Hello, darling readers!
I know that I've mentioned it in a prior blog (Skillet Beef and Asparagus- read it, cook it!) that my husband and I live on a tight self-imposed grocery budget. We're students, so we have a fixed income that we want to make stretch as far as possible. We like to travel, we like to go see shows and movies, we like to do weekend projects, and we like to go eat out. With so many likes coupled with necessities, we have to budget everything. While certain expenses we can't exactly plan for (like the cost of gas each week or emergency vet visits because our dog ate a rock), we can plan for groceries very well and have successfully eaten very well on $60 max a week for the past year and a half. Here's how:
1- We have a KrogerPlus card. Not only does it give us some discounts each time we shop, we get points to take some cost off of our gas bill. Giant Eagle has a similar program, as I'm sure other stores do as well. Kroger also frequently sends us coupons for the items we frequently buy, so we've gotten free grape tomatoes, free ice cream, free cereal, discounts on our pet food, etc. Example of our Kroger card being awesome: last year, we saved almost $500 off of our grocery bill.
2- We make a menu and actually use it. The day we go to the grocery store, hubby and I sit down and pick out 6 meals, leaving one day open for either eating out or using up leftovers. We try to have meals that use the same ingredients each week to prevent buying tons of extra ingredients (ie- chicken nuggets one night, chicken and sausage gumbo the other). Having a menu planned helps prevent impulse buys (such as frozen meals). We also try to use the spices, oils, and vinegars we already have; while over the long run the price per use goes down, if we buy a ton at once, it gets really expensive. Our goal is to have our total meal for the night come to less than $5.
3- On the topic of frozen meals, we really try to avoid them unless they are on special or we have a good coupon for them. Aldi does have a very good garlic chicken and veggie frozen skillet dinner for less than $3 (feeds two very easily) that we like having in the freezer, but there are no frozen pizzas or frozen PF Changs unless we can get it at less than $5. We've found that frozen meals tend to be more expensive than what we cook, as well as taking just as much time to make. That also means we tend to not get "dinner in a box" items (The exception being gumbo or jambalaya- I can't do those from scratch). They're expensive and they really aren't all that healthy. Plus, they take just as much time to cook.
4- When we menu plan, we leave wiggle room on the veggies portion (I'm big on veggies with every meal). Unless the recipe requires a specific veggie, we leave the veggie item blank to account for some being on special. There have been times that broccoli has been twice the price of asparagus, or we've found green beans for 29 cents a pound. Hubby and I like a variety of veggies, so it's not a big deal to us to swap out one for the other. If we really need to purchase the more expensive veggie, we make sure to use it again that week (as in, this week we had a recipe call for asparagus, so we used it for that and as our side veggie for another meal).
5- We buy meat when it's on special (BOGO kosher hot dogs are an awesome deal), stock up, and freeze it for later. Back in January, my parents were kind enough to purchase us 2 lbs ground beef and three packages of chicken breast; I preportioned it, froze it, and that stuff lasted us for almost a month and a half. On that note, BUY HAM! If it's presliced, you can preportion it out (we tend to do about 4 slices) and freeze it, and it lasts forever.
** This also applies to other items. We really like Annie's organic mac n cheese, which is regularly $2 a box (ouch). We buy it when it's on 10 for $10 special, and it lasts us for months (by which time it's on sale again).
6- It kind of goes with the preportioning meat, so I'll say it here: PORTION CONTROL. Hubby and I have found what portions of meat let us feel pleasantly full (not stuffed, which is unhealthy)- that tends to be a 1/2 lb of ground beef (tacos, etc), 4 slices of ham (2 each), and one large chicken breast (nuggets, gumbo, etc). Because we tend to have a side dish with our meals, the smaller portion of meat works very well.
Now, this has gotten rather long, so please look for the other things we do in part 2 of my grocery budget post!