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How to Slash Your Grocery Budget by $250

13 weeks to family financial freedom.

by
Rhonda Robinson

Bio

August 10, 2013 - 3:00 pm
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Add $250 back into the family’s cash flow by eliminating waste and implementing quality control. 

1. Take a Complete Inventory. 

Before shopping I’ve always taken a quick glance through the cabinets and cleaned out the refrigerator. In a sense, you could say that’s taking inventory. But I’ve never really written it down and utilized what we had.

Taking a complete inventory of  cabinets sounds a little drastic, I know. It also sounds extremely time-consuming. But how can you really know what to buy unless you know what you already have?

So that’s the first hurdle for this week– empty and inventory the pantry, cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer. Then make a master list of all our staples and an inventory list of everything we currently have “in stock.”

You can follow me on Instagram at amotherslife; this should prove interesting. 

2. Make a Menu Plan.

This is where the real money is saved. Unfortunately, when we no longer “needed” to watch every penny I abandoned the practice and got into the habit of strolling the aisle for what “looks good.” Not any longer.

Here’s my time-tested method.

  • First, grab the calendar and note what the week looks like in terms of available time to cook. It’s also a good idea to check the weather. For example, rainy days make wonderful soup days. Note how many days you might need to use a crock-pot due to working late or after-school events. Also, check to see if you are going somewhere like a potluck or having dinner guests. 
  • Count the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners your family needs. You might add one to freeze for a gift. Or it could save you the price of an emergency pizza.
  • List your meals. Start with your family’s favorites. No need to designate a specific day for each meal unless there’s something special going on — that’s too restrictive. It’s better to have a menu to choose from daily.
  • Post it inside of your cabinet.

3. Make Your List — and Stick to It. 

Rule number one: If it’s not on your list– you don’t get to buy it. So make your list complete.

  • Go through your menu plan meal by meal. Write down every ingredient you need to make each one.
  • Now check the cabinets and refrigerator and mark off anything you already have.
  • Add to the list  any drinks and snacks you want to have on hand.

With the exception of buying fresh fruit and vegetables, the rule is no added trips to the grocery store for that “one” missing ingredient. The longer you can stay out of the store, the more money you save.

The added benefit of this method is that when you purposefully and carefully select each ingredient, that purchase increases in value and there’s very little waste.

What’s your best money-saving strategy when it comes to grocery shopping?

******

Photo credits Shutterstock Suzanne Tuckermikeledray

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Rhonda Robinson writes on the social, political and parenting issues currently shaping the American family. She lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Middle Tennessee. www.amotherslife.me Follow on twitter @amotherslife

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Top Rated Comments   
They should be called Whole Paycheck!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whole Foods is not where I would shop to save money.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the key to saving real money is the 2 sentences about :" ... the rule is no added trips to the grocery store for that “one” missing ingredient. The longer you can stay out of the store, the more money you save."
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (30)
All Comments   (30)
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We found a produce co-op to join - for under $20 we get a medium laundry basket with a variety of fruits and veggies. We only have to order when we need produce, plus have the option of full case orders at pretty good prices.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
We garden intensively, and freeze, dry or can the surplus. Buy local chickens, eggs and sides of beef raised just up the road. And by this fall, my own cattle on my own acreage of grass. I also buy local raw milk, straight from the dairy tank. Hunt and eat deer and small game.. Catch fish in the local waters. I store whole grains and legumes - 25 or more lbs at a time, in sealed buckets. (Grind them for bread and cook them whole for cereal.)
Most importantly, I EAT from the stored foods at every meal. Less expensive, sure - but the superior quality and taste are the real bonuses.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is the direction we are going. We also eat a lot of deer. I hope that over the next two years, I would to say the exact same thing. We do buy local, and at the farmer's market. Although I can't say that saves us much money, the quality is worth every penny.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
We generally set a grocery budget of $100 give or take $20. I start out with one large cooking item that will provide us with leftovers through the week. I make my list with the necessary ingredients for that. Sometimes, it might be based off of what protein is on sale that week, other times, it might be what we already have frozen/thawed on hand, and sometimes, it's just something we want for that week. I make sure those items are on our list.

Then, I go through the grocery circular for the week and add items of interest that are on sale for a good price. We may or may not buy these.

