Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ten Specific Ways to Cut Your Food Budget

Hot to Cut Food BudgetSince I've started posting about how we're working to save money and live more frugally (i.e. scrape by without a paycheck) I've had quite a few people ask me how I have cut our food budget.

Now I hesitate to talk hard numbers--not only does it seem a little low-class, it's hard to make a valid comparison from one area of the country to the next--but I've gone from spending $230-250 per week for a family of six (gasp) to $100 per week. Of course we had to sell two of the children . . .

Kidding. But though the prices in your area may vary the principles of cutting back are the same. Maybe these will give you a few ideas of your own. If you have a trick that has worked for you by all means let me know, I'm very open to new ideas right now.

1. Get rid of those warehouse memberships.
I've written an entire post on the subject of Costco memberships which I will not rehash here except to say that I have found that I spend GOBS less money if I avoid Costco and the like.

Yes they have things that are cheaper than at other stores but I always buy more than I need, impulse buy and buy food that is nearly always a more expensive brand than I would typically buy.

A good example is the fruit. While I save on bananas because I can get a bunch for $2.25 at Costco and we'll eat them all in a week we can't usually get through a $6 box of kiwi plus a $8 flat of pears too though I tend to buy them when I'm there and I want the variety. If I bought smaller amounts at the regular supermarket I'd have that variety and it would cost a bit less and the fruit wouldn't be wasted.

At Costco I will buy a box of granola bars that will last of for seventeen months which by itself might be okay but no one wants to eat ONLY granola bars for seventeen months so I buy fruit snacks and fruit leather to go with it--again, for variety. Three times what I'd need. Of course if I only went every seventeen months then things would be fine but I'm right back there the next week buying seventeen more months of something else. Where will it all end??

The only thing I really, really do miss is their take-and-bake tortillas which I can't get anywhere else and which really do save us money. But it's not worth the cost of a membership just for those holy tortillas. Though it was a close call on that one.

I would not only suggest that you cut out your warehouse memberships but would say that you should try to make only one stop at one store per week. If I make trips to different stores I might have a list but it's easy to think, "Oh, I'm going to finish up at another store" so it's easy to think that as long as I'm not spending the entire amount at the first stop that I've somehow kept to the budget and I tend to overspend.

If I just make one stop I know that I have to make everything fit into that cart in under $100 and I'm better at it under that kind of pressure. Just a suggestion. Plus you save on gas rather than running all over the place throughout your week.

2. Go through your shopping list and say "Do I absolutely have to have this?"
I find that just cutting things you can live without is a huge help. When Andrew and I were first married and in school I was great at realizing what I did and didn't need. I bought toilet paper but we didn't buy paper napkins, Kleenex, paper towels, paper plates, plastic utensils or Dixie cups for example. While very convenient we simply didn't need those items and we got by just fine.

The only item I absolutely gave into was disposable diapers. So sue me.

But a good example is buying fruit juice. While nice to have around, it isn't something you have to have. Nutritionally it's better to have a piece of fruit with breakfast than a glass of juice. It's better for your teeth and sugar intake to drink milk or water with your meals and it's better for your wallet. If you're living on the edge cut out stuff like that and you'll most likely hardly notice it.

3. Cut out prepared foods entirely.
This is a huge area for cutting back though I warn you that you'll pay for it in time and convenience, at least at first until you're used to it.

For example, I figured we bought three (sometimes more) boxes of cold cereal per week. At approximately $4-5 apiece that's $12-15 a week just on a breakfast item. I read somewhere that cold cereal is the most expensive commonly bought food per ounce but then that could be bunk, who knows?

So what do we do for breakfast? Well first I have to make sure I'm actually out of bed on time rather than waiting until the kids are practically out the door but once that's taken care of we have pancakes, waffles, bread pudding, aebelskivers, baked apples, crepes, muffins, scrambled eggs, fruit, yogurt, toast, oatmeal (the real kind, not instant), breakfast pizza, strata or any number of good things that the kids actually prefer over cold cereal anyway. I made up a huge batch of homemade granola, commandeered one of the boys' unused Lego tubs, washed it out and put a serving-sized scooper in it so if they're really desperate for cereal they can have granola. It's cheaper and healthier anyway.

