See how the other 3 moms pinch a dollar til it squeals:
According to our illustrious government, the average American household consists of 2.5 people, who spend $511/month on food. That works out to just over $200/month for each person. Granted, a fair portion of this (nearly 45%) is spent eating out rather than in, but there’s a lesson there: #1 way to save on groceries: Eat in.
There are a lot of other ways that the more thrifty shoppers among us keep the food budget under control: some shop at 9 competing grocery stores; some stack coupons and deals obsessively, getting paid to shop during their best outings; some sing the merits of Angel Food Ministries; some grow enormous gardens or get free produce from the gardens and orchards of others.
For one reason or another (do you really want to hear my long list of ready excuses?) none of these are good choices for us right now. However, saving money is nearly always a good choice for a large family, and so we work to keep our food budget under control in other ways.
I shared 10 basic tips to cut your grocery bill over on Frugal Hacks, but will give you the more chatty and less formal version here and now.
I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what our household spends on groceries, since in addition to 11 people we’re also feeding 25 chickens, 2 dogs (plus 9 puppies right now!), and one very large cat. Our “food budget” also includes paper products – mainly toilet paper, and a LOT of it – personal hygiene, household items, clothes, and nearly anything that can be purchased at WalMart.
With all those disclaimers in place, my “food budget” including all of the above is $900/month. I would estimate that the actual vittles cost us $700-750/month. This is not a barebones beans-n-rice diet. We eat meat every night of the week, and we are hearty eaters. We also eat produce by the wholesale case. I usually buy over 100 lbs. of produce in a single trip. Never mind about teenage boys; try feeding a herd of hungry Coghlans for a week.
Over the years, we have developed some habits that keep the cost manageable. Some are newer habits, while others are well-established.
- Have a list, a target price and some flexibility. I know what I’m willing to pay for the items on my list, and when I find a really good sale I stock up – even if it means going over budget this week. I know I’ll save over the upcoming weeks. If I can’t find a fair price, I revise my list.
- Do your homework: I try to make sure I know the regular prices of the items I buy so I don’t get fooled by “specials” in the weekly grocery flyer.
- No prepared or highly processed foods. This year, we’ve even replaced our summertime breakfast cereals (always purchased at 10 cents/oz or less) with homemade granola. We do still stoop to the occasional case of ramen noodles, but I hardly consider them food. The kids often eat them uncooked, so they’re more like really cheap snack crackers in really fun shapes.
- Homemade bread, from fresh-ground whole wheat. Not as cheap as white bread from the store, but much more filling and nutritious, so we get more for our money.
- Cook from scratch. It’s probably a no-brainer for most of us and it overlaps a lot with #3 above, but this one alone will take you a long way. We cook our beans from scratch. We don’t buy pancake mix, cocoa mix, enchilada sauce, mac-n-cheese, cornbread mix, cake mix, canned biscuits, etc. All of these are better and cheaper made from scratch. An added bonus to cooking from scratch: we generate far less trash and my grocery shopping is greatly simplified (i.e. my list is much shorter).
- Don’t use coupons. I won’t say they’re never worth it, but in our area coupons are invariably for overpriced name brands on products that I don’t buy. “Save $1” doesn’t save me anything if it’s money I wouldn’t have spent in the first place.
- Shop wholesale. I make a trip downtown every few weeks to buy produce by the case from the local wholesale company that supplies many of the restaurants, hotels and even grocery stores in San Antonio. Many moms swear by restaurant supply stores as well. You may have similar options in your town. Ask around. Search via the web or the old fashioned yellow pages.
- Costco (or Sam’s Club). Thanks to Costco, cheese is an inexpensive source of protein in our house. We use a shocking amount. This is also where we buy yeast, spices, real butter, flour, sugar, nuts, coffee, tortilla chips, and a few other staples.
- Eggs. Another inexpensive source of protein. We have chickens now, and eat ~18-20 eggs/day. We have to buy feed for our chickens to supplement our scraps and their foraging so the eggs aren’t entirely free, but they’re cheaper, fresher and better than store-bought.
- Avoid excessive sweets. Yes, even homemade sweets can add significantly to the budget. Chocolate chips and butter, and other ingredients add up quickly and don’t provide a lot of nutrition.
- Buy the specials, especially meat. I never pay over $2/lb for meat (that’s for boneless, skinless, super lean and otherwise special stuff) and usually buy it for much less. When I find a really great deal, I buy 50-100 lbs. We eat a lot of chicken, pork and ground beef, with occasional ham, roasts, and sausages.
- Eat produce in season, and eat it abundantly. I used to think that produce was expensive, but I’ve learned that’s not necessarily true. We buy what’s cheap, not just whatever sounds good or looks appetizing today. This may occasionally mean our only fruit is bananas or but we have plenty of variety over the course of the year. Our salads one week may have little more than greens and red cabbage, but the next week we will have a veggie tray every night because something came into season.
- Buy in bulk – but always with caution, watching the unit price so I don’t get fooled by a big package that ends up costing more per ounce than 4 small ones.
There. A baker’s dozen of tips for saving money in the kitchen. Appropriate, don’t you think? What would you add?
Upcoming topics for 4 Moms 35 Kids
- April 8 Menu planning/shopping
- April 15 Cooking from scratch – what you make from scratch and how you get it all done
- April 22 Recipe swap – We’ll all post a couple of our favorite, budget friendly, feed a crowd recipes and a Mr. Linky so that readers can participate by contributing their own recipes. When you share your link on one of our blogs, it will show up on all 4! How fun is that?!