Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Wausau, WI
One of the reasons I follow an exchange plan, is because it makes it much easier to shop on a tight budget (it would be even easier, if hubby followed the same exchange plan, but he's fairly consistent in what he eats, so it's not that difficult).
For example, every day my exchange plan allows me 3 servings of fruit daily, and five extra exchanges that I can spend on fruit, protein, or starch.
So every week, I buy about 25 to 30 (60 - 75 calorie) servings of fruit, keeping in mind that many pieces of fruit are more than one serving. For example, a small apple is one serving, but a large apple or a banana are two servings, and a good-sized watermelon may have 20.
A watermelon seems expensive at $6 a melon, but when calculated per serving, it only comes to 30 cents per serving (which isn't bad, though I usually try to get a better deal unless I'm really wanting a specific fruit). This month, watermelons have been on sale for $4 which brings the price down to 20 cents a serving. The downside is that I didn't get get a lot of variety in fruit this week, I ate watermelon and nectarines, that's it.
Raisins are super cheap, and they also count as fruits, and I do keep some in the pantry, but I don't usually use dried fruits for my fruit exchanges, because fresh fruit is a lot more filling.
Likewise, I can get balanas for 39 cents a pound (about 10 to 15 cents per serving), but bananas aren't very filling for me (and they're not my favorite).
Books that helped me tremendously include The Complete Tightwad Gazette and similar books (that I checked out from the library or bought used through amazon.com) on the topic of living and eating on the cheap.
One of the techniques I borrowed (and improved upon) from the TCTG was using tvp as a ground meat extender. TVP, or textured vegetable protein is a soy protein that looks sort of like GrapeNuts cereal (and in fact, it makes a nice crunchy low-carb breakfast cereal with a little sweetener).
You can add hot water to tvp and use it in place of ground beef in recipes, but tvp made this way is extremely bland. However, if you brown the tvp with ground beef or pork and seasoning veggies (like onion, celery, bell pepper...) the tvp absorbs the flavor of the meat (if you want a more detailed recipe, let me know and I'll link to it, I must have given it out here a dozen times or more).
Because plain tvp is fat free and super cheap per serving, I can buy very cheap (fatty) ground beef or pork and by browning it with the fat free tvp, I end up with a ground meat mixture that is even cheaper than cheap ground meat and that (even without draining) is as low in fat as the more expensive lean ground meats.
Plain tvp is even cheaper per serving, but it also lacks flavor, so making the tvp/ground beef mixture is a good compromise. I also make it in huge batches (using 2 to 3 lbs of ground meat and 2 to 3 lbs of tvp, a couple of onions, a few stalks of celery and a green pepper or two).
This makes a humongous batch that I then freeze in ziploc bags. While it freezes, I smoosh the bag around every 30 minutes or so, so that the meat mixture freezes in "crumbles." Then I squeeze out as much air from the bags as I can (to prevent freezer burn) and then I scoop out what I need to use in recipes that would use browned ground beef (such as taco filling, spaghetti sauce, casseroles, sloppy joes...) and "recipe" is a bit loose, because I'll sometimes throw a handful into a can of cheap vegetable soup (40 cents a can at Aldi) or will heat up a scoop of the meat mix in the microwave with a tablespoon of bbq sauce).
I do stock up on non-perishables and freezer items when they're on sale, and I usually calculate per-serving price to compare prices.
Aldi and Walmart both have the best prices on some things, but they're more expensive for others. Even the most expensive stores will be cheapest on some food products, so if you get to know your grocery stores and read the flyers, it's often worth a special trip (and if you get to know the stores, you also get to know which days and times are busiest).
Because I shop so many stores, you'ld probably think that I spend more time shopping than when I only used one store, but that as it turns out hasn't been true. I actually spend less time in the grocery store, because I know what's cheapest where, and when is the best time to shop, so we're in-and-out much quicker than when we only shopped one store.
Asian grocery stores and specialty health-food stores are often more expensive overall, but even they have their secret bargains. Asian grocery stores sell huge bottles of gourmet soy sauce for the same price as a bottle of Kikkoman's in the grocery store. Often the produce is of better quality (depends on the store) and rice and noodles are often super cheap compared to chain grocery store prices.
I'm not a super-domestic person. I like cooking, but only if I can do it in a reasonably low-effort way. However, I do make my own yogurt, jerky, salad dressings and dips, refrigerator/freezer pickles and grow my own sprouts. All of these are relatively low-work (except for the jerky - unless you find a butcher willing to cut the meat thin for you).
I don't can foods, because I'm kind of afraid of it to be honest (and don't want to buy all the equipment), and the yogurt I just recently learned to make and it turns out to be almost no work if you have a crockpot and a digital thermometer with an alarm to ring when it reaches a certain temp (the digital thermomenter was under $15 at Target and Crockpots are ofen reasonably priced new, and often can be found new, still in the box at thrift stores for under $10.
I LOVE crockpot for turning cheaper, tougher meats into good eating. And if you season the pork, chicken, with basic seasonings like onion and garlic, you can use the meat in all sorts of different dishes.
A type of store that's worth looking for (even though they're usually not advertised) is a grocery salvage store (sort of a private version of Big Lots).
These stores buy non-perishables from stores that are going out of business, or food that's been rejected by the chain store for one (frivolous) reason or another. If one box of cereal gets cut with careless opening, or one jar in a case is broken, or one can in a case is dent, many stores will reject the entire case (in some cases, the entire shipment). There are other reasons too that food can end up in salvage stores (say the labels were mistakenly put on upside down, or some other printing defect)....
You have to watch salvage stores carefully though, because the best sales are on foods you probably don't want to be eating tons of (lots and lots of super-cheap junk food). But there are also usually hidden bargains. In the salvage grocery we shop, most bars, whether candy, granola or protein bars usually sell for 10 for $1 (including those that sell for $1 to $3 elsewhere). I don't eat a lot of protein bars, but I always do buy a few for roadtrips and hubby does like the Nutri-grain and FiberOne bars we find there.
The store also got in some plain instant oatmeal (oats being the only ingredient) for less than 15 cents per serving ($2 per box). Instant oatmeal is a bit higher glycemic than steel-cut and even quick cooking oats, but it's still a whole grain, and is very convenient. The cheapest and healthiest way to buy oatmeal is in huge 25 lb bags, but I don't eat enough oatmeal to buy that much. I usually don't even want to bother with quick-cooking oatmeal, so I'm wlling to compromise and buy an unsweetened instant oatmeal (which is surprisingly difficult to find in chain grocery stores).
I know I'm writing a book here (actually I am writing an actual book on the subject of budget dieting), but mostly it all boils down to using thousands of little tips.
It's hard to save huge amounts of money with any one tip. Instead saving the most money is usually about using many small strategies that save a dime here and there.
Last edited by kaplods; 07-26-2014 at 11:57 AM.