Five Changes That Will Save Your Grocery Budget
Life is about change. The one constant is that nothing is constant — or something like that.
We certainly have had our share of change around here. This summer is a perpetual soiree of change. And the issue du jour is our groceries. Deja vous.
You spend nearly 20 years developing a system for feeding your family, then it all blows up. The two of us are experiencing a partial empty nest this summer, with #1 away and #2 here just half the days. There are changes in diets, changes in weather, changes in eating schedules. I normally take these things in stride, knowing that I can make little changes to my grocery/meal routine to accommodate. This summer is more challenging, though.
We’ll be going on vacation soon, and I really don’t want to have anything in the downstairs upright freezer when we go. Because you never know when the power will go out in summer in Omaha! That means I have really had to change my grocery buying lately. First off, we’re eating less, and fresher, but I’m still learning to change my eye and buy less. Instead of two medium crowns of broccoli for four, I need one small one for us (but sometimes a medium, depending). Instead of eating through a 10# bag of potatoes at 10 cents/#, we’re barely getting through 5# at 25 cents/#. It’s a frugalista’s dilemma. I’ve restrained myself from buying some super meat and veggie deals I’ve found.
The good news is that I’m spending a little less because I’m buying less; but I’m also buying better quality and fancier varieties than I have been, so it’s not a terribly big savings. The bad news is that when we return from vacay, I’m going to have to build back up my supplies and refill the freezers. The good news is that there will be harvests around then, and seasonal produce will be quite affordable. The bad news is the price of chicken will be sky-high by then.
The good news is that with #2 here only half the time through July, I don’t have to have so much on-hand. The bad news is that I don’t know how to plan for that! The whole way I meal plan is in chaos. Which means my shopping is crazy.
And that is the crux of the matter. The fact is, our grocery needs are in flux. There’s a required mindset change that just keeps shifting! If I’m going to keep grocery spending low, I need to have a handle on the whole thing, and I’m trying to grab the handle. Here are five strategies I’m implementing:
1. Portion packaging. I got lightweight portion bags, which are awesome. I can pull out just as many pieces as I need, and the bags help prevent freezer burn. Because they keep the chicken from soiling the main bag, I can reuse freezer/Foodsaver bags. (I suppose plastic wrap would work just as well, but I didn’t get that free with coupons.) I’m also looking at my Foodsaver with a different eye, watching the infomercials and getting ideas that I can use when I start refilling the freezers.
2. Buying the right amount, which I’m still working on. I don’t like prepackaged produce, but maybe I could take a clue from the weights on those packages. Maybe I need to start weighing more carefully to get the right amount of produce. I really hate tossing food gone bad.
3. Simplifying our menus, which kind of goes hand in hand with summertime, anyway. A little grilled protein goes a long way. Fresher ingredients need less embellishment. The leftovers can then be used creatively in lighter dishes. Think wraps, salads, and the like.
4. Not chasing deals! Finding bargains, planning them into the budget, using them, yes. But I found that uber-shopping to “do super deals” at Target or Walmart or any grocery chain, had me spending more than I needed, for more product than I need, since our household requirements have changed. One month I went overbudget to “do the deal.” I stopped cold turkey when I realized what I had done. There are ways to feed my family well that are easier, cheaper and faster.
5. Where am I shopping these days? Mostly Baker’s, Aldi and Trader Joe. Baker’s is good for pretty good sales and great short expire markdowns. Aldi is my budget go-to, and is now on my semi-regular route again, at least for the summer. Trader Joe has some consistently good products on my regular list that are cheaper than Whole Foods.
So I’m spending less now, but it could get better. I’m buying produce, dairy, and replenishing (not stockpiling) pantry items till vacay, and my spending has gone down about 20%, which is good. I’ve budgeted for it to increase after we return from vacation, to take advantage of the harvest deals, and to allow for items I can’t pull from the freezer.
It’s going to be an interesting summer for the grocery budget. Hopefully my intuition is right and I’ve planned accurately. Honestly, though, who really knows just how high groceries will go?
As a side note: a friend told me NoFrills/BagNSave is eliminating price matching. As you know, I don’t shop there anymore, but I did briefly look into it. And I found nothing official. The ad match policy is off their site. But with their switch to an upscale format and rebranding as Family Fare, this does not surprise me.