To make these things yourself is usually as easy as mixing five or six ingredients (I've made homemade pancakes so many times I could write the recipe in my sleep: 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 egg and stir) and it will save you oodles of dollars. Make your own syrup, spaghetti sauce, marinades, salad dressings, jam, bread, breadcrumbs or pudding. It's good for you to learn and it's rather satisfying.

We've cut out Hot Pockets, corn dogs, frozen burritos, Fruit Roll Ups, french fries, macaroni and cheese, cake mixes, canned frosting, hot chocolate mix, instant oatmeal, cold cereal, boxed rice mixes, canned chili, you name it--anything that someone else has cooked is off the list. I do, however, use a bit more flour and baking ingredients (which are relatively inexpensive actually).

4. Cut out junk food completely.
You know that aisle at the supermarket where they sell the chips? Just avoid it completely. If you're struggling financially there's really no reason (except perhaps a vicious caffeine addiction) that you should be buying soda, chips, candy, cookies, crackers, or gum. Yes it might be fun stuff but it's just not something you need to live, in fact without it you'd probably live better.

And not just chips and candy--most of the items I listed in #3 that we've cut out are high in fats and calories. I've really cut back on the prepared, packaged snacks the kids typically go for. Instead I'll make sure we've got carrot sticks, fresh fruit (whatever is on sale) and homemade bread and jam to snack on. I find that if they say they're hungry but turn down healthy stuff, they're really not hungry at all. Thirsty, but not thirsty for water? Then you're not really thirsty my friend.

5. Do not shop hungry, go with a list and go with a menu for the week.
If at all possible avoid shopping at lunch time or on your way home from work when you're starving and thinking of all the glorious things you'd like to eat. Go with a shopping list planned out for the week (saves time) and stick to it. It's deadly to go on an empty stomach because everything looks tasty and I'm tempted to buy more than I should. If you only go once a week it has the added benefit of saving gas and time too.

6. Cook in double or triple batches.
I feed six every night and even I generally cook in double batches. I have done this since we were freshly married and it saves tons of money. If I'm making spaghetti I make enough for two nights, if it's soup the pot is big enough for 12 servings. It's cheaper to buy a larger can of something and make it stretch to feed you twice than it is to buy in smaller amounts for just one night. I love the way it saves me time as well as money, you just can't go wrong with this one.

If the idea of eating the same thing twice in one week turns your stomach look into freezing things so you can throw the extra batch in the freezer for a couple weeks down the road.

7. Focus on grains, fruits and veggies. Forget meat and dairy.
Now this doesn't mean cut out dairy completely, you need your calcium but we typically eat more meat and cheese than is necessary--both being quite expensive. Grains are always one of the cheapest things you can buy (excluding breakfast cereals) so serve lots of rice, pasta, and bread-based recipes. Of course it's healthier to serve whole-grains rather than processed but frankly those can sometimes be more expensive (i.e. whole grain pasta v. regular refined flour pasta) so be careful. But you can buy brown rice, for example, for about the same price as white and it's better for you. Just plan ahead because it takes longer to cook.

We've cut way back on meat though I still use ground beef and chicken--or fish we've caught--and I look for it in the discounted meat bin that they fill around 11 am. Serve meat as an ingredient and not as the star of the meal. Often you can substitute beans for meat in many dishes (think Tex Mex) and dried beans are dirt-cheap.

