Thursday, August 29, 2013

The basics

This blog is about groceries on the cheap. I started it when it came to my attention that people were running out of money before they ran out of month on SNAP. ( food stamps).

I learned a lot about how to grocery shop from my mother. In the 70's I was a single parent. We had double digit inflation and I didn't get a raise in three years. I read everything I could find on how to stretch a buck. It became a habit even after I didn't have to any more, overpaying for food seemed wasteful.
I mean, why buy one can of pasta sauce for 1.59 when you can get two of the same pasta sauce for less than 1.59?

The USDA has charts on line that tell what it should cost for food for your family. It adjusts costs for family sizes, ages of family members, and has several budget categories. It is my understanding, that SNAP is based on the thrifty plan with the COL index adjustment. My figures are based on the proverbial family of two parents and two school aged children. Figures are based on actual food eaten. The effects of last years drought are starting to effect market prices. The USDA predicts that it will still be seen well into 2014. Unfortunately, most of the products that will be affected are perishables that are hard to stock. By stocking the items that you can find with rock bottom prices, and matching a coupon when you can, you can offset some of the increases.

Groceries on the cheap takes a three pronged approach.
Planning and organizing
Shopping wisely
Cooking from scratch

Over the next three or four days , we will go over it. don't be overwhelmed, I am putting a lot of information put there. Take baby steps. it doesn't happen overnight.

Planning and Organizing

Most of this is a one time project. After this step, it should take you less time shop and cook meals than it does now, only you will be spending a whole lot less doing it. 1/2 price groceries for the average family ,puts about 4 THOUSAND dollars a year in their pocket.

1) identify the cheap sources of protein your family will eat. In my family that would be
Beef ( ground) , some roasts
Fish and shellfish

2) gather 7-14 recipes for main dishes that your family will eat.

3) write down the shelf ready ingredients that you will use to make these recipes.
No ready mades here, ready made food and mixes for the most part will break your budget.

4) these are your stock items. At our house that would be beans, refried beans, diced tomatoes, pasta, pasta sauce, black olives, tuna, instant mashed potatoes. You will probably have 10-15 items.

5) set up a data base ( excel spread sheet) or a notebook to track the prices of these 10 or so items. You are looking for the the rock bottom price, or what I call the target price and how often it goes on a good sale.

Pasta, 16 oz

Date Where. Price. Coupon? Net price

6) when it is at it's lowest price , buy
As many as you can afford
As many as the store will let you
As many as you need to replenish your stock.

Whichever comes first. If I use something once a week, I keep 24. If I use it once a month,me keep 6. For things like ketchup, mustard, and mayo, I keep one ahead. If I open my back up jar, I start looking for a sale. This isn't about hoarding, rather stockpiling what you use on a regular basis while the price is low and eating it when the price is high. you want a bridge until the item goes on sale again. You actually spend less money, because you pay about 1/2 price or less for the food you do buy. it's a whole new way of buying your food. It is not unlike our grandmothers canning the produce from the farm for winter.

Make meal plans out when you get home from the store. You can pencil in a tentative plan, but things change. I can't tell you how many times I get to the store and they don't have what was on sale, or it looked not fit to eat, or the package is just way to big to accommodate us. You might find an unadvertised sale and take advantage of the bargain.

It is really necessary to know your prices. It you don't have them in your head, write them down.

Analyzing the ads

When your ads come out , take a piece of copy paper and divide it in four.
Place the name of a grocery chain on top of each quarter.

Now, go through the ads and write down anything in the meat and produce, dairy section that is on sale cheap.
Write down anything on your stock list that is a good price. Post the price to your data book or sheet.

Now,cross off anything that is cheaper elsewhere and anything that you don't need. Now , pick the best TWO stores.
You are going to two stores because you stand a better chance of getting good produce and can take advantage of the lowest prices in both stores. Get in the store with your list, get what is on your list, and get out. The more time you spend in a store, the more money you will spend. The stores have spent a lot of time and money to make sure of that. Read another post on What your retailer doesn't want you to know!

Storage can be anywhere it is safe to store your food. If you are short on space, there are creative ways to find room. I stored canned goods in an ottoman when I was in an apartment.

Now, there are a lot of stores that sell food. Never buy your non food items at a grocery store. They have a too high markup. You are better off going to a discount store or a warehouse store for those.

Warehouse stores are good for some things. No one store is cheapest on everything. The trick is to, within reason, get the lowest price on everything you buy.

Costco is good on bisquick, green beans ( lower sodium) and some produce. Sometimes, the produce doesn't look good, you can't blindly pick up a box. Bananas are always cheaper. I buy our limited paper products and soap when I don't get it almost free or free on coupon. We usually go when in the area, or when we run out of paper goods necessities! LOL

Winco is a ways away for is. They have rock bottom prices on lots of things. They don't have sales, but send ten dollar coupons every so often. We go about every eight weeks, or when they send coupons.

The dollar store has some bargains, you do have to know your prices. Frozen vegetables and potatoes are cheaper. They have recipe starters that are cheaper than scratch. They are 2/1 . The same ones are 2.59 at SAFEWAYS.

Big Lots and Grocery Outlet are over stock stores. Some things are really cheaper. You will find that they each have things that are better buys. We go to alternative stores when we are in the area .

We don't spend an exorbitant amount of time shopping. This is not about running all over town to save .15. At the price of gas, that would be counter productive. If I go to Winco, I save 60-75 percent. Everywhere else I save 46-50.

Next time : shopping wisely

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