Controlling the Grocery Budget

guest author Jana Christian

Late last year, I made the difficult decision to quit my part-time job to devote more time and energy to my family who, at the time, showed signs of needing my undivided attention. So, with my husband’s encouragement, I typed up the resignation letter and, as of January 1, began a new career as a stay-at-home mom.

Suddenly, my full-time job became controlling costs and my first order of business was tackling the monthly grocery bill. This is a serious task for anyone, but as a parent of two children with potentially life-threatening food allergies, my job was even more difficult. Over the past few months, I have made vast improvements to our budget, despite my desire to maintain serving my family very high quality food. Here is some of what I have learned:

 

1. Cook at Home

I know, this is a no-brainer, but it really is worth repeating. Not only is it cheaper, it is healthier since you can control both portion sizes and quality. It doesn’t have to be gourmet; it simply needs to fulfill your basic needs. In fact, my children love “Funny Dinner” when they get to choose their own meal from what is available in the fridge. They may end up with air-popped popcorn sometimes and leftover chicken and carrot sticks, but it’s still better than fast food!

And while I’m on the topic, you can make more than just dinner in your kitchen. You could be saving hundreds of dollars a year (honestly) by making your own side dishes (oven fries are a cinch), snacks (who needs potato chips when you have homemade bagels or chocolate chip cookies?), nut butters, breakfast cereal, spice mixes, salad dressings, broth and even frozen yogurt. Since starting this cost cutting adventure several months ago, I have cut down our breakfast costs considerably by mastering the art of making bagels, waffles and muffins, granola and yogurt.

meal planning

photo credit: perspicacious

 

2. Meal Plan

There are thousands of books, websites and even entire organizations devoted to meal planning and there are as many methods to meal planning as there are families. My first introduction to meal planning was rather unsuccessful as I used a technique that was too structured for our lifestyle. Now, instead of planning a rigid calendar-based menu weeks in advance, I keep staples on hand for several quick meals (when everyone is tired and hungry) and purchase other fresh foods for more involved meals that will provide leftovers for lunches. This way, I am not frustrated when no one is in the mood for pizza or a sudden heat wave motivates me to get out of the kitchen!

 

3. Shop Smarter

Couponing has never worked for our family. Typical foods that can be purchased with a coupon are not safe for food allergies and many of them are devoid of nutritional value. In addition, the only supermarket in my area has been listed in Consumer Reports as the highest priced grocery chain in the US so I have not shopped there in years. Instead, I shop at small health food and specialty stores and remain vigilant about prices. I simply keep the cost comparison in my head, but it may be necessary to create an actual price notebook in which the product name, size and the per unit cost of the item is listed. More major companies are decreasing the amount of product in a package to help defray rising costs.

SALES/DISCOUNTS/INCENTIVES

  • I take advantage of sale items and case/bulk discounts and have been known to combine the two when the sale is good! For example, when the health food store put organic oats on sale for 79 cents a pound, I purchased an entire 25 lb. bag to take advantage of the added discount for bulk purchases.
  • Sign up for preferred customer cards if they help you earn discount coupons or other incentives.
  • Several local stores also provide motivation for bringing your own bags in the form of percentage savings off your total purchase or instant cash back.

PRIORITIZE

I keep a list of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” in my purse and purchase those items organic, but opt for conventional when purchasing produce that is rated lowest in pesticides (the “Clean 15”). Also, I keep one dozen organic eggs in the fridge at all times, but I will buy cheaper eggs for making my protein pancakes that only use the whites. I will also prioritize my organic purchases based on what my family consumes most often… my son drinks a LOT of milk so that is purchased organic, but he doesn’t eat cauliflower as often so I buy that conventional.

View over Gaias Ängar

photo credit: mattiasostmar

 

4. Get Out of the Store

Although typical CSAs (community sustained agriculture) can be pricey, there are many different options for purchasing produce directly from the farmer. Obviously, farmers markets are a viable option. We also have access to a year-round indoor/outdoor market with more than 100 vendors specializing in meats, cheeses, produce, baked goods, pasta and spices. Some vendors provide frequent shopper savings and will even email you an update on what produce will be available that week.

CO-OPs

To lower costs even more, get together with several friends and start a mini co-op by agreeing to purchase a large amount of produce directly from a farmer for a reduced rate and then splitting the bounty between participants.

Another option is purchasing from an existing cooperative. Most major cities have a freestanding cooperative store from which you can purchase all your grocery items. Invest in the cooperative financially or with volunteer hours and you can get a reduced rate. Smaller co-ops do not have the added cost of overhead, they may simply be run out of a family home, but may require more work on your part for order placement and dividing up purchased goods. Check out coopdirectory.org to see what is offered in your area or information about how to start your own.

