Boot Camp Graduation: KP Duty

Of all the areas where I strive to save money, the grocery category is always the one I focus on hardest.  I focus here because for us, it is the highest spending category for us.  Yes, it is, despite years of cutting costs!  It's not that we eat loads of high priced foods but my grocery budget includes: foods, personal care, pet foods, paper products and cleaning products.  I can say day and night that it oughtn't to include any of those things but it does, and it will until the  end of my days...Which leads to my first cost cutting method:

Determine once and for all, how much I shall allot to each grocery category of food, cleaning, personal care, paper and pet foods.  And keep those other things strictly separate from my food budget!  I find it reasonable to suggest at present that I allot $10/ a month to pet foods.   This will purchase a large bag of food for Maddie (16 pounds) or for the cat (10 pounds).  I will set aside $10 for paper products (paper plates, napkins, paper towels and toilet paper) and $10 for personal care items.  I will set aside $5 for cleaning products.  I think an envelope system would work best for these amounts.

Now what follows are random thoughts, written out just as I captured them when I was brainstorming: 

I've yet to determine what my target for groceries shall be.  I'm waiting to make that decision a little bit later due to the fact that John received a small raise.  It remains to be seen if this will lower our income (in case we are in a new tax bracket) or actually be a help.  I can't determine that until John has received a couple of pay checks.

I don't want to give up the purchase of that good quality beef we like...but I am going to price and see if the one market that has weekly sale prices on good ground beef isn't the best market for that item.  John has also asked me to check prices at The Fresh Market on the other cuts of beef we normally would buy.  If it is the same price, the savings in gasoline alone makes it worthwhile to shop there instead.  It is another 'wait and see, check it out' thing, but it possibly will save us a little.  Not buying such a large quantity at once also will save.  Now that I've just the one freezer, I do need to decrease my stocking up to the space available.

I think we'll be cutting down on other cuts of beef and living mostly on chicken and ground meat.  It's one way I can trim costs.  Though I really like the chicken breasts from The Fresh Market, the best buy still is whole chickens from the market in the next town.  They've been $.88 a pound for the whole birds, but recently were just $.75 a pound which is a fairly big drop in price.  That will definitely be the bulk of my chicken purchases since I am very adept at cutting a whole bird into parts.

We've relied heavily on Publix to make up for what we can't buy at Aldi.  I can do better in this area.  I will be more careful to watch sales ads for those few items we cannot get at Aldi and on those items that are considered 'seasonal' purchases, I'll be sure to stock up while they are available at Aldi.

While Aldi is certainly my main shopping for grocery items, I have occasionally found items at far less than again, watching sales to buy items we'd normally purchase at the very lowest prices.

John has encouraged me to buy the individual packaged items for his lunches, but the truth is, buying and preparing myself and then packing into serving sized containers will save more money.  I sort of drove this point home to him the other day when he made one of his microwave cups of mac and cheese for supper here at home.  It's only about 1/2 cup serving.  If I made a boxed mix I could serve him 1 cup three times for something like $.45.  That's a savings of nearly $2 over the microwaveable cups.  And here's the kicker:  he can still heat in the microwave!  Ditto on gelatin and pudding and cottage cheese.  About the only place I can't get a decent savings at the moment is on the cups of blue berry yogurt.  But I'll keep looking until I find a source that has tubs of blueberry and package those up for him.

I've debated how best to keep this cost saving and obviously saved glass jars are the very best overall.  The next best option is to purchase canning jars in 4- and 8-ounce sizes.   Then they might be used in a very all purpose way here in the home.

Do you know I'd never eaten granola until Bess bought a bag and offered me some one morning?  I was smitten.  It was good! But the price is crazy high for what you get.  I've noted that Brandy at Prudent Homemaker has a nice low cost recipe.  I have most all of the ingredients she suggests on hand at all times.  So I'm going to start making granola and granola bars for us.  Granola bars, even the least expensive ones are costly compared to what it costs to make your own.  While Aldi has many no high fructose corn syrup options, I'm pretty sure my homemade ones must be  less expensive.

I want to continue to phase out zippered plastic bags.  I've been saving bread sacks and cereal/cracker box liners.  Granted zippered bags are convenient but they seem to be an unnecessary expense overall.  Even though I buy the freezer bags for their sturdiness they do tend to breakdown after awhile.  Either the zipper breaks or seams burst.  We make ample bread purchases and often the breads are double bagged.  I think this will be easy enough to start doing.  If I can get it down to one purchase of a box of the two main sizes  it will be a huge savings to our budget, even with me washing and reusing.  And again this leads me back to John's lunch.  You can buy some rather neat sturdy plastic sandwich boxes.

