With food costs rising, even normally frugal families are feeling the pinch. Parents with small families are finding a hard time controlling their grocery budgets. What happens when you have a crew of 6 or 10 to feed? While food is a necessity, and rising food costs are going to hit everyone, there are ways to survive. Below are some tips to help feed your family without breaking the bank.|
BEFORE YOU GO
Real savings take some planning. A little prep-work can save you lots in the end.
- Take Stock - There's nothing that cuts into a budget more than buying something you don't need. I can't tell you how many times I've heard we were out of ketchup, only to learn that after I bought 3 bottles, there were 3 more in the cupboard. Sure, we'll use it, but when you are counting pennies, it can make an impact. So, take the time and take a full inventory of the food in your house. Make sure you refer to it when making your shopping list.
- Make A List...And Stick To It This is probably the number one mantra of food savings. If you want to save money at the check-out line, your best bet is to walk into the store with a list and a gameplan. Plan your meals out ahead of time, make a detailed list based on your meal choices, and then stick to it. The idea of a gameplan is that you should be flexible. If you are planning on having meatloaf on Monday but see a great deal on chicken breasts, go with that instead.
- Sales Papers - Check out the local paper to see what's on sale at your local grocer. If you don't get the paper, check online. Many stores have websites which feature their flyers, as well as unadvertised savings. If they have a mailing list, sign-up for special email coupons and savings.
- Plan Your Meals - As with anything in life, in order to save time, and money, it's best to be organized. Make a meal plan and stick to it. Build your meals around the items you have on hand, as well as taking into account store sales and coupons. Be sure to add some "emergency" meals to the list--those quick dishes you can make in a flash when you find you don't have time to make what is on the menu but want to avoid the take-out window.
- Couponing. Coupons can save you a ton of money. If you are really serious, and have the time, you can see big saving, including getting items for mere pennies or free. There are many online communities and sites where you can print coupons, trade coupons with others, find out about secret sales and more. Even if you find that shopping at discount stores and buying off-brand save you more, don't rule out coupons all-together. Grabbing some for items you buy on occasion is still good sense. Saving .50 or $1.00 is worth the bit of additional effort.
WHERE TO GO
In a perfect world you could make one stop and get a great deal on everything on your grocery list. Unfortunately in these tight times, that's not the case. Here's some shopping alternatives that may help you:
- Discount Grocers: To fill the growing need and demand, many discount grocery stores are opening. They offer prices 10-30% below regular retail. Now, many of these stores hold back on amenities in order to offer such prices, which means you may have to bag your own groceries or forego the carry-out service. But it's a small price to pay for the savings. If you don't live near one of these stores, you have to consider the expense of time and money to travel to the nearest location. If you can save a substantial amount, however, it may be worth it. We used to have a discount grocer that was 30 minutes from our house. In order to maximize our savings, but minimize the aggravation of the travel, we went shopping there once a month and then did filler shopping at our local stores in-between.
- Vegetable Stands: Be sure to visit your local vegetable stand, farmer's market, or other fresh produce store. Prices can be far cheaper than the same produce at your chain grocer, and in many instances the quality and freshness is better too.
- Food Co-Ops and Local Programs. Consider joining a food co-op. For a monthly or yearly cost, you will be able to join with others in power-buying of products, which will allow you to purchase items at reduced costs. Also, many schools and churches have programs where you can purchase food "packages" at reduced prices.
- Shop the Grocery Aisle. I was amazed to find that my local dollar store had a grocery aisle. While I couldn't do all of my shopping there, I was able to stock up on canned goods and snacks at a fraction of what I pay even at the discount grocery store. We all know Walmart has food aisles, but in an effort to be a "one-stop-shop" many other stores, including home improvement stores, are carrying edibles and perishables. While it may be a pain making stops at 2-3 stores for your regular shopping trip, if it can save you 20-30% off your total bill, it's far worth it.
When shopping, keep these tips in mind to help maximize your dollars and cents.
- Stick to Sales. While there are many products you will need week to week, regardless of the price, you'll find there are many others that you can wait to buy until they are on sale. The key is to plan ahead. If it takes 4 boxes of macaroni and cheese to feed your family, then the next time there is a sale on your favorite brand, buy 12 boxes. This will give you 3 meal's worth. Assuming you eat it once a week or so, stocking up in that manner should allow you to coast until your store offers it again on sale. Also, watch the trend in sales. Most stores put their products on sale periodically. Usually every 2-6 weeks. If you have a good idea of the cycle of sales, it can help you plan out when buying ahead.
- Off-Brands. Remember the old generic brands? Stark white labels with bold black print? Well, that's not how it is nowadays. Generic and store brands come in appealing colors, and quite often are made by the same companies the name brands are. Now, there are going to be some things your family won't take an imitation of. If your kids love the Kraft Mac&Cheese, then focus your extra budget on that, but trim it by buying store brand spaghetti sauce, canned veggies, etc.