BUYING CLUBS

Buying clubs are also growing in popularity. Generally, a group of families work together to place a large order with one of these national distributors and the completed order is then be delivered to a local drop-site or one participant’s home. There is some coordination of time and goods involved, but it can be cost effective if you do not have access to a reasonable health food store.

 

5. Don’t Waste

On average, Americans waste about one pound of food per day. Eliminate this waste and you could be saving yourself a great deal of money each month. You can cut down or even eliminate waste using several techniques:

First, use more delicate produce quickly, but keep some vegetables and fruits that can be stored for longer periods of time as well. This same concept can be applied by purchasing some produce fresh and others frozen. There is little difference in nutrient density between the two and frozen can be a better option if it is either cheaper or you know you will be unable to use up fresh fruits or vegetables before they go to waste.

If I notice I have an abundance of something (milk was on sale or the broccoli is past its prime) or need to use up a leftover (Thanksgiving turkey, anyone?), I will do an internet search for recipes using that ingredient. Allrecipes.com goes one step further by allowing you to choose the ingredients you do not want to include. This allows me to narrow my search by eliminating any recipes that include one of the potentially allergenic foods.

 

To be honest, I had no idea what my new job as stay-at-home mom would entail and how it would change my perspective on a great many parenting issues, including budgeting. I welcome you into this community of like-minded moms who share a passion for healthy eating on a budget and invite you to learn more about the topic (and yourself) every day!

natural living momsJana Christian, mother of two, recently transitioned to full-time stay-at-home mom. Her extensive knowledge about and passion for health and nutrition have helped her resolve her own personal health issues (including a life-threatening eating disorder and severe postpartum depression) and adjust her family’s diet to accommodate multiple food allergies and environmental sensitivities. Jana takes her job very seriously and can unusually either be found at the library researching new theories or in the kitchen baking bread.

 

 

How to do control your grocery budget?

*This post is linked to Frugal Friday



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This blog is for educational purposes only. The information provided by Donielle, or any contributor, is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. If you are seeking medical advice, please search out a qualified health practitioner.

About donielle

Donielle is a natural momma of two, lover of real foods, and owner and editor of Grand Rapids Natural Living and Naturally Knocked Up. You can usually find her in the kitchen whipping up some nourishing foods, cuddled on the couch reading books to the littles, avoiding the laundry and Mt. Saint Dishes, or tapping away on the laptop. Her husband puts up with her sometimes crazy "hippie" ways, but loves her regardless. Welcome to my home away from home.

Comments

  1. Hello, I am a newlywed, working full-time to put my husband through college. My mom never really cooked a whole lot and we were raised as “fast-food” kids. I am struggling, I save money when using some coupons, but usually its just the processed junk that is discounted. I have started buying in bulk from some of the members only stores, but I always feel like I didn’t plan well enough or I am missing key ingredients. I make my own yogurt, and granola, I freeze alot, but I can’t get the whole menu planning thing down, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to only have to shop once a month or even every two months. Any tips? What websites were you referring to? Any help will be appreciated!

    • @Ashley, Sounds like you have made some great changes already! I understand (and share) your frustration with bulk buying without a menu. I have a hard time accommodating everyone in my family so I tend to be real simple (baked chicken, brown rice simmered in broth, a raw veggie) although I long to use more interesting ingredients. Here are some menu planning sites to help get you started…
      http://simplemom.net/how-to-menu-plan/
      http://organizedhome.com/kitchen-tips/menu-planning-save-time-kitchen
      http://frozenassets.wordpress.com/ (once-a-month cooking)
      http://onceamonthcook.com/ (another once-a-month cooking site)
      Try and get together w/a friend and cook several meals and freeze them. It’s lots of fun, you will buy in bulk to make all the meals and you don’t have to cook during the week. I only did it once, but had a fabulous time!
      Let me know how it goes!!

    • @Ashley, I think you are on the right track. Don’t get discouraged; just keep it up!

      As for shopping once a month, I recently just started doing that. My advice? Just jump in with both feet. I only had a bare-bones weekly menu (if that) when I started, and this is the third month, and I just now put together a rough draft month’s menu. YOu will learn as you go. Already, I’ve discovered I’m able to use my grocery budget SO much more effectively by doing the majority of the shopping once a month. If you want, you can read about it on my blog.

      And Jana, great tips here! I think it’s awesome that you are able to stay home with your kids now, and that you’ve learned so much about cooking from scratch at home. Way to go!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Eating Well on a Budget – Craker touches on bulk buying and food storage (which are important to the Mormon community as well) and the joy of cooking and eating “real” foods. […]