Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Grocery Talk

I've noticed there is a lot of bloggity chat about grocery budgets lately. Perhaps all of of are adjusting to the increase over the past few months and all our brains are searching out solutions in a time of pressure.
I am not a budget champion. I am not good at the right method for anything, including food shopping. I have however been blown away by some estimate numbers floating around as budget numbers for the month of food. Our budget was 250$ a month before Christmas but we had to raise it to 300$ with the food and gas increase. Now, that is for food and toiletries.
You have to remember that we are really trying to crunch to get out of bad debt right now so my motivation is great. I am still working at it and trying to get creative but I wanted to share my staples and where they come from. My life has forced me to get down the the cheapest way to do it with the time I have and the gas enough for so many trips to the stores I need to go to. This is going to be random dumping but I just thought I'd share.

1. I live seven miles from the nearest living town (I say living because I consider mine "sleeping" because it is so small and has a market that would bust my budget to buy milk at) so I always group shopping with times I'm out all ready.

2. Staples- I try to think back to a cabin kitchen. What would it need? Well, I don't really know, but this is what my staples are:
- Wheat Berries - bought in co-op size bags usually 25lbs for me and a friend.
- Oats, Raw- Used for oatmeal, breads, granola and cookies, and also from co-op.
- Popcorn- Used for well... popcorn (the cheapest and healthiest snack you can have) and also milled for cornmeal.
-Brown Rice- I'm using up what I have but will be getting it from co-op after that.
-Beans- ( I eventually would like to do these by co-op too when I can afford more paint buckets to put them in!)- Lentils, Pinto (big 5lb. bags from Costco) and black beans.
-White flour- I keep one 5lb. from the store, it lasts me forever since I use whole wheat usually for everything.
- Sucunat- ( I know, they did not have that back then) I keep about 5 lbs flowing in and out from co-op where it is a good price. We use it in everything needing sugar except something like jello where it would just be...weird.
-Butter- Definitely bulk Costco.
- Honey- Large 6lb. "Busy Bee" from Costco (if anyone knows of a better deal, I'm open) which is used for bread and granola making mainly.
-Canola Oil- Again, the large one from Costco. It too is a staple of bread and granola making.
-Potatoes- I know this is a produce but when you are pinching, it's a basic you have to have. (I remember in "Little Women" how the girls would take their baked potato for their lunch and that was it because times were tough.)
2. Proteins (again, this is in crunch mode)
-Eggs- The best price I have found is always Trader Joe's basic ones. I think they are 1.19 a dozen right now.
-Tuna fish- I am trying an even cheaper method of this too. I am using the big can from Costco and freezing leftovers in sectional freezing containers to use later for sandwiches or casseroles.
-Peanut Butter- There are many good options, I just happen to be getting the double Laura Scudders real peanut butter from Costco.
-Canned Pink Salmon- Used for a dinner of Salmon Patties
-Ham or Turkey Ham- I bounce between Costco Ham for sandwiches, and Foster Farms big hunk of Turkey Ham from Food For Less which is actually cheaper and able to be used in cooking.
( I am hoping to add one meat a week like a good chicken that can be used for a few meals)

4. Produce
-Carrots- Large bag of whole ones from Costco (it's cheaper to not buy the baby cute ones guys!)
-Celery- Wherever it's cheap
-Onion- Usually a bag at Food For Less (I get yellow because of price and cooking does not require really sweet white ones that I would prefer). I will also grab one red for sandwiches or salads.
(NOTE: these three are kitchen essentials to cheap eating. They are the veggie basis for so many soups, casseroles, and sauces)
-Broccoli- Large bag from Costco.
-English Cucumber- Set of three from Costco ( sometimes I have to choose between these and the broccoli)
-Spinach- Large bag from Costco (I separate right away into storage bags so it lasts over two weeks for salads, no chopping needed)
-Green Leaf Lettuce- TJ's or sale at Food For Less
-Various in season items : tomato, sweet or bell pepper, zucchini, etc. Wherever it's cheapest.
-Apples- I've narrowed down that the bags of small ones from Food For Less are the best deal for what gets eaten. My kids can eat a whole little one, but think they can a big one. There is always to much wasted that way.
-Banana's- Costco is the best price always.
-Third Fruit of what's in season- Right now Pears and Tangelos are a good price.
-Frozen Berries- Costco big bag of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry mix.
-Frozen Green Beans- Large bag of organic at Costco.
-Frozen Spinach- TJ's
-Frozen Veggie mix- TJ's
-Frozen Sweet Corn- TJ's
(I don't get all veggies each time)
5. Dairy
-Cheese- Kirkland 5lb. block of sharp cheddar. Used in all cooking, sandwiches, snacks etc.
-Eggs- also mentioned under proteins- Trader Joes
-Milk- Costco for price (I also get a case of Soy milk from Costco for when the milk runs out and I can't get into town. I'm thinking of switching to powder milk for a spare though after the idea from Zimms Zoo's Mama.)
-Sour Cream- Costco tub
-Yogurt- Costco Kirkland singles or big tub from Food For Less if it's cheaper which lately it has been a toss up.

