STEP 1. PLAN YOUR FOOD BUDGET
Planning your food budget is one of the most important things you can do to save money. With a food budget you are less likely to overspend and run out of food. Think about how much it costs each month to feed your family. Set a number in your mind and see if you can stick to it. You may have to be flexible, but try sticking to the number you feel is attainable. Use the steps below to help you!
Step 2: KEEP A FULL CUPBOARD!
Buy on sale and in bulk!
Staples are foods that help you avoid having a bare cupboard, and are not going to go bad. These might include peanut butter, flour, corn meal, sugar, dry milk, dry or canned beans, tuna, rice, pasta, spices, and salt.
Hint: Watch the ads and buy these staples in bulk when they’re on sale. Your cupboard will always be full and you’re now ready to move onto step 3!
Step 3: TAKE INVENTORY
Check to see what you already have — be sure to look in your cupboards, your freezer, and your refrigerator. Keep plenty of staples on hand — they store well, and stretch meals. “Staples” are also called “just in case foods.” Here are some examples:
Pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, canned green beans and corn, jarred spaghetti sauce, raisins, canned or dry fruit, canned tuna and clams, canned and dry beans, peanut, almond and cashew butters, canned soups, and canned and dry milk.
IMPORTANT! Taking inventory of what you have on hand will keep you from buying food you don’t need.
Step 4: WATCH THE ADS
Check the ads for sales — if you are almost out of something and it is on sale, put it on your list! As you look through the ads, you will get some ideas about what you’d like to cook. You might notice that certain items cost less when “in season” — for example, zucchini might be $1.29 per pound in the winter, and only 39 cents a pound in late summer.
Try shopping at your local Farmer’s Market to find fresh, local produce at a good price.
Step 5: PLAN YOUR WEEKLY MEALS, MAKE A LIST AND STICK TO IT!!
Once you’ve checked the ads and looked at your staples, make a weekly list of meals. Make sure you look at your calendar to see how much time you have each day and plan accordingly. Using the staples and ads will help you plan for the week and will also keep your list down and money in your pocket.
Avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Impulsive buying will cost you! Try not to go into the store for, what I call, the $50 gallon of milk. How many times have we entered the grocery store just for a gallon of milk and come out with three bags of unneeded groceries? Happens to the best of us!
MAKE EXTRA AND USE FOR ANOTHER MEAL OR TWO! (See One Meal =Three on the Cooking with Elise facebook page)
It helps to keep a notepad on the refrigerator or in a drawer — that way, when you run out of something during the week, you can write it down before you forget. If you’re ready to prepare a meal that you planned, but don’t have that one ingredient you might be less apt to cook that night and resort to take out or a restaurant, ultimately costing you more money, so be sure you write it down right away!
Step 6: WHAT TO COOK?
Choose items that are healthy for your family. This will save you money in the end. You are what you eat! If you feed your family junk and processed foods, which seem to be cheaper, you’ll end up having doctor bills out the wazoo!
Step 7: FOLLOW STORE STRATEGIES
Your shopping list is your “PLAN” for the week — and your job is to STICK TO THE PLAN!
It is very easy to come home with foods that aren’t in your food budget. Grocery stores work hard to get you to buy more than you planned. When this happens, the food dollars run out too soon.
We looked at strategies you can use at home to stretch your food dollars. Now, let’s look at strategies you can use at the grocery store:
IF YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO GO TO THE STORE FOR ONE ITEM, LEAVE THE GROCERY CART AT THE DOOR!! Grab the item and GO!
Brand name vs. generic?
Ever wonder what the difference is between the “name” brand and the generic brand of a food? Usually, dollars and cents!
Companies spend a lot of money on advertising to get you to buy their brand — but they aren’t spending their money, they are spending your money.
The store brand or generic brand almost always costs less, and usually tastes the same. In fact, they often use the very same ingredients.
Try doing a “blind” taste-test with your kids: buy a generic and a name-brand box of the same cereal; pour two bowls, and don’t tell them which one is generic — see if they can guess the difference
Check the “Unit Price”
The “unit price” of a food is the price per pound or per ounce. When comparing the cost of two different sizes of the same food, or two different brands that are of different weights, it can be hard to figure out which one is a better buy. The tag on the shelf should tell you the total price and the unit price — this way, you can get the best deal.
You will find that often the larger container is cheaper. Even though you pay more up front for the large size, you are getting a cheaper price overall.
Buy larger sizes of staple foods if you have the storage space and money in your food budget.
Watch for “Hidden Persuaders”
Hidden Persuaders can get us to spend more money than we have on things we didn’t plan to buy. Here are some hidden persuaders to watch out for:
High-sugar cereal box
Time: the more time you spend in the store, the more money you spend. It helps to stick to your list!
Shelf level and position: foods at eye-level are more expensive — this means your eyes and your children’s eyes!
Temptations — samples: it is fun to sample new food, but often these are expensive convenience foods, and very rarely are they generic brands or sale items.
Convenience: there are so many “ready-to-eat” foods available, and are they ever tempting! Keep in mind that making it yourself will almost always save you money, and will be healthier for your family.
Coupons: clipping coupons can save you money — but remember, coupons are usually for name brands. Even with a coupon (or sometimes double coupons!) the generic brand often still costs less. You have to do a little math, but it is well worth the time.
Reading labels is a great way to make sure you get the best nutrition for your food dollar. By looking at the “Nutrition Facts” label, you can watch your intake of fats and sugar, and compare amounts of nutrients like fiber, iron, and calcium.
Read the List of ingredients
Foods that have a Nutrition Facts label will also have in “ingredients” list. The ingredients are listed from “most” to “least” — in other words, if sugar is the first ingredient, you know that the food is mostly sugar! It is good to check the ingredients list of foods like cereal and juice, and other foods that often contain added sugar.
Here’s a tip: Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes usually have no added fat or added sugar.
STEP 8: BE FLEXIBLE!
Be flexible — if you see an unadvertised special that is too good to pass up, change your plan — add that food to your list. Sometimes grocers need to make room in a hurry, and mark staple items down for quick sale. Other times, perishable foods like meat, milk, or produce are marked down for quick sale. Be sure to use these up quickly or freeze, and throw away anything that smells or tastes bad.