Stop waste.  It's not just that I sometimes throw food stuffs away, but I'm throwing away things that can be made into soup or compost.  I love soup.  And compost is good garden material.  Free good garden material that I've been putting in the trash.  No more!

Aldi's coffee is really good, but the decaf coffee upsets my system.  I buy various brands of decaf .  I'll do a price check between several sources and then purchase at the best price rather than just grabbing the lowest priced at Publix.  The truth is that while I've enjoyed having my shopping cut to two stores, there are many opportunities to save by comparison shopping amongst stores.  And certainly if I do nothing more than compare prices in sales ads (all to found online) I will most certainly know what the best price is when I need to buy this (or any other) item. 

Also...what's FREE?  Kroger has their Friday download item that is absolutely free, no minimal purchase required.  I go by a Kroger store at least once every two weeks.  I've left my FREE opportunity on their store shelves.  Why?  What other items might I be getting free with a coupon/sales combination?  Even if it's not something we'd normally use, I can gift it to others who DO use those items.  It's costing me nothing to go into that store for that free item!

And this leads me back to CVS shopping with ECBs rewards.  A sale/coupon/ECB item often is free or so very nearly as to be ridiculous.  I can use this to my advantage to purchase needed household and personal care items, vitamins, etc.  at the very lowest price point. An Extra Cash Back essentially is a cash refund on the purchase of an item.  It can often be used on the next purchase of ANY item.  It's like free money!  There are blogs and sites that have these deals all laid out...I need to sign up for one or three of those sites as well, as noted in my earlier Pinterest troll for boot camp.

What is my base line or targeted price for items?  Toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, razors, laundry detergent should all have a target price.  Determine what it is...that way I can make sure to catch those great bargains.

Do I want to 'put by'?  Mama is willing to purchase shelled butter beans and peas at farm markets to put up.  It's delicious and definitely almost always the best quality but how much is it?  If I'm not going to grow it then what price is a good price per pound?  How much does it save to do some of the work myself i.e. shelling?  I most certainly OUGHT TO put by those things given to us for free. as I did when John's partner gifted us that three dozen ears of corn.  Not too long ago I came across a book on small batch canning.  I'll look for that once more so that I might take advantage of these windfall, foraged or gift items.  I will need to purchase a canner but I'll shop around for one.

I have a number of servants in my home that are really under utilized: pressure cooker, electric frying pan, waffle iron, ice cream maker.  How can I make them work for me?  I especially would like to make that ice cream maker into a real household helper because all ice cream these days seems to have carrageenan in it.  I am sure I can find economical recipes I can make.  I have plenty of tubs from yogurts and cottage cheese that I've saved and could use to pack ice cream into.  I want to learn to use and make the very most of these appliances...or sell them and let someone else store them! 

I've used my crockpot in the past to make yogurt.  That is a savings area for me.  John doesn't care for homemade yogurt but I do like it and will eat it. 

Keep asking myself these questions over and over and over: 
Is this item on my list? 
Why am I considering buying it?
Can I make it myself?  
Will it be better? 
Less expensive? 
What are my future needs for this item?  I
s it  something we use often, occasionally, just every once in a blue moon?
Is it feasible to make this myself? 
What sort of time investment is required? 
Do I have the time to tend to this?
Do I have the necessary equipment?
If it is an item I typically buy as a brand name could a store brand be substituted? 
Have I tried other brands? 
What can I do without? 
Is it something that John wants? 
Have I a good alternative to offer him? 
Is this purchase just a habit I've formed?  Then choose to change.
What am I doing right at the moment?  Make a list and KEEP DOING IT!!!

Some grocery items are just splurges.  They are not necessary but they are nice to have.  What if I used a small portion, a set amount of a windfall to purchase those 'nice to have but not necessary' items to stock the pantry?  I could keep a running list of those things I'd like to have.

Portions are so important as I've learned with my diet requirements.  Cost per serving is also necessary.  I can seldom tell you how much an item prepared at home costs per serving.  It's easy enough with snacks, etc. that are purchased but what about at home?  How much does a serving of cookies cost, or how much does a completed meal cost?  I need to learn to figure this out.  I think setting a 'cost per day' for foodstuffs would be a good thing, too.  Then if some days were under consistently I'd know when we could afford the splurge meal. 

Powdered milk vs. fresh: powdered certainly has a longer shelf life, often is lower fat.  What is the cost difference?  Is it feasible to mix my own 2% milk?  Make my own buttermilk?  Certainly to use skim milk when cooking would be a savings. 

How long can I keep it fresh?  I've learned to keep lettuce and berries and even lemons and limes fairly fresh for a long time period.  But what about cabbage?  Celery?  Bread?  What's the proven method for keeping it fresh and long lasting?  Research and try until I find the method that works best for our home.

