I got a question from a friend recently asking how to eat cheap AND healthy. I remembered this little article I'd written for an FPU class Justin was leading a few years ago, and thought I'd re-post it. It was a good reminder to me, too. :) The end of the article is the food part, just fyi. :) Feel free to add in other saving ideas I may have missed. I'm learning too! And, hats off to all of you thrifty moms who spend far less than me on groceries. I'm always amazed at how much stuff costs when I'm at the store! :)
How We Make it Work on 1 Income x 5 Children
We’ve been doing the Dave Ramsey Financial Plan for 7 years now. We’re still learning, but we’ve amazed ourselves, even, with the progress we’ve made. It has been 2 steps forward, and 1 step backward, at times. But, it’s been worth it! I’m sharing this to be helpful, not to “toot my/our own horn”
In a short list, here’s a few ways we’ve been successful in achieving our goals and working through Dave’s “Baby Steps”:
- Delay gratification- there has been seasons (like when we were paying off the debts that we owed), where we only spent money on the basics. “Horrors!!!” This was a HUGE lesson for me to learn. Us girls, we like our shopping, eh?!! For some months on end there just wasn’t enough money for “extra” stuff: clothes, makeup, hair, etc. And, WE SURVIVED! It’s ok. It’s just for a season! I actually stayed out of stores, besides the grocery store, because there just wasn’t extra room in the budget for those “wants”. It actually helped me be content! We did this, because our goal was to use all of our extra money to do the “Debt Snowball” That was “gazelle intensity” (from a girl’s perspective) J
- “Buy used and save the difference!” (that’s a quote from the Dugger Familiy!) It works. We’ve done this: everything from vehicles to baby gear. It’s easy to spend extra thousands, by buying brand new. It pays to shop around. Thankfully, there’s more and more resale shops around selling maternity, kid and baby gear! Babies and children CAN cost a lot, but with the opportunity to shop at resale shops or garage sales, it’s VERY affordable. I know people who sell all their baby strollers, furniture, and clothing and then go out and buy all new stuff for the next one. Then, they’re amazed that we purchased our surburban with cash or fully stock our Emergency Fund. It’s just a matter of priority. I KNOW we were able to save a large chunk of money during what could’ve been a very expensive time in our lives by hardly spending any money on baby gear and kids clothes. [And, just to clarify, it’s not “wrong” to get all new stuff between kids, that’s just the example that popped into my head. It’s those people’s garage sales that I like to attend!!! J]
- Learn to shop differently: coupons, add matching, discount stores, price checking online, Ebay and Amazon (buy used!!), and have a plan for grocery shopping!
- Learn from everyone you can. Glean ideas, tips, hints, and recipes! It may just save you $$$ and time!
Saving money on grocery shopping is an art form! What works for one person, may not work for another. They key is finding out what works for you and your family. I am slowly learning what works best for us, and how to fit it into our weekly budget for groceries. I have 2 main goals: Eat nutrient-dense foods and do it as cheap as possible! It seems like an oxy-moron, right?! J Here’s what I’m learning:
- I have a plan. Saving money starts with a plan. I never go to the store without a written plan. I usually J don’t stray from my list.
After I had my 2nd baby, I thought to myself, “Ok, I’ve got to get this figured out! I need to be organized.” With 1 baby, I could kinda float through my day, still keep an impeccable house, serve gourmet meals, and keep my peace through the whole process. Well, things around my house have changed. I’ve realized, that I cannot afford NOT to be organized and have a plan. Yes, my house is no longer immaculate, a lot of times it’s more “crazy” than “peaceful”, and some nights are a lot less than gourmet, but I do have a plan, and work hard to stick with it. Whether it’s my menu planning, grocery store list, or my daily routine, I’ve found that the key is being INTENTIONAL and having a plan!
- Make a Menu! I have a weekly menu list. Before I make my grocery store run, I go through my list and make sure I have all the ingredients to the meals I plan to make for the week. This includes looking at the calendar to for-see “unusual” meal-events coming up: company on the weekend, my contribution to a Sunday Dinner, a cookout or potluck, or FPU meal night! It takes me maybe 5 minutes to make. I actually made a list in my “Brain In A Binder” Organizer of “Fast Meals” and “Goff Family Favorite” Often, just looking through the list of meals, gives me inspiration for the particular week. It also helps me not make the same old, same old every week. I don’t like to be boxed in too much, so I just make a list of meal options. I don’t assign a particular meal to a particular day, unless we’re having company (and I make a “company-style/sized” meal) or we have a very busy day and I don’t have time to make a meal. I plan ahead for either a crockpot meal or a freezer meal, in that case.
