Simple Ways to Slash your Grocery Bill

One of my big goals for 2012, was to slash my grocery bill. I used to be a coupon queen, and I was spending about $100 a week. That money included all of our food and household items for my family of 5 (family of 6 when my stepson is here). I thought I was doing great. I would look in my pantry and see 12 boxes of fruit roll ups, 17 boxes of white pasta, and 30 cans of name brand beef stew. This year, I wanted to try to spend the less money each week – while buying better quality food and cooking from scratch more.

I learned something very interesting over the last year. I stopped using coupons, I spend way less on groceries, and my kitchen is better stocked than it’s ever been before. The last two months, my grocery and household budget bill has been averaging $70 – and that includes the $32.50 I spend each week on produce. That is a 30% savings! I still say that my budget is $100 a week; but out of that, in just the last year, I’ve saved enough to buy a water bath canner, canning supplies, a juicer, a dehydrator, and a nice blender. I’ve also switched to better oils. We finished all of the vegetable oil and canola oil in the house and I’ve made the switch to organic coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. I’ve been able to stock up on staples; now my pantry is filled with bulk brown rice, quinoa, couscous, oats, various kinds of beans, organic flour, and different types of seeds and nuts. I don’t think we’ve ever eaten this well, and we are reaping the rewards with better health, higher energy levels, and more family time together at the table.

Here are the basic things that I did in the past year that have made the most impact on reducing my grocery bill and allowing my family to eat better and higher quality foods.

 

Be realistic with your budget – take a week and write down what you really spend. Count every penny, from the coffee at Starbucks to the pack of gum for the kids at the gas station. You can’t slash your budget until you realize what your budget really is.

Use cloth napkins and kitchen towels instead of paper towels – If your budget is too low to do this outright, then just buy half of the paper towels you would usually buy and buy a few kitchen towels at your local dollar store. My dollar store sells them 2 for $1. Within a few months, you should have a nice collection of them. As the cheap towels wear out, use them for cleaning, and buy nicer ones or a matching set for your daily use.

Skip the cereal isle – make breakfast. Homemade breakfasts are so easy and so adapatable. We are often rushed for time in the mornings, so I usually make a dozen muffins at night. They are great when paired with a piece of fruit and glass of milk. The kids love pancake muffins with a tiny bit of maple syrup on top. I use any pancake recipe I  have laying around, but I always make them from scratch. I tried to use bisquick once, and everyone wrinkled their noses at it. Cooking from scratch just tastes better and it is so much healthier for you. Don’t worry about the type of flour or the amount of sugar at this point. Just get in the habit of eating a homecooked meal every morning. As your grocery budget realigns itself, you will have more room in it to buy foods that are healthier.

Plan your menu and inventory your pantry and fridge – I don’t even have to explain this one.  Plan meals around what you have at home and what is in season and on sale.

Bake your own bread – baking bread is simple and it’s so rewarding. I can buy a 25lb bag of all purpose flour, a 16 oz package of yeast, and a container of table salt for less than $10 (at my local Sam’s club – I think Walmart has similar prices). Look up “Depression Era Bread” for more information about the specific recipe. These three ingredients will be enough to make you 35 loaves of Depression Era bread. Even with the white flour, it’s healthier than almost anything you can buy at the store.  Remember what I said earlier – You can buy healthier flour and start playing around with different ingredients later. Don’t be a perfectionist about this. It’s just bread. You don’t need a bread pan, you can use a casserole dish, a cookie sheet, muffin tins, or whatever you have on hand.

Make your own laundry detergent and wool dryer balls – Laundry detergent and wool dryer balls are simple to make. I posted directions about how to make them here. I’ve since found that I like the liquid version of the laundry soap better. It’s pretty much the same thing that is posted on that link, just dilluted with hot water and mixed in a 5 gallon bucket.

Look for a local co-op or farmer’s market for fruit and veggies – I order our produce from Bountiful Baskets. I like them because I can skip a week if I need to without having to pay. I also enjoy the extras that are available. I order two baskets each week for my family of 5, and it’s plenty of produce for us. It might be too much produce some weeks, but we share the scraps with our rabbits and our compost pile. Speaking of which….

