Mindful Money: The conundrum of groceries and gas

I have a confession to make.

Prior to the current financial situation in this country (you know, the whole “we’re not saying the ‘r-word’ therefore it’s not actually that thing that rhymes with concession!”), even as frugal as I generally am, I struggled to avoid falling into one of two extremely un-thrifty habits.

It seemed like I had two modes of operation: Either I went to the grocery store nearly every day, or—if I managed to keep my shopping to just once a week—I was constantly throwing away food that had gone bad before I had a chance to use it up.

Here’s another confession: I’m still struggling to figure out how to avoid doing this, and I do mean struggling.

I work from home, and my husband takes the kids to school and they ride the bus home. The reality is that many days I don’t drive anywhere. I used to be much more prone to forcing myself to run errands at lunchtime just to make sure I got out during the day, but with gas nearing the $4/gallon mark, that just seems silly. I’m still trying to get out to walk, but I’m not driving on errands as often, anymore.

That means I’m hitting the grocery store less, and that means I’m having to make some hard choices. I want my family’s diet to be balanced and I want us to eat as many foods in their natural state as possible. So while I suppose I could give up on fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of canned, um, ewww. The trick, now, is to buy as much fresh as I can, without overbuying to where I’m throwing food away because it went bad before I remembered to use it. That, of course, needs to be balanced with fewer trips to the store so as not to burn up any potential food savings in unnecessary gas money.

This is the part where I suggest we all live on a large commune together and raise all of our own food! Except I really need to have my own bathroom, so maybe not.

Realistically, how does one balance this?

I’m still working on it, but here’s a few things I’ve been doing.

Embrace frozen vegetables. As much as I want to eat fresh veggies in season—and this, right here, is the most bountiful season in which to do so—I cannot feed my family fresh vegetables every day on reduced grocery store trips, because many veggies simply don’t last a whole week. I keep a generous stash of flash-frozen veggies in my freezer for the second half of the week. They’re the closest thing (in both nutrition and taste) to fresh, and they’re also affordably priced.

Heck, embrace your whole freezer. I’ve talked about my love of my deep freezer before, but in belt-tightening times it’s truly a budget saver. When something freezable goes on sale, I stock up. I never buy meat or fish at regular price; I wait until a sale and I buy extra. There’s always something in my freezer, that way, and I’m never caught feeling compelled to overpay because we have “nothing” to eat. Also keep in mind that you can freeze things like butter and cheese (which tend to be pricey but can be stocked up when you find them on sale).

Have a budget that allows for stockpiling. If your grocery budget is so tight that you cannot afford to buy, say, extra jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce even thought it’s on buy-1-get-1 special this week, something needs to be changed. You should always be able to buy extra of a staple when it’s on sale and is either shelf-stable or can be frozen. Part of my grocery budget is earmarked for these sorts of items. And it’s a losing game if you “can’t afford” to stock up now, because it means you’ll be buying it later for more money. Find a way to get started on stocking your pantry—the first couple of weeks will feel very tight, and then as time goes on you’ll see that your overall grocery bill goes down because you often already have some of the items you need for the week.

Plan meals. I never used to do this, because I figure I’m controlling enough without plotting out a week’s worth of meals at a time. But now that I refuse to just run out to the store whenever I need something, it’s a must. We eat the fresh veggies in the first half of the week so that I’m not fishing wilted greens out of the crisper drawer on Friday and wondering how I forgot about them. I’m also taking thing out of the freezer in the morning to cook later on, rather than realizing at 5:00 that we can have a frozen hunk of chicken or a bowl of rice for dinner.

Plan meals with usable leftovers. I often cook as if there’s twice as many people in my family as there actually are, because my theory is that if I’m going to take the time to do food prep, why not make a whole lot? Over time I’ve discovered that certain foods freeze well or lend themselves to a second dish (most crockpot meals I make, I can freeze half for another time; many of our favorite meals yield awesome pizza topping for another night), and others do not. So I’ll make a giant mess of soup or stew, but if I’m making something more “delicate” I scale back the amount so that I’m not throwing leftovers away later in the week.

Maximize your mileage. I still drive a fair amount, of course. The kids have extracurriculars and doctors’ appointments and occasionally I need to go somewhere. If I’m out, and I know I’m going to go right past the supermarket, I’m allowed to make an extra stop for the week. What I’m avoiding is an unnecessary trip, but if I’m already there, that’s different.

If you do coupons, carry them in your purse. This one makes me feel like a bag lady, but it’s essential. When I kept my coupons in a separate carrier I often found myself at the store without them. If you’re going to stop at the store only when you’re already out, you’d better have everything you need handy. And yeah, that means putting that stupid “shopper’s club” fob on your keys, too, just to make sure you always have it.

What am I missing? How are you managing the intersection between rising food and grocery costs?

