Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thrifty Living Series - Saving on Groceries/Food Budget

If you are going to pursue frugality in any way, this is one area you have to look at closely. It is an area that is often flexible. You can go out to eat every other night and easily spend hundreds a week or you can stay home and cook and spend only a hundred dollars a week. I am going to approach this post from my viewpoint. We are a house of six. Mom, dad and kids ages 20,17,14 and three. So in all reality I am feeding five adults and one child.

Before I came home full time it was not uncommon for us to eat out at least once a week and pick up fast food another night. Those days are long gone. We can easily go a couple months between sit down restaurant dinners but we still get some take out for lunches out about once a week. To go out as a family of six almost never happens. This is probably vacation meals or maybe some one's birthday but I usually cook meals at home for birthdays and holidays finding it cheaper and easier to just deal with a group at home.

So here is the main way to save money on your food budget...STAY HOME! Sorry but this is just the facts. Whenever we do eat out I am always thinking, "Gee that would have bought two meals worth of food." Cooking at home from scratch as much as possible is the cheapest way to go. Pre-made convenience foods tend to be more expensive per serving than a home made meal.

As for shopping I do several things. I buy most of my meat at Fresh n Easy and usually always the markdown meat that has to be sold that day. I just peruse the isle and grab whatever is marked down that I know we will eat and is a good value. I freeze it as soon as I get home and we have never been sick from it. I also have price points for sales that I will stock up on. For example .99 per lb. for chicken breasts on the bone is my stock up price. I have not seen it cheaper around here so that is what I look for. Meat is also now a condiment in many meals. Instead of a platter of pork chops say one night , I will cook a mark down pork loin roast and use the rest the next day diced up for pork fried rice. All whole chickens are always carved and then boiled for soup the next day. I use every scrap I can.

For produce I grow a small veggie garden in our front yard. This of course only off sets what I need to buy a little. Mainly, I make almost weekly trips to a local produce/bulk store and stock up. For about $20 I come out with produce and beans/nuts for a week or more. I do not buy produce grown in Mexico if I can help it. I buy seasonal produce for price and peace of mind. I do buy some produce especially berries at Sam's club. I fill in when needed with frozen or canned veggies.

Probably the most valuable part of saving on groceries is having a price book. I avoided it for a long time but could not really know the lowest prices for items until I really listed it all. I keep a small book and go through the sale papers weekly making notes of what the rock bottom prices were. When you know an item is at its lowest price, you then stock up and buy whatever you will need until the next sale. For grocery stores this is usually every three to four months. This is called the Pantry Principle. Start small and stock up when you can. If my husband has a particularly nice check (he is hourly) I will go to Sam's and stock up on the items I know are cheapest there. I can buy a 40 lb. bag of flour and it will last me about six months. I make all our own pizza crusts and we bake a lot of cookies and some of our own bread and muffins.

A well stocked pantry is your hedge against weeks where you are sick, your paycheck is low, a car repair that eats up your budget (we have a $1400 repair this week in fact). In my January no spend personal challenge, I did not go shopping for almost two weeks. So for one week I spent only $38 on milk, eggs and veggies/fruit. Now our cupboards we picked clean let me tell you. Kids will go for convenience first, then down to food they have to make. They were looking pretty sad. I made healthy plentiful meals, baked bread and cookies and made popcorn (oil and kernels in a pan) at night for snacks. The little one knew no different, her belly was full, the older ones felt a little more deprived and were excited to see me heading out for groceries one day. They had plenty to eat but missed the boxed snacks and easier foods.

Quoting Amy Dacyczyn, my frugal idol, "Whenever people complain to me that "I don't have time to do all of that frugal stuff," I wonder if they waste time running off to the store every time they run out of something. The pantry principle is one of many frugal practices that saves both money and time.
I could go into this subject so deeply we would be here all day and I may have to as this series progresses.

Here are a few of my posts on saving on food:


  1. Great tips, Elaine! When you're cooking for a large family like yours, you have to be very frugal. Sounds like you have it all under control!


  2. I joined your blog and I love to save and I bake and cook from scratch.
    If you go to my blog we have a new farm that opened in our small town and everything is fresh. We love it.

    I also use coupons and that helps.
    I believe to have your children eat healthy at an early age and now our sons are 20 in college and 17 high school and they eat very healthy.

    Thank you for a wonderful post and I enjoy it so much I can't wait for your next post.
    I also joined a few more that posted.

    Thank you, Thank you!

    Happy baking and cooking,

  3. I love having a well stocked pantry. It gives you more meal choices! Great tips! I know what a challenge it is to keep a big family fed..and happy! ♥♥♥

  4. All great ideas, I'm looking forward to May when I can start a container garden for this summer, my first attempt at a garden. I've recently started the stocking-up when the deals come around, I have two friends who are experts at this and they're slowly teaching me how. Thanks for sharing with us! Hugs ~ Mary

  5. Great advice, Elaine! I have definitely found that cooking from scratch and eating at home, as much as possible, will save you money! I can be a bit of a grocery nut, and love quality, exotic ingredients and high-end brands...but usually only buy those in the rare occasion that I get to a specialty food store. Haha, I shop for groceries like most women shop for shoes and handbags!! In the summer I've started growing herbs (which are SO expensive to buy at the grocery!) but hope that this summer I can have a small garden with staples like tomatoes, squash and peppers.
    Keep up the great tips. I really/need want to get more frugal!

  6. What a great post. This is the way I was raised. We VERY seldom ate out but always had good meals at home. My Dad's work was seasonal and my Mom was a master at stocking the freezer and pantry. The meals were thrifty, but hardy...I'd love to find a good bread recipe for my Breadmaker that is low calorie. Any ideas/suggestions?