As for milk I've cut WAY back. I was buying six gallons a week, at $3.50 a pop (at other local stores it's as much as $5/gallon) but I've cut back to 2-3 per week which I save for drinking with meals--one glass a piece. For all my other milk needs (i.e. cooking and baking) I use powdered milk. You really can't tell the difference in most baked goods--I made vanilla pudding with powdered milk and they couldn't tell--and you can even squeeze it in in some other places like with cooked oatmeal. But it's been a huge savings and as long as they're getting a bit with each meal they're not losing out on nutrition.

8. Know how to substitute ingredients.
This requires a bit of experience but you need to know what you can substitute when a recipe calls for a very specific ingredient. Know that you can substitute buttermilk or sour milk with a cup of regular milk mixed with a tablespoon of vinegar or cocoa powder plus oil for baking chocolate, or one cup regular sugar plus 2 tablespoons of molasses for brown sugar.

I have lots of chives in my back yard and I can usually use chives in place of green onions while I've got them on hand. It might require a bit more but you can make it work.

9. Eat soups and breads.
Soup with bread is one of the least expensive meals you can make--and one of the healthiest. With your standard chicken soup or beef stew with a side of bread you get all the basic food groups and cheap things like onions, potatoes, beans, mushrooms, barley, rice, pasta, carrots, celery and water are the main ingredients.

We make soup about once a week and they're some of the easiest, best things you can fix. Throw in a loaf of crusty bread (again, I recommend that Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book for quick, fabulous bread making) and you've got a healthy, inexpensive, tasty meal that will usually feed for two days.

10. Always buy generic brands and ditch the coupons.
This is my gripe with coupons: even if I have a good coupon it is almost always for a brand-name item that I can get cheaper if I just buy generic. Rarely do I see it otherwise because coupons are designed to push you toward those brand names. People get hung up on having a fancy label but my research has told me that most companies producing the brand name products pick up extra cash by selling their products to generic companies such as Kroger or Private Selection which they then label and sell as generic. You're getting the same product from the same place but at a cheaper price.

The only items I've ever tried that I find to be inferior are cheese singles and boxed macaroni and cheese. Of course those are expensive items anyway which I typically don't buy anymore but the generic boxes of mac and cheese are an abomination. Other than that you're safe always buying generic and pocketing the difference.

But at any rate, coupons can be very dangerous. They're rarely for staples like fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and such and instead are usually for prepared foods which we've already established as very, very evil to the budget.

Coupons get lots of buzz nowadays. I saw a piece in our local paper about a woman who makes it her full-time job to get coupons but I don't really see that it's something I'm envying. It said she was spending $1000/month. Fine, that's about what I was spending too. She's cut back to $150, a savings of $850. That's impressive except that with just the things I've mentioned here I've cut back to $400, which means the difference in our savings is now down to $450.

She says she coupons (if that is a verb) for 40 hours a week, the equivalent of a full-time job but one in which she earns a mere $2.85 per hour. In that same amount of time she could actually have a job, even work from home, work as a noon duty, teach piano lessons or whatever, and make much more money without the mess and waste (she admitted to throwing out 50 sticks of deodorant when her cluttered surplus became unbearable and her savings doesn't include the time and gas wasted by running around to every store in town to get items here and there).

Bottom line is, there's nothing wrong with what she's doing, she's got a hobby she likes that saves her family money--great. It just may not work for everyone equally so be aware of what you could be in for, and that you might be able to achieve the same result with less work and fewer hoops to jump through.

And finally, I'm going to give you examples of what we've been eating--I didn't even mention how eating out, buying those lattes or buying hot lunches at school can suck up the cash, I figured that was a given--but here's a sample menu of what we've been eating to prove we're not starving.

Homemade macaroni and cheese
Chicken soup
Banana-wrapped halibut (halibut from the freezer, had the rest of spices on hand, used aluminum foil instead of banana leaves)
Barbecued beef sandwiches
Hummus surprise soup
French onion soup
Broccoli-chicken stir fry
Homemade pizza
Salmon with mango and black beans (used canned peaches as substitute)
Dracula's revenge
Creamy chicken rigatoni
Sour cream coffee cake
Cinnamon Rolls

You ought to check out Perfectly Provident, a well-designed site that seems to have some good tips on the subject. Also, Alaska Coupon Diva has been one of my recent sponsors and specializes in coupons here in the state, though I think some of their tips and coupons are good anywhere. If you are talented enough to make coupons work for you then you ought to check them out too.

