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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5 Frugal tips for eating organic


Many people struggle to add more organic foods to their diet, and do it in an affordable way. I have been working on this like crazy the last couple of months, ever since checking out Linda Watson‘s book, Wildly Affordable Organic, from the library. It is a wonderful resource, full of simple yet delicious recipes, and a big plan for cooking your meals from scratch, seasonally.

The author offers ways to do a little or a lot, but all will help you find ways to save money and add organic food to your diet in a frugal manner. Actually, the techniques and strategies in the book will help you save money on food whether you choose to buy organic or not!

Here are some pointers I picked up from reading. This is not a list copied directly from the book, but rather some general ideas that I have found useful.

1. Eat more beans! This is probably the most important strategy in the book. Beans are cheap, nutritious, versatile, protein rich, and filling. And did I mention they are cheap? By preparing my own beans, I have found a way to make the equivalent to a can of organic beans for under a dollar–that’s less than conventional beans on sale! I’m taking the time to cook them mind you, but using the crock pot makes it easy.

2. Cook from scratch. It’s amazing what a loaf of bread costs these days. I mean a high quality loaf of healthy organic whole-grain bread. Baking your own bread is just one example of how making it yourself from scratch can save you a lot of money, and give you a higher quality option. I probably pay less than a third of what a good loaf costs in many stores, for my delicious home made bread. And the same goes for casseroles, pasta sauces, pizza, etc., just to name a few possibilities.

3. Do the bulk of your cooking on the weekend. In the book she offers seasonal meal plans and prep lists for doing the majority of the work on the weekend. I’m not following her plans closely, but this strategy of doing what I can on the weekend has helped to make many things possible, such as making my own yogurt. By planning and taking the time on the weekend, it is easier to do more from scratch. Of course many things can’t be done this way, but giving myself a head start on whatever I can saves me time, and reduces the chance that we’ll have to run out for a pizza during the week.

4. Buy in bulk when you can. In the introduction, Linda talks about shopping on a food stamp budget. She tells of  how much more costly things like sugar and flour are in small packages compared to the prices she is used to with getting things in bulk. I find that even buying smaller quantities from a bulk food store can be cost-effective. But not always! Keeping track of prices and trying different stores certainly help me to decide where to buy, but buying in bulk doesn’t always mean storing sacks of food around the house.

5. Go plant-strong. Even if you don’t decide to eat as many beans as Linda Watson proposes, you can certainly reduce your grocery budget by choosing more grains and veggies, and less meat. I can buy a lot more plant food–even organic food–when I choose veggies, grains and beans over meat. We still do eat meat, but I get more value when I use meat as an addition to the meal, not as the main event.

I highly recommend this book! I checked it out from the library, but then ended up buying it because it was so useful. While I don’t follow her meal plans or cooking plans to a T, I have still found the book incredibly useful, and am trying more of her strategies each week. All of which is motivating me to save more money while eating more organic food.

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

A Super Easy Way to Start Saving Money on Food

Before you read the rest of this post, go and take a look in your fridge. Don’t forget to come back now!

How many containers of moldy leftovers did you find?

I’ve got nine.

Nine fuzzy smelly science experiments that used to be delicious–and expensive–food.

Sigh. It happens to the best of us.

But that is why I am delighted to have discovered the number one step in meal planning.

What is it?

Taking Inventory.

This simple step is guaranteed to save you money, and might even inspire you to culinary greatness. But the best thing about it is how dead easy and completely satisfying it is to do.

How to take inventory

1) Look through your fridge, freezer and pantry and first clear out all of the yucky moldy slimy stuff to make way for some delicious food.

2) Make a list of all the food that needs to be eaten up ASAP. Look in all the little jars and containers, drawers and shelves. I like to imagine the food as dollar bills, loose change and rolls of coins. Yes, this is crazy. But I really don’t want to throw it out!

3) Write your meal plan, making sure you include all those foods you listed above in the first couple of days. You might doubt me, but I’ve found it’s incredibly fun creating meals to use up those found treasures in new delicious ways. I will write a post on this soon, but think soups, salads, omelettes . . . mmmmm.

4) Even if you don’t do a weekly meal plan, a weekly inventory will probably spark your creativity and put at least some of your week’s meals on auto-pilot. This really will save you money and get you started in the mental process of meal planning. I find myself instantly inspired when looking at, say, a bunch of roasted broccoli from dinner. Presto! Broccoli Pita Pizza for lunch tomorrow.

Clear Benefits

Looking through your fridge can probably save you from trudging out to the store (where there is a 90% chance you will spend more than you planned). Using food you already bought means you don’t have to buy more food. Yup. Rocket science.

Taking inventory regularly will keep your fridge and pantry shelves less crowded so it will be easier to see what’s in there. This will make taking inventory–and using up what you’ve got–even easier.

It will also get you into the habit of thinking about your meals on a weekly basis, which is the first step in doing a full-on weekly meal plan. I will be blogging more about this fascinating subject in weeks to come but for now, trust me: it’s the cat’s ass as far as kitchen frugality is concerned.

And I don’t know about you, but I find that EVERYthing seems just a tad more appetizing when it isn’t surrounded by blue fuzzy rice and hairy black jam.

Now, off to do my inventory. So, which yogurt container has yogurt in it and which is that chili from three weeks ago? Help!