Saving Money on Your Food Bill
Food is often an area of the budget were money is hemorrhaged. Because, unlike some of the other items we budget for, you can't exactly go without food. So the question becomes how do you cut back without cutting out the grocery bill?
Everyone knows the less processed a food item is the cheaper it will be. However, this doesn't always amount to savings. Say you've taken the above advice to heart so you go to the grocery store and buy yourself some chicken, potatoes, carrots, celery and an onion. No more expensive meals for your family, tomorrow you are going to make chicken stew.
However, you get home the next day, and you are positively exhausted. There is no way you want to chop all those vegetables to make dinner. So you either bundle all the kids in the car for fast food or you order a pizza. Now, not only did you not save any money on your food bill, but you have the extra expensive of all those groceries you will never use, because, let's face it, you are always tired when you come home from work.
So, what are some realistic expectations for trimming the fat from your food bill? One option is to invest in a slow cooker or crock pot. Then you can chop all the vegetables and the chicken throw it into the pot with a bay leaf, a dash of salt and pepper and maybe a little rosemary.
However, if your morning is filled with trying to get your children out the door, and you just don't have the time to chop a bunch of vegetables, consider buying the vegetables pre-chopped. If you head to the freezer section of your grocery store you will find not only bags of single vegetables but also a selection of mixed vegetables, including a bag of potatoes, carrots, celery and onions.
If you're super busy and you don't even have time to chop the chicken, you can also find frozen chicken that has been pre-cut. (If you are working with beef it can be found pre-cut in the butcher section of the grocery store.)
Another quick and inexpensive meal idea is stir-fry. Pick up a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables, pre-cut meat and a five minute marinade. Then start the water for your rice or noodles, and begin cooking your meat with some of the marinade. After the meat cooks, add the vegetables and a little more marinade and cover till your rice or noodles are done.
Hamburger Helper or any of the Helper meals are also very quick to make. (Although you might want to say away from the rice as that usually takes closer to 30 minutes.) To improve the taste and make the meal truly your own, try adding some frozen vegetables, grated cheese or serve with fresh bread.
Also, use a little less meat then the recipe calls. Meat is one of the big expenses of a meal. Try adding a few vegetarian dishes to your repertoire. Or you can use eggs or beans for protein. I have a few other recipe ideas on my blog if you are interested.
Another option is to invest in a stand alone freezer. Then you can pre-prepare your meals on the weekends when you have more time. Moreover, if you know a few of your neighbors well, or would like a chance to know them better, consider forming a meal co-op. Then if there were five families involved (and you were only worrying about weekday meals) each family would be responsible for preparing one meal for the whole group. This would also allow you to buy your groceries in bulk from places like Costco or Sam's Club, which is another good way to save money if you can use the items up before their expiration date.
Plus, with a freezer you can freeze your home grown fruits and vegetables. Even if you don't have time to grow your own you could take part in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). You invest financially in a CSA farm and they provide you with a weekly share of their produce. Local Harvest has a search feature which will allow you to find a CSA farm in your area.
Another way to acquire local produce if you can't grow your own is to attend your local farmer's market. A farmer's market is a gathering of local farmers attempting to sell their produce. However, you should know what produce is selling for at your local market before you attend because some items might not be worth the price.
One final word on acquiring local produce: befriend someone with a fruit tree. Everyone always thinks it must be wonderful to have a fruit tree when they are driving by and seeing it in someone else's yard. The truth is fruit trees are a lot of work. Moreover, if they are mature fruit trees they produce much more fruit than any one family needs.
My parents own an apple tree, which they do very little tending to. Yet the tree still produces enough fruit for my parents, my family and my siblings. And a large number still ends up in the yard waste container (one small yard waste container each week). If you ask my parents, they are always more than happy to give away their apples.
This year I managed to acquire apples, pears and grapes. I found a neighbor with a pear tree, and my husband has a new business associate with a pear tree and grape veins. Both people were as happy as my parents always are to give away the extra fruit.
There is one last option for reducing your grocery bill that I wanted to mention. This also involves knowing your neighbors or having friends nearby. Consider forming a grocery co-op. Invest in a membership to Costco or Sam's Club and buy your groceries as a group. Then instead of getting all 12 cans of tomatoes that Costco requires you to buy at one time you split them with three other families and end up with only three. You get the large quantity discount without being forced to eat spaghetti for the next two weeks. One word of caution, just because it is in larger quantities does not always mean it is a better deal. Know the prices at your local supermarket before you go shopping.
Hopefully, you will be able to incorporate a few of these ideas into your daily life and trim a little fat from your food budget. Good luck.