Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Saving Money: Groceries

Cutting back on your grocery budget doesn't have to mean eating ramen noodles every night. As I've said before, we've cut down our grocery bill by about $100/month so far and we still eat meat almost every night. Here's what helped me:

Meal planning
This is SO important. Sitting down at the beginning of the week and planning out your meals helps you make an accurate grocery list and keeps you from running to the store during the week. Less trips to the store means time, gas, and money saved. Every Sunday evening, I sit down with my local ads, coupons, recipe book, and computer and write down my meal ideas and make my grocery list. It's nice not having to scrounge around at 4:30 wondering what in the heck I'm going to cook for supper, too.

Utilize leftovers
I like to make my meal plan to include one or more meals that share an ingredient. A can of pineapple, for example, can be used to make pineapple chicken and have enough leftover to use on homemade pizza.

Another example: Friday I made mini meatball subs (on homemade bread) and brown rice with peas and mushrooms. I used the leftovers in 3 meals:
1. Leftover mini meatball subs; roasted potatoes, squash, zucchini, and carrots (I just use whatever is left in the fridge and toss with olive oil and either oregano or grill seasoning)
2. Chicken parmesan; penne noodles with leftover marinara; leftover veggies
3. General Tsos chicken; fried rice (using leftover rice from the first night and leftover veggies from the second night)

Look for cheap alternatives
Some cheap substitutions:
- chicken or beef bouillon cubes instead of broth
- mix your own spices instead of buying premade packets (taco seasoning, for example)
- regular rice instead of instant
- dried beans instead of canned
- cream of anything mix instead of canned soup (I haven't actually tried this yet, but I'm going to this week)
- generally, anything homemade instead of prepackaged/convenience foods

When I look at a recipe, I like to look at it and figure out how to make it cheaper. Creamy chicken enchiladas is one of our favorite meals (thanks, Debbie!), but gets kind of pricy. So to make it cheaper I make these substitutions (original ingredient in parenthesis):
- 2 cups of water with 1 chicken bouillon cube (chicken stock)
- 8 oz of yogurt cheese (sour cream) - this has nothing to do with cheapness, I'm just lactose intolerant
- a few chopped jalepenos - I keep a jar in the fridge (green chilies)
- cooked and mashed dried pinto beans with cumin and chili powder(refried beans)
- chili powder, cumin, crushed red peppter (taco seasoning)
I also use Kroger brand tortillas. They're the best kind we've tried (and the cheapest!). The wheat ones are the best. I like to double this recipe because they are soooooo good leftover.

Stock up on sale items
This is how I manage to serve meat nearly every night. Kroger runs a sale on chicken breasts for $1.99/lb about once a month. So when it's on sale, I buy several packages. I set aside 30-45 minutes, grab a big cutting board and a knife, and trim away all the yucky stuff. Then I cut into strips or small pieces, wrap up meal-sized portions in freezer paper, label it, and throw it in freezer bags for good measure. Not only does this save us money, but it saves me a ton of time. Instead of having to cut up chicken every time I need it (and dirty up a knife and cutting board), I just unwrap the pack of chicken and let it thaw in cold water. Easy peasy. You can easily do this with other types of meat as well.

You can also watch for sales and coupons on pantry staples and stock up. I'll do a "couponing 101" in my next post.

Make extra and freeze it
This is another time and money saver. There are some meals that are a pain to make, so you might as well make double while you're at it. I like to make 2 lasagnas at a time and freeze one. The saving money part is small here - it gives me a quick dinner option so we don't resort to eating out in a pinch and it dirties less dishes, so we save a little water and electricity. Muffins, chicken casserole, spaghetti sauce, chili, and soups also freeze well.

I'd love to answer your questions or hear how you save money on groceries!

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