Tuesday, January 10, 2012

on budgeting {2}

This is the budgeting post where I admit what we spend at the grocery store.  Usually, we're looking at around $150 per week for our family of three, spread across one large grocery shopping trip and then another one or two small supplemental trips when we realize that we are A) out of milk B) out of wine C) not in the mood for leftovers.

That means that the cost of cooking & eating food in our own home is second only to our mortgage payment in our household expenses.  We're averaging 600 bucks a month at Hannaford.  That seems like a lot, no?

Our money-saving plan in the food department began this past fall, when we put ourselves on an eat-in plan with a small weekly allowance to be spent at our discretion on splurge-y things like coffeeshops and weekend breakfasts out.  We have done pretty well at forcing ourselves to cook at home more, but we haven't done much to limit our spending at the grocery store.  We'll occasionally use coupons, but we almost never use the weekly flyer to guide our shopping choices, and we tend to buy brand name items instead of cheaper generic versions.  Here are the things we're doing differently to help cut down on the outgoing line of our budget:

* Use the sale-guide flyer.  It arrives in our mailbox every week.  There is simply no excuse not to flip through and check out what things are on sale and plan our purchases around them.

* Plan leftovers.  We're getting better at this, but we still could use some practice.  Making a bigger dish (like chili) that can be stretched into another meal (like the base for a shepherd's pie) means less work in the kitchen and less strain on our wallet.  A roasted chicken one night means potpie another night and the base for stock to make soup another night. 

* Limit indulgent items.  We buy one bottle of wine a week now, and one "treat" item to be our dessert for the week.  If we drink or eat it all at the beginning of the week, tough luck. 

* Go vegeterian once a week.  A cheaper protein source is good for your body and will cut back on the grocery bill.

* Do the work of gathering coupons you'll actually use.  I don't have any need for three packages of Dayquil, but I will sure as heck use every drop of my favorite toothpaste, so why not save a few cents when I can?  Looking around for deals on the stuff you're going to buy anyway just makes sense. 

*  Waste not, want not.  We have been guilty of overbuying produce, only to watch it wither away in the fridge because we forgot about it or simply couldn't keep up with the amount we purchased.  Find a way to use the leftover spinach and remaining pinch of cheese, and you won't see the money you spent on groceries end up in the garbage or compost bin. 

What other tips do you have for saving money at the grocery store?  We always bring a list, so random purchases aren't usually a problem for us, but I know that's always a way experts recommend you can save money.  Oh, and while we're on the subject of food, what's your favorite cheap dinner to make at home?  We're major pasta people around here, so lasagna and spaghetti are always on the regular rotation and offer the added bonus of not breaking the bank.


  1. We've cut back about 80% on our meat intake, big savings and better health..so we have eggs for dinner once a week. We make omlettes, scrambles, whatever with them and it's great because you can throw in the last bits of what you have lying around (half of a red pepper, the last of the cheese, veggies,etc) and use that stuff up too. We get our eggs at Costco: I think it's 24 brown cage free organic eggs for 5.99.

  2. +1 to Kelley's comment on having eggs. They are cheap (cheep? haha)and healthy. Planning for leftovers is a huge part of my money-saving grocery strategy. I don't really menu plan, but I will make something in advance and then eat that for lunch for 3-4 days. We eat meat at least 5 times a week, but I have managed to save significantly by marrying a hunter, and by buying a share of beef. Finally, I rarely buy anything boxed. Most weeks I spend a total of $75 on grocery items - and that includes things like vitamins and stupid $15 bottles of olive oil. Note: this does not include beer, which in my mind is not a grocery item but entertainment. The Hannaford bill is a great place to realize some savings! Hope you let us know how you make out with it in 2012.

  3. Basically everything we eat for dinner we make big enough for leftovers. Spaghetti for supper one night is my lunch at work two days later that week or for dinner two nights later. Our favorite spicy chicken dish is the same way. Scrambled eggs are a favorite for supper and tacos too. We're trying to get into more hotdish things too as those generally have enough leftovers for several meals.

    Our food budget buster is definitely eating out. Since we're sick of eating all the same things again and again, we crave breaking it up with things like pizza and dinner out. It's such a vicious cycle!

  4. This was one of my financial goals last year. I'm now spending only half of what I used to - yay! Also, one of my clients at work is a grocery website, so my head is FULL of this kind of info. Here are some important tips.

    - Always try to wait and use your coupon when the item is also on sale. This is the biggest way to save. Most items go on sale at their lowest price once every three months.

    - If possible, be flexible in your brand/item loyalty. I always used to eat a nutragrain bar in the morning but now I will eat a Fiber One or a granola bar or whatever that is similar but had a better price.

    - The sale circulars are key! A) they let you match your coupons to sales and B) you should use them to plan your meals based on what is on sale this week. Even better is if you have a store in your area that price matches. If so, they will honor the deals from other stores so you can get all the best prices at one place!

    - As far as the stocking up thing, I don't go crazy like those ladies on tv but if I know something is a really, really great price, I will get a few to hold me over until it goes on sale again.

    - Find a coupon/frugal/savings blog from your area and let them do the work for you (local is better than national because everything is SO different depending on the market). I follow one and she finds everything before I do and it is often how I hear about great sales. At first, it was also a great way to know what the really great deals were since I wasn't familiar with pricing yet.

    - OK, I could go on and on so just let me know if you have any questions...this stuff has turned into a "nerd game" for me like you mentioned in your last post, i love it! Good luck! :)

  5. Love this post... We budget 600$ a month too and I find it hard to stay on budget! (we are also a household of three). I try to weekly menu plan supper meals in order to avoid overbuying produce. I like the menu planning too because it helps with the eating out urge... There is always something to cook. We also try to go meatless one night a week. Our meatless meals is usually beans, black bean quesadillas (zucchini, spinach, cheese). Another good pasta is a vodka penne pasta sans vodka ( still good). good luck... I look forward to hearing how it goes for you. Costco always throws my budget WAY off!

  6. Our budget, just for the two of us, is a hair under $500/month. We've been trying to get the food/household amenity budget scaled back a bit, or at least not wasted. One idea we've tried is not going out (duh) and splurging on something that we might have ordered out instead - last Friday, we did lamb chops with a salad (and wine, obviously) at home for about $15. It's more 'spensive than our standard weeknight dinner fare, but way less than a comparable dinner out.

    We're trying to eat vegetarian about 30-40% of the time, which isn't as bad as it sounds: mac & cheese (which doesn't really fit the "better for you" category), tofu pot pies, ratatouille, veggie chili, gnocchi, and carrot-miso soup are on the dinner agenda for the next two week period. We haven't traditionally done a lot of meal planning, but (see above) we're starting to so that we can avoid the "want to eat the unhealthiest thing in the world AGAIN tonight?" pitfall, save money by not letting things we buy go to waste, and use the stuff that sits lonely in our cabinets waiting for us to remember that, hey, it could go in something delicious.

  7. (And I do, much to Mr. Amelia's chagrin, stock up when things we use are on sale, and try to match coupons to them - non-perishable stuff we use only, though. I'm famous in our house for knowing the lowest price/best place to buy something and saying, "No, that's not really a good price...")