Grocery prices keep going up and the economy continues to get worse, so lately I've really been focusing on how to keep our food costs down. I've already explained why I rarely use coupons. You may also know I use a super simple and flexible method of meal planning that saves us a lot of money. We also rarely eat at restaurants or get take out or delivery.
Here's what else I'm doing:
1. Re-evaluating ready-made foods. For example, I often buy canned beans. I think this is mostly because my mom did. Until recently, it never even occurred to me to buy cheaper dried beans. So I've been stocking up on bags of dried beans and preparing them in the slow cooker. Once cooked, I freeze the beans for quick cooking. It really takes very little time. A bonus is dry beans last pretty much indefinitely if kept in an air tight container. Another area I'm looking at is french fries and chicken tenders - both of which can be made at home, saving a considerable amount over a year's time.
2. Buying fruit juice concentrate. Neither of my kids is big on milk, so I let them drink a glass of fortified orange juice every day. I've always bought this fresh, in the same aisle as milk. Until recently, it never occurred to me to look for fruit juice concentrate. The kids do notice a difference, but they still drink their juice. This one simple change saves us about $10 a month, which is over $120 a year.
3. Using powdered milk. For a while, I was using my kid's fresh milk for cooking, but now I've gone back to using powdered milk for cooking. It's so much cheaper and lasts a long, long time when you store it in the pantry.
4. Giving more thought to store prices. I've posted before about carefully selecting which grocery stores you buy from, but now I'm actually creating a price book. For those not familiar with this concept, a price book is a journal of food costs at various stores. In the past, this seemed like too much work for me, but when I read that Mary Ostyn, author of Family Feasts for $75 a Week, feeds her family of 12 three meals a day for $800 to $900 a month, I knew I needed to take a closer look at how I shop. When I read Ostyn's book, I found I already did many of the things she suggests; she even does her meal planning like I do! But she really insists that to save the most money, you must have a price book. Soon, I'll be posting more about how to create an effective price book.
5. Keeping the pantry and freezer well stocked. When we run out of ketchup, all I have to do is walk to the pantry for a fresh bottle. It's so convenient - and it saves money! If I had to go to the grocery store for items like this, I'd waste gas, and I'd be more likely to buy other items I didn't really need. The trick to keep a pantry well stocked? Simply to build up a reserve of two of everything. Then, when you remove something from the pantry, write it down on a list you keep on the pantry door (or elsewhere in your kitchen) and use this as a shopping list. I also continue to double some recipes every week, freezing casseroles, burritos, stew, chili, and more for those nights when there's just no time to cook a meal from scratch. This saves me from running to the store unnecessarily - or being tempted to call for pizza.
6. Growing our own food. There's no doubt growing our own food is cheaper. Yes, if your soil is lousy, it's expensive initially to bring in good soil. But if you care for your soil well, adding compost to it every year, you'll never have to buy soil again. Water can be expensive, too, but if you're careful, you can overcome this hurdle. You can make gardening even cheaper by learning to save heirloom seeds, by planting fruit and nut bearing trees (which require no watering or fertilizing once they mature), and learning to can and freeze your home grown food. And don't forget that you can still grow food NOW! In almost every area of the U.S., you can grow cool season vegetables through fall - and in some areas, throughout winter.
7. Consuming less. Hubby and I are overweight. One way we can cut back our food bill is to eat less. We can also eat less of certain foods, like meat and seafood. In your household, maybe you could stop buying so many pre-packaged snacks (and eat home popped popcorn - not the microwave stuff! - instead), coffee away from home, or bottled water (use a tap water filter instead).