I've learned so much about grocery shopping from Crystal. She writes a lot about their grocery and household budget, and I am always amazed at how much money she saves her family by keeping their food budget low.
Keeping the food budget low in and of itself isn't truly a great accomplishment, since eating a poor diet without variety can be cheap in the short run but cost more health-wise in the long run. From reading Crystal's menu plans, it's obvious that they are still able to eat good, balanced meals on their budget. :)
In many ways, I feel like I've fallen off the grocery-budget bandwagon. When Joshua and I were first married, I was able to make $30 cover all of our grocery store expenditures. I stocked up on sale items each week, along with milk, eggs, and produce. We even had dinner guests at least once a week -- usually a large family... or two! :)
But time has changed my grocery shopping ways. Instead of a gallon of milk lasting more than a week, I buy 2 gallons and run out before the next week's trip to the store. If we have eggs for breakfast, we use almost a whole dozen. My boys and I can polish off a bunch of bananas for our afternoon snack. Between our hungry boys and one hungry nursing mama (and a daddy who does hard physical labor 8 hours every day!), our food consumption has dramatically increased.
Six years ago, $30 fed us well for the week. Double the grocery needs and factor in rising food prices, and I suppose $80 a week isn't too bad for our little family... but it's double what Crystal spends.
The temptation is always there to compare ourselves to others, isn't it? I think we sometimes reach for the impossible. We want to have the lowest food budget, serve the nicest meals, and be the "best" at everything else we do, too.
I think it helps to remember that everyone's human, and we all have our strengths (and weaknesses!).
During a time when I was feeling guilty/incompetent in regards to how much I was spending on food each week, I read a post from Crystal where she mentioned that she hadn't done very well about packing her husband's lunches, and it had probably cost them $50-100 or more that month, due to lack of planning or not having the food on hand.
I may spend more each week on groceries, but we always have enough food around and I always pack Joshua's lunch. (With a 15-minute lunch break, it's not like he'd have time to buy something at work, anyway!)
And what's more important is that I grocery shop (and cook!) with Joshua's preferences in mind. I just wish I could still do it for $30/week. ;)
But, I've been asked about food/grocery budgeting, so here's my take.
The store that saves me the most money is Aldi. I get a lot of our groceries there. Unless there's a good sale somewhere else (Kroger, IGA, and Wal-Mart are our other grocery stores), things are usually cheapest at Aldi.
Aldi doesn't carry everything we need, though -- so I usually buy these things at another store: lactose-free milk (for Joshua), frozen peas (Aldi changed theirs and they're not good!), drinking water jug refills, turkey pastrami, and bananas (for more ripeness variety -- we use 4-6 bunches each week).
We do have a Rite-Aid store here, and I can get some free items (by submitting an online rebate -- very easy!), but we're talking about 4-5 items a month -- not 8 bottles of Dove shampoo in one week (CVS). ;) My policy on free-after-rebate items is that I get them if we or someone we know can use the item. I haven't had much garage sale success, and we still have to pay the tax on the item.
I haven't had much success with coupons, aside from promotional coupons for free items, of course. ;) I don't have access to a printer, so I haven't used any online coupons. Even a good sale at Kroger's, along with their coupon doubling policy (up to 50 cents), doesn't usually make the item free for me -- and most of the things aren't worth the difference to us.
Since I don't have a way to get a lot of free stuff, doing without certain things or using cloth (like for diapers!) really really helps our budget. I can't imagine how high it would be otherwise! :)
And no, I actually don't have a set amount of grocery money and use it to the very penny like Crystal does. I stock up on sales and get the needed amount of everything else. I'm naturally a tightwad, so I stick to the healthier things we do and will eat (with an occasional splurge for cheesecake ingredients!). I really do stick to the basics and pretty much never buy paper products (aside from toilet paper), and severely limit personal care items (which can quickly sky-rocket a grocery bill!).
My basic shopping principles are still the things I outlined in this post about food budgeting, almost two years ago.
Lindsay had a good post about buying in bulk, including this tip:
I put the date [that the bulk item was] purchased and then the estimated time it is required to last before restocking (based on previous wise usage).
For example, I have decided that one 1/2 gallon of coconut oil should last for about three months, so I wrote “mid-April-June” on the container, meaning it was purchased in the middle of April and must last through June.
I still buy in bulk as much as possible. (And as our family size grows, buying in bulk is even easier!) I wonder if perhaps my budgeting issues really are inflation-related and not due to my strategy changing.
Does anyone else have the grocery-budget-inflation blues?
I mean, up until a year ago, cheese would go on sale for $2/lb every few months. Now, a really good sale on cheese is still more than $3/lb. I don't even feel like stocking up at that price. I keep hoping it'll go lower, but it never does. I end up running out anyway, and if I have to buy cheese blocks from Aldi, it's $3.78/lb. That's nearly double what I was used to paying!
Grains have really gone up in price, as well. Last time I got rolled oats, the price had increased to $0.50/lb, instead of the $0.37/lb it was last time (for a 50-lb bag). Wheat is at an all-time high right now, too...
When nearly everything I buy increases in price, it can get a little discouraging to try to keep budgeting as successfully as I once did.
So here's how I'm dealing with the shopping trip stress: I'm reminding myself how blessed we are to have access to and be able to even afford the food we buy! Our heavenly Father has always provided, always blessed us -- and when things are out of my control, I need to let go and be thankful.