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50 Responses to “Mindful Money: The conundrum of groceries and gas”

  1. 1
    Paula May 6, 2008 at 12:18 pm #

    One word: Peapod.

  2. 2
    shari May 6, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    We keep a magnetic whiteboard on our fridge with a list of all the fruits and vegetables that we have. (We buy a lot of different vegetables.) Also on the bottom of the whiteboard we keep a list of leftovers currently in the fridge. It’s hard to get into the habit of always erasing things as you use them up, but it’s really helpful for making dinner to see what vegetables there are to use, and to keep things from getting forgotten in the back or bottom of the fridge.

    We also keep a notepad on the fridge for a shopping list. As soon as something gets used up, or is close to running out, it gets written on the list.

    I second you on the extra freezer – we have one in the basement, plus lots of cabinet space for stocking up on non-perishables.

    Next time we buy a fridge, I want one with the freezer on the bottom, so all the fridge items are higher up and easier to see.

  3. 3
    Christina May 6, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    My best tip for the fresh fruits and veggies is to get those “special” produce bags. I was gifted mine so I don’t know the name of them, but they help your fresh produce last twice as long and they are reusable.
    You’d have to do some research to find them but, I believe, there is a commercial on tv that has a woman talking about them like they are her invention

  4. 4
    Jenni May 6, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    I’m lucky in that the grocery store is on my way home from work so if I need something, I can usually get it without adding any extra miles to my trip. I do make one grocery run each week that is planned out with coupons and reusable bags and everything. I sit down most Sunday nights and plan out the meals for the week using the sale paper of my preferred grocery store (and occasionally the paper of my non-preferred grocery store if they have better deals) and my binder of coupons. I also have a pretty good idea about what I have stocked up in my freezer and downstairs pantry. If I see an awesome deal on something that we use regularly and stores well, then I’ll stock up for whenever.

    We’ve also started a container garden. So far we have banana pepper, tomato & cucumber plants spouting (we’re still like two months from actually having anything to pick from them) and a strawberry plant that I bought already started from the store so we’re maybe a month or so from getting strawberries from it.

  5. 5
    E is for Elleana May 6, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Thank you for this post. I am a habitual grocery store shopper. I tend to just run out to the store whenever things are needed, and now, like you, I’m finding myself struggling to reduce the number of times I go.

    I’m looking forward to reading whatever hints your readers post here.

  6. 6
    Jenni May 6, 2008 at 12:33 pm #

    We also have a dry-erase board on the fridge of leftovers that need to be eaten as well as the date they were made. That way I know when to take stuff with me to work and when to toss it. Less stuff gets tossed when I actually follow thru and take stuff to work to eat.

    And Christina is talking about Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags.

    (http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?order_num=-1&SKU=14948821)

    I have thought about buying them but wasn’t sure how well they actually worked. But if Christina says they are good, I might invest the $10 on them. Well, but then I’d use a BB&B coupon and make them $8. :)

  7. 7
    Phyllis@Aimless Conversation May 6, 2008 at 12:49 pm #

    I just found the Grocery Game, which is a site where the grocery prices are tracked in your area and a list is generated every week to help you maximize your grocery dollars by purchasing items when they are at their very lowest price. Whew, that was long. I haven’t tried it yet, I am just intrigued. Maybe you can take a look for your readers, pretty Mir and give us all a review?

  8. 8
    Mir May 6, 2008 at 12:49 pm #

    Hmmm… the Debbie Meyer Green Bags are available as part of the buy 3 get 1 free promotion at Amazon, but the reviews are VERY mixed. Still pondering.

  9. 9
    Em May 6, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    Regarding meal planning (and therefore fewer trips to the store), I do alot of my recipe searching online. I try to organize links to them on my desktop so I’m not doing the same searches week after week. Eventually, it becomes less of a chore when you have a good stock of favorites and a good variety of things you are willing to cook.

    I also live very close to relatives and we usually check around before we go to see if anyone needs anything. With little ones, its a sure bet I need milk which is a small order to drive for.

  10. 10
    Kira May 6, 2008 at 1:12 pm #

    My tip is LAME and makes me feel like one of those “separate the two ply toilet paper to make it last twice as long!” whack jobs, but oh well. We knew I was SOME sort of whack job, eh?
    Anyhow, we eat a lot of raw veggies around here. When I say “we” I mean “my husband and I.” The children still sullenly nibble as little as possible. Anyhow, I recently realized that if I spend about 20 minutes every couple of days, chopping and peeling things like carrots and cucumbers and broccoli and bell peppers, it’s not that hard to keep a constant supply of veggies on hand. And they cost less than the many many packages of baby carrots we used to eat. So. There’s my tip. Carrot sticks, old style. As a bonus, the children do end up eating a few more random bits of vegetables. Yay for random nutrition!

