Many of us are feeling the pinch of the economy as food and gas prices continue to soar, while the housing market continues to decline. In addition, the jobless rate is at an all-time high across the nation. Having been a stay-at-home mom for several years caused our own economic crisis in our household. As a result, it also afforded me the opportunity to develop creative ways to stretch the family grocery budget.
Beyond the obvious methods of clipping coupons, making a list and sticking to it, and purchasing items only when on sale, here are some additional ways you too, can stretch your family’s food budget:
1) Purchase staple items in bulk at a club warehouse.
Purchase main staple foods such as rice, bread, tortillas, milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, butter, and juice, at your local Costco or Sam’s Club. Not only is the food a better price overall, you also save yourself shopping time since the packages last a lot longer and feed more people when purchased in bulk. You can freeze the extra milk, bread, butter, juice, tortillas and even shredded and pre-sliced cheese. Defrost what you need overnight in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it. Milk or juice will defrost faster in a bowl of cold water in the sink, however. Be sure to shake the container of milk or juice very well before serving because the freezing process tends to cause the liquid to separate from the fats in the milk and pulp in the juice. The food will still be fresh and you save a late night trek to the grocery store as you will have a backup supply waiting in the freezer the next time you run out of milk or bread.
2) Prepare meals from scratch and avoid prepackaged and processed convenience foods.
Prepare more meals from scratch, rather than buying them processed and prepackaged. Instead of pasta sauce in a jar, make a basic marinara sauce with a can of tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped onions, garlic, and Italian seasoning if you so desire. You can buy very large cans of the tomato sauces at Costco to make a big batch of your marinara sauce. Divide into individual family servings in Ziploc’s® or storage containers, freeze, and you will have homemade pasta sauce ready to go at a moments notice. Prepared marinara sauce costs around $3.75 or more and serves 6 people. Making your own sauce, however, will only cost about $ .75 – $1.50 per meal for about 5-7 people. That’s a savings of $2.25 or more. Add some hot spaghetti noodles, and a tossed salad and you can feed a family 6 for about $3.75, (the price of prepared pasta sauce alone).
3) Pack even hot lunches for your kids instead of purchasing them at school.
Obviously, packing a lunch for your child will save you money over purchasing them from school. All too often, however, kids get bored of the standard Pb&J or the turkey sandwich. Packing a hot lunch for them will reduce your temptation to order one for them from school. School lunches costs more money in the long run because they are often not eaten entirely, are less nutritious, and any little bit of nutrition they might have included in the meal is often ignored. Make your own hot lunch for them instead. You can buy a hot/cold thermos for around $15 which will pay for itself after just a few uses. You can either heat up leftovers they like and put them into the thermoses, or you can buy kid-friendly canned ravioli, spaghetti & meatballs, soup, macaroni and cheese, and lasagna for under a buck on sale. Each can feeds 2 young children, or 1 very hungry teenager. I usually heat the contents of each can in the microwave and pour them into two thermoses, sealing them tightly. The thermos we have keeps hot food hot for up to 5 hours. For 50 cents a piece, my kids have a main course hot lunch they like and I just saved $3 per child. Add some nutritious sides you know the kids will like and over the school year, the savings will really add up.
4) Avoid purchasing only name-brand products.
Purchase store brands rather than popular name brands much more often. Not only are they often fairly comparable in flavor and nutritional value, they are much cheaper than the name brands, oftentimes even when those brands are on sale.
5) Make your own Starbuck’s at home.
Instead of stopping for a $4 Starbuck’s on your way to work, make your own at home. You can purchase a big bag of Starbuck’s whole bean coffee from Costco and grind the beans on site. Prep your coffee in your coffeemaker the night before and set for auto brew so it is ready first thing in the morning. You can use flavored creamer or syrup from the grocery store, or even make a homemade latte with steamed milk, nutmeg, chocolate powder, or cinnamon sprinkled in. Pour the coffee into a commuter cup and you’re ready to hit the road. In my opinion, the coffee is just as good as the ones made by the baristas and you just saved yourself about $3.50 or more. Best of all, you didn’t even have to wait in line or tip anyone either!
6) Purchase snack items in multi-serving packages, rather than individually wrapped.
Purchase chips, crackers, pretzels, cookies, etc., in one multi-serving bag, instead of the individually wrapped servings. Divide the contents into individual Ziploc’s® or reusable containers for lunches and the like and you’ve just saved yourself $3 or more to package the contents yourself.
7) Purchase your meat whole, rather than precut.
Instead of buying precut chicken, beef tenderloin, and other meats, purchase the meat whole and cut them up yourself. For example, instead of buying a pack of chicken breasts or thighs, buy a whole chicken instead, and either cut it into pieces and freeze, or roast it whole and cut it later. Pre-cut chicken thighs cost around $2.49 per pound, but whole chicken can be purchased for around $.99 per pound or less (a savings of $1.50 per pound). If you are watching your fat and cholesterol intake, roast chicken on a rack in the oven, and remove the skin before serving.
8) Prepare more stews and soups and make creative use of the leftovers.
Prepare more stews and soups and add lots of vegetables to the broth. A pot of chicken stew made with a whole chicken, dumplings, and lots of vegetables will only cost me about $5.00 to make, but it will feed my family of 5 for a few days. That’s about $1.25 per meal for 5 people! Better yet, the leftovers can be broken into a few family-sized meals and frozen for up to a month instead of being tossed and wasted. You can pull out a container of soup, defrost, and enjoy on another busy night of the month. Alternatively, you can turn yesterday’s stew into tomorrow’s pot pie or find some other creative use for the leftovers to avoid boredom while saving money.
9) Make your own take-out style pizza for family fun night.
Instead of ordering take-out pizza on family fun night, make your own at home. Believe it or not, making a homemade crust from scratch is not as difficult as it may seem. If you are lucky enough to own a bread maker, the process is even easier. However, you can find a simple pizza dough recipe online and make the dough from scratch, allow it to rise, and have a ready dough in about 45 minutes. Buy toppings such as pepperoni, Italian sausage, and shredded cheese in bulk from a club warehouse (such as Costco or Sam’s Club) and keep them in your freezer. On pizza night, pull out just the portion you will need to top your pizza and let it defrost in the fridge on the day you will use it. Roll out the dough, top it with your homemade marinara sauce, sliced veges, left-over meats, Canadian bacon or pepperoni, some cheese, and bake and you’ve got a very large take out style pizza that will cost you less than $3.00 to make in the long run. You didn’t have to drive anywhere or tip the pizza delivery guy either and you know exactly what went into that pizza.
10) Invest in a deep freezer to stock up and store perishables.
As I mentioned before, you can actually freeze staples such as milk and cheese and they will stay fresh until you are ready to use them. If you have extra space to store freezable items, the next time there is a great sale on meat for example, you can take advantage of the sale and not worry about storage issues. You will have the items you need on hand more often and not have to succumb to paying full price when you run out of the staple.
Aside from many, many more creative ways to save on your food budget, if you follow the above steps, you can save hundreds of dollars throughout the course of the year. In light of today’s tight economy, who couldn’t use an extra few hundred in their bank accounts?
Sam’s Club, http://www.samsclub.com/shopping/index.jsp