There were a lot of questions about my food budget after I wrote about how I spend more on gas than I do on food, and so I thought I’d share a few of my family’s tips. And then I saw this great thread in the Frugal Mom’s group, about how to save $100 a month, and I started to chime in, but when my reply grew to, well, blog-length, I thought I’d move it here. And then I thought, “Hey, those two ideas could be related. Let’s write about both!”
So. Ready? Here are five things we do to keep our grocery bill down:
1.) We use our big freezer. We have a huge freezer in the basement. I love my freezer. I buy meat and divide it into meal-size packages and freeze it. I buy extra bread when it’s on sale and freeze it. I cook extra meals and freeze them. I roast tomatoes from our garden and freeze them. I make homemade dairy-free ice cream and freeze it. On hot days, I fantasize about standing over my open freezer and gazing lovingly into its icy depths for long, cool hours at a time, but I restrain myself.
2.) We buy in bulk. What, you don’t have a huge freezer in your basement? You can still buy in bulk, just buy non-perishables like toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, laundry detergent, and stash those in your freezerless basement. You’ll still save money.
3.) We buy ingredients instead of products. Those little single-serving Jell-O packs that my preschooler loves cost about $2.50 for four. But a package of actual Jell-O costs 39 cents to 50 cents and makes five to six single servings. I know that Jell-O hardly counts as an ingredient, but you get my point: It often costs less to buy the acutal ingredients than it does to buy the finished product.
4.) We make ethnic foods. We eat meat often, and it’s a star ingredient, but it’s not the biggest thing on the plate. The USDA recommends that adults eat five to six ounces of cooked meat a day – that’s about the size of a deck of cards, and most people eat a lot more than that in a single serving. A painless way to reduce the amount of meat you eat is by making ethnic foods like Indian-style curries or veggie-intensive stir-fries.
5.) We shop to replenish my pantry. Aside from perishables like milk, eggs, and vegetables, we rarely shop for food to use right away; instead, we shop to replace the items we’ve used from my pantry and freezer. So, if there’s a great sale on something we use often, we can stock up without it blowing our budget.
And now, five ways to save $100. (At first, I thought the question was how to save $100 a WEEK, and I went all dizzy. But $100 a month is doable):
1.) Bring your own lunch. If you buy lunch at work, and you spend $7 per lunch, bringing your own lunch four days a week (treat yourself on the fifth, if you want) saves you $28 a week, or about $112 a month.
2.) Bring your own coffee. I drink tea at the office, but I love a good cup of coffee (or three). Invest in a sturdy travel mug and commute with your own coffee instead of buying it on the road; you’ll save anywhere from $5 to $35 a week or more. (If you can’t live without your latte, put some milk in a container with a tight-fitting lid, shake it up well, and voila! Frothy goodness to go!)
3.) Drink tea at work. Did I mention that I drink tea at the office, even though I’m a coffee drinker at home? There are two reasons for this: a.) the coffee at work costs $2.50 a cup and tastes like brown crayons melted in a hot water, with a little ground mulch for flavor, and b.) a box of 20 jasmine-green tea bags costs less than $1 at my little local Asian grocery store, fits nicely in my desk, and hot water is free. So, instead of paying $2.50 for a cup of gak, I pay five cents for a cup of jasmine-scented deliciousness. Two cups a day saves me about $25 a week. (OK, fine, $24.50.)
4.) Ditch the juice boxes. Last summer, I was packing seven juice boxes A DAY into my kids’ lunchboxes. That’s 35 juice boxes a week. That’s crazy. This year, everyone is getting a screw-top Nalgene bottle filled with homemade lemonade, and I’m saving at least $10 a week, maybe more.
5.) Cook an extra dinner on the weekend, and stash it in the freezer. There are plenty of recipes — chili, stews, curries, lasagna, pork chops — that take practically no extra effort to double up. Later in the week, save the $10 you were going to spend on a pizza and pull that extra meal out of the freezer instead.
What are you doing to save money right now?