, cereal, store-bought granola bars, chips, and cream of whatever soups are not essential. What is? Fresh veggies and ingredients that can be made into many food items (like pantry staples, flour, sugar, milk, and cheese). I try to buy things that can be made into two or three items, rather than a recipe specific item.
Buying in Bulk: Warehouse clubs like Sams, Costco, BJ's etc, can be a deal, but only if you use the products like you normally would. I once bought a huge bag of dried cranberries because I liked them in my morning oatmeal. I didn't, however, portion out the ginormous bag after returning home, and just took what I wanted from it each morning, and it ended up being gone in about month. Not a savings, at all. Now, if I do buy in bulk, I portion it out and stash the rest in harder-to-get-to storage.
I do use my warehouse club, though, for items like butter, eggs and milk. When I'm in the neighborhood, I buy at least 2 (sometime more!) of 18 count eggs and gallons of milk. I've found vinegar, yeast, and some pastas to be cheaper per ounce, but I don't buy anything at warehouse clubs without comparing it to my Price Book.
Couponing helps, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. Being intentional and only buying what you need for the week is much more helpful. I leave about $10 in my budget to buy the "Deals of Week," items that I don't need that week, but know I will use or stockpile to use at a later date. I stockpile pasta, spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, pickles, salsa, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, crackers, and oatmeal, to name a few. I typically save 50 or 60% on my grocery bill by couponing, and I buy enough to build up my stockpile to about a three months' supply, so I don't have to pay full price for any of those items.
Eating Out: This is not included in our grocery budget, and I know that some people do include it. We budget for one meal out a week, and we are pretty choosy about where our "Meal Out" will be.
To make up for eating in more often, I make "Fun Night" dinners that are more complicated or using more ingredients than a normal weeknight meal, mostly for Friday nights. Some menus we're recreated at home:
- Chiptole Burrito Bowls (Cilantro Lime Rice, Black Beans, Fatija Peppers, Pico, Quacamole, Chips)
- Ruth Chris' Steakhouse (Steak, Baked potatoes, Creamed Spinach, Blue Cheese Salads)
- Loaded Hamburgers & Hand Cut Fries with Spicy Fry Sauce
- Buffalo Wings with Homemade Potato Chips (Local restaurant Geckos!)
- Crab Rangoon, General Tso's Chicken, Won Ton Soup
- Anything California Pizza Kitchen (I look up their menu online and try a new pizza!)
To compensate for these meals, I just have a cheaper meal worked into the menu like a Pasta Dish. (Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti, Baked Pasta)
These are just a few of the ways I try to stretch my grocery budget and get more for my money! Please leave us a comment about how you stretch your budget!
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