- I take $250 in cash for weekly groceries and that includes food, paper products, office supplies, replacements (socks, undies, gloves, or worn out towels, etc...) supplements, and any other household products or last minute gifts that I may need. So, the amount is generous enough to be able to cover those items, when the needs arise. I’m being transparent here, but when we first started FPU, I kinda wanted to see what our allotment for food looked like compared to other families. When we first got married, we spent $80/week…5 kids later, it’s tripled. J We like to eat, and all of us, even down to the 2 year old, eat a lot! We also have near-weekly company or “potluck” with another family…so, food is pretty central to how we live ‘round here. I’ve had to come to grips with the “nerd” in me that naturally wants to be appalled at the amount of $$$ I spend at the grocery store. I’m sure we could spend WAY less on groceries, if we only had 1 kid and never invited people over. However, I’ve learned, food means mealtimes, fellowship & relationships, and to us, it’s worth it!
- Make a priority list: distinguish between wants and needs. “Junk food” is just as expensive as “healthy food” Should we cut out pop, chips, crackers, and kid-snacks, so we can afford more fresh fruits and veggies, and maybe treats like wild salmon, every once-in-a-while? I quit buying most junk foods (pre-packaged crackers, granola bars, cookies, pop) a while ago, and it has freed up more $$ to spend on nutrient-rich food. (I DO still buy chips sometimes—it’s a treat in my hubby’s lunch…what can I say…it’s one of his love languages! J)
- Shop the perimeter of the store: that’s where the “healthier” foods are located. Milk, eggs, cheese, fruits and veggies, and meat are along the perimeter. That’s where 90% of what we buy should come from.
- Shopping for health and cooking with more “whole” foods is my goal. I’m trying to get away from buying foods with a long shelf life—there are no enzymes in those foods! Pre-packaged crackers, cookies, candy, juice, etc. If it won’t mold…don’t eat it!! J
- Cook from scratch: buying raw ingredients is ALWAYS cheaper! (that’s why couponing hasn’t worked for me) Think: bags of dried beans or rice vs. canned beans and rice-a-roni, or boxed plain pasta vs. macaroni & cheese or hamburger helper. Do we really cook from scratch? No, we DO buy boxed pasta, spaghetti sauce, bread, condiments, and some canned fruit. But, I’ve found that it’s tons cheaper AND healthier to cook/bake from scratch. Crackers, cookies, broth, beans,tortillas, cream of _______soup, seasoning mixes (taco, onion soup mix, etc), etc…I make from scratch. I will do a separate post with recipes for these things. And yes, sometimes convenience wins, when I am short on time during a particularly busy week. But, it’s a conscious choice I make, not just a default mode, to buy prepared food.
- Speaking of prepared food, I make my own! I do “freezer cooking.” I’m not regimented about doing this once-a-month, or anything. But, when I cook hamburger I’ll cook 10 lbs instead of just 2 lbs. Since I already have the pots dirty, I might as well cook ahead! It saves me time for other meals, to already have the meat cooked. The same goes for when I’m making a chicken casserole, spaghetti pie, pie crusts, tortillas, bread dough, biscuits, lasagna, or even cookies! (Many times, I’ll double the recipe and freeze a roll of cookie dough, wrap it in wax paper, and voila! I have my own healthy-version of “slice and bake cookies” It saves time, when the kids and I have an inconvenient craving for freshly baked cookies!When I make bread, I mix it up in my Bosch mixer (my favorite appliance, btw)—it makes bread-making a snap! I just dump all the ingredients in, and it does ALL the work. I take the dough out, divide it 6 ways, bake 2 loaves and freeze the rest of the dough. Fresh bread available whenever!!
