Thursday, September 13, 2007

Eating Cheap In The Neighborhood

There's been a lot of buzz lately on other blogs like this one about eating cheap. The articles run the gamut from cutting a few dollars from the monthly food budget to eating for $15 a week.

Along with the buzz comes a bit of criticism about just what is being eaten on a limited budget, whether it's healthy, whether it's organic, whether it honors fair trade standards.

To all of that I say...whatever.

There are no right or wrong answers. Each person or family has a set of priorities they choose to follow. Some my have to keep their budget to a minimum, trying for simple sustanence for the fewest dollars possible. Others may choose health or political issues as their top priorities.

For my family, the goal is to have tasty, affordable meals that are reasonably healthy. I admit I have no political agenda when it comes to shopping, and frankly, while some organic foods may be healthier, I'm simply not willing to spend the money required for organic food. Some may say I'll pay the price later in medical bills, and that may be so, but on our current budget, I'm not budging.

On average, we spend $200 a month on groceries for Shane, Kat and myself. Keep in mind that when I say groceries, I mean ONLY food for home consumption. I don't include cleaning supplies, paper products, alcohol, pet food or dining out in our grocery budget.

We've been averaging $200 a month, or $50 a week, since 2002. Despite the rising cost of food, our average has stayed the same, so in a sense, we're actually spending less on food than we were five years ago.

The biggest secret, I think, to keeping food costs down, is to learn to cook from scratch. Much money can be saved by making your own bread, biscuits, rice side dishes, cakes, soups, etc. Many cents per pound can be saved by cutting up whole chicken yourself or buying a large cut of beef or pork and cutting it into steaks, chops and roasts yourself.

The second and third secrets to lowering your food costs, in my opinion, are to buy food where it is cheapest and to stop being "brand loyal". Here in the Midwest, we have a chain of stores called Aldi. The are an international company that carries quality, mostly private label foods. My best friend worked for Aldi for many years and confirmed that most of the foods there are processed and packed by the major label food companies. Some are of identical taste and quality; others taste slightly different, but that doesn't mean they are inferior. They have several products, such as their tortilla chips, that we've come to prefer over any brand available. In addition, they have special purchases of brand name items, selling for considerably less than in conventional grocery stores.

I'd estimate that savings at Aldi over conventional supermarkets is approximately 33% across the board. Another similar store in our area is called Sav-A-Lot. I'm sure there are stores such as these all over the country.

Beyond cooking and buying food as inexpensively as possible, the most important thing you can do to save money on food is to plan menus. You'll see this advice time and time again when you visit sites similar to this one. Knowing what you need before you go to the store, and buying only those things WILL save you money by reducing or eliminating impulse purchase and food that is wasted because you didn't end up cooking it after all.

Wonder what kinds of meals we could possibly be eating on such a limited budget? Stay tuned. Recipes, photos and weekly menus are on their way.

Meanwhile, check out these similar articles:

How to Feed Yourself For $15 A Week
Save Over $1440 A Year By Brown Bagging It
Cheap Cooking
$45 Emergency Menu for 4 to 6


Tug said...

Welcome back Annie - you were missed.

LOVE your 'about me'... ;-)

Annie Jones said...

Tug: Thanks, it's good to be back, even if it is in an entirely different persona.

My "About Me"? That's the way I feel most of the time. :)

Shelli said...

I am terrible at these things. Of course my husband does the shopping and the cooking, so...We have tried to menu plan before and we don't do very well.

Welcome back. I love your about me, too.

Mom of Three said...

Welcome back! I've missed you!!!

I am NOT brand loyal except to Kraft Mac and Cheese. Other than that, forget it!

Also, we went to WinCo last payday and easily saved $100 over our local Safeway (with coupons and jumping through hoops), and probably $150 over Freddy's. Just that alone makes it worth our time (45 min drive as opposed to 5) and gas to go once a month. We live in a weird area where there aren't many options, so you have to travel at times.

Also, I put in a little herb and potato garden this year. Now, whenever I need fresh parsley or basil, I go outside and get it. It saves plus takes almost NO maintenance here in rainy Oregon. The potatoes are coming soon, and I'll be happy about that, too.

Gay said...

Recently, a friend of ours said, "We love having dinner at your house. You make potatoes from scratch." I replied, "But potatoes ARE scratch." Turns out this family has been using "boxed" mashed potatoes for at least 11 years. They claim they're "too busy" to cook potatoes.


Annie Jones said...

Shelli: So, how do you guys handle dinner? Does he think of something while he's at work, then pick it up on the way home? Or do you just buy a bunch of stuff and then decide what you'll make just before you make it?

If it works for you, that's all that matters.

Mom of Three: Ok, I'm busted! There are a couple of things we're brand loyal about: Lipton Tea for me and Miracle Whip for Shane.

We've lived in places like yours, where it was worth the drive to get better deals. Fortunately, where we are now there are lots of options.

Gay: I can't even remember the last time I bought instant mashed potatoes. :)