A few years ago, I loved clipping coupons and following my favorite frugal blogs to score groceries as cheaply as possible. Often this meant buying processed foods for pennies on the dollar.
And then, I had several medical issues that forced me to radically change my diet to a diet high in organic vegetables, fruits, and grass-fed meats. I no longer ate processed foods or legumes (due to many food intolerances), and my grocery budget soared.
For the first year on this new eating plan, I didn't really try to save money. After all, there are no coupons for buying meat direct from the farmer or buying a CSA share. While there are some coupons for organic produce, I was too busy making all my food from scratch to have time to clip coupons and chase deals.
But the grocery “budget” was making me downright depressed. Groceries are our highest expense behind rent.
Now that I've been eating this way for 18 months, I feel like I have a better handle on things and am now trying to save money again.
Now, rather than clipping coupons, I have a new strategy for saving money on groceries: computing how much each meal costs to feed my family.
How Computing The Cost Of Your Meals Saves Money
I get bored if I make the same foods over and over, as do many people. Yet, even though I regularly try new recipes, I still have our favorite standbys in the meal rotation.
By taking the time to compute the cost of the ingredients in each standby meal, I can see that making Tuna Noodle Casserole from scratch is cheaper than making Beef Tacos from scratch. We still eat Beef Tacos, but Tuna Noodle Casserole shows up on the table a bit more than Beef Tacos.
I only figure out the price on our standby meals. If my family likes a new recipe and wants to eat it more often, I then take the time to figure out how much it costs.
A Price Book Without The Effort
I first read about keeping a price book 15 years ago when I read Amy Dacyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette. Basically, you keep a little notebook of all the common groceries that you buy and keep track of the price. Over time, you'll learn when the item is in a low price cycle and when it's priced high. When it's at its lowest price, stock up and fill the pantry. Then don't buy the item again until the price drops to the lowest price, usually in 6 to 8 weeks.
Honestly, I hate keeping a price book. And now that we don't buy many processed foods, I don't see the point. However, by writing down the price for the ingredients in each recipe that we buy, I have an automatic price book without the additional effort.
One More Strategy–Pantry Friendly Meals
My other strategy is to have a few meals in my repertoire that I can make even when it's the end of the month and we're running low on groceries. One of those meals is Pumpkin Chili. This meal contains staples–pumpkin, tomatoes, ground beef, celery, peppers, and onion. Even if we're running low on groceries, I usually have those ingredients available.
Having pantry favorite meals keeps me from running to the store at the last minute, especially when the grocery money is almost gone.
Although it seems time consuming, computing how much your favorite meals cost to feed your family can help you decide which meals to serve a little more often to lower your grocery bill. All without the effort of clipping coupons and running from store to store.
What's your favorite method for saving on groceries?