Rule #1 : Don't ever wait until the week you're going to fix something to buy the ingredients for it. I plan out my grocery list every week in two parts. First, I go through the weekly sale papers (they come out Wednesday here) and find things that I think we might use.
(Tangent time. This point leads me to…
Rule #2: I don't care how much of a good deal you're getting on something – if you don't use it, you're wasting money. It's hard sometimes, but I only buy the things we are going to use (and have used in the past).)
The second part of my grocery list is basically “filling in the gaps.” I look through my pantry/fridge, consider the things I'm buying on sale this week, and plan out what I can make by buying the fewest ingredients.
If something isn't on sale and I absolutely have to have it, I go to Wal-Mart…nine times out of ten they are cheaper. This might mean a few stops when shopping for groceries every week, but to me it's worth it!
Rule #3: Get to know (and love) your freezer. It is extremely rare that I pay full price for any kind of meat. It's like against my religion or something. I stock up when it is on sale, put it in the freezer, and lay it out in my sink when I'm headed to work that morning. That way, it's good and thawed when I get home! I NEVER pay more than $1.99/lb for ground beef and very rarely pay more than $1.99 for boneless, skinless chicken (the way I figure it, at this price boneless, skinless is just as good of a deal as bone in, and SO much easier). You can also freeze milk, cheese, and most veggies. This is GREAT for onions…after letting several bags of onions spoil after using like 1, I got online and researched. If you chop onions and store in a gallon bag, all you have to do is pull them out and add to recipes. SO easy, and you only have to deal with chopping once every few months!
(Tangent on that – never get more than you can use in 4-6 months – it goes bad, even in the freezer, after that).
Rule #4 (the one, honestly, that I struggle with): Don't automatically assume that store brand is cheaper…you just have to be a little creative to make the name brands cheaper usually. There are probably hundreds of websites dedicated to this. The one I use is Deal Seeking Mom… they show the coupons that have come out in the last month, and link them up with sales on name brands at various stores. There are actually ways that you can make money shopping for some of these things at drug stores!
You have to be a little creative, but this can work very well if you have to have name brands for certain things. Also, make sure you compare price per ounce (NOT price) when considering store vs. name brand…they will get you with the price if they are giving you less product!
That being said, I almost always go with store brand. I've read in numerous places that store brands are usually made in the same factory, with the same quality as name brands, and just packaged differently. Canned foods, milk, baking supplies, etc. are usually the same! I just really had to try around to see what I was willing to pay more for. For example, store brand croissants are DISGUSTING…don't waste your money. You have to try these things for yourself to see what works for you and your budget!
Rule #5: Break each serving of a meal down into cost. This is how I arrive at how much I have to spend a week.
I'm a numbers girl, so this is how I do it: I budget about $1.00 per breakfast for the two of us. That doesn't sound like a lot, but considering I eat yogurt every morning (at 50 cents a cup) and Noah eats granola bars (at around $0.40 each) that usually covers it and then some! So if I want to use the $25/week thing, I just subtract 7 (for 7 days we have to eat breakfast) and that brings us to $18 left for lunch and dinner.
Well I eat a ham sandwich just about every day I am at school for lunch, and that's around 40 cents each (2 pieces of bread = 20 cents, ham = 20 cents). So that brings us down to $16. Noah usually has business lunches at least twice a week, so let's say we have to get him lunch for two days during the work week. We'll give him $2 a meal besides that, bringing us down to $14. Now the weekends, we split a big meal on Saturday (so we'll bring it down to $10) and Sunday we normally go to lunch somewhere…I don't factor our 2 restaurant meals a week into the grocery budget, so those don't count. So lunch is done!
Which brings me to Rule #6: Buy and cook in bulk. It is so much easier and almost always cheaper. I MIGHT cook twice a week for us…usually once a week. We will use what I'm cooking tonight as an example for how I budget dinner:
(This is straight from Kelly's Recipes, by the way)
Pork Tenderloin – about $4 for all of it (bought it on sale and I've had it frozen)
1/2 cup soy sauce – about 50 cents
2 oranges, juices – using leftover orange juice
1 lime, juiced – using lime juice from concentrate
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard – 5 cents
1 teaspoon ground ginger – 10 cents
1 clove garlic, crushed – 5 cents
1 tablespoon chopped scallions – 50 cents
I'm also serving this with mashed potatoes (about 75 cents for the whole thing) and green beans (about $1 for all of it). So, grand total, I'm paying $6.95 for a meal that will feed us for 5 full nights. That's 70 cents a meal!
So, out of 12 meals I have to make (not counting 1 night a week we eat restaurant), you can just about figure 12 x 70 cents is $8.40.
Leaving me $1.60 under my weekly budget. 🙂
One note about cooking in bulk – a general rule for me is I don't eat anything 5 days past when it was made. I DESPISE throwing food out, but I'd rather not puke my brains out to save a few dollars.
Now, I don't count cleaning supplies, hygiene products, paper products, etc. in that $25/week, that's strictly for food. But I've got a pretty good process going, if I do say so myself! 🙂
I have about 10 million suggestions I've racked up in my two little years of marriage, so I'm sure some of you out there have other ideas that everyone would appreciate! If you've got a really good grocery-saving idea, just leave it in the comment section!
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