Thursday, October 31, 2013

Groceries on $30 A Week?

      You bet.

I saw a post recently on MoneySaving Mom that brought back old memories --

Can you make it on a $30-per-week grocery budget? 

 The answer: yes...but you're going to have to make some short-term sacrifices. Note the words "short term." You don't have to cut to bare bones forever! But saving $5 here and there will give you more money in your fund that can be used to buy extra when there's an excellent sale. (Make sure to read the comments on both these links -- many are from women who are actively doing just what we're talking about here.)

Other things that help:

*Find the best discount grocery in your area. A lot of people rely on Aldi's, a consistently good place not only for cupboard goods, but produce and frozen food. Unfortunately, we don't have one of those around here (Colorado) -- but we do have Sprouts (terrific for produce, and one of the few places that discounts organic groceries), as well as Save-A-Lot. (The latter can be a little seedy -- you've got to be careful on quality, and the produce leaves a lot to be desired. But I have found some good buys there.)
     Then, of course, there are sales at your regular store. Buy the most discounted (i.e., the "loss leaders") and you can do very well -- particularly if you buy extra with that money you set aside.

*Dollar stores help...if you're picky. Although they're generally still a great place for cards, party supplies and cleaning supplies, Dollar stores can have wonderful buys -- and so-so, or even bad ones. Examples: I found Dermasil hand lotion there in large tubes, and bought a case lot -- a great buy at a buck each. But the frozen peaches (12 oz. for $1) were tasteless. On the other hand, cans of corned beef hash were tasty, albeit a little greasy, and came shining through at a buck each. Go figure. You can't really go wrong with Italian pasta or familiar brands. But you may find those same goods at Wal-Mart or on sale for even less.

*Find a salvage or dented goods store. It took me a long time to locate the Friday/Saturday store (otherwise known as the Friday Store)  in nearby Denver. (Yep, it's only open on weekends.) And it's 45 minutes' drive away, so I only go there on the way to somewhere else. But they have incredible buys on imported groceries, as well as fancy cheeses, frozen stuff, coffee and so on. They've even started carrying produce. (Latest buy: asparagus for $1.50/lb -- in October.)

*Get it from the source. Farmer's markets are okay -- though ours can tend to be pricey. (Going at the last minute can ease the pain somewhat...they're more open to bargaining.) Even better -- go straight to the farm or orchard. You'll generally have to purchase larger amounts, but they'll be much more reasonably-priced.
     The area where I grew up is full of orchards. When the Brick made his recent trip there, the Mama sent a suitcase full of apples back home with him -- apples she'd gotten free from friends who have trees. We've been reveling in Macintoshes, both fresh and in pies and crisps, and giving them away, as well. Those same apples would be at least $2 a pound at the local grocery stores.

Once you're paying the least you can, then it's up to you to make the most of the food you've got. So:

*Stretch it. Buy a whole chicken and use it for several meals. (I'm not so sure I'd stretch it over 22 meals -- but that's what this girl did!) Mix a pound of ground beef (whoa, beef's skyrocketed in price lately!) with beans and/or rice. Protein goes a lot further in small amounts, especially in stews and stirfries.

*Simmer it. Once you've gotten everything you can from a steak, roast or chicken, meat-wise, cook the bones overnight in water in your slow cooker. Throw in carrot and onion peelings, celery ends and wilted veggies, as well. Filter it through a colander, then chill (take off the fat), and you've got a homemade broth far better than any can.
     Now you've also got the basics for a terrific soup. Vegetables, a little meat and some spices go a long way. (Add potatoes or rice in the last half-hour...or they get mushy.) So does a spoonful of sour cream or a splash of milk, if you like a cream soup. Serve with biscuits (easy to make, and can be frozen uncooked to bake later) and cheese for a hearty meal that costs very little. A whole series of soup recipes starts here.

*Dilute it. Whole milk goes much further than skim, and comes out close to the same, nutritionally, if you add 2-4 cups of water to the gallon. A little water or milk cleans out cans (you don't waste a drop!), and makes an extra cup's worth of soup for those "ready to serve" kinds. I'll add a little extra water to everything from salsa to ketchup...and my family has yet to catch on. (Works on shampoo, too.)

We've been cutting back on household groceries, partly because hunting season's coming (hopefully the Brick will get an elk!), our freezer is more full than I'd like it to be (need the space for said elk - cross our fingers), and we just bought a second car. Though we budgeted for the extra payment, I still like to have a beefier emergency fund than we do now. The money saved on groceries will help with that.
    But you don't want to always give up every convenience. My last grocery trip ferreted out Red Baron pizzas for $2.15 each. (On sale, and I had a coupon, as well. One pizza feeds the Brick and myself, for a quick "night out") I did better on the trip before that -- Tombstone pizzas for the same price -- but I had a coupon that not only cut that price, but gave me a deal on Halloween candy, as well.

$25-30 a week generally does it for the two of us, when I need to be careful. Here's a typical grocery list when we're tightening our belts:

$3.00    1 gallon whole milk
  1.50    3 peppers (thank you, Sprouts!)
  2.50    5 pounds of potatoes (these have really gone up in price, too)
  1.50    kale, spinach or other greens -- or a pound of broccoli (also Sprouts)
  2.50    1 pound of ground beef -- or a package of bratwurst
  2.50    1/2 pound cheese
  3.00     1 whole chicken (99 cents a pound)
  2.50     1 pound butter   (I'd skimp with regular margarine at a buck, if I had to)
  1.00     1 loaf bread  (or the equivalent in tortillas)

That's $20.  I'd buy sale produce or frozen stuff with the rest of the money, including something for sandwiches. (Or I'd save the extra for another week.) If we didn't have chickens, I'd spend some of it for eggs. A pound of beans, along with a can of tomatoes and some of that beef, would make soup for several would the chicken, along with veggie leftovers and some potatoes diced in.

     For years, both when we were starting out in college, and when the Brick switched careers from an engineer to a bus driver (a 75% drop in pay), we lived on less than $20,000 annually. My business was just starting out, and we had two daughters to feed, as well. And with God's help, my Hollander instincts, and a lot of finagling, we did fine. In fact, the Brick likes this kind of menu -- because it means more home cooking.
     We'll go back to it for a few months, while we build our savings back up some. We'll be fine. I know we can do it....because I've done it so many times before.

You can, too.

Pumpkin pie or baked squash, anyone? It's especially cheap right now...right after Halloween.



Cindy Brick said...

Want to help stretch your budget now?

Try a PANTRY CHALLENGE -- I'll be doing that for the next 30 days. I'll post an update at least once or twice a week.

Here's the starting post:

Join me!

Cindy Brick said...

Stop by this week -- I'll be doing an update on 'Groceries for $30 a week.' Yes, you can do it -- or come close -- in 2016!

Cindy Brick said...

Try my newest take on this subject, Thriving At Rock Bottom.

Part I is up -- go here:

Cindy Brick said...

Still using these concepts to keep our grocery bills low! You'll find them covered, especially, in the monthly "Frugal Hits and Misses" series. Go here for the March 2017 report -- and links to take you to the others:

Congratulations, Ana and Tyler!

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