Friday, February 27, 2009

Keeping the Grocery Budget Down

Phoebe over at Cents To Get Debt Free is hosting "Finding Freedom Friday" - related to finding financial freedom :) This week her topic is the grocery budget. While she did give us a couple days notice on the topic, I have to say that I haven't given it tons of thought. So I'm gonna shoot from the hip, 'k?

I love havin' me some stockpile. I mean, really and truly. Stockpile shoulda been my middle name. If I don't have several boxes, pounds, cartons, or cases of something, then we're running out. I love buying in bulk. Ya know, if 50lbs. of flour is cheaper per oz. than 5lbs, than buy the 50lbs. The sad thing is that it makes it really hard to budget that way. If I buy 50lbs. of flour (last time I did it cost about $55) that's 2 whole months of grocery budget!!

When we decided to shrink our grocery budget from $50/week to $25/week, I realized that bulk buying might have to go out the window. Also at that time I was shopping exclusively at WalMart, occasionally going to Kroger or FoodLion for super-duper sales, and getting things like chocolate chips and yeast from the "Big Box Store" with my MIL.

Then I discovered coupons and "Krogering"! It was hard for me to make the switch from WalMart to Kroger. I used to "swear up and down" (not really) that WalMart was the cheapest place to grocery shop, period. Flat out the only place.

By using coupons and combining them with Kroger's sales I've been able to very easily stick to my $25/week budget and get SO MUCH MORE than I'd be able to get at WalMart for $25. And I get a lot of name-brand stuff for pennies or free! I would have never believed it.

Here are some other ways that I cut down our grocery costs:
~ Homemade Laundry Soap and Dishwasher Detergent. Both cost just pennies to make, and get the job done just as well. The dishwasher detergent I have had a little trouble with... mostly leaving a "film" on clear glass and some kinds of plastics, but I remedy that by washing the clear glass stuff by hand (it's not that much), and wiping the film off the plastic with a dish towel. I've tried different things to eliminate it, but haven't found a solution yet. I figure for the $$ it's saving me, I don't mind taking those extra steps.
~ Using cold water to wash clothes as much as possible (I guess this isn't really grocery related, but...)
~ FREE toilet paper! Using the $.50 Cottonelle coupon at Kroger that you can find from time to time .
~ Give up brand loyalty. I have a preference of what brand I like in certain things. But if I can get that "item" for free, I just forget about brand loyalty. Yesterday I got (4) 12ct. bags of razors for free. Will I like them? Dunno. Will they still shave my legs and armpits? Yup. TMI? Sorry.
~ Try the off brand if coupons aren't available. This mostly effects Daniel's lunch. Sandwich meat is not cheap. And there aren't often coupons out there that make "name brand" cheaper than off brand, so I buy what ever's cheapest. He likes chips in his lunch. Chips are expensive. No way you slice or dice it, they are costly. While I was still WalMart loyal, we tried Great Value chips. Yucko. They aren't GROOOOSS, but almost. When I started going to Kroger, we discovered that alot of Kroger brand stuff is pretty decent stuff! We buy Kroger brand "Doritos" for about 1/3 the price of Tostitos brand. The same goes for a ton of other stuff. Cheese, milk, eggs...
~ Reusing Ziploc bags! People frown at me and scold me for this sometimes, but I do it anyway. I might buy 1 box of Ziplocs (1 box ea. of gal and quart size) a year. I wash and reuse them until they fall apart or get holes in them. When I empty one, I rinse it out right away, and then when I'm washing dishes I wash them out well with hot, soapy water. I have some Gatorade bottles on my counter that I use as my bag drying rack. I am most frowned upon for doing this with bags that I have stored raw meat in. Here is my argument: You wash and reuse your plates, counters, knives and cutting boards, how is a plastic bag different? I do try to reuse meat bags for meat, but if cookies get into a meat bag I don't freak out. IF for some reason I forget to rinse out a meat bag and it gets really gross before I wash it, I do throw it out, but I don't let that happen much. Base line: My mom has done this my whole life and no one has ever died or gotten deathly ill from it.
~ Cloth napkins and paper towels. I hate to buy something that's just going to get thrown away. I might as well just throw a quarter in the trash can every day. (I haven't gotten to the point of using "Family Cloth" instead of toilet paper....) Daniel takes an egg sandwich with him for breakfast every morning. I used to wrap it in a paper towel. That way he wouldn't have to remember to bring a plate back in every day. Then one day I had a light bulb moment, and decided to cut up some old, worn out T-shirts. They aren't glamorous or beautiful. I didn't even cut each piece exactly the same size. I basically just chopped the fronts and backs into 4 pieces, lopped off the sleeves and cut them open, and viola - 10 paper-towels! I use these for paper towels, napkins (unless we have company), an emergency tissue, rags for floor-washing, whatever. We have enough to last a while, and when the pile starts to run low, I ask Daniel to bring in the stash from his work van. I run them through the washer, and we have a whole new stack to work on again :)
~ Buy meat only on markdown or a loss-leader sale. This one takes some patience and a whole different mind set. Gone are the days of pre-packaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Or cute, convenient 1lb. pkgs. of 100% lean ground beef. The pocketbook comes first, not "which cut I like best". I buy whole chickens (or turkeys) when they are on sale. And not just an "oooo, $.99/lb sale" - heh, that's just a gimmick. Hold out a while and somebody, somewhere will have whole birds for $.69 or less a pound. I buy SEVERAL. As many as I can squeeze into my budget that week. I bring them home and cut them up myself. It took me a couple times to get the hang of cutting up a chicken, but now I can cut one up in 10 minutes - boneless, skinless breasts, wings, and leg pieces or drumsticks and thighs. Then I throw the "carcass" into a stockpot with a little water. And cook that baby until the cows come home. Then I dump it all in a strainer, drain off the HOMEMADE CHICKEN BROTH!!, and then pick all the rest of the mat off the bones. I usually end up with a little more than 1 cup more of meat per chicken. That's enough you could make some chicken salad sandwiches, some soup, or whatever. (Chill the broth, take the grease off the top and then freeze it in reused ziploc bags!) For beef, it takes a little more skill. Kroger's markdowns usually aren't "cheap enough" for me. I try to shoot for $1.50/lb on beef. Usually the lowest markdown is around $2.
~ Check for other Markdowns!! I no longer buy powdered milk. Or "regular" milk for full price. I only buy milk when it's marked down. And I always check for markdowns on anything else that I'm buying - cheese, eggs, lunch meat, produce, frozen foods, etc. Again, you can't be picky about the type or brand. Some weeks we have whole milk, some weeks it's 1%. I try to buy marked down milk in 1gal. size. It's cheaper than 1/2gal. Since we don't drink that much milk, I bring it home, pour it into 4 quart sized plastic Rubbermaid jugs and freeze them.