Start a compost pile – I know this seems like a strange thing to add to this list, but I think it deserves a place here. If you are forced to look at your produce waste on a regular basis, you will start trying to come up with ways to make that amount of waste smaller.  I hate wasting food. The solution for me is to take one day a week and prep all of the food that I can. I chop veggies, wash fruits, pickle cucumbers, brown ground beef, and shred cheese. It seems like a lot of work at the time, but I’ve found that if I can make a meal easy for me to put together at the last minute, I’ll follow my menu plan and be less tempted to waste a meal worth of produce.

Have a few easy meals always available – We’ve all had meetings that end late, or last minute errands that we have to run. When this happens, it can be very easy to justify stopping for food. If you have a few easy meals at home, you will be less likely to stop. I usually have a stash of rice and bean burritos in the freezer along with a few pounds of precooked ground beef that I can add to spaghetti sauce easily.

Make your own snack food – It doesn’t matter what you love to munch on – figure out a way to make it from scratch. It’s going to be cheaper in the long run and much better for your body. If you don’t have time to make snacks, cube cheese and have it available with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Skip the isles – I’m not sure about other parts of the world, but in most of the grocery stores I’ve been in around Dallas, Texas, the real food is located around the outside of the grocery store and very rarely can it be found on an endcap or grocery store isle. For the most part – – Real food does not come in a box.

Eat less meat – You don’t need meat at every meal. It’s easy to stretch meat by using small amounts of it to season things without having to make meat the center piece of the meal. Everytime you do eat meat as the main part of your meal, save the carcass or bones and throw them on the stove (or crockpot) with water to simmer for a few hours. The liquid makes a great stock you can use to cook rice in, make soup with, or season beans with. Quality meat is more affordable when you can get 2 or more meals from it.

Skip soda – Stop drinking soda. It’s addicting and it’s really bad for you. The kids and I usually just drink water, whole milk, or fresh squeezed citrus juice when it’s in season. I kicked my coffee habit, but I still love unsweetened tea. Luckily, a box of tea bags is cheap and will last for awhile.

Learn to cook from scratch – Follow recipes until you understand the “why” of what you are doing, then adapt recipes to suit your family and your current resources. Once you understand which spices go best together, how baking soda and baking powder differ, ect…, you can start to branch out and create your own culinary masterpieces. Try as many recipes as you can get your hands on. Learn to make granola, make homemade yogurt, make cheese, make ice cream, make scones, make anything that sounds good to you. Learn to love to cook. Enjoy the process and reap the rewards.

 

It doesn’t sound hard does it? It’s really not – but it takes dedication, and a desire to change. I think I could lower my grocery bill even further if we cut out all of the extras that we get, but we are in a comfortable place right now and I’m proud of all of the changes we’ve made to our eating habits. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

 

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Bountiful Baskets 12/22/12

Today was the last Bountiful Baskets for the year. The basket was overflowing. As usual, we ordered 2 baskets. I was tempted to get 3, but I was afraid I wouldn’t have room to store it all. I would have been right. Here are the veggies we got in our two baskets. There were 2 heads of romaine lettuce, 2 eggplants, 6 avacados, 2 bags of red potatoes (Each bag is 3lbs each, 1 of the bags was open, and a few were missing. I guess they were a bag short and took a few from random bags to make up for it.), 8 yellow onions, 4 green peppers, and 2 yellow squash.

 

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Here is the fruit portion of our bountiful baskets. There were 2 five pound bags of cuties, 12 additional cuties, 6 pear apples, 4 pomegranates, 13 navel oranges, and 13 red pears.

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Here is everything together. All of this produce was only $31.50. Bountiful baskets is taking the next two weeks off for the holidays, so I’ll have to experiment and see what I can buy at the store for the same price I’ve been spending on BB. I don’t think I will even come close to what BB has to offer, but it will be nice to sleep in on Saturday.

