by Mama Hippo A friend of mine sent me this in an email recently. She's a big Dave Ramsey follower, and she found this on one of the message boards on his website, posted by the username Kvarady. I know I won't follow all of these tips (we try to avoid processed foods for the most part, but just aren't 100% from-scratch type of cooks), and there are a few big things that didn't get a mention (meat is expensive-- you can get your protein from other, cheaper sources like beans). But all in all, I'd say this is a great list of tips for those who're looking for ways to be a bit more economical at the grocery store right now:
Everyone is looking for ways to save money.Consumable items are one of the most obvious areas of savings. I amoften asked how we manage to keep our grocery budget low, and the tipsbelow will help you find ways to slice your grocery bill by at least 20percent.
Plan a Menu
Write the menuon the family calendar that has everything else on it. The activitieslisted on this calendar will trigger your thoughts on who will beavailable for each day's meals. It will also highlight crunch days soyou can plan accordingly. Days where you are running kids around afterschool or work may require a slow cooker meal. The family calendarhelps you recognize these days and plan accordingly. One key elementfor saving the 20% is to use your favorite store's sales flier whenplanning the menu which leads me to the next item.
Shop the Sales
Ifyou do not get the weekly sales flier delivered, look online. I reviewour store's flier on the web each week. Plan your menu around the meatsand produce that are on sale that week. If there is a particularly goodsale item that you use often make a note to stock up on it. Over time,you get a general feel for how much of one item you might need beforethe next sale. Many areas repeat sales every twelve weeks. I find thatcertain items go on sale much more frequently. I am fairly aware of howoften the sales come around for my most commonly used ingredients. Inmy house, this week's menu will have sale items from both last week'sand this week's ads. If ground beef family packs are at a super lowprice, you can stock up and use it for several weeks. I generally bringthe sales flier to the dinner table one night and mention the meats andproduce on sale. I ask family members what sounds good to them and getother requests for the grocery list. Make your menu from the salesflier and then make your grocery list using both the menu and the salesflier.
Buy Only What You Need
I makemy grocery list on business reply envelopes from junk mail inserts. Itprovides a place for the coupons and cash. We all know that you aresupposed to make a list and stick to it. That is impossible for me butnot impossible for my husband. I am the family cook so when I gothrough the store, I end up spending more. Sure, I might pick up anitem or two that should have been on the list, but the reality is that Ipick up a lot of things that we really do not need. So, my husbandtakes the list, shops only the list and comes home with whatever is onthe list. I chuckle as I write this because it is important to notethat he calls me at least twice during every grocery excursion. Ifeveryone is agreeable, give this chore to the one who is most likely tospend the least.
Cook from Scratch
Thereare those who are clueless on how to cook from scratch and know it,there are those who think they are scratch cooks, and finally, thereare those who really are scratch cooks. I ask people to check theirpantries and refrigerators to determine which kind of cook they are.True scratch cooks usually don't have a lot of the following:
- Boxed mixes such as pancake mix, brownie mix, cake mix, seasoned noodle mixes, seasoned rice mixes, and muffin mixes
- Jarred items such as meat marinades, pasta sauces, cheese sauces/dips, and salad dressings
- Packet mixes such as taco seasoning, gravy packets, and soup packets
- Bottles of iced tea, sports drinks, chocolate milk, and sweet drinks
- Cans of soup, enchilada sauces, chili, ready-made pasta dishes, and spaghetti sauce.
Ifyou routinely buy a lot of the items above, that isn't scratch cooking.Scratch cooking is making nacho cheese sauce using a basic white sauceand cheese. Scratch cooking is making pancakes and muffins using flour,sugar, milk, oil and eggs. Scratch cooking means making gravy from pandrippings, taco seasoning from spices kept on hand, and iced tea byboiling tea bags in water. Scratch cooks make their own chili and a lotof their own soups. Scratch cooks use basic brown or white rice andseason it accordingly. I do not wish to imply that scratch cooking isnecessarily the best way to cook, but it certainly is the cheapest wayto cook. Most scratch cooks have their favorite packets, boxes andjars, but for the most part, you won't find their pantry full of them.
Ifyou realize that maybe you are not a scratch cook, there are all sortsof websites and cookbooks that can help you become one. It is veryrewarding because it allows you to have more control over the qualityof food you serve your family in addition to saving money. If youchoose not to be a scratch cook, make note of the prepared items youbuy regularly and know what the rock bottom prices are for them and tryto buy them at those prices.