I also noticed that earlier this week Stephanie from Metropolitan Mama happened to be thinking along these same lines and posted about How to Save Money at the Grocery Store. Good tips there too.

Sponsored by Pak Naks--decorate your stuff!


K said...

Totally agree with everything. I just read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and that has totally changed my views on prepared foods and gov't RDIs! I think that you may have given me the last little push I needed to give up cold cereal. Better for body and budget!

Mom24 said...

Great, great tips. These are the first set of tips that I've ever seen that I actually feel could help my family. Thanks.

We spend way too much on groceries--similar to your "before". I'd like to make changes, but tips I've seen before tend to focus on coupony (I know, not a word, but bear with me) foods and not the types of food we tend to buy.

I also completely agree on Warehouse clubs, I've stayed away from Costco, I know for me it would be a dangerous cash sucker.

branda50 said...

I agree about the coupons...For me it seems the offers are for foods I wouldn't use anyway...
I do buy as much generic as I can but there are some foods I just can't part with buying the real stuff.....
I also agree about prepared foods but for a second reason they aren't as healthy for you...Most of them have so many additives in them to keep them on the shelves longer...
I love soup night...

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

One thing I noticed the other day at our local Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market: some of their 'Great Value' brand products were MORE expensive than the name brand. Some were the same price but had less product. We shoppers really need to pay attention out there!

Another handy tip is while you are marking things off your list in the grocery store, write down the price on staple items and then compare them when you are at a different store. I found sugar, flour and milk are all cheaper at Publix versus the Neighborhood Market.

Jolanthe said...

We don't use a lot of prepared foods either. The biggest thing helping me save is actually PLANNING meals out. I plan for a month at a time and have my list in hand. If it isn't on the list, it isn't purchased.

We don't buy soda or juices and I don't use coupons at all. It just isn't worth my time and the hassle of hauling 4 kids around to various stores.

And with Costco...well, I still love them, but I have only specific things that we purchase there that are so much cheaper than our local stores {milk, eggs, butter, etc...}. And fortunately I can turn around and run the other way at the other stuff. :)

Suburban Correspondent said...

Eating out is the biggest money-waster, of course. We've never drunk juice except for special occasions (or OJ when someone is sick). Also, check out the discount produce (especially bananas) at the grocery store. I just got several pounds of organic bananas for 2 dollars! Banana bread time!

Also, bulk-buying at the Farmers' Market this time of year will save you money. If you can't use an entire half-bushel of apples (although they do keep well), split it with a neighbor.

Lis Garrett said...

My husband told me the other day, "Instead of thinking of ways in which you can make money, think of ways in which you can save it." Since then, I've started taking a closer look at our food budget (or lack thereof). I've begun saving my grocery receipts to make a master list of must-have items. And you're right about the coupons - it's almost always cheaper to buy generic.

One pitfall of ours is take-out food when we are pressed for time (or I'm just too lazy to cook). I tallied up all of our fast food expenses for August (including Starbucks), and I am SO ashamed to admit it neared $300. GASP! I get sick to my stomach just thinking about all that wasted money when we definitely can't afford to waste it.

Great post!

Kathy G said...

I was hoping I'd learn some new tips from you, but these are all things I learned twenty years ago when we were a family of five with a single income :-)

Last week I wrote about a frugal "recipe" for making muffins, which I use on a regular basis:

Summer said...

You're very right that different strategies work for different people and with that being said I'll let you know coupons totally work for us. I don't spend all my time clipping and using them like that lady you mentioned, but the savings I've been able to get for our family is phenomenal.