  11. 11
    Krista May 6, 2008 at 1:22 pm #

    Everything you stated is pretty much my strategy as well. I have actually REALLY cut down our grocery bill by shopping several stores with well-planned out shopping lists. I spend an hour or so checking the current grocery ads of my closest grocery stores online, then make a list of just the items that we use that are 50% off (or more) then I go to 1 to 3 grocery stores and purchase JUST the good deals. If a store doesn’t have at least 5 or more great deals, I usually just skip it for the week. Then I go to Wal-mart Supercenter to pick up any other staples that seem to never go on sale. Even though it sounds like it would take a lot more time, it really doesn’t. I used to go down every single aisle at Wal-mart taking at least 2 hours to grocery shop. Now I can just go get the exact items I need and leave! It just takes a little more planning on the front end.

    Another GREAT tip is to make sure to use TWO coupons for both items in the buy one get one free deals. That can REALLY give you a great deal!

    http://www.moneysavingmom.com is a great resource to begin your journey into cutting down your grocery bill. There is a really helpful e-book entitled Supermarket Savings 101.

  12. 12
    Krista May 6, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    I forgot to mention that joining couponmom.com is also a big help. It does pretty much everything the Grocery Game site does accept it is FREE! They create spreadsheets of many stores grocery advertisements and allow you to sort the items by the percentage of savings. Also, they tell you what items also have coupons available for them.

  13. 13
    Veronica May 6, 2008 at 1:30 pm #

    Those veggie green storage bags they sell on TV to keep veggies fresh really do work, they extend the life of veggies by days if not a full week.

  14. 14
    Trena May 6, 2008 at 1:47 pm #

    I totally second the idea of buying meat on sale. I make a point to stop by 2 particular chain grocery stores once a week to see what is marked down for quick sale and then I take it home and immediately package it (we have a FoodSaver that I am beginning to love like a 2nd child) and toss it in the freezer. Yesterday I bought 4 large and beautiful bone-in pork chops for $1.71, which works out to be less than 50 cents/chop. Great to know I have them on hand.

    Also, we’re growing a garden in the backyard. Yes it’s work, but a) homegrown always tastes better and b) peppers (and tomatoes etc) taste better when I can just go out back and pick them instead of paying upwards of $1 or more per pepper each time.

  15. 15
    emily May 6, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    My husband bought the green bags, and I thought to myself, “sucker!” However, they really do seem to work. Especially on lettuce which we used to be throwing away all the time. The key is me remembering to transfer the veggies to them when I get home from the store and am unpacking my bags.

    We do stockpile, and I meal plan for a week at a time, however I usually only plan 5 meals a week, because chances are we’ll wind up doing something with friends one night, and one night my husband will not want what I am cooking, so we’ll switch it up. I also have my freezer stockpiled with easy/quick meals from Trader Joe’s like pre-marinated fish, the rice that you stick in the microwave, mandarin orange chicken, pasta, etc. This makes a really fast dinner on the nights where I haven’t planned or we run out of time for cooking.

    Things I cook in bulk that freeze well:
    taco meat (I usually add black beans and corn, and those freeze and defrost fine)
    spaghetti sauce (marinara and meat)
    beef stew (the potatoes get mushier, but we don’t really care)
    twice baked potatoes
    chicken noodle soup
    chicken burrito filling (from the crockpot)
    lasagna filling (I usually don’t freeze a whole assembled lasagna, because this takes up less space)
    bbq chicken or pork, shredded
    meatloaf (I make it in a muffin tin, and then freeze the meatball muffins)

    I am really trying to cut down on trips to the store, and limit myself to two stores a week (we always hit Trader Joes for cheap organic milk, and cheap wine), unless there’s a really great deal that I can’t pass up. Fortunately, I have a choice of 4 different grocery stores that are on the way to/from my daughter’s school, or only 1/4 mile out of the way, so I’m not adding much mileage to my trips.

  16. 16
    Lisa May 6, 2008 at 1:55 pm #

    coupons, coupons, coupons!
    You can use two coupons on the same item as long as one is a store and the other a manufacturer coupon. This saves even more money. And some places(like Kroger and Publix) double coupons, and accept competitor’s coupons. I stock up on stuff that’s on sale. I have a freezer in my garage (a great investment!).

  17. 17
    Hilary May 6, 2008 at 1:58 pm #

    Having just been laid off, I’m seriously ramping up the economizing.

    First – you mentioned meal planning. I can’t emphasize enough how that helps! It takes the hassle out of what to make for dinner. Spend like $10 on Mastercook and you can store recipes and build grocery lists from them (it also lets you add other items to the grocery list). This also helps with the concept of making a list and sticking to it.

    The usable leftovers tip is good as well – pack them into individual lunch sized containers, so you can just grab one on your way out the door in the morning.

    My big tip for freshness is the farmer’s market! With grocery store veggies, you don’t know when (or sometimes where) they were picked. With the farmer’s market, it was likely picked that morning – and I guarantee it will stay fresh longer.

