Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ramblings of Frugal Grocery Shopping Strategies

During the past few years I've seen food prices rise at least 30%. I found myself having to redefine dollar stretching frugality. I thought myself frugal before prices rose, but it's amazing how one can adapt when challenged. I could not have done it without the help of all those wonderful cooks who share their ideas and recipes online. Everyone is having to cut back, and they generously share their methods of coping with higher prices, so here is mine.

The new normal means that the Dollar Tree, *Dollar General, and Save-A-Lot are my usual shopping places for the lowest priced foods, personal care products, and cleaning items. I rarely set foot in Food Lion anymore, not since the food prices rose. Once a month I visit Big Lots and Walmart in the hopes of picking up some random deals. It's hit or miss at these stores. I'll visit Family Dollar if I find a coupon(off total purchase) in one of the mailed advertisements.

I like to visit the Dollar Tree first because they usually have the best deals for staples like large cans of diced tomatoes, dry beans(some), cleaning items, shampoo, tooth brushes, and spices. It's also on the way to my other shopping places, so I save gas.  At the Dollar Tree I look for the lowest price per unit as compared to similar items at my other shopping places, and in the case of things like shampoo, the highest ounces I can get for a dollar. Then I visit Save-A-Lot where I buy the bulk of my groceries, and Dollar General which is just next door. If I find sale prices on items that I usually purchase, I'll stock up and buy a dozen.

I used to keep a price book, but now I have memorized the prices of items which we regularly purchase. And in case my memory fails me, I usually have last week's receipts in my wallet for comparison.

Meats could be our most expensive price per unit purchase if we didn't sacrifice good cuts. Every other month I'll purchase a five pound bag of chicken quarters for about $1.00 a pound, sometimes less, and once in a while, a pork shoulder for a dollar a pound. I'll slow cook both to make shredded meat for stir-fry, Mexican/Latin American recipes, hearty soups and stews, Sloppy Joes, and casseroles. I get about seven 6-8 ounce portions of shredded meat from each which I freeze in plastic wrap. As a bonus, I glean some seasoned chicken stock from boiling the chicken. I purchase a pound of ground turkey every month for $1.49 as well. This doesn't go as far, but adds variety.

I've also been preparing more and more meatless dishes lately, at least three times a week. Instead of meat, I'll substitute beans, tuna, cheese, and/or eggs while going heavy on the vegetables. This kind of cooking can be very nutritious and healthy if you limit the fats and starchy carbs(rice, potatoes, and pasta), and make the meals vegetable heavy. Portion control is important for health and budget as well. I eat no more than 6 ounces for my main meal. If I get hungry later, I'll eat a salad. Bagged salad mixes at Save-A-Lot are only $1.29, and I make my own salad dressing with a little soy sauce and balsamic or rice vinegar.

I keep quite a bit of frozen and canned mixed vegetables on hand. It's a healthy inexpensive filler for dishes. My favorite frozen vegetables are chopped collard greens, mixed peppers and onions, and stir-fry. Save-A-Lot has these for about $1.50 a bag. Their canned vegetables are less than a dollar. The least expensive canned vegetable at Save-A-Lot is .49 cents for peas. I use these in old fashioned tuna casserole as their canned Starkist tuna has only been .59 cents a can for the past few months.

All this hunting and gathering is a lot of work, and I'm all about efficiency, but it has been worth the time and effort for the lowered shopping costs.

In the warmer months I keep a small garden. We had a good number of cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and herbs this year. If we had more sun, I'd grow more.

A website, and two cookbooks that got me started:

Hillbilly Housewife Recipes(from scratch), the More-With-Less Cookbook, and the Extending the Table Cookbook.

These are all about cooking from scratch which is healthier in terms of the absence of additives and preservatives, and the ability to control, customize, and substitute healthier ingredients. It can be very inexpensive as well, if you keep it simple. Two cups of rice, some shredded chicken, and a bag of stir-fry costs us no more than $2.25 to feed four people, and we usually have leftovers because the little one and I don't eat much.

Dollar General, Save-A-Lot, and Family Dollar all take coupons. They also have printable store coupons at their websites. In addition to printable coupons, I purchase groups or "lots" of coupons from ebay. Usually the cost of buying a "lot" of ten coupons is the price of two or three coupons with free shipping. This is a great deal for me because I don't purchase many name brand items, so I only need a few very specific ones in larger quantities( for stocking up).

What have you done differently in the kitchen since the recession? Have you changed your meals or shopping habits?