 

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Bountiful Baskets 12/15/2012

 

Here are our goodies from Bountiful Baskets for today, December 15th, 2012. As usual, we picked up two baskets. These pictures are of the produce we got from both baskets. There were a lot of green foods today. For fruits, we got 9 oroblancos, 8 granny smith apples, 2 bags of seedless red grapes, 12 bananas, and 3 pineapples that didn’t make this picture (but they are in the group shot).

 

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For veggies, we got 2 heads of cauliflower, 2 heads of romaine lettuce, 2 bunches of spinach, 7 green peppers, 4 yellow squash, and 2 bags of red potatoes.

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Here is the group shot. I wish it was a little more colorful, the pictures look a little *blah* this week. I’m sure it will all taste great though. There is only 1 more week of bountiful baskets until they take 2 weeks off for the holidays. I’m going to miss our fruit and veggies, but it will be nice to stay home on Saturday morning.

 

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Bountiful Baskets 12/8/2012

Here is our bountiful basket order for December 8, 2012. We got there in time to volunteer, but the truck was early and everything had already been unloaded. We were still able to help pass things out. I spent a little bit more than my usual $31.50 today, but I’m glad – I’ll show you why after I show off my produce for the day.

As usual, we get two baskets. Two baskets is plenty for my family of 5. Most families of five could easily get by with one basket, but my two teenage boys are both going through growth spurts, and I cook from scratch 90% of the time. If you are new to bountiful baskets, I’d suggest starting with one basket unless you have 6+ people in your family and/or you know for certain that you will use it all. It can be a little overwhelming to bring home two full baskets each week.

Here is the fruit we got in our two baskets this week. We were light on fruit, but the amount of veggies we got this week made up for it. There were 2 bags of seedless red grapes, 2 papayas, 10 bananas, and 16 persimmons. Our site had some leftover fruits and veggies that were passed out randomly to the baskets. I ended up with an extra papaya in one basket and 2 extra bananas in the other basket. I also ended up getting a 3rd package of grapes as an extra for volunteering. I didn’t add those extras to this picture, but they are in the picture of the fruit and veggies together.

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We had a lot of vegetables this week.  There were 2 heads of brocolli, 4 cucumber, 4 zucchini, 10 yellow squash, 6 green peppers, 2 bunches of radishes, 2 packages of mushrooms, and 2 heads of salad greens.

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Here is everything from both boxes together. This much food only costs me $31.50 a week. My grocery budget is $100 a week for my entire family and that includes all paper products, medicines, toiletries, and anything else we might use. The money I spent on bountiful baskets comes out of that $100. My budget will seem high to some people and low to others, but I think I’ve reined it in fairly well over the last few years. One of these days, I’ll write a few posts about the strategies I use to help us keep our budget low without coupons.

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This week, I actually spent more than my usual $31.50. I bought two different adds on. First, I bought the tortilla pack add on. For $10.50, it comes with 7 dozen tortillas that are all made exclusively for bountiful baskets. I haven’t tried them before, but they look delicious. Included in the 7 dozen,  3 dozen were large flour tortillas, 2 dozen were small flour tortilla, and 2 dozen were corn tortillas. They are parcooked, so they do have to be refrigerated or frozen until they are used. I put all of them in the freezer except for one of the large packages.

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It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the large ones are HUGE. Here is a picture of it with a random marker for comparison. These tortillas are at least 12″ across. We are having a “Make your own burrito” night tonight, so I hope they are as good as they look. **Edited after supper to add — They are better than they look. It did take a few minutes per tortilla to finish cooking them, but it was so worth it.**

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Lastly, I bought one extra add on. Coconut oil. This came at a great time for me, as I just finished the last of my coconut oil. I love cooking with coconut oil. It is healthier and it just plain tastes better (imho). It is a little pricey, especially for the organic, good stuff. The cheapest I’ve found it is $26 for 54 ounces. Bountiful Baskets offered a 64 ounce size in a glass jar for $20.50. I use this in almost every recipes that call for vegetable oil. It leaves a sweeter taste, but it’s a lot healthier. There are hundreds of other uses for coconut oil and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what all it can be used for. It’s pricey, but this should last me a very long time.