    I’m a little afraid that someone will say that farmer’s markets are more expensive – but if the grocery store produce goes bad after a few days, that’s real money dumped right into the compost heap, right? Besides, the opportunity to actually talk to the person who grew your food is wonderful.

  18. 18
    Jamie AZ May 6, 2008 at 2:19 pm #

    We are once-a-week shoppers for our “regular” grocery items and once-a-month Costco shoppers. We stock up on beef, pork and chicken at Costco so there’s always meat in the freezer to eat. We also buy really good whole grain wheat bread there that we freeze 4 loaves at a time and other “pantry” items like fruit cups for lunches, juice boxes, chicken broth, cashews(!), granola bars, etc. Our weekly grocery shopping replenishes fruits/veggies, dairy, frozen and other pantry staples that I didn’t want to buy in a 5-gallon drum at Costco. It seems to work for us at this point. I know I need to get into couponing, but I can’t seem to devote the necessary time to it right now. We keep a pretty well stocked pantry, so the worst that would happen if we couldn’t get to the store one week is that we’d not have fresh veggies or dairy, which would suck, but wouldn’t be the end of the world. Oh, and we keep a paper pad on the refrigerator to immediately add things to the shopping list when we use up an item so that we don’t forget later.

  19. 19
    PollyS May 6, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    I am a green bag fan. I don’t advocate this little experiment, but it did happen to me. I found a head of iceburg lettuce (I know, but my husband loves the stuff) in the back of the fridge. I know it was at least 2 weeks old. It was in a green bag and it was very good condition. It was great for that evening’s taco salad.
    A few weeks ago fuji apples were on a ridiculously low sale. I bought enough for 3 weeks. I put some on the counter for snacks and the rest in green bags. The apples were fresh and sweet 3 weeks later.
    So the moral of the story is, they work. They aren’t miracle workers. But they do keep veggies fresh.

  20. 20
    nani May 6, 2008 at 2:50 pm #

    The green bags do work pretty well, especially for lettuce, though it’s a habit I’ve fallen out of. I hate to shop, so always buy for at least a week including specials on meat, which I freeze. I buy half a week’s bananas yellow and the other half green, which works out well. I’ve found that several vegetables keep really well and stay fresh in the crisper for at least a week, including broccoli (I always buy crowns so I’m not paying for stalk), celery, carrots and onions and other root vegetables, the winter squashes, green beans (much helped by green bags), peppers, and zucchini if bought very fresh. Some veggies and fruits really are most economical when purchased frozen, including peas, leaf spinach, blueberries and mango chunks. Luckily, we enjoy leftovers, so I almost always make a double recipe (except for fish…). On leftover night, during the day I make up dinner plates with portions of meat, veg and starch, cover with plastic wrap and have dinner ready to pop in the microwave when we’re ready to eat. This is a big help with people on different schedules! I did Peapod once and wasn’t thrilled by the things they chose for me, and why save on gas if you’re paying them to deliver?

  21. 21
    Chakolate May 6, 2008 at 2:55 pm #

    A few points:

    Unless the fresh produce you buy is locally grown, the frozen stuff is actually *better* – it’s allowed to ripen before being picked, then frozen the same day. The ‘fresh’ stuff, if trucked in from somewhere else, was picked before fully ripe.

    It’s fine to freeze cheese, but don’t try it with cream cheese. Also, cream cheese lasts a lot longer, usually, than is stated on the ‘sell by’ date.

    For coupons, just keep them in the car, all the time. That way you’re never out without them.

  22. 22
    Jenn May 6, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    Love the green bags. They’re vital at our house because we get a CSA subscription every summer. I also love frozen veggies. And don’t knock canned fruit. It’s a great staple for those days when you just don’t have the energy to do more. We love the pineapple, mandarine oranges and tropical fruit mixes here. I pour the juice into popsicle molds or save it for gelatin.

    My husband usually takes dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. I also save little bits that are too small for lunch in a tub in the freezer and make Saturday Soup out of it. Or, in our case, Saturday Pot Pie. That’s at least one extra meal out of stuff that would have been thrown out. I also save extra fruit and desserty stuff in the same manner to make dump cake.

    The whiteboard idea is a great one. I use one for keeping track of things we’re out of and meals I’m planning but I hadn’t thought of putting one by the deep freeze. And I love, love, love my deep freeze.

    I’ve also started a price book to start tracking prices better. I tried the grocery game but it didn’t work well for me. But a friend of mine does really well. I think it depends on where you live (it’s a franchise) and what you buy. If you plan on giving it a try, start saving your coupons now and then join in about a month or two. The service works by matching coupons with the best sale price and that usually doesn’t happen right away when the coupon is issued. You can get a 4 week trial for $1.

    I’m making a lot more things from scratch: bread, popsicles, yogurt, and chocolate syrup so far. I’m trying to wean us off of breakfast cereal which is insanely expensive and eat muffins and pancakes and such that I can make and freeze in bulk.

  23. 23
    kris May 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    I second the use of couponmom.com instead of the grocery game – the grocery game really isn’t worth the money, imo. You get a free month trial, but unless you’ve been saving your coupon circulars for months before that, you won’t have half the coupons you need anyway. Couponmom is FREE!
    My rule is nearly always this: if it isn’t on sale (or I have a spectacular coupon, though I usually try to combine the two), we don’t eat it. Period. This works well most of the time, except for fresh produce in the winter. We eat a lot of frozen veggies in the winter.
    Another thing – if your store has a shopper’s card, make sure your current address is associated with your account. Then they can send you coupons. Also check to see if you can load online coupons to your shoppers card – Kroger uses shortcuts.com and P&G – they can be combined with paper coupons and suddenly you get stuff for almost free.

  24. 24
    Wendy May 6, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    I didn’t read through all of the comments so if this is a repeat, then I’m sorry.

    Back in my old house I had the world’s most wonderfully large pantry that I loved and wanted to put my bed in a sleep in I loved it so much. Now I have a very skinny skinny small cabinet (sob sob). Anyway, back at the old house, I DID participate in The Grocery Game, only I abhor coupons, so I would just buy the non-coupon needed stuff that was on sale (besides, the coupons usually for stuff I only bought because I had a coupon and it was on sale, not because we needed it, and then are you really saving money? no. not so much.) ANYWAY (can you say ‘digress much?’) — regarding the grocery game, for staple items, for knowing when produce was on good sales, and for meats and cleaning products and such, it was a HUGE $$ saver as well as a time saver because I didn’t have to think about anything. I could just check the list, check the things I wanted, and print it out. Add the stuff from my own needs to that list and off I went. I often left the store saving more money than I actually SPENT. (in other words, if my bill was $50, I might have saved $65…so I got $115 worth of groceries and such for $50.)

    Totally worth the $10 subscription fee to be saving that much **AS LONG AS YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE TO PUT IT!** (sob sob again)

  25. 25
    Mel May 6, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    In addition to many of the already mentioned tips, I like a free website called Pinching Your Pennies.
    http://www.pinchingyourpennies.com/index.php http://www.pinchingyourpennies.com/groceryguide.php

    The site itself is tough to navigate, but they have well-designed weekly emails that you can sign up for that “rate” the grocery store deals. It’s a shortcut to reading the ads. If there are 4-star deals, I plan my menus around those items. They are not in every state (they began in Utah), but I believe they are expanding.

  26. 26
    Gennie May 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    I dig the Evert-Fresh green bags – reusablebags.com has them and I just picked up more. I found a 20% coupon code by Googling, too!

  27. 27
    Jennifer May 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    I am also a GG subscriber and have been for years. I save less now than when I wasn’t so leery of processed food, but it’s still worth it to me. I also do meal planning and have started a small kitchen garden.

  28. 28
    Diane May 6, 2008 at 3:27 pm #

    Most of what I say won’t directly apply, as I’m only shopping for me. I already do most of what you suggest, although I only do “big” shopping once a month. I’ve already generally planned dinners (12-18 recipes of about 4 servings each) and will have leftovers for lunches. I buy all the dry/canned/freezable stuff in this first trip.

    Fresh fruits and veggies are bought as needed, and the grocery with the best produce is on my way home. I pay a bit more, but the produce from this store is fresher and therefore lasts longer.

    Tupperware makes some great containers for fresh veggies and fruits – I forget the exact line name, but they come with ridges on the bottom and adjustable humidity valves. They really do work well; I’ve easily kept food fresh at least two days longer than without using the containers.

  29. 29
    themuttprincess May 6, 2008 at 3:39 pm #

    We have started seriously stockpiling. It seems to really work out, and that makes it affordable, and I dont have to plan ahead. That just isn’t going to happen.

    We also use coupons. LOVE THAT!

    And we also buy lots of frozen veggies and fruits. Because it always makes for a nice addition on a thurs/fri or weekend. There is always enough and sometimes they are CHEAPER than the fresh stuff!!! (how can you go wrong? No extreme time limit for use!)

    Thank you for the reminders as we tighten our grocery belt!

  30. 30
    Andrea May 6, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    When I open my mail, I keep the return envelopes from credit card applications, etc. in my kitchen drawer. When I run low on something, I write it on the envelope. On Sundays I usually try to plan out the week’s meals and I make my grocery list on that envelope. Items with coupons (inserted in the envelope) are starred. I may make a grocery trip later on in the week just to get perishables and produce. I pick up milk at the local Walgreen’s b/c it’s much cheaper and I am usually driving past it.

    I second the advice to use TWO coupons for buy one, get one free deals. Double coupons whenever possible (this works sometimes on shampoo, etc on sale at the grocery store).

    I plan 4-5 meals per week, adding in leftovers for those nights when there’s soccer practice or DH is working late. There’s always something in the freezer or a can of soup for him those nights. I often eat leftovers for lunch.

  31. 31
    fuzzy May 6, 2008 at 5:27 pm #

    We make a vegetarian bean-based soup once a week (vegetarian chili, Crescent Dragonwagon’s black bean soup [-author mentioned so you can google the recipe- awesome], vegetable soup, and cajun red beans are all staples), and eat it for at least one dinner and several lunch portions. It cuts down our grocery bill and is good for us too. Cooking from dried beans is really cheap (about $1/lb here). Sometimes we use the crockpot if I plan ahead, otherwise we use a pressure cooker (miraculous invention).

    Knowing your local stores’ quirks and habits is key. For example: one of our local stores has bananas for $.19/lb every wednesday. It’s never advertised; you just have to be in on the secret. The same store puts butter on sale for $1.50/lb about once a month, so I stock up then and never have to buy it at full price.

    All the grocery ads come out on Tuesday afternoon in the paper, so I scan them for the great deals and either hit one or two stores or, if I’m absolutely too busy to hop from store to store, hit up Wal-Mart and have them match sale prices for all three stores. Recently figured out that my $1.99 lb (frozen) chicken deals could only be pricematched at Wal-Mart with their fresh, never-frozen chicken b/c their frozen is priced by the package, not pound. That nets me EXCELLENT fresh chicken at a dirt-cheap price.

    I also love stir-fry rice (just use a seasoning packet, some frozen veggies, a few eggs, and maybe a chicken breast for the whole family) b/c it is so economical, one-dish cleanup, and a family favorite.

    I also shop two “bent and dent” pantry-type grocery stores about once a month, looking for bargains on pantry and condiment items. One of them puts out a “30% off your entire purchase” coupon monthly in a direct mail coupon flyer– that makes that visit an incredible deal.

    Finally– for those of you on limited incomes, with small kids or babies, check to see if you’re eligible for WIC through your county health office. The income guidelines are around 185% of the poverty level, so you might be surprised at how easy it is to qualify. It’s designed to be helping you with grocery costs and feeding your children well. You’ll be paying taxes to support this program all your life. Using a government program for a few years to nourish your kids during their most critical growth years is not shameful; it’s good parenting.

    A few more:
    Oatmeal is much cheaper than cereal.
    A baby food mill ($12) is much cheaper than buying the little jars/tubs over and over and over.
    Quiches and frittatas make excellent use of leftovers (esp veggies)
    Meals out are usually insanely huge. We take leftovers home and reheat the next day for lunch– or share one meal between the two of us at the restaurant.
    Soda and other prepared drinks were draining our budget and damaging our health. We don’t buy them anymore, but splurge w/o guilt by buying soda at restaurants only so that we don’t feel deprived.

    Woo, much too long, sorry. Hope something in there helps somebody.

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    Heidi May 6, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    I keep a running list of what I’m running low on. I plan the meals a week ahead of time and then do the shopping (grocery store and Costco) once a week.

    It’s been covered before, but Costco can be terrific for quality and price savings. I buy the chicken breasts in bulk and cook them all at the same time in the fabulous Pacific organic broth. The leftover broth makes really wonderful soup, and the already-cooked chicken is available in the freezer as I need it. (This time of year we barbeque extra chicken to freeze–nothing like barbequed chicken on a frosty Montana January day!)

    I’ve never tried the green bags, but putting folded scottowels in with lettuce, spinach, and cheese helps to make them last LOTS longer by absorbing the excess moisture.

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    Lenetta May 6, 2008 at 7:31 pm #

    I have a hard time not getting whiny when it comes to groceries. The closest 2 stores to where I live in the middle of nowhere are 10 miles away, and the prices are high at one and higher at the other.

    I have more stores 25 miles away, including Wal-Mart, but have not been able to figure out the system to shopping them smart. Plus sometimes I need to go to one town, sometimes another for various things. The Walgreens is 25 miles away, too, and no CVS. I find when I make a trip to “the city”, I end up prioritizing what I must get and everything else falls to the wayside with a fussy little one.

    I think the key to stockpiling is having a rotation of recipes that your family loves, and we’re not there yet. I also participate in a food group where you can buy cheap groceries in exchange for volunteering. It’s kinda tough to use that stuff up sometimes (you don’t get to choose what you get) and it’s a lot of processed stuff, too, so I’m not sure how good of a deal it is.

    Part of the reason I think I’m afraid to experiment too much is the fear and dislike of throwing out fod. We waste too much as it is, I’d hate to waste more.