Generic brands are typically cheaper, yes, unless you've got a good sale combined with a coupon or double and triple coupon promotions going on.

I also think people don't realize how many coupons there are out there for non-processed garbage. We don't eat much prepared junk either. My husband cooks everything from scratch, we make our own yogurt, granola bars and the like - though I will stock up on boxes of granola bars if I can get them insanely cheap. There are always Rice Coupons, Broth coupons, yogurt coupons, frozen vegetable coupons, bacon and other meat coupons, sugar coupons, spice and extract coupons, toilet paper coupons, diaper coupons, other toiletry coupons and more.

Coupons get way too much of a bad rap these days by people who have never really taken the time to try them or didn't understand how best to use them when they did try them. Yes it takes some effort to match coupons with sales but you can reap triple what you sow if you learn to do it wisely.

Stockpiling is another important way to save money. When you can get necessities at rock bottom prices (with or without coupons) then buy enough to last you through to the next sale. Most all stores run on 6-12 week sale cycles. So if something is at it's lowest price right now it will likely be back down to that same dirt cheap price in 6 to 12 weeks.

There are lots more tips I could share with you, but if you're interested in learning more you can just visit my frugal blog:

Good luck in your money saving endeavors!

Amanda {My Life Badly Written} said...

I agree with you and most of what you say is just basic common sense. It's a shame we can all get "wrapped" up in pretty packaging and brand names.

When I do my weekly shop and I want to road test (what we call in Australia) the homebrand I will buy one and test it compared to what I would normally buy. If it is just as good then it becomes my regular thing. We don't have coupons like you but we have weekly catalogues with specials which is when its great to buy in bulk!

Thanks for a great post!

girlymama said...

terrific tips! i'm totally going to link to you this week!

Heart2Heart said...


I love the idea of cooking for one meal. I don't know how often I do this and with twice the ingredients I only have to cook once for two or three days.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Anonymous said...

Dracula's Revenge? Must be a leftover thing. Sounds wicked.

Yes on generics vs coupons.

Flea said...

Hm. I already do most of this. And our food bill is usually right about a hundred dollars. Cool.

Lori Pirog said...

Great tips!

Good for you for pointing out that grains are generally less expensive than processed cereals. And whole grains are indeed far better than refined grains with respect to nutrition and health.

Just today I read about the relationship between the consumption of whole grains and reduced abdominal fat as well as total body fat. (Journal of Nutrition, Sept. 2009)

Homemade oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and other hot breakfast cereals are quick and easy to make (with a little advanced preparation or a microwave oven). So much better for us. I've made a note to myself to do some research with respect to the price of whole grains as compared with refined.

JENNIFER said...

Let's pretend that you did not even mention giving up Costco :)

Seriously, all good ideas that I need to always be reminded of :)

Shauna said...

In Miserly Moms, Jonni McCoy recommends planning your weekly meals around sales and loss leaders and shopping at multiple stores to take advantage of multiple sales. She looks at weekly fliers and newspaper inserts to plan her menu for the week and makes separate shopping lists for several different stores. She swears this method is a significant factor in cutting her own food budget, though it does take more time.

Chasity said...

Thank you. Although I employ several of your tips already, the list you provided has given me some good tips to further stretch our budget. Believe it or not, I've never even considered making pancakes from scratch- but after seeing that recipe, I won't be purchasing another box mix again-ever.

Momish said...

Great tips! I agree with you about the memberships places. Once I put my foot down with us and insisted we only go to BJ's for paper and cleaning items, our food bill dropped significantly. But I have to admit, I am coupon junkie. The trick with them, I think, is to only clip the items you would normally buy and then bulk up when there is a sale. You can seriously get items for pennies with a money off coupon during a buy one/get one sale! Oh, how my heart leaps when that happens!

This post could double for a "how to eat healthy" post! (with just the side effect of saving money)

Scribbit said...