I know this is getting pretty long. Here's a couple other random things I do that help our budget: I plant a garden every year and freeze or can from it. Last summer I bought and canned 2 bushels of peaches. The cost came out to a little more than $1/week over a year. And I have all the canned peaches I want. I love home canned peaches and it's cheaper per quart than buying (the same quality of yummy-ness) them from the store. The same would go for any fruit, canned or frozen.

Please make sure to check out Phoebe's blog, especially her Finding Freedom Fridays :)

LOL, I figured that I'd be back to edit and add! I want to say that I DO continue to stockpile!! Right now we have several boxes of cereal, boxed potatoes, bottles of mustard, razors, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. My stockpiling strategy HAS changed, though. No longer do I stockpile because we're out of something, but I stockpile only when something is SUPER cheap or free. This way, I don't have to pay full price for something when we do run out.


Phoebe said... [Reply to comment]

Great tips, Miriam! Thank you so much for linking up!

I've been thinking about trying the homemade dishwasher detergent--but I haven't ran out of my stockpile yet. ;)

Meghan said... [Reply to comment]

Nice post! Try using a rinse aid in your dishwasher (does not need to be filled each load) and that seems to take care of the cloudiness on glass.

I rarely shop at Walmart-I think they are a scam. There "rollbacks" seem to be more than the sale price at most grocery stores.

Miriam said... [Reply to comment]

Meghan - I actually do use Jet Dry. My sister uses vinegar in the rinse cycle, I tried that and it still didn't help the film. It's just something in the detergent. Next time I think I might try a different recipe.

Miriam said... [Reply to comment]

Oh, and on WalMart's "rollbacks"... one day I saw something with a "rollback" label on the shelf. I thought "hmm, that's not really a great sale price", so I lifted to roll-back tag and it was exactly the same as the regular shelf price! Just a marketting gimmick.

Sally said... [Reply to comment]

Wow! That's a lot of info. I wonder, if I switch to shopping at Kroger, will it be cheaper in the end than at Wal-Mart, even if I don't take the time to coupon?

Also, I'm glad the plastic bag thingy is working out for you. I did that for a while, but it seemed that without fail, as I bagged up chicken to freeze in my reused bags (only on the second use) they would be spouting juice from little holes and I would have to put the holey bag over into a new bag. After a few times of doing that to nearly all the used bags, I just started throwing them out.

Also, once you are debt-free, do you plan to continue the frugal phase? Do you anticipate letting up on some areas or just splurging on a roast once in a while?

I had better get over to my own blog and see if I can get a little bit written before my kids get up from their naps.

Enzo's Galaxy and Margarita Stewart said... [Reply to comment]

I love your blog! Cute family!

Casey said... [Reply to comment]

I find if you want to buy in bulk.
You need to get with friends and family who want to save money.
If you get 5 people to split the 50 pounds of flour every one saves.
Just make sure everyone has a good air tight container to keep the product in.