There are also a certain number of "staple" items that we almost always get and are almost always pretty much gone by the time we shop.

Once I have the list, we go as a family and I take a calculator so I can keep track of our tally. We always start in produce where we almost always spend the most money. Then we hit meat, then dairy, then frozen and last the aisles. The calculator total and our partnership as husband/wife keep us reined in and realistic so we don't load up on extras. We always have a list of "if there's room in the budget items" that seldom get bought.

As a result, we have no candy in the house, plenty of fresh fruit, lots of frozen fresh fish and chicken for evening meals, frozen veggies for evening meals (no, not as good as fresh, but we conceded to convenience with them), and our weekend entrée for leftovers all week long. We also keep some light breakfast and convenience food fare for the kiddo when he won't eat anything else and the makings for wraps for lunch. I don't think we've actually bought a loaf of bread in over a year.

But what really helps us is the hard budget with the calculator so we know where we are on our spending. Then, we're both there to keep each other from making self-indulgent purchases which are usually junk food.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
"protein on sale": fortunately, we all like dark meat better than white so we get those 10 lb bags of leg quarters. Canned tuna is one of the cheapest proteins when there is no sale, but I don't have any recipes other than the infamous tuna noodle casserole (we like it with cheddar cheese soup rather than cream of mushroom). You can eat that only so often. And (expensive!) meat goes farther when it's only one ingredient of many, of course. We don't need as many packages when it's in a stir fry, or pot pies etc.

I'd like to know more about the "one large cooking item" too. Chickens (ad turkeys, the week after Christmas go on sale) are easy to use repeatedly, but there's only so much we can do with a ham..

We hit the clearance aisle. especially for produce, but I just can't bring myself to serve dented cans. And now I'm baking bread; we are completely spoiled on the (much cheaper) bread from scratch.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
aharris,

"I start out with one large cooking item that will provide us with leftovers through the week."

Could you elaborate? The closest thing I can think of is baking a chicken, turning it into salad, and soup. But all week? How do you do that? Care to share?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
In spite of being a rancher's daughter, I stock up on Turkey, Turkey breasts and pork roasts when they're on sale. The store I shop at has a limit of "5 per purchase" on the really good sales (a 3 pound pork roast for $4 happens at least once a month) so I try to shop early in the morning when they're not busy, make friends with the cashier who won't blink an eye at me dividing my meat into 8 or 9 purchases.

Turkey breasts are my favorite "easy" go to - drop them in the crockpot frozen with about a cup and a half of water (or broth), a stick of butter, salt and pepper. It's easily 2 or 3 meals when the kids are home - and a week of leftovers when it's just the hubby and I.

A slow cooked pork roast makes great sandwiches and burritos. An item we've been finding at Sam's lately is 10 pound tri-tip roasts for about $22. We divide them into 8 or 9 meal sized pieces and drop in the freezer. That particular cut is great when marinated overnight.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rhonda, look up "Once a month cooking." It works.... for those who are disciplined enough to actually do it. ;-)
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
You know what? I actually did that years ago when I had all the children home. I don't know if I would try to do it now. But the concept is cook up all you buy so nothing is wasted. That, is something to really look into to see if I can adapt it now.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've gotten older and don't like going to the grocery store anymore (and yes - when I have walked in them I have actually stopped and thanked God for the bounty of our country) but luckily I have several grocery stores here that deliver. I live in a highrise condo so getting to groceries delivered saves me the pain of trying to get them upstairs.

I've spent the last several months stocking my pantry with everything I could possibly think of if I'm in the mood to cook or bake. I'm at the point that I can go for quite a while without a delivery.

One big reason I can go so long is I invested in a large freezer that I put out on my balcony. All my meat, sauces quite a few perishables can be frozen and taken out when needed. I usually cook for the entire week on the weekend (as I'm doing right now) and then I make up individual meals and freeze them in the kitchen freezer. It's worked well for me so far and I find I have a lot more disposable cash.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sticking to the list is the most important tip. Also, eat before you go shopping, so you do't have cravings as you go thru the store.

You can save a lot of money by not buying sugar drinks in bottles or cans of any kind. Buy lemon-aid mix if you have to feed your sugar jones. Or, just cut sugary drink out of your household diet, especially for kids. Sugar habits are unhealthy for kids.