- Buy in bulk! I buy my dry-goods about 2 x’s a year. We buy a hog and ½ of a beef once or twice a year. I buy 100 lbs of blueberries during the summer and freeze them. My hubby hunts, so we have venison in the freezer. We also started [a “homeschool-project” w/ the kids] raising our own chicken in the summer, so we usually have a freezer full of whole chickens, as well. It helps the weekly budget IMMENSELY, not to have to buy meat every week. It also helps my brain space, to not have to think, “Do I have Oatmeal? Rice? Beans? Meat?” I know that I have those! Menu planning is a snap, when I already have the meat in the freezer! Store meat, makes me too nervous…I suppose I’ve read too much, to eat it all the time. (ha,ha J) [The meat I DO sometimes buy at the store includes: lunchmeat (the natural, nitrate-free kind), canned tuna and salmon, and frozen fish)]Also, I do the same thing with paper goods. When my preferred brand of paper towels go on sale, I stock up. Same w/ paper plates & cups, zipper bags (freezer, sandwich and storage),diapers, female products, etc. I have some friends that go to Sam’s 1x a year and buy a year’s supply of paper towels, toilet paper, and etc. I like that idea. I do the same for cleaning ingredient supplies. (I make my own, and will post my recipes.)The Key: *Reduce my weekly grocery shopping to food, as much as possible*
Note: To afford the “bulk shopping”, I use “extra budget” cash. I DO NOT try to scrimp and save up grocery money each week, to buy my blueberry splurge in the summer, or the ½ hog we purchase, or the dry-good’s shopping trip. Money that comes in a chunk, like a tax return, a bonus, or money that I’ve earned usually goes to fund these expenditures.
- Saving $$$ at the store takes an investment in t-i-m-e. It’s taken me awhile to figure out what my priorities are. There are seasons where I’ve been able to go to more than 1 store and/or price match. Since I don’t live 5 minutes from a big grocery store, I really do have to plan and prepare beforehand. I know people who have good success with super-couponing, but I’ve found that it’s cheaper to buy the generic brand, the buy-1-get 1-free deals at Meijer, shop at a discount store (love ALDI’s!!!) or buy dry-goods in bulk. The more time I invest in my shopping (looking online at the ads to price match, going to more than 1 store, etc…), the more money I save. I’m in a very busy season raising and homeschooling 4 kids plus a baby, so I often don’t spend a whole lot of time doing that right now.
- Utilize a pantry. It’s a smart thing to do. Even the Federal Government recommends having 3-6 months supply of food on hand, in case of a national emergency. I’ve been hearing this from more and more sources. I love this idea more for convenience purposes. For me, it’s very handy to have a “stockpile” of ingredients on hand, since we live about 30 minutes to an hour away from big grocery stores. I always keep ingredients for tacos, spaghetti, and breakfast on hand. Those are meals I can always fall back on.
- Keep tabs on where the cheapest place is, to buy your favorite brands. I live in the middle of 3 towns that have grocery stores/farms that I buy food from. For example: I buy Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter—at Meijer, it’s more expensive, so when I’m at Walmart, I instinctively know to grab a few extra jars of P.B., when I’m there.
- Grow a garden! Fresh and cheap…and organic too! You can freeze the extra for winter-time soups and sides!
- Take a sack lunch! I started making Justin’s lunches right after we got married…I’m sure it has saved us lots of cash, by him not eating out ALL the time. I try to be creative, fun, budget-conscious and healthy. (more of these ideas in another post)
- Eat less meat and more beans. (more on this in another post) Look for other ways to add protein: eggs, beans, etc…~Now, I know it’s tricky to be shopping for health and staying within the budget. I was in a conversation at one of the FPU classes, where people were expressing frustration over the cost of “healthy” food verses “cheap” food. The McDonald’s menu, is “cheaper” (in all respects) for their daily “Dollar Menu” But, to me, it’s pay now or pay later. It’s worth it, in my opinion, to buy healthy food and make my hubby’s lunch here at home. I’m sure I could make it cheaper by buying “fake” cheese, bologna, and white bread, or sending him to McDonald’s, but my goal is cheap AND healthy. And, sometimes that means spending a bit more now…otherwise, you’ll probably end up spending it at the Dr.’s office down the road.Update: It’s been about 2 years since I wrote this article…so I had to change a few things. I still agree with all the above, but I will add that I’ve become an ALDI’s fan. I used to think that ALDI’s only sold junk foods. Not the case. I buy all I can at ALDI, then finish up at Walmart. Aldi’s everything is way less expensive. On the weeks that I’m not able to make the hour long trek to Aldi’s, I just price match what I can and go to Walmart.
I will also add that I do NOT buy milk unless I'm in Amish land. It's just a choice we've made to not drink store milk. I pay $4/gallon for raw milk. I've switched over to almond and coconut milk, for several reasons. We don't consistently drink milk, simply b/c I don't make special trips just for milk. I do keep powdered milk on hand, for recipes. I also use "cheap" eggs for baking and save the expensive/free range/delicious eggs for breakfast. So, yeah, I've just had to kinda wiggle my way through the whole saving money thing AND eating healthy whole foods. No, we don't eat all organic or perfect foods without weirdo ingredients, but I do my best. Hope these ideas help. Feel free to add in your own ideas in the comments! I'd be happy to learn how I can spend less than $1000/month at the grocery store!