Mrs. Ohtobe--I've noticed that too with our Walmart. The food items may or may not be cheaper than at Fred Meyer, you just have to check carefully. Good point.

Suburban--I really, really wish we had good farmer's markets close by. We have some but our growing season is so short they've already pretty much disappeared.

Lis--I completely agree. If you're having money trouble in most cases it's a matter of improper management of resources rather than a lack.

Sorry Kathy G. I should have had you write this!

Summer--I reposted and linked to your site, it's really good (and I LOVE your profile picture in it, you look stunning)

Summer said...

Oh. Thanks Michelle! That's very nice of you. I've tried to make it a good resource for people looking to save money. I started really buckling down just over a year ago and the difference in our spending is unbelievable. Plus I've learned things I might not have otherwise, like making ricotta and yogurt and granola from scratch. Next on my list to try are crackers. Hope they turn out well. Today I'm making fruit and oat bars.

Chrissy Johnson said...

This is genius.

Amanda said...

I also find that shopping WITHOUT the husband is a great way to save money. Maybe I'm unique in this issue, but my husband has his days off during the week and he usually comes to the store with me. And then acts like a five-year old by sneaking things into the cart. This week I went shopping without him and not only did I stay within budget, but I was under by $30. Imagine how much more I could save by using your tips in combination with shopping sans husband...

MommyK said...

Not only do I try to buy storebrands, but I avoid stuff that's packaged in single servings because it costs more. The example I can think of off the top of my head is yogurt. A 6 to 8 ounce cup of yogurt costs around a a dollar around here, but you can get the big 32 ounce container for 1.99 and repack it into washable cups.

I know my grocery bills are high compared to a lot of other people, but we eat a lot of lean meat, whole grains and fresh produce, which costs more than less healthy versions, but it's worth it for our health. I'd rather find other ways to cut costs (like putting on a sweater and turning the thermostat down a few degrees in the winter). I've also found that cooking with healthier, more expensive foods serves as an easy method of portion control. As a result, I've lost a couple of pounds too.

owlfan said...

I checked out the powdered milk recently and it seems more expensive than fresh for me, but then currently I can get a gallon of milk for $2 or less.

I still like some coupons too, especially for things like cake or brownie mixes - when Publix puts them on BOGO, I can often get the mix for 30 cents a box. I can't make it from scratch for that.

I usually shop 2 stores each week - Aldi for most things, then either Publix or Kroger depending on which ones ad looks best. Aldi has really good prices on most things, but just don't carry everything.

Anonymous said...

i agree. we use coupons and buy only things on sale.i gor trough many of the frugal blogs every day and check what new coupons to print are out and specials at cvs walgreen, wal-mart and i snap them up after work..or free samples i do on a daily stuff works for me.i get almost every day something in the mail.for free.
i also do rebats saves more money if i get more than 44 cents back (price of a stamp) it works for me..good luck frugal is good.

Carina said...

Which could be sumarized, really, by "use self-control in the store and get off your butt and make dinner when you get home."

See, if I had that kind of self-discipline I wouldn't be in financial trouble in the first place. =) Well, not trouble as such, just irksomeness.

miriama said...

I agree with most of what you said. Except the coupons. My shelves are full of cereal, rice, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, pasta and yes, some EVIL foods. LOL But it was almost all free. I don't put that much time into it because of BargainJargon, Krazy Coupon Lady and Between them and let's see, dealseekingmom they do most of the work. They line up doubles and ads, sales and coupons, you name it. And sometimes I get paid to buy food. So for me that is how we are getting by.

I do need to know how to prepare meals and set a weekly plan better. My husband likes powdered milk, too.

page2 said...

I've been trying to get back to basic ingredients in my cooking for a few years now, and I think it has saved us lots of money, and I think we eat healthier. Now baking homemade bread is super easy and my kids love it. I agree with you on the coupon thing too. I just pick up the generic brands of most things now. Two exceptions being Kraft mac and cheese and Spaghettio's (I like the generic, but my kids don't). And those meals are reserved for special occasions--when I'm too tired or rushed to cook (after church and date nights).

angie said...

