Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Frugal Living: Food Budgeting Ideas

This week I'm sharing a few ideas of how to save money. Today I want to share about how I save on our grocery bill. And along with these tips I also have to voice some of my opinions about today's food sources. Sorry, I don't know how to talk about one without the other. So here is a jumbled list of thoughts I consider when trying to save a few bucks while grocery shopping...

Plan ahead:
Think about meals that will create left overs for lunches or one more dinner. So often we make a pot of soup or chili on Sunday that will reheat easily. Then we pack it for lunch for one or more days the following week.  We also plan several recipes that use some of the same ingredients. It will make your list shorter and you can cash in on deals at the grocery. You know, the 2/$4 deals that are so difficult to pass up!

Use food before it expires:
Think about meals that will use items in your kitchen cupboards that may not make one more week of storage. And if you just don't want to eat those items still make something with them that can go in the freezer. If that veggie lasagna is in the freezer next week and you don't have time to make dinner it starts to sound pretty tasty and you didn't have to throw out any food. Or one of my favorites, make vegetable broth from those last bits of produce that aren't quite what you want to be featured on your dinner plate. Sometimes vegetables are still edible, but just not as appetizing looking.

Make a List:
After considering both the food in your home and the meals you are interested in making put together a list. It will help you from making impulse purchases or stop you from putting other items in your cart that you may not need at home.

Check out this grocery list template and shopping routine {here} from Lisa Leake & the 100 Days of Real Food Blog.

Whole Foods:
Everyone wants to save on groceries. For some reason the items that fuel our bodies seems to be where people want to spend less. Now, I agree that we can spend too much money at the grocery store. But I believe that the overspending comes from purchasing items that really aren't all that nutritious. If your cart has lots of sodas, sugary juices, and prepackaged snack items you might not be getting the best bang for buck or calorie for your busy body. What if you look at your menu and try to plan a few less prepackaged goods? Eating the fruit that you buy instead of throwing it out because you picked a 100 calorie snack bag to put in your lunch instead of that apple. Maybe purchasing fewer pre-made goods can be one place you can save both on empty calories and grocery bill.

Also, literally purchase "whole foods". A chunk of cheese is often cheaper than shredded (and fewer preservatives). A head of lettuce may cost less than a bag of shredded. Or a full pineapple may be on sale where an already chopped container can cost twice as much. Just check your prices if you are choosing between two versions of the same food. Do you have the extra five minutes to wash, peel, core, and chop? Then save the money instead of paying the store's employee to chop it for you. If you don't have the time than it might be money worth spent.

Saving on Meat:
We rarely eat meat at home. I don't enjoy preparing it and most often my husband and I prefer the way I make vegetarian dishes much more than meals that feature meat. But when we do eat meat at home we don't eat a ton in one sitting. Instead of one pound or more of sausage in a soup it is easy to replace half a pound of sausage with beans or more veggies. You still get the flavor that the meat provides but fewer calories and fat. Also, purchasing meat from a local farm or your farmers market can be less expensive and of higher quality. Ground meats tend to be cheaper and they are super flexible in cooking. Also, if making meals in your crock pot you can purchase a "lesser cut" as the cooking techinque will make a tender and flavorful bit of meat. Consider how you will use the meat prior to purchasing. Or save your higher priced cuts for meals that require such a nice piece of meat. Check out farmer's markets for local vendors selling high quality meat or hit up a local deli and take advantage of their weekly specials.

Local Foods:
You can save on more than meat at your farmer's market. We belong to a CSA where we receive a small share of produce from a local farm.  The produce is divine, we're supporting a local farm, and really we're getting great prices on our veggies. Since we live in Ohio, we do not get produce year round from our CSA. There are three months that we purchase from our local grocery store, but each year I'm able to save a bit more produce over the summer and our reliance on grocery store "fresh" is less and less. Which actually saves us a lot of money. And cuts down on loads of trash (from packaged produce) and gasoline (from shipping produce from California to our Ohio grocery store).

Preserving Food:
As, I mentioned before I make sure that I use food items prior to their expiration. This doesn't just mean preparing a meal and freezing it. Sometimes I freeze produce that I can use later in the year. (Cleaning and chopping garden grown green peppers in the summer makes for a nice addition to chili in the winter) I also make canned goods in our kitchen. Sometimes a You-Pick stop for blackberries or tomatoes can help fill a freezer up with good produce for all winter. It has taken me a few years (and a cupboard for the actual cans as well as an extra freezer) to get into a good routine (everything is a work in progress) but I shopped much less during the winter months this year than I ever have before. Just because I'm slowly emptying our freezer and using canned goods that I preserved myself. Which not only saves money, but is very satisfying to yours truly.

Make Your Own:
Bread, broths, jams, ketchups, salsas, pre-made freezer dinners {even pizzas} and salad dressings.
I like to make my own because:
1. I know what is in my food.
2. I can purchase ingredients in bulk.
3. We omit ingredients that we do not enjoy eating or are allergic to.
4. I can purchase local ingredients.
*** And most of these reasons support my preference to spend less money and still eat a very high quality food.

Bulk Food Stores:
Have you ever shopped at a bulk food store? Now, I will admit that not all of the items are locally grown, but sometimes those prices can't be beat. It is a great way to store up some goods that you can literally use for weeks and months. Sometimes we can drop $80 at a bulk food store. Which at the time seems like a lot, but the food lasts. This is actually one reason I use a monthly budget (instead of weekly) to plan our grocery shopping.

Here is an example of how we spend our grocery dollars:
In March I spent $100 on our share of veggies from  our CSA. We actually did have bulk food store trip that month and spent $70 on goods that we won't have to buy for months. Maybe even until the end of summer (rice, spices, dry beans, nuts, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup - bonus most of our purchased items were grown and processed in Ohio). And then I spent $30 at a more main stream grocery store on items like milk, feta cheese and some produce to round out what we've been getting from the local farm. Once our farmer's market picks up and our home grown produce comes in I'm hoping to make our grocery store trip once a month or less.

Check out these links for other ideas or inspirations to save on your grocery bill:

5 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill {with The Budget Diet}

49 Ways to Save Money on Groceries {with Neil Shelton &}

This Week:

 Our Budgeting Update

Cheaper Ways to Work Out

 Weekly No Spend Days

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