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Eat Well, Spend Less: How They Do It

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This month I’m participating in the Eat Well, Spend Less series with eight other bloggers. Each week we’ll be sharing tips from our own experiences to help you eat well on a budget.

Jessica from Life as Mom is the mastermind behind this series, and she’s brought together an amazing group of bloggers to share their tips for eating well and spending less. I feel a bit like the ugly red-headed step-child of the group since these ladies really know their stuff on nutrition, cooking and saving money (none of which I’m really all that great at!), but I’m honored that they’ve included me!

On Tuesday, I shared how I save on the basic staples in our diet to be able to leave more for fresh produce. This week, the other bloggers participating in the Eat Well, Spend Less series have all shared their tips for stretching your grocery budget as well. Click to read through each of their posts:

Avoid Expensive Ingredients

From Jessica @ Life as Mom:

source: Life as Mom

When I first became a stay-at-home mom, I read the wonderful beginner budget book, Miserly Moms. In fact, I read it cover to cover every year for quite a while in order to keep myself sharp when it came to household spending.

Author Jonni McCoy points out that one of the most flexible line items in a household budget is food costs. Rent and utilities pretty much stay the same, but food? You can spend a little; or you can spend a lot.

Take it from the girl who spend $5000 in one year to feed herself and her  husband. Yes, if you do your math right, you’ll see that that averages a little over $400 a month; I spend a little over $600 now to feed a family of eight.

My how things have changed.

It’s not that food costs have gone down since then. In fact, grocery prices have dramatically increased since 1995. (You can take a peek at how food costs have changed by reading the USDA Food Costs Reports , compiled since 1994.)

No, the reason for our high food expenses were mainly because I cooked what I wanted when I wanted, regardless of season or sale.

Read more about Jessica’s new spending habits at Life as Mom…

Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples

From Aimee @ Simple Bites:

homemade preserves
source: Simple Bites

I think it’s fair to say that the more processed our food becomes, the lower the price drops.  The items that generally increase my grocery bill are the ones  that are best for me: organic products, made with real ingredients, that have been treated with respect. Because I care about what I serve my children and I put into my own body, I pay a higher price for organic or natural products – unless I can make them myself for less, which is often the case.

Why pay $4 for a container of organic chicken broth when I’ve got the carcasses from last night’s dinner that I can simmer down to make fresh stock? Why get gouged $6 for a small bag of granola when I can get the raw oats for $1 and make my own with the kids after school?

Not only is it cheaper to make your own real food staples, you know exactly what is going into your food. You can customize each item- be it a condiment, salad dressing or spread –  to suit your family’s needs, avoid allergens and cater to taste preferences.

Read Aimee’s tips for making homemade substitutes at Simple Bites…

More Homemade Pantry Staples

From Katie @ goodLife {Eats}:

granola bars
source: goodLife {Eats}

Yesterday the hosts of the radio morning show I listen to on my way home from dropping the kids at school asked: “You cook ____ times a week?” Answers were sent in via email and the hosts read them on air.

I was shocked at the number of people who said things like: Does putting frozen pizza in the oven count? If so, I cook 4 times a week. OR I make up an excuse to get take out at least 5 times a week.

Thoughts raced through my head: Do they know how much money they’re wasting? How bad that food is for them? How cooking at home is not just tastier, but healthier, thriftier, and often times faster when you consider the time it takes to order, pick up, and drive home with take out.

Do we enjoy convenience food? Yes, on occasion. We have a few local joints that we enjoy for birthdays, special family date nights or on the rare occasion that I just don’t feel like cooking (or rather, cleaning up the mess!). But the vast majority of our meals consist of what I’d call real food.

For this week’s topic, Aimee and I have teamed up to offer pantry staples that are simple enough to be made at home, and often cheaper than their high-quality grocery store counterparts. Aimee is tackling “wet” products while I am sharing a few “dry” options to add to your pantry.

Read Katie’s tips for homemade pantry staples at goodLife {Eats}…

Menus and Meal Planning

From Shaina @ Food for My Family:

source: Food for My Family

It’s no secret that organic foods cost more. A stroll through any grocery store aisle can confirm that. It really is common sense when you break it down. Not only do you get smaller yields when you aren’t pumping plants full of pesticides, but you also have to pay to be licensed as organic and to label the food as organic.

Add to that this increasing culture where suddenly eating whole foods is elitist, and you have a perfect opportunity to jack up the price of foods that are less processed. Less processed, meaning there is less manpower needed to get those foods out to consumers. Suddenly, organic whole foods are a commodity that you’ll pay a pretty penny for.