Excellent piece, Michelle.

I'm always looking for ways to save money on the necessities......I DO make the mistake of buying in bulk at Costco, though........I just tell myself it's food storage. :)

Impressive savings!

And, I didn't know about these subsititions, so thanks!

cocoa powder plus oil for baking chocolate, or one cup regular sugar plus 2 tablespoons of molasses for brown sugar

Carolyn V. said...

I use my crock-pot. I love my crock-pot, it saves me money and time. =)

New York City Single Mom said...

Great reminder tips, I need to get back into cutting back my expenses since I still havent found a job.

I am so glad you mention the coupons. I am so sick of seeing stories about these women who save, there is no way, in NYC this works. I just pretty much gave up on coupons unless, I specifically buy the brand or need it.

Also so right about packaged foods, I am a single mom and its much easier but I need to get off the addition.

I am lucky I live near trader joes because their cereal is 50% percent cheaper than name brand cereals, otherwise my daughter would be having toast everyday.

Thanks for recipes as well, will try the pasta dishes on my daughter this weekend.


Betsy said...

One of the best deals is a whole chicken. I feed my extended family of 9 a roasted chicken on Sunday and then remove the extra chicken pieces. I boil the chicken for broth with some failing veggies such as limp carrots, the center or tops of celery and onions. I remove the bones and the veggies before making a chicken soup from the broth and leftover chicken.

martine said...

Thanks for sharing this information about Food Budget...

jije said...

I knew few of the things you said years ago, like prepared foods. Most of the time i try to avoid prepared foods due to one main reason, saving money.
Other things you said will be definitely helpful to me, well I will try to follow from today onwards. Thanks for the information, have a nice weekend,bye.

Jody said...

This is really informative and helpful to me! Thank you! I've been struggling to figure out specific ways to cut back on the food budget. I seriously think Costco is a huge culprit! And I like the idea of having a non-cereal breakfast! Oh yeah, and I completely agree about the coupon theory - they're usually just a ploy to get you to try they're "new" item or brand.

Great post!

Alice Wills Gold said...

I'm at work right now...don't have time to read all of this post..will come back...can't wait...but i want to tell you that I gets lots of FREE food with coupons, not to mention the FREE non-food items I get that you absolutely HAVE to have like soap, cleaning supplies and paper goods.

Sandy said...


Have you tried overnight oatmeal in the crockpot? DELICIOUS. Alton Brown has a good, inexpensive recipe if you look him up on food network.

Andrea said...

Amen! I do most of these things, and it's made a huge difference in our food budget.

J at said...

You've done a great job here. I like that you give practical tips, and also that you personalize it so much. That's one thing I really like about your blog. :)

I had a couple of thoughts. One was that I'm sure you have friends with Costco memberships. Tag along to get your tortillas, or ask them to pick them up for you next time they go. You can make an extra banana bread or whatever you're baking that week to say thank you. :) I don't have a costco membership, for just the reasons you mention, but if I need to go sometime, I just call my aunt and she takes me.

Two, when you have a bit more money mom used to do this, and she liked it. Grocery shopping day, she would have breakfast with a friend at a restaurant (rare treat!), and work on her grocery list there. Then go shopping, which meant no empty stomach.
When I was younger, she and I would get up, work on the list, and then go get a hot dog at our favorite place, then go shopping. My brother wanted to sleep in, so it was nice me and mom time, and I still remember it fondly.

Three. Powdered milk. Ugh. You're right, it's fine in recipes. But we used to drink it, because we were too broke for regular milk. Gosh, we hated that. But if you get to that point, you can mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with regular milk to stretch it out a bit. With 4 kids, I'm sure you're going through a lot more milk than we did with just 2.

