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!

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Buying in Bulk: Real Savings (without food waste)

I’m sure by now that you know one of my major pet peeves is food waste. That’s why buying in bulk can be such a dangerous proposition. If you can’t use up all of something before it goes bad and you have to throw it away, that’s the same as throwing away money.

One of the ways we save money is by purchasing cheese in bulk. I buy the pre-shredded cheese. There are a few reasons.

  1. I love cheese. I will eat an entire pound block of cheese in a few days. However, I have never sat down and ate pre-shredded cheese straight from the bag.
  2. I don’t own a cheese grater. I don’t want to own a cheese grater. I don’t own a food processor. I don’t want one. I’m not a huge kitchen gadget fan.
  3. For me, it’s a trade off. I would rather pay a few more cents per ounce for the convenience of shredded cheese. My time is worth a few cents per ounce.

IMG_3214Once I’m home from the store, I set up my cheese packaging station. All you need is a stack of ziploc bags, a glass, a salad plate, and a measuring cup. (stack of bags not shown in this photo)

I measure my cheese out into 2 cup packages. That’s the size of most grocery store sized bags of shredded cheese.  I keep 1-2 bags of each kind of cheese in the fridge, and the rest of the bags go into the freezer. Yes, you can freeze cheese.

IMG_3215Put the bag into the cup and wrap the top of the bag (the part with the zip top) over the mouth of the cup. Using the measuring cup, measure however much cheese you plan to store per bag.

After my last trip to Smart & Final, I came home with a 4 lb bag of Mozzarella, and a 5 lb bag of cheddar.

I ended up up with 6 2 cup bags of Mozzarella, and a little left over, and 9 2 cup bags of Cheddar with a little leftover. I used the leftover cheeses to top a pizza. It was a little under 2 cups with both leftover cheeses combined.

IMG_3213Trying to figure out if this is a good deal? Let’s do some math…

The same brand of cheddar cheese in a 2 cup bag at Smart & Final is $2.59.

The 5 lb bag of cheddar cheese was $12.49, and it contained roughly 19 cups of cheese. That makes each cup of cheese .66, making each zip loc bag of cheese containing 2 cups of cheese $1.32. That’s a savings of $1.27 per bag over the pre-measured zip-top bag. When I’m not sure which is a better deal while I’m in the store, I check the price per ounce on the shelf label. Here are two examples of a shelf tag that shows the price per ounce for two separate products (Uncle Ben’s Rice and Carnation Instant Breakfast).

priceperounce

 

Different stores have different shelf tags, so it may take you a few minutes to decipher each stores tags.

Now you have to factor in the cost of the ziploc bags. We re-use our cheese bags, so after they are empty, I wipe them out, put them inside another bag (marked “for cheese”) and stash them in a drawer. I buy ziploc bags en masse when they are on sale. I don’t always re-use bags, but I try to as often as I can.

There you have it. Shopping smartly, taking advantage of a good deal, and how to store your food with little to no waste. That’s what being a savvy shopper is all about.