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ve seen the menu go up every week, and perhaps you even view it as the most boring post I do each week. Boring as it may seem, those menus are integral to how I feed my family and make it work for us. They allow us the ability to eat well and still have money to allow us to celebrate now and then with pricier cuts of meat and a good bottle of wine.

Read more of Shaina’s meal planning tips at Food for My Family…

Cutting the Budget on Whole Foods

From Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship:

source: Kitchen Stewardship

I used to love checking the receipt to see if I could save more than I spent, and I was pretty masterful at getting the great deals and then buying dozens of them. My mom would even share her coupons with me since she couldn’t use them all and I was too cheap to buy a Sunday paper.

Poor mom, she doesn’t even know what to send my way these days. Over the past two years, I use fewer and fewer items that have coupons, from grocery to pharmacy. They’re few and far between for produce, and bulk mail order grains and local farmers don’t really do coupons!

All that whining aside, it is possible to save money buying whole foods, and sometimes even really well-sourced “real food”, and it’s not that much more difficult than serious couponing. It just may take a little more creativity, the same amount of organization, and a lot of cutting – just not always with scissors.

My first set of tips in this Eat Well, Spend Less series is to be open to new opportunities to forage for sustenance. Not all food purchases are made in a grocery store!

See Katie’s ideas for finding great prices on whole foods at Kitchen Stewardship…

When to Splurge, Settle and Skip

From Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship:

source: Kitchen Stewardship

I got a request from a reader on Facebook to detail how I prioritize food purchases. I make a lot of willy nilly decisions, but there are some places I’ve really thought things through in the area of food budget, so I’m happy to share.

This idea is really individual to a family’s preferences, time to make from scratch, family size, and budget. Many might make different choices, so do read this as simply my personal story.

When I think about buying food, if it’s a whole food, I’m happy. If it’s a well-sourced (organic, local, etc.) whole food, I’m thrilled. Those are the litmus tests I apply in general: skip what is fake, always; buy what is real, always; buy what is real and grown properly, whenever you can.

Read more about how Katie  makes her food purchase decisions at Kitchen Stewardship…

Buying in Bulk, Long-Term Food Storage & More

From Tammy @ Tammy’s Recipes:

source: Tammy’s Recipes

Do you ever cringe when the cashier finishes scanning your groceries and says your total? I know I do! I don’t shop with a calculator in hand, but I do shop with a list and usually buy healthy foods that we need and will use. Still, if there’s a way to save money on groceries without sacrificing quality or nutrition, I’m all ears!

Aside from going on a diet (which I should be doing anyway…), I’m going to share how we save at the grocery store. The topics covered in this first article:

  • Planning is the key to eating well on a budget
  • Costco, and why I love it!
  • How to buy in bulk (no matter how big your pantry is)
  • Long-term food storage: What and how?
  • How do I lose weight on a budget, anyway?

Read all of Tammy’s tips at Tammy’s Recipes…

Simple Steps to Get Started Using Coupons

From Carrie @ Denver Bargains:

source: krossbow

Now, in this post about basic couponing, I’m not going to tell you how to get free toothpaste or how to get 500 boxes of cereal for 50¢ like you might see on the TV series Extreme Couponing.

I’m fact, I’m not even going to talk about using coupons until the very end of this post.  There are other things that must be in place before using coupons can save you money.

You see, a couple of years ago, I realized something about a lot of “super-couponers”: they had closets full of free shampoo, but they were still spending just as much money on groceries. They got the high from super-couponing, but it wasn’t really saving them money overall.

I think there are some basic things that you must understand and implement before you can start saving money with coupons, so I’m going to focus on those things first, instead of just telling you how to get free stuff.

Ready? Here we go!

Read Carrie’s step-by-step tips for using coupons at Denver Bargains…

Using Coupons on Healthier Foods

From Alyssa @ Kingdom First Mom:

coupon database
source: Kingdom First Mom

Do the words “coupon” and “healthy” belong in the same sentence? Perhaps. First, let’s be clear that we all have our own ideas of what healthy eating looks like. For some, this means cooking entirely from scratch with organic ingredients and freshly ground wheat. For others, including myself, healthy means cooking from scratch and eating organic whenever possible, with a few convenience foods thrown in as needed. No matter where you fall in the healthy spectrum, we all want to save money in the kitchen. Coupons can be part of this goal if you use them strategically.

Healthy couponing will never look like Extreme Couponing. A commitment to eating quality foods means you are committed to spending more on groceries. I learned the hard way that stocking up on whatever was free or cheap was not the best way to nourish my family. I made some changes, our grocery budget went up, and our health improved. Coupons still play a role, albeit smaller.

Read Alyssa’s strategies for finding coupons for healthier foods at Kingdom First Mom…