6. Variants: The things that I bounce around getting or not getting depending on the menu.
-Pastas- WW from Trader Joe's/I also almost always get a bag of dry tortellini from Trader Joe's
-Pasta Sauce- Either the big can from Costco, or a sauce to make my own, or Trader Joe's Cheapest Marinade.
-Stewed Tomatoes- Trader Joe's
-Cream of Mushroom Soup- Costco or good sale
-Salsa- Varies by price and whim
-Tomato Sauce- sale or Costco big can

7. Snacks or Extras
-Nuts- I try to get a bag of almonds and walnuts every few months from Costco. They are for snacks and baking.
-Raisins- Costco (co-op in bulk is good too I think)
-Crasins- Costco
-Dates- Costco
-Coffee- Costco ground cheap, very cheap, basic, boring coffee. (not our preference, but, it works)
(I don't buy these all at once, I vary between which one I pick up each time I'm there)

8. Special Occasionals (if the budget allows)
-Sausage Links- Costco has the best price. I use them also for slices on homemade pizza.
-String Cheese- Costco
-Orange Juice- Costco
- Mozz cheese for Pizza
-Canned Pineapple
-Meatballs from Costco (very rare now)

I think that is the basic bottom line. This of course does not include what is kept in a stocked spice cabinet.
If I think of anything, I'll be sure to come back and add.

So, What can I do with all this? Well, that is for another time. I have to figure out half of it still myself.:)

I would love to hear any feedback on further ideas on savings or where to get specific items. Katy, if you come by, can you share your hamburger tip you gave me? Thanks.


Christina said...

This is really helpful, Alicia. Thanks. I'm curious if you're blown away by the numbers being higher or lower than what you spend. I've actually seen both.

I have an idea for you with the 5 gallon tubs. I havn't tried it myslef, but I read somewhere (The day after I bought some for myself!) that the bakeries of grocery stores get their frosting in big 5 gallon buckets and if you don't mind taking it home dirty, they'll give it to you. It would be worth asking about.

I'm glad you are feeling better.

Alicia said...

I agree! I'll have to check that out, thanks!

Oh, and the numbers were high.

Gombojav Tribe said...

I notice under protein you don't list beans, lentils or tofu. This stuff is very cheap and very versatile!

Alicia said...

Yeah, I actually listed it under staples because it is dry and in bulk and one of my main things. I have not however entered the tofu world.

Gombojav Tribe said...

So you did! I'm not very observant, apparantly!

(btw, I blogged about tofu a while back. *smile*)

Lisa said...

I spend $300/month also and we buy a majority of our stuff at the same places. I buy hamburger in huge bulk amounts for 99 cents/lb. Then I cook it all up right away--homemade sausage rolls, 200 meatballs, taco meat and fried hamburger. It saves time and money. The biggest help for me is to buy big when things are on sale and always have a stocked pantry. I also check all grocery store ads and use coupons when they can be doubled up with the ads.

I am Katy, said...

What is co-op? I wonder if we have that down here?

For fresh ground beef at $1/lb, check Albertson's meat counter in the evening. They package up what's left in the meat case from that day. Ours does this around 8pm.

Alicia said...

I remember your post about Tofu. I think I've been in a quandry about it because of the whole Soy debate. We drink soy, but I've been wanting to do more research. One books lists it as one of the major superfoods, and others say it can cause female problems. Let me know if you have any thoughts on that.

How do you make homemade sausage rolls? That got me curious. Where do you get your hamburger? I really long to work in hamburger again (it's amazing how you crave meat when you don't have it for a while) so I'm looking into where it's cheapest.

Co-op is where you get together with other women and order whole foods from the suppliers of places like Frontier Foods or other Health food stores. You can get better prices because of the bulk factor. We split lots of stuff to make it more affordable. I am absolutely certian there are women around you who do this. I would start inquiring at your church. I will try to get more information for you. You can also call your local health food stores and see if they order co-op or have any referals to a group.
Thanks for sharing that tip too! I am planning to call my local Albertson's and see if they do it too.

Lisa said...


I buy my hamburger wherever I can find it on ad for 99 cents/lb or under.

Homemade Sausage--
4 lbs ground beef
1-1/2 tsp garlic powder or salt (I also have added minced fresh garlic if I have it)
1/4 cup curing salt (I use a little less)
2 TBSP liquid smoke
1/2 tsp pepper
(I have tried adding all different spices--italian seasoning, rosemary, basil and it's all been good)

Mix above together. Cover and chill for 24 hours. Divide into fourths and make into rolls. Bake at 225 degrees for 4 hours. Cool. Wrap in suran wrap (I freeze most of mine). Slice....we eat with crackers, cheese, french bread....

This is one of our favorite things for hikes, on the road, to take to the beach, to pack in hubby's lunch. I make 8 or 12 rolls at a time. Try 4 rolls or even 2 first...in case you don't like it!

Thanks for your budgeting tips. It is so helpful hearing others ideas on saving money.

Gombojav Tribe said...

The Soy debate mostly revolves around soy protein isolate, not whole soy foods (such as soy bean and tofu). Like any other food in it's whole state, moderation is the important thing.

I personally feel it's very healthy and a wonderful addition to a whole foods diet.

I can email you some articles that put the soy debate into perspective. Email me: mrsgombojav@yahoo.com

Zimms Zoo said...

I enjoyed this. I went into a little more depth about what our budget includes at our blog. It includes more than food and stuff. But this gives me some more ideas.
Daja-if you come back by would you email me about tofu.
We have tried it several times and the kids hate it (and I must confess so do I)

Gombojav Tribe said...

Zimms Zoo, Here is some tofu 101: