How I Save Money on Groceries (+ the Monthly Update)

Each month, I answer your questions and share news about future projects. Enjoy the monthly update for May 2011!

This month’s question comes from a reader named Kelley:

“I was wondering if you had any posts on coupons or grocery shopping. I am currently trying to weigh the difference between couponing (there is a lot of time involved) vs. shopping at discount grocery stores.”

Tasty question, Kelley! Here’s how I save a few dimes at the grocery store without sacrificing quality meals.

1. Create a weekly dinner menu.

We rarely waste food now that we only shop for the items we actually need. Since breakfast and lunch are pretty basic – cereal and sandwiches – we only plan our dinner menu. Click here to download my menu. It isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done.

2. Set a budget and stick to it.

Our monthly grocery budget is $640 for a family of four. We use that money for food, drinks, dog food and toiletries (like shampoo, deodorant, band-aids, face wash, etc.). If money is running out, we go without. It’s pretty rare, but every now and then, we have to adjust to spend within our means.

3. Create a master shopping list.

This helps avoid multiple trips to the store. Click here to download my list. Revise and make pretty at will!

4. Eat simply, but don’t sacrifice quality or health.

If you downloaded my menu, you’ll notice a mix of price ranges. To keep things simple, we eat eggs once a week. (Eggs are both satisfying and inexpensive.) A grilled cheese made with wheat bread is easy, too. Serve with a side of grilled apples (Little Boy’s favorite!).

To save money and increase the quality, research buying meat from local farmers.

5. Shop sales.

The frilly grocery stores in town feature spectacular sales, but fall short on everyday prices. Stock up on sales. Go to a discount grocer for the rest of your food.

6. Do I coupon?

No. Usually, the brands I buy aren’t featured in coupons. I’ve found that mostly processed foods or overpriced brand names give out coupons. I do, however, use local grocery store coupons to get the best deals.

Buying in bulk and avoiding overly processed foods has helped slash our grocery bill, too. Instead of buying a 24-pack of iced tea, make your own at home. Constantly compare prices.

Finally, here are three documentaries that really opened my eyes to some important issues involving food and water. Check them out. They’re excellent.

Celebrating Your Favorite Posts from May

In case you missed them:

25 Simply Beautiful Ways to Show Someone You Care

Michelle Bross of My Child’s Gardener asked her children a sweet question: “What have I done today to show I love you?” Check out their equally sweet answers in the comment section.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Mandy of The Journey, The Adventure wanted to know where I found the sexy bike helmet I mentioned in the post. I wear a white Specialized helmet … sexy is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂

I know that Tammy from Rowdy Kittens wears a Nutcase Helmet. Click here to see all the cute styles.

How I Add Structure to my New Day Job

Freelance writer Amelia Wolff noted:

I was just lamenting to my husband yesterday that I get so frustrated when friends assume that because I work from home, I am available for coffee/lunch/babysitting duties/shopping trips etc. all the time.

For me, that’s one of the major obstacles of self-employment. Unlike traditional working moms, I’m always “available.” Still, with all the other perks, I’ve found I can handle a few discreet explanations. Here’s what works for me:

  • Unplug. When I need to get work done, I don’t answer the phone or check my cell. I also don’t turn on my email (if I’m having a good willpower day).
  • Say no. Being your own boss, the only one looking out for your career is you. Sometimes you have to say no to fun activities. Your friends and family may not understand, but that’s okay. Don’t let that stop you from sticking with your priorities.
  • Power work. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available to complete it.” If you’d like to participate in unscheduled fun, try working hard for an hour and see how far you get. Often, a tighter deadline allows me to hyper-focus. My projects get done with enough time to enjoy the fun, too.

June projects

  • I’m planning to use my bike as much as possible this summer. Watch for my upcoming series of bike-friendly posts.
  • The Farmers’ Market is back! I’ll be experimenting with market-only menus and will share my results in next month’s update.
  • As always, if you have a question, you can connect with me on FacebookTwitter or email melissa [at] peaceandprojects [dot] com.

Your turn!

What are your plans for the month ahead? What are you celebrating from the month that’s gone?

Sharing is caring …

Photo by jbcurio

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.

{ 14 comments }

1 Living the Balanced Life June 7, 2011 at 7:31 am

Hi Melissa!
I very rarely use coupons for the same reasons you don’t. One tactic I use is to shop at Aldi’s (if you have one close they are SO worth checking out!) I love them to get my basics, eggs, milk, meat, toilet paper, basic canned goods, etc. I also love that they are so much smaller than the big box stores or even the large grocery stores around. They are great for running in to get milk and not end up spending $100 like at Walmart!
I have not been doing much meal planning, since it is just me and hubby, but we are now trying to lose weight, so I think I will begin creating one so I can see exaclty what we are eating!
Thanks for sharing!
Bernice
The Happy Fisherman

2 Melissa June 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Hi Bernice,
We have Woodmans, which is a very good discount grocer. Plus, they are employee owned, so even better.
Good luck with your mission to lose weight! I’m rooting for you. 🙂
Melissa