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    kerwindimple May 6, 2008 at 7:51 pm #

    We live in Los Angeles and I rarely drive to the store. Several neighborhood chain grocery stores deliver so I order online and rarely pay delivery fees since I get their mailer with a free delivery coupon. I use this for bulk and heavy items, in particular, and while they don’t take coupons, they do offer the same discounts as in their weekly mailer. They store previous purchase info. I do not often buy fruit or too many perishables from them. For those we walk to the local farmers market or go to a no thrills farm market store (they make delicious guacamole and salsa on Saturdays!) I sometimes do go to Costco but I end up buying too much. I’d suggest online alternatives if available in your area. Our drivers are not allowed to accept tips and will deliver inside your door. They have been a lifesaver for me and in the big scheme, economical.

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    Em May 6, 2008 at 8:02 pm #

    Oh! I just thought of something else and I don’t think its been mentioned. My kids have always loved oatmeal. I used to buy the brand name until once I bought the store brand and noticed that the little oatmeal packets inside looked exactly the same. The kids liked it the same and it was a substantial price difference. Since then, we’ve tried alot of store brands and although we don’t ALWAYS find the same quality, we often do. Its worth a try. I would say that is how I save the most money (especially on breakfast cereals – Cocoa Crunchies are every bit as cocoalicious as Cocoa Puffs).

    I actually think I remember hearing on one of those fluffy news stories how many store brands are the exact same (like same factory, same ingredients, same everything) as brand names. Again, worth trying out.

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    Daisy May 6, 2008 at 8:30 pm #

    Excellent advice, Mir and followers. I’m ready to get myself a few green bags. We have rabbits (pets, not pests), so we always buy lettuce and need it to last all week. At least until the garden comes ripe, and since I can’t plant it until the risk of frost is really gone…

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    Katherine May 6, 2008 at 9:18 pm #

    I have a list on my deep freeze of what is in there – catagorized by meat, meals, soup makings, other (I don’t bother listing veggies as we go through them so fast). That way I can look at a list rather than staring into the freezer looking to see IF I have something specific or trying to come up with something for dinner. I redo the list every time I defrost the freezer, so I see what needs to be used up.

    I buy as many of my grocery needs as I can at Aldi, then fill in at Publix with things I couldn’t get at Aldi. Plus I shop on Monday with Publix mystery 1 cent coupon and buy their loss leaders. If I have little bits of stuff I need in the middle of the week (or they have a great sale), I go to the Kroger only about 3 miles from the house. There is also a fruit/veggie stand on the way there – its a bit cheaper and lots fresher.

    I second the dented grocery store. I get most of my cereal there (I do like cereal a couple of times a week and cereal is one of the few things I find where generics just aren’t nearly as good).

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    carmie May 6, 2008 at 9:53 pm #

    I stopped eating meat more than once a week, and fish the same. I love, love, LOVE the Moosewood cookbooks, so I go through them once a month and pick out anything different I want to make soon and get the unusual ingredients then. Just cutting back on meat consumption has saved us a bundle.

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    Groovecatmom May 6, 2008 at 10:18 pm #

    I’ve been using the evert fresh bags for over ten years (same set, they last forever) and they are great. I’ve also been using cloth grocery bags for that long too. Just today my son asked if the stores charge money for plastic bags. I told him no, but after thinking about it, I told him they do. Plastic bags cost about a nickel each…because if you bring in your own bags, most grocery stores will credit you a nickel each. Over ten years, it adds up. That’s my money saving tip.

    And hey! Don’t disparage canned fruit so much. In the dead of winter, a can of peaches sure beats a yukky trucked in tomato from South America. Well, maybe not on a BLT. But the trick there is to slice and freeze a ton of peaches and berries when they are cheap and fresh in the summer. And wait til August for a BLT.

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    fuzzy May 6, 2008 at 10:57 pm #

    I apologize for that novel I just wrote.

    That said, I thought of one more bargain source– the radio stations in my area accept coupons/gift certificates from their advertisers in lieu of cash, and then sell or auction them to the public at a great discount. I’ve scored grocery store certificates a couple of times this way, spending about $6 per $10 certificate. (They’re popular and sell out fast, so you have to know when they’ll be offered.) We can get great entertainment bargains this way, too.

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    Jennifer Minson May 6, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    I can offer Want Not readers free shipping on the Tupperware FridgeSmart line. (on your whole order, when you order any FridgeSmart product). Just e-mail me at jenminson @ gmail. com and I will hook you up. I have kept strawberries for 2 weeks in mine.

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    Catherine May 6, 2008 at 11:40 pm #

    I’ve cut my trips to the grocery store by using Door to Door Organics, http://doortodoororganics.com. Not the cheapest source, but a reasonable amount of organic food for the price.

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    Lee May 7, 2008 at 8:08 am #

    Great list Mir!

