Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How I Tame the Grocery Beast

Instead of just giving you and update on how I'm doing with my grocery budget, I thought I'd share a little bit about how I (try) and stay under our "magic number".

Taming the grocery budget beast is a constant challenge for me. Every family has priorities about where to spend and where to save. For us, we've chosen to eat as many whole foods a possible, eat only organic meat, milk and eggs, and try to buy organic produce as well. If you're in the same boat you've probably already noticed that most coupons/great deals are for processed foods and name brand items, which means getting a little more creative to find savings.

-I plan my weekly menu ahead of time: first based on what's in my freezer and pantry and second what's on sale that week. My average savings using just this method? At least 30%. As a bonus, I always know what we're eating for lunch/dinner and don't have to scramble at the last minute. I can also easily switch things around to accommodate guests. When I don't do this, I find dinner time much more stressful.

-I clip coupons for anything we regularly use and try to combine using the coupon with the product being on sale. Typically, for reasons I already mentioned, this doesn't end up saving me much, but still, even getting an extra 10% off isn't bad.

-I use store brand products unless the coupon/sale combo is cheaper or, rarely, because I've tried the store brand and know it's gross so I buy the name brand. This savings is hard to track, but I once read an article where a woman bought everything store brand one trip and the exact same things name brand w/ coupons the next and just subbing the store brand saved more money.

-I buy organic meat only when it is on the deepest sale the store offers. Then I stock my freezer and use my supply until the next sale. If we run out before then, we eat vegetarian, which is something we do 2-3 nights a week anyway.

-When I do cook with meat, I tend to make recipes like stews, casseroles, stir frys, etc. that allow me to stretch the meat by mixing it with lots of other ingredients. 2 chicken breast halves can last us 4 meals instead of 2 and still leave everyone nice and full.

So how am I doing on meeting my goal this month? Eh, I'd like to be doing better. We are just over half way through the month, but I am way more than half way through my grocery budget. My freezer is however, full of meat, so I still think staying under is totally do-able.

Part of the reason I'm struggling to stay under more this year than last is I've been trying to buy the produce that made the "dirty dozen" list organically(http://organic.lovetoknow.com/Dirty_Dozen_Organic_Foods). In the past I've only bought organic produce if it was on deep sale. I'm still only buying the least expensive and most seasonal fruits and veggies, but it does add up! I'm definitely looking forward to a back yard garden in summer 2012.


The Vogt Family said...

Go Sarah! I do a lot of couponing as well, but you're right that it does tend to be more for the processed not-so-good-for-you junk that there are coupons/deals available. I can hardly ever find deals on organic meat or produce which leads me to ask where you shop. There is a Whole Foods (relatively) close to me - about a 20 minute drive - but I'm just not familiar with their deals/sales. I've heard great things about Farmer's Markets as well, but just can't find a good one here in Orlando. At one I tried talking to the guy about where the produce was grown and he answered "Brazil." It was priced the same as Publix so it made me question the extra time spent going to the market. :/

Goat mom said...

Do I recognise those tomato plants?? I love that your as passionate about good food, if less militant than your Mom. All this early organisation and family management will pay off as your family and the demands on your time grow.

Sarah_Joy said...

Mom- You do indeed recognize those plants. I doubt my garden will ever compare to yours!

Right now I just shop at Publix, in PA the store is called Giant and the prices on organics are quite similar (ie: expensive). I need to check our farmers market when I return.

For now though, I just waited until I learned the "bottom" price and that's when I buy. I've also found buying a whole organic chicken, cooking it in the crock pot and using the shredded meat is the cheapest way to go. I use it in soups, casseroles, etc. The crock pot makes it so easy. Also you can freeze the juice it puts off and use it as stock for soup later. I post the recipe I use on the blog later this week.

If I'm going to buy a smaller piece of chicken I always buy breasts, cutlets and tenders are more expensive. Target has the cheapest free range eggs (in PA there are farms everywhere where I can get them even cheaper, miss that!). Publix gallons of organic milk are the cheapest I've found so far and produce is just expensive which is why I focus on the dirty dozen only and am looking forward to that garden!

Also, publix doesn't advertise all it's organic deals so I always walk by when I'm there. It's usually feast or famine though (all on sale, or nothing) which is a pain with limited freezer space.

I wish I had better news about affordability. I've been moving in this direction in small steps. And though my budget hasn't changed, my creativity has. Although, I am starting to hit the wall where no amount of creativity is changing those numbers! *sigh*