Cutting My Grocery Bill in Half

receipts
“receipts” by josephbergen on flickr

I can hardly believe it, but our recent receipts show that I’ve been spending HALF of what I was usually spending every week at the grocery store. No kidding!

For the last year, our grocery bills have totalled over $800/month for our family of four, sometimes up to $900 or $1000. I could easily spend over $200 on just one trip to Superstore, and then hit Costco a couple of days later and drop no less than $100.

The last few shops I’ve done have been less than $100 a week! I haven’t had to shop more than once each week, and I haven’t had to grab milk at the corner store either.

So what the heck was I buying that was costing me DOUBLE what I’ve spent the last few weeks?

Thinking back, I was buying a lot of bread, cereal and crackers, bagels, gourmet organic chocolate bars, individually packaged granola bars, and yogurt cups. I often took my kids shopping with me, and rarely said no to their requests. I frequently bought sandwich meat, and sometimes also frozen casseroles or ribs when my defences were lowered.

The last few weeks I’ve been making a lot of the things I had gotten used to buying:

  • I’ve been baking bread once or twice a week
  • I’ve been making sourdough rye crackers regularly
  • I’ve been packing my kids mason jar yogurt cups (plain yogurt, chopped cherries & a bit of maple syrup) (actually I’ve got a batch of yogurt going right now for this week’s snacks)
  • I’ve limited my shopping to just one box of cereal per week
  • The kids have been getting oatmeal for breakfast every day
  • I made my own granola bars
  • I also made flour tortillas, a few of which I turned into crackers

I’ve been sticking to shopping mostly at Food Basics. I find I can fill my cart and buy whatever I feel like, and it always costs around $100, whereas at Superstore I can easily go over $200 on a weekly shop.

I’m also getting more organized about planning my meals, and have really delved into the subject of Meal Planning which has taken me down a few interesting rabbit holes which I will write about in a future post. For now let me say that I BELIEVE advanced meal planning might be able to get my grocery bills down to $400 per month.

Can I spend just $400 per month on groceries?

I consider this a challenge for the months of October and November! Full disclosure, I will be starting the month of October off with a fairly well-stocked pantry and a couple of meals in the freezer, but I will try to end the same way to start November off right.

For these prices, I have not been buying much organic, except for some of our meat which I usually purchase from a local farmer on ClickFork, Sudbury’s new online Farmer’s Market. Dalew Farms has amazing grass-fed beef, and Three Forks Farms offers certified organic pastured chicken. I also sometimes splurge on organic berries from Costco for my smoothies.

These harvest months in Ontario are also the time for the best prices for local fruit & veggies, so it’s a good time to challenge myself like this.

My second part-time job

I have a wonderful friend who does mystery shopping as one of her main sources of income. Yes, it’s a legitimate way to make money, and there are definitely companies that won’t scam you–but that is a post for another day.

Basically, after working two part time jobs from January to April of this past year, I  figured out that I really only want ONE job right now. I had to lose a twonie-sized patch of hair on the back of my head to show me how much stress I was under, to be convinced not to look for another opportunity to start raking in more cash.

But looking at how much I’m saving on groceries has shown me that I AM EARNING THE EQUIVALENT OF A little PART-TIME JOB just by getting smarter about my grocery shopping, and cooking everything from scratch.

The difference between this “job” and the other options? I LOVE THIS ONE!

This is very similar to where I was back when I was writing the most on this blog, at home with my two kids and trying to make our little one-income lifestyle work. Now I’ve got the hours when the kids are in school to focus on meal planning, baking and studying more ways to be frugal, and I couldn’t be happier!

So, what’s the plan?

  • I will continue to shop at Food Basics, hitting up Costco and Superstore only once a month each
  • I’m going to try a monthly meal plan to get my expenses evened out over more time
  • Sunday Soup, and Meatless Monday
  • continue to take advantage of sales, price matching at Superstore, and the Flipp app to find best prices on my preferred brands
  • oatmeal or home-made bread for kids’ breakfasts
  • keep on making from scratch everything I can possibly save money on
  • Stay out of stores as much as possible!

October hasn’t started yet, so I will post my meal plan when I get it ready. We do have my son’s birthday in October, so that might increase food costs a little, but I will try to keep it reasonable, and may even earmark some funds for “party food” that will be separate from the main grocery budget.

I’m up for the challenge!

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A look at meal planning: how it can save you money, improve your health and streamline your eating

What if there was one thing you could do that would save you a lot of money, improve your health and save you time as well? And what if it didn’t require a huge investment of time, money or effort? Would you do it?

In case you didn’t read the headline, what I’m talking about today is meal planning! And it really can save you time and money–and improve your health too!

How Meal Planning Saves Me Time

Currently I take about an hour a week to plan our meals and write our shopping list. Maybe a bit less. Sure, this seems like a lot of up-front time, but that saves me time during my week in many ways.

– I plan thoroughly and shop once a week, so I don’t have to dash out to the store for last minute items

– I plan many meals that can be worked on earlier in the day which allows me to play outside with the kids in the later afternoon, and then spend a minimum amount of time getting things on the table for dinner.

– And to be honest, I enjoy my meal planning time. By setting aside that hour or so, I let Daddy spend some time with the kids, and go up to the quiet bedroom, maybe with a cup of tea, and really focus my thinking on what we’re going to eat for the week. This is much more pleasurable than scrambling each day to figure out what to put on the table.

How Meal Planning Saves Me Money

– By thoroughly planning my grocery needs and writing out a comprehensive list, I only need to shop once per week. This definitely saves me money because I simply don’t have the chance to buy those extra items–I’m not in the store!

