I’m instituting a #frugalfriday, in order to keep myself accountable for the foreseeable future. Since our September was such a challenge with sudden job loss of our only income, we quickly learned just how much we can live without. One of the key places that could have suffered? Our groceries.
We are what we eat though.
Isn’t that the worst? When you’re broke, and tired, and feel like crap and tired all around, and then you just want to treat yourself, but the cobwebs in your wallet are laughing at you?
Put in the best you can, and you will feel the best you can. And YES, you CAN do this on a super-tight budget, as I did for almost a month with no budget!
Even though boxed and ready-made dinners look cheaper at first, they’re lying to you. Yes, the bag of rice is more expensive on the shelf…but you will get many meals out of it, instead of just one.
I’m also the worst for remembering coupons. I’ve tried it all, I even bought a cute little folder once and labeled it with the months of the year, and placed coupons in the month they expired…yeahhhh…..if I happen to remember them, it’s a small miracle and an extra supermom boost for the day. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other ways to save without sacrificing wholesome goodness, you just get to be creative!
Let’s get to it-these are the ways I didn’t sacrifice food or quality for our family on our month of no income, or ever actually. Make it a lifestyle, and come out ahead in the long run.
Rice, beans, potatoes, lentils, noodles, wheat flour, etc. These items double in size when you prepare them, and each bag or box will keep serving you meals for weeks (I like variety…obviously if you eat rice five days a week, your bag of rice will last about a week). These grocery items are sometimes slightly more expensive than their pre-made counterparts (think scalloped potato boxes, mac n cheese, rice-a-roni, etc). However, you get A LOT out of each bag of filler staples, instead of just one family meal. If you are a single or duo family, you’re really coming out ahead on these. Buy these in the bag, not canned-they just take a little more prep, but it’s so worth it, and MUCH cheaper in the long run. You can also prep these (except the flour obviously), and freeze them so it’s done! I soak all of my beans at once and freeze them in two cup batches, which equals the typical can for a fraction of the cost. Fillers fill your belly and allow you to not have to use high quantities of other things, like meat. Filling and cheap for the win.
Make Your Own Bread
Whoa whoa whoa WHOA!! I can’t make bread, you say? If you can read a recipe, you can make bread. Try an unyeasted version-they are super simple and end up denser than yeasted bread, so slices fill you up faster. Currently, we do not have a working oven, so I use a breadmaker, which basically does the work for you. Don’t be scared to make bread. When the cheapest, almost plastic variety is a dollar at the store, you can make an actually nutritious loaf you’d be proud to make sandwiches on for a quarter or less. Plus, homemade bread…I mean, talk about feeling totally stellar when you’re broke, right?
Wiggle in the Produce
Listen. I live in Minnesota, where things can’t be grown year round. Wherever you live, purchase in-season produce. Up here, things like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, celery, and cabbage are considered year round, and in season produce is MUCH cheaper. So you might have to forgo your raspberries in January. That means you’ll love them all the more in July. Buy those raspberries when they go on sale in July, and freeze them for January! Plus, you’re adding in color (so un-depressing), and you’re minimizing your eco-footprint by purchasing produce that was grown closer to you (so not as much gas emitted to truck it to you). Great job you penny-sleuth!
Another note on produce-you know how to grow money? Grow your own stuff! Even if you have a brown thumb, or live in an apartment, or whatever…this option is accessible to you, I promise! Herbs are VERY easy to grow, and liven up a meal in a heartbeat. Add decor to your windowsill by growing your own salad, sprouts, or herbs. You’ll look very chic! If you live in an apartment, I did container gardening when I lived in one…I filled my little terrace with tomatoes, a watermelon plant, and a few pepper varieties. Pick one thing you love to eat, and grow it! A packet of seeds cost a little over a dollar, and there’s usually over a 100 seeds in that packet, and each plant reaps several treats each…think about that a minute. When the plant is done, start another, and then another…now you have your favorite produce for basically free. Plus, did you know that within just a few days, most produce has lost over 50 percent of its nutritional value?! And it keeps going down the longer it’s off it’s stem! That doesn’t bode well for anything in our crisper drawer that was trucked over the country, and we bought it a week (or more…) ago!
I am a believer in treating yourself, whether it is with dieting your body, or your wallet. If all you do is say no, you WILL burn out and be done with it. #dietfail every time! However, be a penny-sleuth about this, because this area is where grocery stores really like to make money. If you see Oreos on a great sale, buy them, take them home, and bag them up in sandwich bags in three’s. Don’t waste your money on the prepackaged snack packs, make your own!! Convenience ALWAYS means markup. Skip it, every time. If it’s put together for you already, whether it’s those scalloped potatoes or cute Oreo packs, they are screwing you…basically, they add on a convenience fee, and you must resist! Find something on sale, bag it up in the serving size you are looking for. Easy-peasy that Oreo’s cheapy.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Humble Sandwich
For lunches, pack a simple pb&j, a piece of fruit, and a treat. There’s a lunch for what, a dollar? And you got more than a McChicken, AND it’s actual food, so how about that!