Build up a sandwich, salad, and snack recipe repertoire that we actually will eat and enjoy.

I know we like turkey breast.  Per pound a whole turkey breast is usually around $1.69 compared to the frozen uncooked turkey breast roast at $3.50 per pound.  How much does a fresh whole turkey cost?  I can't get a butcher to cut a frozen turkey into pieces but I can cut up a fresh turkey myself.  Whole frozen turkeys are generally around $.89 a pound in our area.

Give up saving the dibs and dabs in the freezer for eons.  Either purpose it right away or compost it.  Space is precious.  Remember Tamar Adler's weekly soup to use up canned food liquids, broths, bones, dibs and dabs. Make a pot of soup every week.  It doesn't have to be a cauldron of soup, just a small batch.  USE it or compost it or feed it to the pets.

Build up a six to twelve months pantry of every day items, including personal care, cleaning, pet, etc.

It's worthwhile to purchase that Sunday paper every week instead of just a couple of times a month.  However, NEVER print off a coupon unless I am going right to the store with it for that item because too often I've wasted my  printer ink on coupons I haven't used.

Buy at very best prices in bulk.

What am I doing right at the moment?  Make a list and KEEP DOING IT!!!

And that winds up this series.  I am so glad that you all enjoyed it.  As I said I think a few CEUs sprinkled here and there over the coming year will keep us pushing to learn new skills and increase our knowledge but they will not be anywhere nearly intense as this seven week session was.  Now bear with me as I rest a little bit!


Lana said...

I think you are right about individual packages eating up your budget. I have not really ever purchased food that way except on a rare occasion of a sale and matching coupon. I dole out portions of larger packages every weekday morning for my husband's lunch and have done so for over 38 years.

One tip about making homemade ice cream is that we put it in 4 ounce containers for the freezer and it is easy to take one out and eat it. When we froze the whole batch it got so hard that we could not scoop it and often wasted it. I can also hand the small portions to the grandchildren with a spoon and they love it.

A friend of mine purchases whole turkeys and thaws them in the fridge just enough to cut them up and then freezes them in pieces. She saves up the wings and then does them like chicken wings. I prefer to just thaw and cook the entire bird and package out the cooked meat. But, for me I will mostly not do turkey at all since it requires the big roaster and all that. I stick to chicken breasts on sale for the most part as it is just easier for me.

I have pretty much stopped shopping at Publix. The prices there in my area have gone up so much that it just costs me too much to shop there. Plus our stores no longer double coupons. I have switched over to Bi-Lo and am saving more money and am quite pleased with them. You may have Winn Dixie? If so you may want to talk to the meat man about their meat. Our meat man told me that Bi-Lo/Winn Dixie are sourcing their meat from the same suppliers as _______, I cant remember the name of the store! Not Whole Foods or Fresh Market but the other one. Perhaps their meat would work for you? They run great sales and most of our meat comes from there or Ingles which sources theirs from better suppliers, too. I am sure the meat man would answer any questions you have if they are not crazy busy.

Our food only budget is $250 a month. I have all other purchases coming from another budget which is helpful for me so that I know exactly how much I am spending. At the end of the month leftover food money goes into home improvement which We are always doing.

Kathy said...

I have enjoyed reading your tips about boot camp. Thank you for sharing with us.
I like money saving mom's lazy granola

Stephanie said...

I love The Fresh Market's ground chuck. At my local store, it is $1.99 per pound every Tuesday. It's the only type I buy now.

Lana said...

Forget to say that Brandy's granola is wonderful. I don't mix in the cranberries but add them as I eat it. They tend to dry out and get chewy if added and stored. One time when I made it I forgot to add the vanilla and I could not tell any difference so I no longer put it in since it a whole tablespoon of vanilla I can use somewhere else. I also sub 5 T brown sugar and 1 T water for the honey since I don't like honey and that saves money too. I keep it in a canning jar and it will keep for 6-8 weeks that way.

Wendi said...

I have enjoyed this series. We needed an easy, quick meal tonight as I had a bad headache. I pulled a box of mini frozen pizzas I bought on impulse. While eating it I thought why pay for those... I could look at purchasing the mini deep dish pans and make my own version to freeze and bake later. I am sure the cost would be much less not to mention the flavor.

I haven't made granola in a long time. I will have to dust the recipe off soon.

Rebecca said...

Periodic evaluation helps take up the slack where lazy habits have started to intrude! As I read your post, I identified a few of mine and will "nip them in the bud"!

Lana said...

Earth Fare is the store I could not remember. My Bi-Lo meat man worked for them in the meat dept for 7 years and is the one who said that Bi-Lo/Winn Dixie meat sources are the same as Earth Fare.