Also, I remember in 6th grade, we went to Science Camp, which was a week long awesome camp near the ocean where we learned about stars and tides and I don't know what else. I remember gorging on the milk, because we were allowed to drink as much as we wanted, and at home, we were rationed (we were off of the powdered at that point, but still not allowed to drink all we wanted.)

OK, you've done me in. I'm going to have a glass of milk right now,
and feel rich while doing it.

Oh, and generics...I disagree that they're almost all as good as the name brand. The companies sell their best tomatoes to the name brands, and the not quite as good tomatoes (or beans or peaches or whatever) to be made into generics. Is it enough of a difference to pay more for? Not usually. If you're working, and it feels like money well spent, OK. But if you don't taste a difference, or you're really watching the dimes, I say go for it. We're both working right now, and we end up with about 1/2 and 1/2. Beans I'll go generic (if they have the low salt), but I can tell the difference with tomato sauce. Weird, huh?

OK, time for my glass of milk now. ;)

Scribbit said...

Okay I'm totally thirsty after reading your comment Julie :)

Headless Mom said...

I'm really good about Costco. We buy Kirkland whole bean coffee there which is a huge savings over other brands at the grocery. I also space out other paper goods, and detergent purchases over time and only to 1 or 2x per month, ALWAYS with a list in hand. I never get anything not on my list. My list is always planned with a 2 week menu in mind. And! I plan my gas fill ups around my Costco trips so I save a bunch at the pump, too.

Shannon said...

I didn't know you could mix cocoa powder with oil to make baking chocolate- Great tip!

Donna @ WayMoreHomemade said...

Great tips. I especially agree about produce, but not specific to just Costco/Sam's. I can over-buy easily on produce anywhere. I have to really watch it so that I don't end up throwing away half of what I bought.

I would add to check into local produce markets and get on an email list if they have one. Coupons don't work for me usually because I don't buy a lot of prepared foods, but I can get coupons from my local produce market and can focus on buying what they have in season and on sale.

And I would add that you have to be careful about using powdered milk for recipes. I was going to try that and found that in my area of the country (TX), powdered milk actually ended up being more expensive right now. So, I'm just saying do the math and don't assume that it's the cheaper way to go. :)

Great set of tips, though, Michelle. These are things that i know, and I wish I could follow more of them. I would if I didn't work 30 hrs/week outside of my home and had the time to do more prep work.

diyfrugal said...

Thank you for saying that about the coupons! I was so embarrassed to admit I don't hardly every use them. The store brands have come a long way and the store discounts are plentiful. It is worth carrying those little cards but coupons, ugh! Once in awhile, I find something worth it but so much is junk I don't want - new products on the market.

Great post!!

Magpie said...

M - this is a terrific post. I do most of this anyway, but it's nice to see in one place.

Stephanie said...

This is a fantastic list, Michelle. Super helpful. I especially agree about cooking in double and triple batches (I've been doing that a lot lately) and cutting out meat (vegetarian meals are actually quite good...we've been eating them quite frequently the last month or two).

An Ordinary Mom said...

This list should be published in a highly circulated newspaper or magazine! Love all the tips ... though I still adore my Costco. I only go twice a month, though, and I really use restraint while there.

And most coupons (not all), really are overrated.

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

Great list, although I LOVE coupons and wouldn't shop without them! I cringed when you said cereal was $4 a box, when I never pay more than 75 cents thanks to coupons and sales.

You are absolutely right about Costco. We are members solely for the gas prices and birthday cakes. Gas is about 10 cents cheaper per gallon, so that adds up to over $60 in savings per year, which pays for the membership.

Birthday cakes, the last time I bought one, were $16.99 for a half sheet. They're at least $30 at the local supermarket. (Cake-making is not my strength, and $16.99 is a small price to pay for all the time and stress it saves me.)

I also buy less-than-face-value gift cards at the holidays to give as gifts.

For everyday items, I definitely get lower prices by combining sale prices and coupons at non-warehouse stores.