Go Meatless…at least sometimes
Listen. My husband thinks he needs meat in everything, otherwise it’s not food. Do you have one of those? He and the Little are allergic to eggs (which is a GREAT cheap protein alternative!), so I have to get creative. I make things like a three or five bean chili that’s so filling, he doesn’t really miss the meat. Meat is THE KILLER of your grocery budget, and that’s a promise. However, obviously we’re not going vegetarian (although kudos to anyone who has that lifestyle! I believe in supporting local farmers who I know practice humanely, and love their animals, even the stock). Anywhoo, look for meats that were previously frozen or on a quick sale (expiring) first. Those are sold for a fraction of the cost. Next, look at cuts…bone in is cheaper than boneless, and legs/wings/stewing meats are cheapest. Currently in my area, pork is the cheapest in the store, so I will usually scout out any great deals in that area. Also, stretch the meat you are using by qualifying it as a condiment instead of the main fanfare-think casseroles, soups, and stir fry’s. Finally, if you end up having money to invest, invest it with a local farmer…purchasing a half or whole of a hog, cow, goat, etc will have you coming out further ahead in the long run, with a stocked freezer to boot. It IS an investment. BUT, per cut it is cheaper, and you help another family like yours so double points to you!
Pick Something to Make Yourself
Whether it be taco seasoning, jelly, ice cream, fruit juice concentrate, or whatever, pick something you use a lot and make it yourself! You’ll save so much if you pick something you use regularly. For instance, I have a pint jar of taco seasoning-so just a few times a year I spend a few dollars, throw the spices in the jar, give it a good shake, and presto! Tacos for months, instead of buying a packet of seasoning for somewhere around a dollar that does a pound of burger. Plus, I use it in taco chilis and such as well. I would love to get around to making our ice cream. I LOVE ice cream, but always skip it because it’s so expensive in the freezer aisle. Homemade tastes way better too, I just have to get around to learning the (pretty easy) process.
Use the House Brand
Overall, there is no difference between your store’s house brand versus the name brand, except the cost. You’re buying the name, nothing else different in most cases. Obviously, there are some exceptions you might not like the taste of, like a mustard or cereal. Overall though, you are looking at rows of the exact same thing, with the only real difference being the price. Actually, most house brands are literally made in a factory where a name brand is also being made-so it literally IS the same thing, they’re just able to market to multiple socio-economic classes! Take the guesswork out and keep your money by using the house brand for most grocery items.
Yeah, this is something I am trying to pick up again. It comes and goes in spurts with me, because life. But, it seriously saves SO MUCH. If you take stock of what is already in your freezer and pantry and build off that, you’re not designing a meal from scratch, and you don’t double buy something you already have. Plus, you can utilize bulk! Buy the big can of crushed tomatoes, because one day you’re doing a chili, while another day that week you’re doing a casserole, and the bigger can is cheaper than two smaller ones, but usually around the same amount in ounces. Plus, I go to what is already in the fridge first to see what I can reinvent, which makes it so we throw away less for more actual money use (and my picky husband unknowingly eats leftovers muahahaha…). Also, take into account what is on sale in your store’s advertisement. Even though it takes quite a bit of planning, you can really save a healthy amount by taking inventory, using bulk and sales to your advantage, and taking the guesswork (and convenience searching) out of the equation for the week.
Build Up Your Staples
One of the biggest things I was grateful for in our no-income month was my habit of buying multiples on occasion on sales. Not going crazy buying all the things I could find on sale every time, just buying an extra or two of things we use a lot when we had extra money. This way, when we were suddenly financially hit, I opened my pantry and saw several things I already had and didn’t have to buy to keep feeding my family. When you have a few dollars extra and something is on sale you use fairly often, pick it up and save it for a rainy day…or when you totally forget to meal plan. I do the same thing with meat actually-if there is a great sale on a family pack of meat, I’ll buy it and split it into three or four freezer bags, so I spend maybe double, but not triple or quadruple the price like I would if I was to buy another serving a month down the road for a meal then.
An extra note: It really helps to create an inventory of your freezer and pantry-although admittedly I’m not the greatest at keeping it updated, periodically taking an inventory really helps in meal planning, buying in bulk, and knowing which staples to look for next. There are SO many examples online to get you started, just by doing a quick Google search. Mine is archaic and handwritten-one lives on the side of the fridge, and the other in my pantry. If I had a fancy spreadsheet, I know I’d never update it, because it needs to be staring me in the face for me to remember.
There you have it! Ten (plus) ways I save while not sacrificing quality in my family’s low food budget. After our rough September, October is starting to look a bit better now, and I am looking forward to building up a little stash again. You never know when disaster will strike-and if you’re living it with us currently, just think of it as a reset button on being intentional. Don’t waste money on convenience foods that draw you in with a sticker, spend just a little extra time, and you might actually being eating better while tackling your food budget or while not really having one at all.
Hang in there!
Your turn-how do you save money on your groceries? What tricks do you have up your sleeve? Are there any points on this list that surprised you, or that you can’t wait to try out?