This may take you for surprise, but I’m not a tracker of my expenses. I know this flies against the advice of everyone from Dave Ramsey to J.D. Roth, but I’ve just never been able to make myself perform this monotonous task. However, since I use my debit card for almost everything, I’m not completely oblivious to where my money is going. And when I participated in the Non-Consumer Advocate June Food Stamp Challenge last summer, I was easily able to figure out that my family of four normally spends $450 per month on food, which included coffees and eating out. We were easily able to cut our food expenditures down to $350 for the month, which allowed for a $100 donation to The Oregon Food Bank.
I feel that we neither scrimp and save, nor do we splash out on groceries. It feels right and balanced to me. (And keep in mind that my kids eat as much as normal adults.)
Imagine my surprise when my close friend Rachel recently confessed that her family of four was spending $1000 per month on food. This shocked me because Rachel bakes her own bread, cooks exclusively from scratch and sees herself as a bargain hunter. This actually shocked Rachel as well, as she and her husband just started tracking their expenses as part of an online personal finance class. Then, a coworker of mine, who is a recent convert to the cult of Extreme Couponing, (although always a proud tightwad) shared that her family of four normally spends $650 a month on groceries. Not so bad by comparison.
Here are a number of methods of how I keep my family’s grocery expenses low:
- I try and keep my cupboards stocked with general ingredients that can easily be transformed into simple, yet healthy meals. This includes canned tomatoes, canned beans, (although I cook dried beans when I have the time and foresight) and whole wheat pasta.
- I stock up on sales, especially when they’re loss leaders that I use frequently.
- I buy fruit and vegetables that are in season, which also means on sale. I don’t buy asparagus on November or blueberries in January. Organic oranges are on sale for 69¢ per pound? Then that’s what we’ll be eating.
- I do buy organic produce, although it’s almost always the sale items. 79¢ apples or huge bunches of spinach for $1.50 come to mind.
- I buy specialty ingredients directly from restaurants. This may sound like a pain in the tuchus, but these businesses are within walking distance and the savings are tremendous. I buy a sizable amount of pickled ginger and wasabi from the nearby Japanese restaurant for $3 and enough pepperoni for two pizzas for $1.50 from the Papa Murphy’s down the street. I bring my own Pyrex containers, which makes it all the more
brag worthyworth the effort.
- I do keep a few instant dinners in the freezer such as Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken, (to which I add a couple extra chicken breasts to stretch the meal) and Potstickers. This keeps us from eating out too often.
- I buy in bulk. This includes everything from individually frozen chicken breasts from Costco to rice, beans, cat food, spices, baking powder and soy sauce.
- I take advantage of coupons. No, I’ll never be featured on TV for my couponing prowess, but I do use the once a month $10 off $50 Safeway coupons, as well as deal-of-the-day Groupon-style coupons for local coffee shops, Dave’s Killer Bread and nearby restaurants. I know I’ll be going out for coffee with a friend at some point, so I might as well plan ahead.
- I pack school lunches for the kids and my husband and I always bring our own work lunches. My work identification can be registered to work in the cafeterias as a debit card from my paychecks, but I have consciously never set this up. Even though doing so would save me 15% off my purchases. Too slippery a slope for little ol’ me.
- I taught myself how to make certain meals by hand that my family enjoys. I make both sushi and pizza from scratch, which saves a ton.
- I am willing to prepare and serve simple meals. I don’t need prosciutto and belgian endive to make a meal special.
- I store leftovers is clear glass Pyrex containers, which ensures that we don’t forget about what yummy tidbits are in the fridge.
- When we do eat out, we drink water, skip dessert and try to locate an online coupon. I bring my own leftovers container so that the uneaten food can become tomorrow’s lunch.
- I hardly garden for food at all. I do plant tomatoes and lettuce in the summer using container gardening, but this is pretty limited. My yard is shady beyond belief, so I mostly mooch home grown veggies from my friends.
I try not to stress too much about how much we’re spending on food. (Hence the non-tracking.)We’re not exactly living in poverty and need not hold back from feeding ourselves well. I want to provide healthy, delicious meals for my family. I know we could be spending less, but my husband likes deli meat for his lunches from a particular butcher, and is a fan of Cliff bars. He’s an adult who can make these choices for himself. We buy treats such a mochi ice cream, ($3.50 from Trader Joe’s, which is $1.5 less than the Asian grocery store) and varied snack foods.
I am not interested in depriving my family in the name of proving how I’m the queen of frugality. Nope, I’ll let someone else wear that crown.
How much is your family spending on food? Do you have frugal food practices to share? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”