Clean Like Grandma Did
Cleaningsupplies has gotten very fancy and very disposable. It is also veryexpensive. Think about how your grandmother cleaned windows. Sheprobably used basic ingredients like ammonia, vinegar and water. Sheprobably used old newspapers to wash her windows. Take a hard look atyour cleaning supplies and see how it compares to Grandma's. Is yourglass cleaner now a pack of wipes rather than an off brand bottle thatrequires a rag? Is your furniture cleaner now a wipe? Does your dusterand toilet brush now require disposable replacements? These things arevery convenient but add greatly to the grocery bill. My cleaningsupplies consist of some very basic items such as ammonia, bleach,soap, and lots of rags made from old t-shirts, towels and sheets. Whenyou wish to save money in any area, consider how grandma handled it.
Prepare for Tomorrow's Meal Tonight
Thissuggestion came from a frugality book I read several years ago. Thisalone saves our family about $100 a month. I know from personalexperience that one of the hardest things to do at the end of a busyworkday is to come home and cook dinner. Regardless of our vocations,we family cooks are busy all day. Thinking ahead by one day can saveyour family hundreds of dollars a year by avoiding fast food andrestaurant meals. When I think ahead by one day, it almost guaranteeswe will eat at home the next day instead of heading to a restaurant.How many times have you eaten out because you forgot to thaw the meat?When cooking and cleaning up dinner tonight, take some steps to preparetomorrow night's meal. Check the menu, verify you have the ingredients,gather the ingredients and place them front and center on the counteror on a shelf, and pull out the meat to thaw.
If you are going to usethe slow cooker, put all the ingredients in the crock and place it inthe fridge. If you need another family member to start the processbefore you get home tomorrow night, put up the reminder sticky notetonight. If you need to marinate meat, whip up the marinade tonight andput a note on the garage door or fridge to remind yourself to pour themarinade over the meat in the morning. Also take the time to packtomorrow's lunches for those who need one. My husband and teens cleanup so I am free to work on these other things while they are busy. Anice benefit is that we are all in the kitchen after dinner stillspending family time together. This simple change in habit of startingthe process the night before saves us a minimum of $40 a week becauseit stops us from eating out.
Put Smorgasbord Night on the Menu
Thisrepresents one of those things I thought everyone did and was surprisedto learn otherwise. Smorgasbord night is our term for using leftovers.It is best understood if I describe a typical night. The night beforegrocery shopping day, I will do smorgasbord night. What I do isinventory everything we have not eaten during the week. I make aspecial effort to use anything that has a short life span. I generallydisplay all the smorgasbord items on a big white platter or largecutting board for appeal.
Here is how it works. One or two leftoverpieces of pizza get cut into bite-sized pieces, heated, and placed onthe platter. Remaining fruit gets cut into wedges or bite sized piecesand added to the platter. Enough deli turkey for one sandwich will getmade into a sandwich, cut into wedges, and added to the platter. Rawvegetables are added. Sometimes I have some ingredients I can pulltogether from leftovers to make a wrap or a quesadilla. I will pullthose together, cut them into smaller portions and add them to theplatter. I use party toothpicks on some items like wraps to keep themtogether or on chunks of pineapple or other fruit for easy handling.Even an extra piece of lasagna or an extra burrito will get warmed andcut into smaller portions. Each family member gets a variety of foodand walks away from the table feeling satisfied. I get the satisfactionof a cleaned out fridge and the good feeling of making sure we use upthe food before bringing in more food.
Make Do with What You Have
Iinitiated a $25 a week grocery challenge to some members last year. Thegoal for each family who took the challenge was to commit to cuttingtheir grocery bill to $25 a week to buy bread, milk and perishables sowe could use up what we had. The challenge forced us to make our ownchicken broth, it forced us to use up some unusual grains we bought forspecial recipes, it forced us to get very creative with our cooking andto try new things. About a dozen took the challenge and the reality wasthat several of us felt like our food was multiplying.
I found amystery grain in my cupboard and after figuring out what it was(bulgur), cooked it like rice and now we know my family likes it betterthan rice. I started making chicken broth from scratch again bythrowing the bones into a crock full of water with celery ends, onionends, a clove of garlic and some pepper. I let it cook all night, turnit off in the morning and allow it to cool. Strain it and place thebroth in container to freeze. Several of us made it 7 weeks spending75% less than what we would normally spend.
