This is often the reaction we get from friends when we tell them our grocery budget. Their next comment or question is either, "We could never do that!" or "How do you do it?!" Since we're all about the can do attitude here, I'll address the second question today with a few simple strategies.
There is never a week that we don't know what we'll eat. We may not plan the exact day of each meal, but we always know what we'll have throughout the week. This plan is built around what we have in the pantry and fridge/freezer, what's on sale, and what we're in the mood for. Meal planning helps us save money by being aware of what we need to use up (dairy, produce, etc.) and not letting things go to waste. It also means we don't buy things that we don't have a use for. Keeping popping corn and ingredients for homemade cookies on hand helps us control the snack/junk food budget significantly.
We used to use the Grocery Game for our couponing matchups. When we went to a single income family, we decided to skip the subscription and find another source. We found Southern Savers, which is almost as good and has served us well for the last year and a half. The great thing about both of these is that they match up coupons and store sales for you, so all you have to do is choose what you want from the list and print your list. We use either printable coupons, ecoupons loaded to the store card, or Sunday paper coupons that my grandmother gives us. (We used to purchase a Sunday paper, but that got cut too when we went to one income.) Any given month, we figure we save at least $50, and often more, by matching coupons and store sales.
Buy 'Real' Food
Buying real food means 10 pounds of potatoes, not frozen or refrigerated pre-cut ones. Buying real food means buying a peach we peel instead of one packed in a can with syrup. It means buying flour and sugar to make our own muffins, bread, crackers, etc. instead of paying a premium for some commercial bakery to do that work for us. Buying real food means making our own salad dressing with oil, vinegar, and spices instead of buying one with an unlimited shelf life due to the number of preservatives. Does it often take a little more time? Yes. Is it healthier and cheaper? Absolutely! I figure we save at least $50 a month by buying the real stuff.
If you're just getting into saving on groceries, employ this one strategy. It will save you money and it will be far healthier for your family. A few easy places to start are with salad dressings and condiments, cooking your own rice (instead of boil in a bag or quick cooking), making homemade pizza dough, or homemade popsicles.
Buy in Bulk
You have to be smart about buying in bulk. Take a realistic look at what you use and how often, and gauge your bulk purchases from that. If you're not into baking, a 25 pound bag of flour will go buggy before you use it, and will be a waste of money.
Some things we regularly buy in bulk are: flour (bread and all purpose), rolled oats, sugar, rice, dried beans, Hershey's syrup, butter, vegetable oil, in season produce, spices and nuts (store in the freezer for the longest shelf life). Since we bake a lot, and enjoy it, we use the flour pretty quickly. We get our rice at Walmart sometimes, though I've though about buying Basmati rice at the Indian store in Durham when we visit next (it's generally cheaper at ethnic stores). I did stock up on brown rice at HT when it went on sale 10/$10 a while back. We use Hershey's syrup in coffee drinks, so we go through it pretty quickly. Dried beans are purchased at Walmart, Costco, or another wholesaler. Butter and oil are purchased at Costco, as are spices and nuts. Produce we buy in bulk to dry or freeze, often bell peppers, peaches, and strawberries top our list. It's cheaper to buy them in bulk when they're in season and fresh, and it's so nice to have them for cooking and baking in the winter months.
Eat Less Meat
I know for some it's tough to believe, but we've really embraced the weekday veg routine and really only eat meat once or twice a week. Even then, it's usually a small portion, like in a stir fry or on a pizza. Eating less meat has really freed up our budget to buy more dairy and fresh produce, including fruit, which is key now that we have a little one who begs for fruit. (His favorite is bananas, which he's mastered the ASL sign for!) We've found some creative recipes for lentil sloppy joes, black bean enchiladas, and bean burgers, which we really like. Since we love stir fry and pizzas, it's easy to add a little meat or do without.
Soup Once a Week
Unless it's high summer and Benny can't stomach the thought of soup after a long work day, But otherwise, we do soup once a week. It's easy to do in the crock pot on busy nights, which conserves energy too. We have a ton of great recipes. There are always leftovers for another dinner or a few lunches. The broth, noodles, or rice stretch the other veggies and any meat, so it's really budget friendly. With crackers, toast, or cornbread, you've got a complete meal, especially if you add a side salad or a little dessert. What's not to love?
So, there are our "secrets" to sticking to our $100 grocery budget. Do you employ all of these? Some? Only one? I'd love to hear from you!