  7. You sound like me. I have always cooked and we seldom go out to eat, we just like to have homemade, and you are right, it is so much cheaper. I agree, my pantry is always full, I try to have at least a month's worth of everything on hand and some things more. Canned goods are so easy to stock up when there is a great sale and I also buy the marked down meat and re-package it to meal sizes and freeze immediately when I get it home. Great tips and post. Hugs, Marty

  8. We seldom go out to eat, it is just so expensive! I don't have a large family now but your tips are right on. I still buy when the price is low (.99# for chicken is my bottom price also) and do my best not to waste food.

  9. Wonderful ideas for that many people eating in one household, Elaine! We shall visit this subject again, for it is a big part of peoples budgets. Your children are learning from your principles and your frugality. You have given me some new ideas here!

  10. These are super hints, and even though you have more people in your family then I do, I can pick up tips in many areas.

    We are only two in our household, but when we were staying at the farm, there were up to 5 of us, and what a difference in food costs.

    Eating out was something that we never did, it was just too expensive.

    Even as a couple we don't eat out that often, it's much cheaper to stay at home.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  11. Right on Elaine. Staying at home proves to be the salient point. I manage to keep up with prices pretty well but may start a price book as you suggested. Great tips.

  12. Great tips. We hardly ever eat out anymore, unless it's something special. And I do the pantry thing also. If it's on sale, and we use it, I buy it; even if I have plenty at home because there are weeks when I don't need to go shopping except pick up eggs and milk because my pantry is really stocked well! Enjoy your day!!

  13. Elaine, you are my kind of girl! Because I grew up in a big family, I learned the tricks to feeding people cheaply from my mom. You can't beat potatoes and onions for value and I have no problem with buying mark down meat. In fact, that's how I manage to buy organic meat most often. I never buy take out and save dining out for a special occasion. Thanks!

  14. Great tips, Elaine. Groceries are so expensive these day and it must be really hard to feed a family of six. Eating at home is definitely the best tip you can give anyone.
    You are featured on my blog today.

  15. Elaine, don't you just love Fresh n Easy? Their clearance section is great. I love the tip about the Pantry Principle, although I do keep mine stocked pretty well. I've noticed that when I used to use a pound of something for a meal, now it's cut down to half a pound. We also eat a lot of grains and rices.

  16. Thanks for sharing Elaine. I have 5 children and stayed home with them until I had to go to work, but it was always a challenge (and fun) to see how far I could stretch a dollar. I thank my mom for teaching me how to be "poor". Nowadays, they call it cooking with "whole foods" as if they JUST came up with it. lol

  17. All such good ideas. A big Hear Hear on eating at home, so much you save and so much more healthy!

  18. I'm enjoying this series and all your good ideas! Thanks for sharing you recipe at Potpourri Friday!

  19. wonderful tips, you certainly are organized and healthy!!

  20. Thanks for the wonderful advice, Elaine. Since I have been going to a nutritionist, I cannot eat hardly any processed foods. We are eating much healthier now, and we are actually saving TONS of $$$$!!! THe cooking class is teaching me how to keep a stocked pantry, and how to cook with fruits and vegetables that are in season.

    I really need to take the challenge you did in January.


  21. When my kids were home, especially when they were pre-high school age, I can remember making one chicken stretch for four meals (we are a family of 4). I like your idea of the pantry kitchen, although we are just two right now, it still works! Just on a smaller scale. Besides although it is just my husband and me, sometimes our daughter and her friends come by for a meal, or friends or grandma! In Florida we stock up on canned goods because of hurricane season. We just never know. It will be interesting to see when we move to SoCal how our grocery needs will change or should I say habits. It's good to have some store names and ideas. Ann

  22. You are SO right--now that my hubby and I are empty-nesters, we find ourselves eating out way too much, and it's a real money-gobbler.

    What a great, practical blog!

    Cindy at Notes in the Key of Life

  23. what a grgeat post and so true...eating at home is the best way to save money and its also the best way to not gain weight!!!!! have you ever noticed how you feel after a meal out, full of salt and fat!!!!!! anyways, Im enjoying this series a lot, thank you!!!!

  24. Love your garden! We also garden and try to preserve as much as we can but I'm never sure how much it really saves us. I know it makes for great quality food though!

  25. great ideas!!! i make the same.
    have a lovely weekend,
    love regina

  26. Another great frugal living post. I could NOT agree more about staying home to eat.

    To be honest, it sort of floors me the amount of dinners some folks eat out.

    Since we became empty nesters, (well... basically) I don't keep my pantry stocked as I used to. I need to get better at that again!

  27. Good advice! I have a price list for Aldi so I know when it's worth it to buy something on sale somewhere else. :)

  28. Great tips! We usually overspend on our groceries. Thanks for sharing!


  29. Wonderful ideas! Thank you for linking up at Katherines Corner xo

  30. I'm working on stocking up the pantry. You are so right about staying home to sve money on the cost of food. it's true. My father and I make all of our meals at home. It's healthy and that's what is helping keep us afloat financially to. Once in a great while, we'll pick up breakfast sandwiches from whole foods. They're made fresh and taste better than any fast-food place. Oh, next step is to make them myself at home :) :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of CAlifornia, Heather :)

  31. I loved this post! Can you tell us how to make a price book? I've heard this mentioned before but I don't know how to make one.. Thanks :)

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  33. I just joined your blog and thanks for all the tips. Who doesn't need to save money on groceries. I can't wait to read all the tips when I have more time. I hope you will stop by and join me too. My blog is all about farm life, decorating, cooking, and much more. Hope to see you there!!

  34. Amy Dacyczyn!?! I am amazed..I was reading her stuff when I was young and raising my three boys! :)