Anonymous said...

Where do you count your savings with the CVS eb's. If i take them off the total bill then they are not a savings the next time I go into the store. If i dont use them then they dont even count and they are like i never had them. Because i dont shop there often i never count my eb's as savings until i actually use them on something else and if i happen to get them again i only count them as savings when i use them. Wasnt quite sure from your posts on which end of the purchase you use them. There have been times i havent found things and have let them go because i did not find anything i needed there that was lower price than somewhere else. If i get an expensive shampoo, when i have a cheaper one i like as well i dont count it as a savings. This is also ehy i dont use a lot of coupons. They are often on expensive items thay i buy cheaper versions of,, things i dont use or you need to buy more than i need. I have always counted only actual food in my grocery budget. Often a lot of things that i pick up are not food,such as laundry supplies, otc drug items, snacks (snacks are an extra item, a couple bags of chips, Aldis wonderful little chocolate cakes and ice cream add up). When i check my lists, sometimes a third of what i buy is not actual food and i dont consider it groceries. Just my way of shopping. Something i learned from Joann York many, many years ago as a young bride living on a lot of love and little money, and now as a retirees with no pensions living on a lot of love and life experience and little money , i am thankful for her lessons! Gramma D

Lana said...

An article I ran across this AM about figuring out what your grocery budget should be.

Lake Livin' said...

I love how hard you're questioning your current status quo. Definitely something I need to revisit as well.

Anonymous said...

Many bloggers have said they get celery to last a very long time by wrapping it in aluminum foil. I like the heavy grade for this purpose.
Have you seen the replaceable white plastic tops for canning jars? Walmart has their own brand of them + Ball brand. That way the rings do not get rusty in the refrigerator or freezer. They of course cannot be used for actual canning.
I am still reading Heloise's kitchen hints. I usually have a couple books am reading in the same time period.
We do not have Kroger but their affiliate Ralph's. They do not have any free coupons. In their ad they have one or two pages of digital coupons though. I don't bother with them but do note the lowest price if using them. I can usually find the same price on those things without printing off a coupon.
In our budget book I note cost of groceries and many other things for reference. On the back of each month I tack any receipts that need keeping for a while. Like something that we might want to return. Then throw them away. I usually list toiletries and any over the counter medical things separate though.
Just for reference. They can all be totaled together. I started the budget book before hubby retired. That way I had a good look on paper of what we usually spent for everything including bills that come semi annual etc. For my peace of mind I wanted to know if our retirement money could support us and have enough $ for emergencies. I just kept it up but changed it around a bit. Now I am ready to pretty much close it. I will keep only information to use later for taxes so that is recorded each month for easy reference. Or notes on large purchases etc for reference. Also tests or x-rays, shots etc the doctor or dentist ordered. And any other reference information to have in one place.
I think I will get out my old price book and get it updated. I know some prices in my head but some not so. It is amazing though that some things have remained the same price for years. That is on a good sale they are still the same!! lol Used to be one store had salt or no salt tomato sauce for 6 for !.00 pretty often. Now it is like once a year but we are there!
I don't can much any more but do note the things that cost the most at the store but cheap if canned from home grown produce and do that. Also drying the same way. When buying any trees think fruit trees. You wanter both but can eat from one of them. Also if you only have space for one or two fruit trees think which fruit or nut costs the most at the store that you like and use a lot. Plant one or two if they need a pollinator. If you cannot eat all you get from it or can or dry it find some people that can share it. They might have trees you don't and can give you some of that. Same with a garden. Winter squash is heavy. So the cost per pound is high. Grow it. I have never had luck growing cantaloupe. But our stores always have large ones for $1 each every summer so why keep trying to grow it. It takes a lot of garden room that can be better used for other things. Growing a few berry vines takes little space and many kinds now are even thornless. I had a trellis I have a flowering vine on. When it needed replacing I put 1 grape vine in and now get over 35 big clusters of grapes I can dry for raisins or make jelly or juice from. Also we freeze some and have tiny pop cycles out of them! :).
You have to think ahead though. More things means more work. In one way or the other. Planting, fertilizing, picking etc. Also always think of dwarf or genetic dwarf trees. In the ground or in large containers. The ones we have had have given us enough produce and you don't need a ladder to lick them. Also you can squeeze more in your yard if thy are a bit smaller. I hope something i have mentioned is a help to someone. It is just basic and everyone might have thought of all of it. Sarah

Anonymous said...

Hi,I really like your website and visit often, I once typed a big post but lost are doing a awesome job, just wanted to share, Kroger has big tubs of blueberry yogurt.I buy them for my kid and pack small Rubbermaid container.liv

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