Stretching your Food Budget….

ball_jar.jpgTimes are tough for a lot of us right now. Coupons and deals are drying up left and right. Here are some ways that you can stretch your grocery budget without wasting time or energy.

My Top Ten 99 Cents Only Buys

The eternal question at Costco: Is Bigger Better? Learn about Price Per Unit here. 

In addition to price per unit, you might consider starting a price book as well.

If you live in San Diego County, check out this list of Neighborhood Distributions all over the county. You can pick up 15-30 lbs of free produce each week. No proof of need is required. Just show up with your reusable grocery bags!

If you are low-income, have kids under 5, are a senior citizen, or a college student struggling with food insecurity, there are programs out there that can help you! Don’t be afraid or ashamed to admit that you need help!

There are also food share programs in almost every community in the US.  They provide low cost food boxes to families and individuals. A quick google search can help you find one near you!

In San Diego County, there are monthly distributions through the San Diego food bank at various locations. Colloquially called “commodities”, it’s officially called The Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP). Locations throughout the county distributes USDA food each month. If you live outside San Diego County, check with your local county or municipalities food bank network for more info on this service.

Don’t forget there are tons of money saving and rebate apps. My list is here.

Bartering: Most of us know someone with a backyard garden. Trade your skills (housecleaning, organizing, babysitting, car washing, you get the idea) for some home grown produce, or eggs (some of us live in areas where backyard livestock is ok).  This may not be available to everyone.

Menu Planning is another great way to cut down on food waste- It’s a lot easier than you think once you get started.

Talk Back: I’d love to hear your tips for stretching your grocery budget!

The Pricebook: A Frugal Shoppers Best Friend!

One thing that I get asked a lot when I’m shopping (besides, “Where’d you get all those coupons!”) is, “What’s that’s little book?” The Answer: It’s my price book! It’s a little spiral bound notebook, like this one.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 11.42.40 AM A price book is a list of the items you use and the prices they sell for in the stores in your area.

It is a perfect tool for tracking price per ounce, which will help you determine the best price. Prices in a price book should be listed by cost per unit so you can easily compare different size packages from different stores. Your price book is a great tool to help you determine if a sale is really a deal.

Your price book can be as complex or as easy as you want it to be. You can calculate price per unit, or just list the regular price of each item at each of the stores you visit in your area.

If you have an iPhone or other smartphone, there are several apps available for purchase that take the guess work out if it.  If you are computer savvy, you can do a price book in Excel and print a copy when you go to shop. There are several available for download free on the Internet.  Google search “Excel Price Book download”.

Your price book can be as simple or as complex and you want it to be.  If you are new to the concept of prices books, you may wish to add as much detail as possible, to track your savings to the penny.

Basic information for every price book should include:

  • Date (you can date the top of each page or note it somewhere within the columns)
  • The brand– i.e. Hunt’s
  • The item– i.e. stewed tomatoes
  • Size -in ounces or pounds, however the item is listed on the container (i.e. 14.5oz, 2 lbs.)
  • Price- for the entire package. i.e. $1.89

Name of store– This is helpful if you are trying to find the cheapest price for an item within a range of stores.  Is deodorant really cheaper at the grocery store, Target or CVS in your area?  Start price book and find out!

Because of my price book, I know the cheapest place to get bananas is 99 Cents Only: .49/lb all the time! We eat about 2-3 lbs of bananas per week. Most grocery stores charge .69-.79/lb for bananas. By buying the least expensive bananas each week I am saving approximately $30.00/year. That’s just on one item we shop for each week!

Additional info:

  • Sale price (if any)
  • Date of sale (if any)

Listing sale information may assist you in tracking when sales occur, and plan your shopping trips throughout the year.  Knowing when to stock up on specific items may save you a couple hundred dollars a year.

Your price book will help you determine if that 50-gallon drum of yogurt at Costco is a better deal than the 32-ounce tub from the supermarket. Not all bulk purchases are a better deal.

I have a sheet in my price book for each store that I shop at. One page is for food items, and the second is for HBA/toiletries. I tend not to buy toiletries at Costco, as they are generally NOT a good deal.

My grocery stores include: Albertsons, Costco (so I can determine what is a good deal), 99 Cents Only, Wal-Mart, and Target.

I update my price books once a quarter.  When it’s time to update, I take a little extra time when I visit each store and just double check prices and sizes. Sometimes the size of the product changes too.

Here are some websites that talk about price books and give examples: