I know this is long... but it's chock full of information. If you are trying to cut back but don't know how this might be worth reading. Skip half way down (below the bold line) to check out the dollar for dollar changes we're making now. We are saving some serious money without giving up our quality of food. Sure a few of the changes are more time consuming... but not as much as they sound. Last year I wouldn't have thought there was much I could take out of our spending... I was seriously deluded. Oh and check out the link at the end of the post.
Not even a year ago we were spending over $200 a week for our groceries... and that didn't count takeout or eating out (2-3 times a week), or Mr F's lunches at work. That might seem like a lot but it's actually the national average! At that time we had been buying high end brands and some (more and more over time) organic foods. But we were throwing out rotting produce and meat EVERY week.
I started meal planning and that helped some but the lure of the $5 Hot & Ready often meant I pushed meals around and/or never got around to making them. Before we left MI I had worked pretty hard to lower our grocery spending to around $180/week for nearly all organic foods but we were still doing plenty of take out and still wasting food. When we moved we had a completely stocked fridge/freezer and pantry of partial opened foods that we had to give away!
Moving here actually gave me a clean slate and instead of filling them back up with everything we had had before I decided to only buy things AS NEEDED. Which meant not buying every kind of vinegar, oil, and baking ingredient "just in case", etc. I really switched my head space from buying things to make a new recipe to trying not to buy things... like if I don't have "x" let's just scrap that and find something I can make with what I've got. Is my cooking somewhat less adventurous?... yep... but it's also a hell of a lot cheaper.
When we started "compacting" a couple of months ago I decided to take meal planning one step further. Instead of thinking of meals and then seeing which components we had and buying the rest, I started carefully assessing what we had and trying to make a meal plan around buying as little as possible. It's a subtle but important difference that resulted in... oh... $40-$50 a week. To make that work most effectively we do a monthly stock up on our basic meal components that we eat EVERY SINGLE WEEK: frozen vegetables, frozen fish filets, pasta, rice, peanut butter, jam, butter, popcorn kernels, instant oatmeal, dry cereal, pancake mix,chicken stock, tomato soup, canned salmon, pasta sauce, and apple juice.
Did you get all that? Because we are buying all organic foods the cheapest way to get them is to buy the store brand. Organic food rarely has coupons (sigh) so the store brands are where it is at... and the bulk bins! I have found (and believe me I have diligently searched and price checked) that Whole Foods has the cheapest (and best quality) of store brand organics. We don't have one here but Mr F drives about an hour and half with a cooler in his trunk and loads us up. It is winter so the cheapest (and best quality) produce is frozen.
Now at this point we don't buy more than a months worth of food... because we don't have a chest freezer or a lot of pantry space... and we can't front that much money. The stock up costs us about $80-$140 bucks depending on how much we needed to replace. That lets us limit our weekly spending to fresh ingredients: dairy, eggs, meat, bread, some vegetables, and fruit. Doing that brought my weekly spending down to about $75-$80 with the monthly stock up bringing our monthly spending to about $440. When we started compacting Mr F also started packing his breakfast and lunch and we only got take out or a restaurant meal once a week. So our total monthly food budget went from about $1200 a month to $520 (that counts one night of takeout once compacting started).
Now we are down to $400 a month... maybe less... time will tell. Here are the changes we've made (some since Compacting some since January):
From buying 2-3 loaves of organic bread each week for $4.50 each
To making our own bread in a bread machine (it was free!) for $1.25 per loaf
From buying lunch meat for Mr F's & my lunches for $9 - $12 a week
To buying a rotisserie chicken and eating chicken & chicken salad sandwiches for $5 a week
From making 2 cups of coffee every time we made coffee for a total of 2 pounds of coffee a week $16
To making 1 cup at a time and not pouring any down the drain for a total of 1 pound of coffee a week $8
From having several beverages in the house to having ONE beverage choice other than water per person. KId gets milk, Baby (still breastfed) gets apple juice, Mr F & I have coffee w/half & half. Savings for us $12- $16 dollars a week!
We don't have premade packaged snacks we now have fruit, yogurt, cereal, pb &j, or popcorn for snacks. Mr F & I have both lost 3 pounds in 3 weeks just by getting rid of packaged snacks. It took a little adjustment but the kids are doing just fine ;) Once a week I make homemade muffins using up whatever apples or carrots are getting old. Savings of $5-$10 a week. (and a pound a week)
From ordering pizza once a week for $17 (it was fantastic)
To making it or having a frozen pizza for $4-$5. Saving $12-$13 a week!
I make exactly 4 portions of dinner. Kid, Mr F & I each have one and Baby has 1/2. The remaining 1/2 is immediately packed up for Kid's lunch the next day.
I have lowered our protein portion down an ounce per person and raised the carbs up a small bit to make up the difference.
I have figured out the costs of each dinner I typically make and keep that in mind when I'm meal planning. Tomato & Meatball Soup is about $5 for 4, Brown Sugar & Ginger Salmon w/ rice & broccoli is about $12 for 4. Our dinners have not lost any of their nutritional value I just try to plan more cheap meals versus expensive per week.
Using frozen vegetables saves me about $1-$2 per pound which is $7-$14 a week. And I have mastered the art of cooking them so they are not mushy and you would never know it wasn't fresh broccoli.
We do not go out for dinner. Period. Saving us about $80- $200 a month. For us, right now, we just can't afford to. And the expense just isn't worth it for what you get when your dining companions are 2 and 6 years old.
For our sweet tooth we still have dessert.... just not lots of choices. I have my Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered caramels. The kids & Mr F have Newman's Own Organic Fig Newman's or Newman's O's (cheapest at Target). We have vanilla ice cream and we have chocolate sauce. We make a simple icing-less chocolate cake that is a depression era recipe that has no dairy or eggs (it's moist and it is cheap) once a week. We make cookie dough and freeze them in portioned balls... so we only bake what we need for that dinner. We eat less of them saving money and calories. I'm not sure how much money this saves certainly a couple of bucks a week.
My whole philosophy with all this is to strip it down to what we NEED. We buy fresh fruit as needed. No more bowl on the counter with rotting fruit just because something looked good at the store that day. When it's gone we buy more. That's the great thing about living in modern times.. we can just go to the store. I find we don't need to go as much as we thought we did... we can make do with what's on hand. And the less times you go to the store (in my experience) the less you spend.
Oh and if you are at all interested in coupons or don't know where to start hop over here. Scroll down and she's got an introductory post... but, dude, she just got 21 jars of Ragu for less than a buck! It's almost enticing enough to make me cross back over the conventional/organic divide!