I am extremely lucky to have had the pleasure of running into Patrice Lewis’ blog, Rural Revolution. If you haven’t read this blog yet, you should definitely go and check it out. Patrice is an amazing and entertaining writer. But before you get sucked into her blog, check out this amazing guest post! She has put together 10 wonderful tips for cutting your food bill! And by eating in a wallet-friendly manner, more of your money can go into savings, or even emergency supplies. Any money saved can greatly contribute to your preparedness efforts, if you use it in the right way. As a young married person, some of these tips really stood out to me, and I realized that I should be implementing ALL of them into my daily life! Thank you so much Patrice, for a wonderful guest post!
Ten Ways to Cut Your Food Bill
By Patrice Lewis
Everywhere, it seems, we are blitzed with articles on the rising cost of food prices and the hardships it implies for the average family. Actually, the hardships aren’t implied – they’re real, they’re depressing, and…they’re fixable.
Recently I read a statistic that floored me: the average family of four spends about $904 per month on food. Who has $904 to spend on food every month?
In addition to your budget, if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of over-packaged foods full of ingredients you can’t pronounce, the good news is that reducing your food bill by following these suggestions will also reduce waste and increase your health benefits. It’s a win-win situation.
So how do we do it? Well, here are some ways that our family of four keeps our food bill down:
Rediscover the joys of rice and beans. I know we all like the taste of oversalted and overfatty foods, but don’t turn up your nose at healthy, inexpensive legumes and grains. You can buy a one-pound bag of lentils or rice for about a dollar each. It’s even cheaper if you buy in bulk. Combined with some spices, these foods will make an excellent, balanced, nutritious meal for next to nothing. Add a bit of meat and veggies into a stir-fry and you have a delicious and filling meal. Check out cookbooks at the library to learn how to liven up rice and beans, and eat like kings.
2. Plan Ahead
Plan your meals a week in advance. This is probably the single most under-used trick for eating cheaply. So many people think “Hmmm – what will we have for dinner?” while driving home from work, then stop at the grocery store and purchase high-cost pre-packaged foods. Then they’ll wonder why their grocery bill comes to $904 a month.
Instead, sit down with your family and plan out the week’s meals. Monday you’ll have soup and garlic bread; Tuesday you’ll have a pot roast; Wednesday is a casserole, Thursday is spaghetti night…you choose. This way you can purchase all your ingredients once a week when you’re not hungry, stressed, and tired. You also know you’ve made a smart step toward saving money and eating healthier.
3. Cook from Scratch
Scratch cooking has earned a bad reputation for being time-consuming and complicated. If you’re a busy working mother, then you may wonder how on earth anyone can make a meal from scratch. With planning, scratch cooking can be easy and – more importantly – cheap.
Cooking from scratch is easier if you do two things. First, find some recipes that are fairly simple and that your family enjoys. Yes, they exist. Your job is to find them.
Second, keep standard ingredients on hand. A scratch meal isn’t made any simpler if you have to make a hasty dash to the grocery store for some forgotten item. This cannot be emphasized enough. With a well-stocked pantry of basic ingredients, scratch cooking is quite simple.
4. Don’t Be Wasteful
Don’t ever, ever waste food. Bring leftovers to work or school for lunch (microwaves are everywhere). Put leftovers in the freezer in a big bowl until you have enough for soup or “leftover pie.” Remember, if your kids turn up their noses at leftovers, it’s probably because you’re the one modeling it.
Sometimes when our refrigerator is overflowing with leftovers, I take everything out, put it on the table, and everyone has what they like best for dinner (heated individually in the microwave). My kids love Leftover Nights.
Make your own “convenience foods.” The freezer can be your best friend in this case. Double up your batches next time you’re making something freeze-able, such as lasagna or quiche. Homemade spaghetti sauce is startlingly easy (though best if it’s simmered for awhile – try a crock pot) and freezes beautifully. When I find mozzarella cheese on sale, I make a bunch of pizzas and pop them in the freezer for an easy meal later on.
Whatever your family enjoys eating, see if you can find a fast, freezable, and home-made version for nights when you’re too frazzled to cook.