    Free Canadian online grocery coupons can be had here http://www.save.ca

    I’ve put together a list of other online coupons for new moms here http://nsccards.com/tomoms/moms_coupons.html

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    Wendy May 7, 2008 at 9:50 am #

    We always talk about buying frozen veggies, but don’t forget about all the frozen fruit you can buy, too. Eat the bananas at the beginning of the week before they go bad and the 2nd half you can eat frozen peaches, strawberries, blueberries, apricots. They work great for making smoothies, too!

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    Laurin May 7, 2008 at 9:54 am #

    Luckily, I live in a suburb of Chicago where there are two grocery stores within a mile of my house (and 5 more about 2 miles further down the same road! No, I’m not even exaggerating!)

    With all of these grocery stores within spitting distance, what I typically do is check out all of their sales ads for the week (online) and determine which one has the most items I need/routinely buy on sale. Then I go to two or three of them and get my sale and loss leader items! One of the stores nearest my house is my “go to” store for stopping after work because it is the cheapest for staple foods like fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy and deli. However, their “inner aisle” foods are more expensive than some of the other local grocery stores. Hence, the need for the other stores.

    I used to be a regular coupon clipper but I’ve given it up because I realized it wasn’t really saving me that much money. How often do you actually find a coupon for stuff you routinely buy? In my case, not that often. I found I was buying stuff I had not bought before just because I had a good coupon. Sometimes with good results, sometimes bad.

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    MMM May 7, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    I have always bought extra lean meats and lower fat foods, but with prices the way they are, I am settling for higher fat version, and eating smaller portions.
    I have also started ordering through Angel Food Ministries (dot com). Check out their website!

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    joan May 7, 2008 at 10:39 am #

    I always plan my meals. I like to plan a month at a time to make the most of “doubling” meals and spreading out the frequency of the same meal. I cook two meals at a time at least 2 or 3 nights a week and we always have a soup and sandwich night (in winter) and a salad night (in summer). It’s amazingly easy when the family knows Tuesday night is spaghetti and Thursday is salad night. Sunday’s main meal is a roast, or other large piece of meat i.e. pork roast that provided the core for another night’s meal (barbecue over rice). Poof–4 days out of 7 are planned! Also, I always keep my “pantry meals” stocked. The proverbial tuna noodle casserole ingredients are kept in a special place in the pantry along with all the ingredients for salmon cakes. Meals from the pantry are lifesavers particularly if planned ahead.
    Remember, the staples of bread and milk can also be frozen to save the extra trips to the store.

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    K @ The Homestead May 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    I bought a new refrigerator…. for our anniversary. I know, romantic. But I didn’t know how bad the old one was… milk going bad in 3 days should have been my first clue.

    So. Buy a fridge thermometer (oh heck, they are cheap… get one for the freezer while you are at it.) Monitor the temp so you are getting the longest shelf life you can out of what you buy…. especially if you start noticing a lot of freezer burn and/or frost build-up…. might be your freezer seals. (I also have a story about a chest freezer flying out of a pickup… I’ll share that another time.)

    We make “cream of green things” soup. My mom called it garbage pail soup. It’s the toss-everything-that-is-about-to-spoil-in method of cooking. Then we freeze it in single-serve portions for lunches. I also tend to freeze any “almost gone” fruit…. my kids love teeny-weeny popsicles…. don’t tell them the are actually eating frozen grapes.

    We also do a massive quick-cook and freeze of herbs, corn & tomatoes in the fall… and strawberries earlier…. from the garden.

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    Denise Altman May 7, 2008 at 8:59 pm #

    I dearly love reading these kind of posts-and the reader responses are just as good!
    I have realy cut back in the last six months, even buying less from Amazon since the good deals are a lot of bulk processed items (although the Horizon milk is awesome in a lunch box). I dusted off my bread machine and use it to make dough only. I cut and freeze in balls for rolls, or put in a regular load pan to bake-without getting the hole from the paddle. As a side note, my kids are fuller on homemade bread than the store stuff.
    I have also cut deals with my local butcher. He will sell me ground beef or chuck for the same price as Sam’s Club, as long as I buy a minimum of 10 lbs. I just plan ahead, pick up what looks like a pillowcase full of meat (beautifully fresh ground and wrapped in butcher paper), and spend the evening mixing meatloaf, meatballs, taco meat, and packaging the rest. All I had to do was ask!

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    LIz May 16, 2008 at 4:32 pm #

    Here is one way I recenlty started saving time nad money. I get together with three to four friends every month and we cook 5 freezer meals together. In advance to our cooking night one of us buys all our ingredients at Aldi’s, Sam’s Club, etc., and then we split the bill. When it comes time to package our food food for the freezer, we each split a recipe into two bags, since none of us have kids old enough to eat as much as an adult. Last month we made 5 recipes, split into 10 nights worth of dinner, for $28 each. In addition, we had a great time socializing while we cooked together!