- Eliminate Mid-Week Runs. You know the deal. You're out of mustard, so you run to the store to get some, and end up walking out with $20 in groceries. For a $200 a week budget, that's 10% right there! Running out to the store to grab something is one of the biggest grocery potholes. The key is to plan, and if you run out of it, work around it. That said, there are sometimes you can't get around it. Particularly large families who have a limited amount of space, it's necessary to go to the store every few days for milk or bread. If you have to go, make a list and stick to it. Minimize or eliminate the extras.
- Shop Bi-Weekly, or Monthly. While it is sometimes necessary to make weekly grocery trips dues to finances and space, shifting to a bi-weekly or monthly shopping schedule can help save in the long-run. Going on the philosophy of the mid-week run, the more times you go to the store, the more opportunities there are to buy extras. Shopping bi-weekly does take a bit more discipline in that it is a much longer trip, and you're going to end up with more groceries to put up. But, the idea of not having to do it again for another couple of weeks is appealing. Note, if you choose to shop this way, you will have to prepare to make mini-runs in the interim. Just stick to your guns, and your list, and only purchase the things you can't live without until your next big trip.
- Keep a Running Total - One of the biggest ways to go over budget is not to know how much you are spending in the first place. My husband and I just do the rounding thing, meaning we keep a running total in our heads by rounding up the cost of each item. Meaning if we grab a can of dog food that is $1.89, we add $2 to the total. You can do this, or better yet take a calculator with you and punch in the items as you add them to the cart. Remember to factor in sales tax at the end (if your state/country charges it) so you have a good final total.
- Buy in Bulk. This is pretty much a given for large families, but it can't be stressed enough. Buying in quantities is cheaper. While warehouse stores offer large-sized items, many regular grocery stores have aisle devoted to restaurant-sized food items, so make sure to check it out.
Things you do in the kitchen every day can help trim the bottom line on your grocery bill.
- Stock Your Freezer. Once a month cooking is an amazing way to save money. By cooking in large quanties and portioning the food out over a period of time, you can make meals for mere pennies. If you don't have the time to do marathon cooking, try once a week cooking. I used to put aside several hours every Sunday to make meals for the following week. It not only saved me money, but help tremendously time-wise during the week. If you can't manage that, an even easier way to stock up is to double your meals. If you're making a casserole for dinner tonight, double it and freeze one.
- Stretch It Out. Okay, when you are a real pinch budget-wise, stretching the food, as well as the dollar, is important. Casseroles and mix-ins can help get maximum mileage out of small amounts of meat. Instead of focusing on a main dish (usually meat), work up the sides and offer a couple of choices such as mashed potatoes and noodles, and offer a small portion of the main dish. Canned veggies may not be your first choice, but you can generally get more for your money than fresh. It's great when you can find deals on food you normally eat, but during the times you can't, or when money is particularly tight, this can really help.
- Think Mini-Meals. Pancakes are relatively inexpensive, and it's perfectly okay to have them for dinner. A bag of nacho chips, a couple of cans of refried beans, and some cheddar cheese may not be the perfect meal, but it will fill everyone up and can make a quick and easy meal that's inexpensive. Remember, you're not doing this every night, but doing it once or twice a week is not only fun for the kids, but will help stretch those grocery dollars.
- Dress It Up. Sometimes the thought of quick and cheap grocery store fare is not something you are looking forward to. But what if you can find processed chicken nuggets or store-brand frozen pizzas at rock-bottom prices? Don't be afraid to dress your food up. Chicken nuggets with fresh vegetables, rice and some jarred (or homemade) sauce can make a great and relatively healthy sweet & sour chicken. Buy frozen pizza and add your own toppings, like veggies and meats and extra cheese, and you have a great meal at a fraction of the cost of take-out. For more examples on this, check out this entry on the Family.com blog.
- Make It From Scratch. This may sound scary to some, but making from scratch can save big in the long run. I think when most people think of cooking from scratch, they imagine the women from days past, with their apron on, working all day in the kitchen. While there are some moms who do that, from-scratch cooking doesn't have to be that way, and you can still make homemade items in a minimal amount of time. Also, from scratch has varying levels, and doesn't have to mean everything. You can make homemade biscuits and use store-bought jam. Hamburger Helper is easy to make at home using regular egg noodles and a from-scratch sauce. Actually, with a little practice (and help from Google) you can find out how to make most of your store-bought favorites at home for far cheaper.
- Eat Less. Now, this is not meant to be sarcastic or funny at all. It's being realistic. As a country, we are generally over-eaters. We serve far larger portions than we need to. While you never want to limit the food a child eats, you can limit what they over-eat. Use this as an impetus to focus on health. Skip that second serving. Take a smaller first helping. Your health will benefit, as will your pocketbook.