frugal friday: groceries

hello all. i've been thinking about it, and i think i'm going to start doing weekly posts about my favorite thing - saving money. this week: grocery basics. i've found that implementing just a few basic things can really save a lot of money in the long run. while i kind of go all-out in my grocery shopping attempts, i think if i only implemented a few basic principles that would save the most time and money overall, they would be the following:

1. menu plan. i put together a monthly menu plan (dinners only), but you could even do a weekly or bi-weekly plan. you could plan a dinner for each specific day (i.e., lasagna monday, salmon tuesday, etc.) or you could just plan seven different meals for the week, then decide each day which one you want to make.

i find this saves a bunch of money because i buy "focused ingredients" - stuff that i know i'll use and i know will actually provide me with everything i need to make a given meal. i can also schedule things like BLTs and tacos together because they both use lettuce and tomato, so I know I'll use these things before they go bad.

you can plan your meals based around stuff you already have and then fill in the holes. you could also plan them based on the sale ads from your cheapest grocery store (if you're only going to one store). i try to plan meals with simple ingredients - the higher the number or more expensive/unusual the ingredients, the higher your grocery bill will be. use your menu plan to help you create your shopping list.

2. take a list. i put together my grocery list based on my menu plan as well as the dry-erase list we keep on the fridge of anything we run out of or would like to get this week. i try to never get anything that isn't on the list, although i might just put "snacks" or "fruit" or even "impulse" on it, then decide exactly what i want once i'm at the store.

3. estimate and take cash. once i put together my list, i estimate how much it will cost. i know that milk is 2.50 at ALDI, so i write that next to "milk" on my list. then i add all my estimates up to see about how much my shopping trip will cost. because we limit ourselves to $80 every two weeks, if my estimate goes over this, i figure out what on my list isn't absolutely necessary, or i plan in a cheaper meal to get the cost to fit into what we've budgeted.

take cash! take cash! take cash! if there's one thing that i think will help more than anything else, it's this. i think it's really easy (for me, at least) to spend a little more than i had wanted if it's coming from our debit card/checking account, but if i take cash there is an absolute limit to what i can spend. it forces me to look for better deals and keep track of how much i'm spending as i go so that i don't get to the line and find out i have to put something back (i try to avoid this at all costs by adding up the total in my head or on a calculator). so, once you've figured out your estimate, take cash based on this amount (i sometimes add a couple bucks to the total, just in case something is more expensive than i thought, or there's a really great deal on something i don't have on the list, or there's something i forgot to add to the list.)

4. double the time between trips. if you currently go twice a week, try to stretch it to once. if you go once a week, try to stretch it to once every two weeks. and try and plan for anything you'd make a special trip for - milk, bread, etc. - and get enough to last you the whole time. that way you won't find yourself at the grocery store after work to pick up a gallon of milk, hungry and rushed, and end up buying more than you had planned or getting something different for dinner than you had planned for.

5. buy cheaper proteins. protein is usually the biggest part of most grocery budgets because it tends to be pretty expensive. ground beef is cheaper than steak, white meat chicken is cheaper still, ground turkey (from ALDI) is cheaper still, dark meat or bone-in chicken is cheaper still, eggs are cheaper still, beans are cheaper still, etc. while cheese and dairy can be somewhat expensive, pound-for-pound they go farther than meat, as do beans, which means they can actually cost less in terms of how much an entire meal costs. get creative with meals to stretch your protein as far as it will go. also, fruits and veggies are cheaper per pound than most proteins, so if you can include more of these and less protein, it will be even cheaper. (most americans get WAYYYY more protein than necessary, so cutting back won't be a negative step nutritionally.)

see, nothing too involved or anything. while meal planning and list writing take time, i like to look at it like this: if it helps you double the time between grocery trips, it actually saves you time, since you won't spend as much time at the grocery store. also, i like to think of it more like earning money: if an extra hour of planning every two weeks saves me $40 each shopping trip, that's like $40/hr. sweet gig.


Anastasia said...

what a great summary of how to save money with food! My favorite way of stretching ground beef is to add reconstituted TVP (soy). You can also add cooked brown lentils to spaghetti sauce to get cheaper-than-meat protein and substance. Eating more legumes and less meat is better for the world as a whole, too--beans provide food lots more efficiently than cows.

whenjeskasparks said...

when i get married, (and preggers) i am going to pay you $15/hr to help me make a family binder and help me set up all this family jazz.
you are a pro.

love you!

allison said...

i cannot wait until you spill all your secrets about how to save with coupons.