September 4th, 2010

The Cost of Food pt. 2: Spending less

I wanted to post about a new method of quick-breakfast-making that I’ve found, but my method of getting photos off my computer is to use Brian’s card reader and it’s not working.  So I hope you enjoy part 2 of “The Cost of Food” and maybe share your methods of cutting food costs in the comments!

In part one of this “mini series” I discussed how I discovered the very painful way after moving to Massachusetts that food is just dang expensive here.  Or at least much moreso than where I used to live, Ohio.  I started experimenting with different meals and decided that if I could keep each one under $2 per person for vegetarian meals and $3 per person for meat & fish meals, I was doing ok.  I could eat shrimp or steak more cheaply than a much less tasty meal at McDonald’s.  In this part, I’ll show you how I keep those meals at or under budget.

The key to accomplishing pretty much everything, especially saving money, is to be organized.  I use the following methods to take control of my food expenses:

  • Make a weekly menu – this makes sure we eat a variety of foods each week and I know exactly what I need to buy, thus reducing my over-spending.  I try to divide it up as such: 1 red meat night, 1 poultry night, 1 pasta, 1 pizza, 1 vegetarian, 1 seafood and 1 soup.  Often, meal themes overlap.  My pasta night might have chicken in it, or my pizza might be vegetarian.  This is ok, since it’s pretty much unavoidable.  As long as I make sure I have one night dedicated to each thing, I know we’re eating a variety of interesting meals.
  • Base my menu on weekly sales – many grocery stores now have their weekly circulars online, so look for their website and see if yours does.  Then on the day their sales start (Thursday here), look up their circular & see what staples you can get now to restock your pantry and what main ingredients you can get cheaper now.  Then plan your meals based on the on-sale ingredients.  For instance, when ribs are buy one get one free, I plan ribs for that week and stick the other one in the freezer for a later date.  That’s my red meat night this week, and also a couple weeks down the road.
  • Mmm…ribs.. That leads me to my next point: Only buy meat & seafood when it’s on sale – Big Y frequently has 2 for 1 or even 3 for 1 sales on meat and seafood, so I only get what’s on sale, and use one of them this week and freeze the other.  Raw shrimp is usually on sale, so my freezer almost always has frozen raw shrimp and consequentially, we eat a lot of shrimp for our seafood night and it stays under $3 per serving.
  • Be a domestic badass.  Make as many things from scratch as possible – bread, chicken & vegetable stock, pizza and pie crusts, ricotta cheese… Seriously, homemade ricotta is ridiculously easy, and sooo worth the small effort.  You’ll never want to buy mass-produced ricotta again.  Now you will spend more money on flour, butter, baking powder, etc., but in the end your grocery bill will still be smaller than if you buy everything ready-made.  I figured it out this way: 1 bag of King Arthur Flour = $3.49.  Seems like a lot to spend every other week (especially if you’re like me and need bread, all-purpose, and whole wheat flour on hand AT ALL TIMES), but I can get around 6 loaves of bread from each bag.  Even if I only paid $1 per loaf at the store (HA! Try $2.29 minimum…), I’m saving money.
  • Shop around at different stores for the best prices.  I generally accept that the discount grocery stores have a poor selection, and often inferior quality, so I only get things I can downgrade from there (butter, cream, canned vegetables, pasta…).  The rest I get from Big Y, the larger chain, as much on sale as possible, of course.  I then get the majority of my produce from the little grocery down the street from me, called Fruit Palace.  They generally have better quality produce for a better price.  Seriously, we’re hard-pressed to spend $10 there to load up on fruit and veggies.  Knowing what the different stores stock and for what price takes time, so keep shopping around and making a mental note (or use  a notebook if it helps) of what they have and for how much so that it’s easier to make your shopping list later on.  For instance, Prite Rite, the discount grocery store, is the only place I can get plantains, and they sometimes have 10-lb logs of 93/7 ground beef on sale for $2.99/lb.  Lean beef for cheap? HELL YEAH!
  • That reminds me… Buying in bulk? Everyone says to do this, and I can easily understand how it’s useful and definitely cheaper for a family, but for just the two of us, it’s just not practical.  We don’t have the storage space for buying more than a few extra at a time.  A 10-lb log of ground beef is something we can portion out and freeze then polish off in about 3 months.  It takes up 1/3 of our freezer space though! If you have more people in your family and/or the actual pantry space, then go nuts!
  • Make an organized shopping list and do all your shopping (or as much as possible) in one day.  Saturday is my grocery day because I work Monday-Friday.  I organize my list by store, grab my reusable bags and insulated bag for cold foods, and hit them all in order.  This way I don’t run back and forth because I couldn’t get something somewhere and have to go elsewhere (although sometimes I end up needing to, but it’s rare), and I don’t burn out of going to the friggin’ store every damn day.  Tried it, hated it, took a nap, streamlined it.  Having a list ensures you only (mostly? sometimes I find things I need/love that are harder to find or I didn’t realize were on sale so I snatch them up) get what you need.  Doing all your shopping at once just leaves more time for more fun things, like taking a nap.

So there you have it! My secret love for organizing every facet of my life and how it helps me eat more, better food without staying going utterly broke.  Do you use these methods? Do you use any others? Leave a comment and let’s compare notes!


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