Shoestring Meals - Grocery Budget/Meal Planning (possibly the least sexy topic ever)

07-12-2010, 12:33 PM
So I'm fairly convinced our grocery budget is insane. I don't think buying healthier foods is necessarily more expensive - I guess it is if you buy all the "diet" products and hundred calorie packs and stuff, but for the most part even when I'm not trying to lose weight I try to buy real and less processed food for my family. I still think we spend too much.

I try to plan meals in advance, freeze anything that's going to make more than two meals (for instance, I can not figure out how to make soup that feeds less than a small army, so if it's something that will freeze well then I freeze half, pasta sauces - same thing. I try to sneak in so many extra vegetables, it makes a TON of sauce so I freeze half). Any fruit that's not going to get eaten in time is frozen and becomes smoothies. I'm not terribly brand loyal. I will buy whatever natural yogurt is on promo this week. We don't eat a lot of meat because, well, we just don't like it much.

I keep reading about people feeding a family of five for $100 a week and I think what on earth are they eating? HOW?

So how are you handling it? Are you thrifty or do you just buy what you like and worry about it later?

07-12-2010, 12:38 PM
I moved your post to an area specifically about this topic!

So how much are you spending? What are your big expenses?

One of my biggest tips is to buy in bulk when you can. Beans, grains and even spices in bulk. Buy fruits/veggies in season as they tend to be cheaper. Shop in ethnic markets if you have any in your area. Look for farmers markets to buy fruits/veggies.

07-12-2010, 01:49 PM
I buy things on sale and only buy ingredients, no packaged foods (no salad dressings, sauces, etc.). I buy produce in season and what is most economical per serving. I compare prices. The largest size isn't always the least expensive per ounce.

I make all my food from scratch (and my own soaps, for grooming, laundry, dishes, etc.) I rarely eat meat, which keeps the grocery bills down.

I buy vinegar in one gallon bottles.

Another vote for produce from a farmer's market, if you've got one nearby.

If it interests you, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn is a useful resource. The book is a few years old, but much is still relevant. I checked it out from the library and found some good recipes and useful ideas.

Another vote for ethnic markets. I buy my tea from East Indian grocers.

To save as much money as I can on food expenditures, I do such things as using brown rice rather than pasta. I compare fresh, frozen and canned produce and get whatever costs the least per serving, considering ingredients. I read labels carefully as there are many things I don't eat.

07-12-2010, 02:59 PM
I moved your post to an area specifically about this topic!

You know, I even looked for a place to put this and I odd, you would think there would be an area on this topic. Sometimes, I am just blind. Thanks for moving me!

One BIG issue is that we are (for now, anyway, house is for sale!) in a very small town with very few choices. There are no ethnic markets and no farmer's markets. What we DO have are lots of people who sell whatever is in season from the backs of trucks and a lot a of You Pick type places. I try to hit those because A. it's local, B. my dollars actually matter to that person, and C. kids like to pick things so that's entertainment for my four year old (although it is getting too hot for that). For the past few years I've grown herbs, tomatoes, and peppers but this year we didn't (mistake).

Our grocery shop (and this would include everything you can buy at the grocery - so personal products, cleaning products, paper goods) comes in at just under $200/week and this is with me being WAY on top of it. In the past, I was a very impulsive grocery shopper (hey, that bread looks beautiful, oh, I've never heard of this cheese, OH SUSHI!!!) but I have that under control.

I feel pretty good about that until I read about other people feeding a family of five on $300 a week and just...HOW? I looked into that grocery game business and my gosh, it's like math. It seems very complicated. I don't have a lot of choices, so I can't run all over town doing coupons and shopping at five different places. Because we're so far from everything, that just ends with me spending a fortune on gas.

Can I ask WHERE you buy in bulk?

I make all my food from scratch (and my own soaps, for grooming, laundry, dishes, etc.)

Can I also hear more about this? I'm kind of paranoid about the ingredients in cleaning supplies and things like Meyers are not super expensive, but they're not cheap either. I also have a lot of allergies and Tide is the ONLY clothes detergent I've ever been able to use.

07-12-2010, 04:01 PM
I buy food in bulk from the health food store, the food co-op and Costco.

Here are some links about making soap:

This one is full of useful info for getting started:

This forum is small and nice for getting started in soapmaking:

Many professional soapmakers here, great info at this forum:

I don't use anything with scents made from petrochemicals, and it costs much less to make soap than to buy the good soaps from the health food stores. There are many excellent recipes and instructions at the forums. Many who have allergies make their own soaps and are most pleased with how their own soaps alleviate the symptoms.

I also swap things when I can, rather than buy, or shop church-run thrift stores, or garage sales.

Cutting my own hair also saves money, and I'm not around all the chemicals of a hair salon.

I find it such a relief to find more ways to be free of the need to go to the store or buy things.

I hang up my laundry rather than use a dryer. (I think sun-drenched clothes smell the nicest.) I use cloth napkins instead of paper. Paper towels are for things that are too icky for a rag and used rarely.

White vinegar mixed with water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid makes a good window and mirror cleaner. I use one part vinegar and ten parts water. Baking soda for cleaning the toilet and bathtub. (Borax for stains.)

Borax and baking soda, 2 Tablespoons each, is popular with some for washing dishes in a dishwasher. (I wash mine by hand.)

I don't buy any commercial cleaners.

The forum has some good info, too.

Hope this helps a bit.

07-12-2010, 04:52 PM
I have a family of 4. We tend to spend around $200 each time we go. This includes diapers, wipes, paper products, cleaning products, dog food, various and sundry. (This does NOT include produce, which we buy from the farmer's market on the weekends.) That being said, we only go every 2 weeks. I buy mostly store brand stuff, meat that's on sale (never eat steak, and we're all going to grow feathers from all the chicken I make LOL) and having cut back on the processed food, junk food, cereals, etc. really did help. Good luck!