Part of my job is staying within our grocery budget, while that isn’t always easy there are a few things I use to assist me.
- Have a Meal Plan
- Create a Shopping List
- Cook in bulk and use the freezer
- Work the sales (can relate directly to #3)
There are groceries that every family uses often. For example, my husband loves a particular kind of whole grain loaves of bread, we also used canned tomatoes in a lot of recipes. We watch these items and when they go on sale, on a GREAT sale, we stock up. You should be watching the prices regularly to know what a great sale is. For example a $1 off a loaf of the bread we get is okay, but 50% off is great. When this happens we typically buy 5-10 loaves. When Cheerios get down to a certain price we buy everything on the shelf.
How do I know what a good price is?
If you do the grocery shopping regularly, start looking at the prices and keep a mental note. If you want to get really good at tracking prices you could write them down, but that would really be a time investment, and time is money. As long as you know how much they generally go on sale that should be enough. When you see the prices drop lower than that, stock up.
What items should I look for?
I would recommend only doing this for items you use regularly and items you know how to store long term. For example, we use Tahini for making hummus, but I sure don’t use it regularly enough to buy 10 bottles when it goes on sale. Here are items we commonly buy in bulk when on sale:
- Bread (freeze)
- Shredded Cheese (freeze)
- Fresh Fruit (Chop and freeze for smoothies)
- Meats (cook and freeze or freeze individually raw)
- Any shelf stable item that you use regularly (i.e. chopped tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, beans, cheerios, pastas, rice, flour, grains etc.)
How often should I do this?
We leave enough margin in our budget that I can get what is on my list and stock up on anything on sale. The number one way to save money is to make a budget and STAY ON BUDGET, so if you haven’t put any margin in your budget, either up your budget OR cut back on other items so you can stock up when items go on sale. The goal is to never pay full price for items that regularly or occasionally go on sale.
I do not watch sale flyers or go to the store often enough to hit EVERY sale. The amount of time I would have to put in is not worth it to me. If you want to do that, great, you will be even more efficient. If not, just make sure you have enough extra to last a couple sale cycles. Then when you start to get low watch for another sale.
What to do with all your extra food
If you are buying extra food from sales or bulk buying you need to know how to organize it. You aren’t saving money if you end up throwing extra food out.
When buying shelf stable items make sure you put the new items in the back and the older items in the front. If you are really worried about the expiration date, check it and pull out the items near date to plan in your menu for the week.
Fruits and Veggies:
Many fruits and veggies do great for me in the fridge for 2+ weeks, some (like berries) don’t last long though. Also, if you are not eating up your veggies you may consider using canned or frozen veggies. Veggies loose nutrients as they sit on the shelf.
Plan to use up the ripe fruit and veggies soon by setting them in a special location. Also, when I buy fruit on sale I buy it in a variety of stages and ripen it at home. Many fruits can be ripened by setting them out on the counter or in a fruit bowl. Fruits I don’t plan on eating in a day or two go straight in the fridge. Any fruit that is great in smoothies is chopped (when ripe), placed in a freezer bag, labeled, and stuck in the freezer.
Veggies that are near their end date are also chopped, placed in a freezer bag, labeled and frozen. These veggies are great for recipes that call for them. However, they will not taste good raw, freezing the veggies changes their texture.
I do not stock up on yogurts or milks etc. unless I know I will eat them by the expiration date; these do not freeze well since their texture and consistency change. If you plan to use them in baking or other recipes though, freezing may work great.
I do freeze extra butter, margarine, and shredded cheese. If you buy block cheese, shred it before freezing, it may freeze in a clump, but it will separate when it thaws. Freezing a solid chunk of cheese results in it crumbling when thawing.
I freeze breads in the manufacturer bag for up to 2 months. If left too long these breads can have freezer burn, especially buns! If you have a smaller family, it may be best to freeze these in smaller packages so you don’t have to thaw a whole bag of 8 buns for 2 people.
You should NEVER EVER EVER buy meat at full price! Depending on the kind of meat, it freezes for 6-12 months (okay, bacon doesn’t freeze that long, but who can wait that long to eat bacon anyway?). You have 2 storage options:
- Cook the meat: I have many recipes that call for cooked meat (i.e. enchiladas, spaghetti), it saves so much time when I can just pull out a pound of already browned ground beef and pop it in the sauce. I will often brown 10 pounds of ground beef at a time and then package it in 1 pound sections in a freezer safe bag, label, and freeze. I will also grill or roast multiple chicken breasts, package, label, and freeze. For the chicken, I generally chop, shred or slice it when I am making the recipe.
- Freeze it raw: I have many recipes that call for raw meat, so I make sure I ALWAYS have this on hand. Many meat counters at the store will individually wrap meat in portions you prefer for the freezer, then when you get home, just pop them in the freezer and you are done! If you prefer to wrap them yourself (why would you?), then you will need freezer safe storage bags (i.e. Ziploc) and a permanent marker to label each bag.