Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Food Budgets -- going cheap

There were some good questions from my last food budget post, where I said I was aiming for $200/month for our food budget.  First, that does not include paper or personal products. Only food. I am also aiming to reduce our spending on those other things as well, but that's for another post. This is all about food.

How do I do it? How did I only spend $214 in Sept to feed the two who eat solids? There are a couple of things that I believe play into this. (Turns out there are 7 things, which are more than a 'couple'.)

1. We don't eat out much. We give ourselves permission to eat out twice in a month, and that comes out of "entertainment", not "food".

2. I know what is a good price for various foods and won't pay more than that. For example, I don't by meat if its more than $3/lb. I only buy whole chickens if they are $0.88/lb or less. I only buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts if they are $1.97/lb or less.

3. I'm not the best menu maker. I tend to decide what's for dinner that morning, or if I'm really ahead on the game, the night before. I know what's in the freezer, fridge and pantry and go from there.  Yes, we tend to have spaghetti about once a week, and stir fry once a week (both quick and easy for me, and cheap). If I get to the store and something is a great price, I might get it and do something with it that night (for example, when corn was selling for $0.15/lb, we'd have corn the cob and something). If I want something particular, then I plan for it, but I don't do this much. I know what we like to eat and its all fairly simple stuff.

4. I have, both written down and in my head, a list of what should be in my pantry. This means I can stockpile when something is on cheap. I don't do this as much as I'd like, though, and think this is where I can reduce my food budget the most over the winter.

5. I buy almost no pre-packaged prepared foods. Well, I do by some, but I can list them for you... mac-n-cheese, cans of soup, cans of tuna. And I'm not sure the soup and tuna count. As for junk food style things, I buy tortilla chips, graham crackers, ritz crackers, chocolate chips, occasionally ice cream, and, when I'm back on dairy for sure, Nilla Wafers. For all these but the chips, I do buy the name brand, because I can tell the difference and I like the name brand the best. I bake choco chip cookies and will make brownies occasionally. But, as Hubby says, if its around, we will eat it, and that's not necessarily good.

6. I have a specific list of what I get at Sam's. I go about once a month to Sam's and get only those things. For example, I can get cheese cheaper at Sam's. And peperoni for pizza. And flour, sugar, and other baking goods. And rice -- we eat lots of rice.

7. I cook from "scratch" most nights. Of course, that depends on our definition of "scratch". No, I don't go out and kill the chicken for that nights dinner. But I do pull out the chicken from the freezer, and go from there. However, when I bake a cake, I do more than add water to a box of powder. For many things, I've done it both ways, and have found that it takes about the same amount of time either way (working from something convenience vs. from 'scratch'). And it drastically cheaper working from 'scratch'.

Things I plan to do:
1. Figure out, for some things, which is cheaper. Spaghetti sauce (from a can, which is about $1 or from canned whole tomatoes); Bread (buying a loaf of wheat for about $2.00 or baking loaves myself). I plan to take into account the cost of electricity as well. I hope to provide a step by step tutorial on this, so you can figure out your own stuff with your own prices and such.

2. Get better about stockpiling at rock bottom prices. This means watching sale ads, and stopping at more than one store a week. And it means feeling a tad embarrassed at the check out when I'm buying 40 cans of tuna at some amazing price.

Here are the two most handsome men (boys) that I cook for. Only one currently eats what I cook, though.
Funny story -- Back in Los Angeles, occasionally at Food-4-less, Kraft Mac N Cheese would go on sale for $0.50/box. When this happened, I would head in and buy 40 some odd boxes. One time, the lady behind me in line asked if I had a lot of kids. No, I said, this is just a great price and this stuff doesn't spoil that fast. She just looked at me funny.

If you happen to live in the LA area, its worth the drive to the Food-4-Less and worth the feeling-like-a-minority (if you happen to be very white and blond as I am) to get the good food prices.

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