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False Pregnancy in Rabbits

Polymorph, the rabbit that I thought might have been pregnant, was going through a false pregnancy. I realized this about 37 days after the date she could have been bred. Rabbits are pregnant for only 28-33 days before they deliver. It was interesting to watch the symptoms she had, she gained weight, started acting very grouchy, and pulled fur to make a nest.

Pretty boy, my buck was only 4-5 months old when we got him, now he is about 7 months old. He is still very sweet, but now he is grown up. He is very appreciative of the ladies and he has turned into a bit of a romancer.  I put Bandit in with Pretty Boy on December 4th, and Polymorph on the 5th. (The kids named the rabbits. I think I’ve gotten Polly and Bandit switched a few times, but the kids can’t tell them apart, so I’ll never admit it to them.) They are both due the first week of January. I will palpate them in a couple of weeks just to make sure.

So far, the rabbits are eating about $0.45 worth of food and timothy hay a day. That’s only $0.15 apiece, but I’d like to get it lower than that. I’ve been drooling over seed catalogs, and I’d really like to plant some rabbit edible plants as soon as the weather warms up. $0.45 is not a lot, but the goal is self sufficiency, and it’s not very self sufficient to rely on rabbit pellets on a regular basis.

Here are some recent pictures of the rabbits, you can tell they have gained some weight. That’s a good thing! They were skin and bones when we first got them. The bright orange background is a tarp that I used to throw over the hutch whenever rain was in the forecast. Last week, we added nice plywood covers that can be attached to both sides for protection from weather, so the tarp is back in the shed. I really should write up a post about the hutch one of these days. When we started, we had just a basic idea of what we were doing, but it turned out really well and I love some of the additions that we’ve made.

The top picture is Pollymorph (aka Polly). She is a grump when she thinks she is pregnant. The middle picture is Bandit – see the small bands of black at the base of her ears? The last picture is Pretty Boy, he is a New Zealand White (The girls are Californians).

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Bountiful Baskets 12/1/2012

I know everyone is waiting with bated breath to hear what was in my bountiful basket today (December 1, 2012). There were lots of goodies. We got there early to volunteer again, and the truck was inevitably late. It was fun to sit around and talk to the other volunteers though. There was a wide range of people that showed up today, and everyone was friendly and happy to have help. (They only let kids 12 and older touch and sort produce, but the 3 year old has plenty to do as well. He stacks boxes, lines up baskets, and adds things to the trash/compost pile as needed.)

As usual for us, we ordered two baskets. Here’s the picture of the vegetable portion of our two baskets. There were 2 heads of salad greens, 2 heads of brocolli, 13 rainbox carrots, 11 tomatoes, and 2 boxes of mushrooms.

 

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Here is the fruit portion. In our two baskets, we ended up with 2 papaya, 2 watermelon, 1 canteloupe, 10 fuji apples, 6 persimmons, and 18 bananas. We were one of the volunteers that gave up a canteloupe, since our site was 3 short. There are only 10 apples in the picture, since 2 were eaten before we got home. There are 4 extra bananas in our picture, they were our extras for volunteering. I added them to the picture today since we were short some of the other things, to give a better idea of how much produce is included in two baskets.

 

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Here is everything together.  All of this produce was only $31.50.  I’m really glad to see tomatoes.  I’m also glad to see that there is not a pineapple this week. We were swimming in pineapples for awhile.  I hope the kids like papayas more than the like pineapples.

 

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This is a persimmon. It looks like a smushy, odd colored, bad tomato. It’s a pretty interesting fruit. The black spots form on the outside is due to the sun hitting it in that spot. I have never had one before. I tried one today, and it is really good. To me, it tastes like a mango – and I’m so happy about that. I love mangoes, but I’m allergic to the oil on the skin of them, so I never get to eat them – this was a nice surprise.  I’m not sure what we are going to do with them all, but I doubt they will last the weekend. I hope we get more of them next week.

 

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