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.