– I don’t know about you, but when I have just a few items on my list, I often get the feeling, “Wasn’t there something else I needed . . . .” With a long list, doing the weekly shop is satisfying enough that I don’t feel the need to fill it out with extra items.

– I can plan my meals sensibly, making sure to provide leftovers for my partner’s lunches at work. This saves our family thousands–yes, THOUSANDS–of dollars per year.

– By making sure to include special yummy meals once in awhile, it limits the desire to treat ourselves. We can have that special meal at home!

– We avoid expensive last-minute take-out meals.

– And by planning in at least one particularly low-cost meal per week, I am saving our budget on a regular basis. I can even plan for lower-cost eating over a longer period if we need to save money for something in particular. Meal planning puts me in charge of how much we spend in our grocery budget.

How Meal Planning Improves My Health

– This is by far the biggest factor: By planning all our meals, we do not resort to fast food take-out. Everyone knows how unhealthy and expensive fast food is, yet there were more nights than I’d like to admit when our kids were little babies that we ran out for pizza, a grocery store bbq chicken, or even burgers and fries. Now we plan for healthy, low-cost, and many times low-labour meals and don’t need to rely on take-out. Well, almost never.

– Being in charge of the meal planning for the week gives me an overview of what we are eating. This allows me to alternate meaty meals with vegetarian ones, and rotate our grains so we’re not eating too much of one thing.

– This is a big one for me: meal planning reduces stress, which has a big impact on health. I never have the 5:30 panic attack of “Oh my goodness, what am I making for dinner???” I don’t miss the daily stress of figuring out what to make for dinner. And as a further benefit, as I mentioned above, I enjoy my meal planning!

So, this is my motivation. Time, money, and good health: three things we can never have too much of. And if there are other benefits I haven’t listed here, please add them in the comments below!

Frugally yours,

Colleen

Return of the Grocery Price Book

After months of dormancy, I’m reviving the Price Book! If you want to participate, leave a comment and I will invite you as an editor. (This only makes sense if you live in Ottawa–otherwise I welcome you to copy the list of items and make your own Price book with info from your local stores.) Anyone can view it but only those with permission can edit.

The prices on the list are old, so please help me update them with the latest deals in O-town!

You can view the Ottawa Grocery Price Book here.

“Chips”

A friend of mine has started taking me to Food Basics down at Herongate. It’s got some great deals, including large pita bread at $1.69 per package. That’s 6 very big pitas–about 12″ across–at about 30 cents each. I’ve been getting the whole wheat ones which are very tasty and also very filling, especially with hummus or refried beans. Yum!

Last time I went I stocked up and got about 4 bags and thew them in the freezer. Now when I want something to dip, roll or top, I pull out a pita.

But my favourite thing to do with them, especially if they sit around and get a little stale, is to tear them up into pieces and toast them in the oven to make “chips”. Super fast, healthy, substantial and delicious. Maybe next time I will try brushing them with butter or olive oil, plus some salt and/or spices for an even more delicious treat.

Other things I’ve been doing with the pitas include tearing away one half, folding it over with shredded cheese inside, and making a melt in my skillet. I’ve also used them as a wrap for scrambled eggs, but you could wrap anything inside really.

What do you do with your pita bread?

Pay more to spend less

Have you ever wondered why stores put things on sale? Is it to do you a personal favour? Is it a form of charity work? NO! It’s to get you to spend more money in their store. Guess what: the place that offers great deals on bulk purchases is trying to make more money than the place that sells small amounts for more money. But it doesn’t really matter: they’re all trying to get all the money you’ve got, plus your credit card debt, and possibly your mortgage.

Case in point: Costco. Sure, the toilet paper is waaaaaaaay cheaper than the downtown grocery store down the street, but when I bought toilet paper the other day, I walked out $100 lighter and I STILL had to go grocery shopping. My friend who brought me (he has the membership) spent $300 and also still had to hit the grocery store.

On the other hand, when we just shop at the expensive store down the street, we can do our groceries for a bit over $100 per week, and that’s for 2 adults and a preschooler (the baby doesn’t eat yet, and we use cloth diapers). Sure we pay a shockingly high unit price, but maybe because of that, we’re more restrained with our purchases than when we visit buying clubs.

This brings me around to one of the hidden dangers of car ownership. We shop at the expensive downtown store because it is close, we don’t have a car, and with 2 kids, we just don’t have time to bus out to the burbs to do our shopping. A friend of mine who lives downtown bought a car awhile ago and she noticed that while it allowed her to get better deals at the outlet stores, it also, step one, allowed her to step foot in the outlet stores a lot more often.

Really, whenever I go shopping, I am swept up in the carnival of consumerism. There is such amazing, cool, really nice STUFF out there. And I want to buy it. My number one spending-reduction tip: don’t go into stores.

My number two tip: don’t get a car that can give you better access to stores.

And number three: sometimes it’s worth it to pay more, if it means spending less in the long run.

One Ton of Mayo

According to a friend, we’ve made what constitutes “a typical Costco miscalculation”. The exact size of the miscalculation: 1.8 L. Of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

This means:

100 toasted tomato sandwiches, or . . .

7.5 chocolate cakes, or . . .

30 hair treatments, or . . .

15 each tuna, salmon and egg salads, or . . .

. . .  what else?

I’ll admit it: I have been making a lot of “Emergency Chocolate Cake” (my own cupcake version with chocolate chips), but this stuff expires in April of this year, and I don’t know if I can make enough cakes by then!

So, the question: what would you do with one ton of mayo? Or 1.8 L of the stuff, to be exact. Any ideas I’m missing for fabulous uses for mayo?