Save Bits and Pieces
Ikeep two containers in my freezer, one for beef based items and one forchicken based items. A small portion of beef roast left, it gets cutinto soup or stew sized pieces and goes into the container. Six greenbeans left, they go into a container. A little dab of onion goes intothe container. A small bit of gravy goes into the container. When thecontainer is a little over half full, I make soup with it. Did you knowthat leftover mashed potatoes make terrific potatoes soup the nextnight?
Take a Trash Inventory
Analyzeyour trash and see if what you are throwing away tells you something.Are you throwing away Ziploc bags instead of rewashing and reusing? Areyou throwing out beef or chicken bones before using them to make broth?Are there a lot of paper towels going into the trash instead of usingdishrags and cloth towels? When you throw away an old t-shirt, do youcut it up into rags and only throw away the unusable parts? Are youthrowing away the heels of bread instead of saving them up and makinghomemade croutons, using them for French onion soup, or your ownItalian bread crumb mix? I dust my house with old gym socks. I put themon both hands and go through with my spray and do double handeddusting. There is a lot of money in that trash can if you look at itwith the right thought process.
The Art of Leftovers
Idon't know if everyone's family is like mine but no one in my house(except me) will actually open the lid of a plastic container to seewhat is inside it. That is where most of my food waste use to occur.These days, if I have enough roast beef and mashed potatoes left overfor someone to have for lunch, I arrange it on a plate. I will put thegravy in a small glass bowl on the same plate. Then I will wrap theplate up with plastic wrap and set it on a shelf in the fridge. If I dothis, DH will actually grab the plate and heat it up for lunch. I willoften make a platter of fruits and veggies and do the same thing. Ifind that if I make the food look appealing and set it where it can beseen, it will actually get eaten and I have less waste. When the kidswere younger, I would pull the platter of fruits and veggies out of thefridge right after school. I would add crackers and pb or cheese andmaybe a couple of cookies. Since they were always starving afterschool, it was a great time to get them to eat some fruits and veggies.After school, I think they would have eaten cardboard if I arranged itartfully enough.
Learn to Pull a Meal Out of Thin Air
Youlook in the fridge and there doesn't seem to be much there. This iswhere creativity kicks in. I can usually pull together a fried ricedish or a quesadilla with just about anything. A little chicken or beefcan easily turn into chicken or beef fried rice. Chopped carrots,chopped onion, chopped celery, a florret to broccoli chopped, one eggand the little bit of meat, an egg and some soy sauce can easily becomean entree. Some tomato paste, dried herbs, chopped garlic and onion canbecome pizza sauce. Flour, water, sugar and yeast can become pizzacrust. Greens such as fresh basil or some spinach and some cheese canbecome the toppings. Cheese, spinach, peppers, and onions and a littleleftover chicken often become quesadillas for us. Cream cheese mixedwith herbs and garlic can be spread on bagels or crackers served alongwith the remaining fruits or veggies to become a lighter meal. Thinkabout some of the appetizers you see on restaurant menus and try toduplicate them as a lighter meal.
Learn to Say NO to Overconsumption
Mybrother was complaining a couple weeks ago that his family goes through4 gallons of milk a week. I just looked at him and said, "So stop itand don't buy 4 gallons. Only buy 2 and see if they still survive. Iguarantee they will." He said he never says NO to milk. I disagreewholeheartedly. Just because they will consume it doesn't mean you areobligated to provide it to the saturation point. The nutritional needsAND the family budget need to be balanced. In our house, if we are outof milk, that means we are out of milk until shopping day. It taughtour kids to ration things out a bit and to not be gluttonous aboutconsuming all they wanted. If your kids can holler, "Mom, we are out ofmilk," and you replace it within 24 hours, you might considerevaluating consumption habits. Allowing family members to think theycan consume from a limitless well is both expensive and leads to badeating habits.
The point of this post is tothink a few years back and consider how your grandmother would manageher household. As you get ready to pull an item off the shelf, askyourself if your grandmother would have bought that item. If not, whatwould she have used instead? Bets are it is a lot cheaper than what youare about to buy.
Do you follow any of these tips? Do you have any tips on how to save on your grocery bill?