*Coupon Alert: Dollar General has another $5.00 off a $20.00 purchase.  It came out my receipt yesterday good for this Thursday - Saturday. I'll  be using this for their clearance on coffee - $4.00 for two pounds of  coffee(largest tin). These coupons seem to be a regular offering lately.  This is the fourth $5.00 off coupon I've received in the past few  months.


a soldiers wife said...

Very timely for me to read! I'm working with Milehimama at mama says! right now, and she is trying to help me cut my grocery spending....or to at least curb so much impulse buying.

Berry Patch said...

It's so true. Being frugal at the grocery store can take a lot of planning and work, but I LOVE it when I save a lot. I don't have a lot of choices and finally decided it was best to stay local - saving on gas - and just do the best I can here. Right now our Hannaford is doing some great store coupons and before I even buy one thing, I have coupons for $11 in savings. Cool! I typically save anywhere from $10 to (my highest ever) $25 using coupons. Every little bit helps. Oh & hubby shot a moose this year so we're good on meat - nice lean yummy meat! ;-)

Alexandra said...

Milehimama is a nice lady - very generous and resourceful.

Moose meat - yum! My husband's fire station eats deer. I think my husband is one of the few who don't hunt, but he enjoys eating deer at the station.

Myrnie said...

It's funny- my family has been in frugal mode from the very beginning, so the recession didn't affect us much. If anything, we've increased our purchasing power during the recession...well, except for this year's un-gainful employment situation :) We eat lots of beans, lots of homemade wheat bread with peanut butter, or just butter and a bit of sugar. I figure if I let the girls sprinkle a bit of brown sugar on there, it has WAY less of the sweet stuff than a slather of jam! :) I buy my wheat at a local storehouse, about $6 for 25 pounds. Dry goods I generally get at Costco in bulk (white flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, beans, rice, oats, etc.) I'll buy whatever veggies look local and fresh (meaning they're inexpensive!) at the grocery store, and fruit is a rare treat for us. There have been some great deals from local farmers this year on boxes of fruit, so I've been putting up a bit for Winter time. We don't purchase a lot of processed foods- it's mainly just an occasional treat for the girls if my oldest brings her purse to the store. (If the girls are good at the store, and we have time, I let her use her own money to pick out a piece of candy or bag of crackers.) Seems like most of our grocery budget is spent on dairy items! Skim milk, butter, cream, cheese, etc. Oh dear. I just wrote too much, didn't I? :) I love seeing how everyone makes their choices in the grocery store!

Alexandra said...

Myrnie, we ate way too much meat before we cut back a few years ago. I didn't even realize it! It's so good that you have started off this way. It took us a little longer to grow into this frugal lifestyle.

Anne said...

The last few months have been pretty tight for us, and I have found I'm eating for the most part healthier.

A $2 10-lb. bag of potatoes was cheaper and more servings than a loaf of bread, so I bought that and I bought a variety of frozen vegetables so nothing would go to waste if it didn't get eaten right away. I've made tons of things with potatoes like soup, fries, hash browns, and tried to fill up on seasonal/free veggies. I've been packing one raw potato, one raw fish filet, and some frozen veggies for lunch pretty often. At work I throw them in the microwave and have a nice, healthy hot lunch. I try to make that my big meal and eat smaller portions for dinner. :)

I haven't made frugality into a science like you though! Wow.

Anne said...

Oh, and I have never been a big meat fan, so that part of our meal hasn't changed. I love fish and eggs, and like meatless soups for dinnner, like broccoli cheese with blueberry muffins or my new favorite, creamy pumpkin soup. (Practically free since I was given the pumpkin and the onion was going to go to waste anyway.)

Alexandra said...

Anne, that sounds so healthy! I think we'll do more potato meals for the next few months. Thanks for the reminder - it's potato season. I picked up four pounds of potatoes today and will be freezing a few different potato meals. Ours was a dollar a pound as well.

Nancy said...

I hope y'all are using the bones from meat to make wonderful and nutritious broth. Just google "bone broth recipe" and adjust to your liking. The key is to waste nothing! I keep separate bags in the freezer for chicken, beef, and pork bones, and when it's full (the chicken bag fills quickly)it becomes a pot of delicious broth. By adding a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the pot of bones and water (don't worry, you really will not taste the vinegar), the minerals (esp calcium) are pulled from the bones into the broth. It's a frugal, nutritious, and delicious base for soups, gravies, homemade cream of whatever soups, I add it to the cooking water for rice and beans, and sometimes we have a plain mug of broth for a meal. Properly made broth will allow your body to use even a small amount of protein better.
I could go on and on! Do the research's out there!

Alexandra said...

Excellent tip! Thanks...I don't make this enough. I do it with the ham bones more than the others - for flavor.

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