6. Make Bread
Bread machines have become almost cliché in terms of unused and therefore unnecessary kitchen appliances (hence the multitude of machines available at any large, well-stocked thrift store). But if you actually use a bread machine, it can save you an extraordinary amount of money over the years. And no, you don’t need to buy those hideously overpriced little boxes of pre-mixed “bread machine” ingredients; regular flour will do.
It takes five minutes (or less) to throw the ingredients into a bread machine. Many machines have a time delay feature, so you can put the ingredients in before bed and wake to fresh bread in the morning. Slice the bread yourself, and voila: sandwiches, toast, whatever. Bread at the store can cost anywhere from $1 to $3 a loaf. The cheaper loaves are usually pasty, tasteless junk, and the heartier loaves can cost upwards of $4. I can make a loaf of bread for approximately ten cents’ worth of ingredients, and I can make it as hearty as I wish (with whole wheat, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, etc.).
Check out your local thrift store for inexpensive bread machines, particularly the ones that have been only lightly used. Even if purchased new, a bread machine is worth its weight in gold.
7. It’s a Crock
Get a crock pot (again, try your local thrift store). Seldom will you find a kitchen item that offers greater benefits to busy working parents. Throw a roast or the ingredients for soup in it, turn it on low, and go to work. When you come home (to a house filled with rich, delicious smells), all you have to worry about is the “extras” for the meal – vegetables, rice, bread, or whatever else will round out the dinner.
8. Bulk Up
Buy your staples in bulk. If you make your own bread (or other baked goods), you’ll quickly discover why it’s cheaper to buy flour in the largest possible quantities. I purchase flour in fifty pound sacks from a restaurant-supply store. Same goes for rice, navy beans, lentils, cornmeal, dried peas, sugar, oatmeal, and other staples my family uses in large quantities. Obviously not everyone has the room to store huge amounts of dried foods; but even unusual places, such as under the bed or in the attic or basement, can be used to store dried bulk food. Take into consideration pests and moisture when storing food.
It staggers the mind how much money we’ll spend merely to save ourselves a little slicing ’n dicing. Pre-sliced lunchmeats, pre-grated cheese, packaged melon balls, pre-shredded lettuce…the list goes on. Get some knives and a cheese grater and some kitchen scissors, learn to slice and dice your own foods, and watch your food bill get sliced too.
Here are some recent prices I noted: A two-pound block of cheese was $5.50; the equivalent amount of shredded cheese was $11.12. A head of lettuce (approximately one pound) was $0.78; the equivalent amount of pre-shredded packaged lettuce was $5.30. A whole ham was $2.78/lb, while a pound of pre-sliced ham was $3.62. A pre-cut “melon medley” was $4.19/lb, where the competing whole melons (with, admittedly, the inedible rind) was $1/lb.
Multiply these savings week after week for all your family members and watch how that $904 a month melts down when you cut your own fruits, shred your own lettuce, slice your own meats, and grate your own cheese.
10. Drink Water
Learn to drink water. And I don’t mean bottled water, either.
How much of your monthly food budget is wasted on sodas, sugary juice mixes, or other non-nutritious fluids? Even if your tap water is undrinkable (and some is), a five-gallon bottle of water from the grocery store is far cheaper than the equivalent volume of soda/juice/whatever.
Purchase water bottles for all family members, put their names on them, and keep them filled in the refrigerator. Then don’t buy juices, sodas, or other expensive fluids. Your kids may howl in protest at first, but when they get thirsty enough, they’ll drink water. It will take some training, but it will save you loads of money. Of course, I assume you’re being a good role-model by drinking water yourself.
Naturally, fruit juice and milk are important in a well-balanced diet. But nothing says your kids have to guzzle expensive bottled juices (make it from concentrate) or have chocolate milk six times a day (try a glass of plain milk at breakfast and dinner time).
Following these ten simple tips will give you a lot more bang for your buck at the grocery store. As an added advantage, all of these strategies are environmentally friendly because they produce less packaging and less waste. Save the earth, save your budget.
Thanks again Patrice! Make sure to check out the Rural Revolution blog here, and if you have any questions for her, you can email her at: patrice [at] patricelewis [dot] com!