Also, look for an Asian Super Market if you are in a big city area; they will have cuts of meat and fish that are much cheaper than what conventional stores charge. A discount market such as WinCo or Waremart is a good money saver too. Organic foods are mostly a marketing con, as most conventionally grown fruits and veggies are just as good as any organic, so there's more money savings right there.

33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
And never take children or a husband with you when you grocery shop. If you do, that'll cost you $250 right then and there.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is so true. I could take my kids, but my husband would add to by budget every time. In his defense, he would load me up with things that he knew the children loved.

Now we shop together, he can still be a detriment, but I love shopping with him. One of our favorite things to do together is go to the farmer's market.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whole Foods is not where I would shop to save money.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
They should be called Whole Paycheck!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the key to saving real money is the 2 sentences about :" ... the rule is no added trips to the grocery store for that “one” missing ingredient. The longer you can stay out of the store, the more money you save."
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good points all around but how does this translate to $250.00? Personally, I save by buying staples on sale and keeping extra stock. Another saver is to effectively use up leftovers.

By subscribing to Amazon prime, I get all kind of oddball ingredients that are unavailable locally shipped to the house, including GF flours, at great prices. It pays for itself early on in the year.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
The first time I did this was about 20 years ago. By buying only the ingredients that I need for the planned meals, I cut 300.00 off my budget. I shared it with a couple girlfriends, and one started saving so much money out of grocery "allowance" that she started buying herself kitchen appliances and gadgets. Unfortunately, her husband caught on and lowered her allowance.

I've wondered about the Amazon prime. Thanks for letting me know. I'm planning on comparing online prices with some of what I have to buy at Whole Foods.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for clarifying. I guess the amount seemed arbitrary to me.

I generally like to have a month's worth of non-perishable staples on hand in case of emergency. As a single mom it's been helpful to know that if I get sick of have an unexpected expense we are still covered for food.

Amazon prime is very helpful simply because gas is $4.00 a gallon! If I have to drive to another town to pick up a specialty item or even have it shipped, an added expense. At $79.00 per year, it's worth it to me. My teens use it to shop for their things as well. As an added incentive, you can stream movies from their huge library!

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I use Amazon Prime for everything. I also saved when I got their Amazon credit card. If you use that (and pay it off monthly) you save loads of money and can even earn points to get things for free or at least at a huge discount
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Another vote here for Amazon prime. It's a GOOD thing!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry gator1, but I like this format and the uses to which it is being put. Waste nothing, the roast chicken becomes chicken salad and the carcass becomes the basis of stock.

I cook on a massive scale and freeze spaghetti sauce for "emergency" meals. Bread is dirt cheap when you buy flour in 25 lbs bags and your yeast in bulk. Cookies are easy and inexpensive when the only rare component is time.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Katherine in RB you are a gal after my own heart. That's exactly what I do with my chicken. Also, I used to make a five gallon (using a canner for a pot) batch of spaghetti sauce. Have spaghetti for dinner that night, then turn the rest into Lasagna, Manicotti and another Italian dish I can't spell. Threw it all in the freezer with two more bags of sauce.

Have you tried making a big batch of cookies and rolling them up into logs? They slice real nice and make perfect cookies.

The real trick is it takes just about the same amount of time to make a batch of 8 doz or 5 gallons as it does one.


35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
For cookie dough, I roll the dough in plastic wrap or wax paper then slide it into paper towel cardboards so they freeze in that shape.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can use 12-inch sections of 2 1/2- or 3-inch PVC tubing. You get a wider cookie instead of the 1 1/4-inch cookie using a paper towel roll. The PVC tubing is also washable and reusable.

A 10-foot section of 3-inch PVC pipe should cost around $15. That will give you 10 12-inch tubes or 13 9-inch tubes.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good idea, although since the cardboard doesn't actually touch the dough you can reuse it or recycle it. I have also used other cylinder containers for cookie molds.

I have also used PVC pipe for a rolling pin on occasion! It's great for delicate dough.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am embarrassed that never occurred to me! New cookie trick.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Me either-- and I always hated that the rolls were misshapen. That would also protect them a bit more---AND easy to write what kind of dough it is. Simply brilliant.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
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