3 Talia June 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Wow! I just found you and am so glad I did. Love this blog! Anyway, I shop at Aldi’s and if you have one, I highly recommend it. While they don’t have “name” brands, I’ve yet to have any product that I can tell the difference. Between my husband and I, we have four kids. That’s a lot of mouths to feed! 🙂

4 Melissa June 8, 2011 at 7:50 am

Hi Talia,
Welcome! I’m so glad you found me. It’s been a while since I shopped Aldi, but my sister swears by it. It may be time to check it out again with some many readers raving about it.
That is a lot of mouths to feed. Plus, once they get older, they eat as much or more than adults! Yikes!
Thanks for connecting with me,
Melissa

5 Jen June 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Great post today!! I love planning my menu a month out but I like how you have it organized!! Question – what is a 4 color salad? Sounds yummy!

6 Melissa June 8, 2011 at 7:54 am

Hello lovely! Four color salad is:
1 can kidney beans, rinsed, drained
1 can black olives, drained
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 can corn, drained

Combine all. Toss. Serve with balsamic vinegar to taste.
It is a great side for grilling out!

7 Lady Domestic June 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm

This post is awesome! I have been following your blog for some time now through my RSS reader and I love this post so much I had to comment on it! Food Inc is a fantastic documentary that really opened my eyes! The boyfriend & I shop only at trader joes & whole foods! You should watch “The Future of Food” fantastic and full of knowledge! I have a family of two and a dog so we spend about 2/3 of your budget so we are right on track! Thanks for the insightful post!

8 Melissa June 8, 2011 at 8:23 am

Hi Lady 🙂
I’m glad you decided to comment today. Wasn’t that an eye opening doc? I even got teary eyed at the end, but at the time I remember wondering, “Why?” It was very moving on many levels.

I’ll check out the Future of Food. Thanks for the recommendation.
Take care,
Melissa
P.S. What kind of dog? We have a boxer.

9 Talia June 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

OH! Thanks for the 4 color salad recipe. I meant to ask and forgot. Sounds easy and yummy! 🙂

10 Michelle Bross June 13, 2011 at 7:13 am

I am celebrating my safe return from Costa Rica and the life lessons I learned. Check out my reflections:
http://www.mychildsgardener.com/1624/footprint-of-happiness-is-small/#more-1624

11 Jessica June 14, 2011 at 9:25 am

I absolutely believe that people have a messed up sense of how much they should budget for food. We are so used to the cheap cost of processed and subsidized food that it’s hard to make the decision to spend a larger percentage of our income on food, even though in the end we will save money by having less health-related expenses.
Despite believing in high-quality food and being willing to pay for it, I decided about 5 months ago to start lowering my food budget in an effort to direct more funds to my travel account. I started using coupons, shopping sales, and trying Aldi. My food budget for 6 used to be about 1,000-1200 a month and is now down to 500-600 a month. I still spend money on local grassfed beef and a vegetable CSA, but everything else is fair game for couponing. Healthy things I can always get on sale and/or with coupons: dairy, olive oil, frozen veggies, eggs, meat.
I also get almost all of my toiletries for free or for under a dollar by using coupons at drugstores (razors, shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste). This opened up a lot of room in my food budget for FOOD, since I include pet care and toiletries in my food budget. Even us healthy eaters can use coupons for some stuff, even if it’s not food but saves us more money FOR food. It’s just up to you to decide if it’s worth the time investment.

12 Melissa June 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Hi Jessica,
I completely agree that people have given up a real joy in life by choosing processed, low nutritional foods. A friend of mine recently told co-workers that she can’t afford vacations but she does enjoy organic milk everyday. Something that small can be a luxury in today’s world!
I’m very curious to know how you get such cheap toiletries. Can you share your secrets?

13 Jessica June 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Hi Melissa.
I get my coupons from the Sunday paper and online. I subscribe to a few really good coupon sites that track the sales each week and match them up with available coupons. Each week they will send out an list of the deals for the week for each store (Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS, plus Target, Walmart, and all grocery stores). The drugstores have register rewards programs that giev you a credit for future shopping, so frequently you can get things for “free” with a coupon and the reward you get back. For example, this week I bought fish oil at Walgreens for 10.00, used a 2.00 coupon I was directed to online through a coupon site, and got a 10.00 reward to use for a future purchase. Next week, I will use that 10.00 reward to buy the stuff that will give me rewards to use for the NEXT week. I also bought a 10.00 Gillette Pro Glide razor that costs 9.89, used a 4.00 off coupon, got a 4.00 reward, so ended up with a cost of 0.89.
Once you get the hang of it, you should always be able to get free toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant. Razors and shampoo/conditioner will be well under 1.00. Additionally, with couponing you may spend more in the first two months to build your stockpile, and after that is when you really notice the drop in your grocery bill, as your stockpile allows you to only buy certain items when they are on sale.
My favorite site for weekly coupon matchups is http://www.krazycouponlady.com

14 Melissa June 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

Awesome! Thanks for sharing this with everyone here. I’ll check out the krazy lady … 🙂

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