Eating Healthy on a Budget: It Can Be Done!

f40fab9210aee93a83df63133f5de09bSunday Night I went to the grocery store to pick up milk, bread, and a few other things.

I spent $42 and it was not all that much stuff. While I was waiting in line, the lady behind me in line was going through her coupons, and her grocery list. We got to talking, I showed her the store app, where she was able to find a few more coupons. We started talking about how expensive it was to eat healthy, and I confessed to her that this was not my weekly shopping trip, I was just picking up stuff that I only buy at Food4Less:

  • Milk (it’s cheapest at FFL),
  • A specific kind of higher protein bread (it’s the cheapest place to buy this type of bread and has no High Fructose Syrup),
  • A specific kind of popscicles
  • 5 lb bag of bananas (cheapest place to buy that many bananas)
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This doesn’t have to cost a fortune!

And I picked up a few other misc. things that we needed and were on sale (cheese, oranges, and a 5 lb. bag of Gala apples), and a 2 liter of diet Cherry Pepsi and a jar of maraschino cherries (Mama needs a cocktail sometimes, OK?).

She asked about my grocery budget and where I shop the rest of the time. I told her my shopping strategy, after I make my grocery list:

My Top Ten Deals at 99 Cents Only– Start there for fresh produce. Salad, carrots, celery, berries, pineapples, zucchini, squash (all kinds), onions, potatoes are all types of produce that are regularly stocked. They usually have other interesting seasonally available produce too. They also have great sauces, condiments, herbs and spice blends.

Keep a Price Book- I know the best place to buy Milk, cheese, bread, and butter. I keep my price book in my phone now, but I used to use a little spiral bound notebook that lived in my purse.

Stock up on food that you will eat frequently when it does on sale. I’m not talking about fresh produce that can’t be kept (like lettuce), but if you find a good deal on strawberries, for example, chop and freeze some for smoothies or baking, make fruit leather, or dry some (they are really tasty dehydrated). Bread can be frozen, so can butter! Canned goods, shelf stable foods are perfect for stocking up. I also like stocking up on chicken when it’s on sale. I can butcher a whole chicken in a few minutes, and I frequently will break up large packages of chicken breasts into meal sized portions, season them, and put them into the freezer. Learn more about meal prep here.

For our family, meal prep and meal planning saves us a lot of time and money. There are always multiple choices for each meal at our finger tips, so the allure of getting food from take-away is gone. I always have a batch of pizza dough in the freezer too! I make two batches once a week- one for the freezer, and one to go in the fridge that gets used within 1-2 days of making.

Use Cashback/Couponing Apps. Here is the list I use frequently.

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago that has more tips on how to get “Extreme” savings without being an “Extreme Couponer” (which by the way isn’t even possible anymore thanks to that stupid TLC show and coupon abuse).

It doesn’t matter what your food budget is, you can still eat well! It may take a little prep work each week, but the health of your family is worth it, right?

If you are on a very tight budget or are facing food insecurity, here is a list of San Diego based food resources that offer healthy food.

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!

Saving Money When Coupons Aren’t Plentiful…

wallet-money.jpgI’m not sure if ya’ll have been noticing, but the coupon in the Sunday paper and online have kinda sucked lately.

Now that the shininess of New Years Resolutions has worn off, there are no more healthy food coupons, and the Big Game is over, so the snack-y food coupons have petered out too.

Values are lower and lower each week, and coupon redemption has reached an all time low (I read this on Coupons in the News a few weeks ago). So what’s a saver to do when there isn’t much to clip or print?

Don’t fret! There are still lots of ways to save money!

Check out other printable coupon websites. I have my list of old dependables here, but I also like Common Kindness. Common Kindness donates a portion of each coupon amount redeemed to the charity of your choice! At no cost to you! They have mostly Organic/All Natural food coupons. They also have a lot of printables that match up with rebates on Mobisave and Checkout 51.

That brings me to rebate apps! My full list is here. Don’t forget to check those out each week when it’s time to hit the store.

Don’t forget your Price Book, if you’ve neglected it, it might be time to update!

An updated Price Book can help you determine if items are a good deal, and it can also help you with Price Per Unit (This is super helpful if you shop at warehouse stores, like Costco).

Look for deals other places! I love to check out Living Social for discounted deals on fun stuff for family date night, or the occasional meal out with Hubs.

If you need to do some shopping online, try using an online shopping site/cashback site. I like both Mypoints and Topcashback. You can learn more about how we save while shopping online here. And don’t forget to look for coupon codes while doing online shopping.

Lastly, if you find yourself in need of food, and the ends just aren’t meeting like they used to, please do not be too proud to check out local sources for food. An updated list of local San Diego area food resources can be found here.

 

Price Per Unit: Is Bigger Better?

random-aisle-photos 013The price per unit helps you determine if the jumbo sized drum of applesauce is a better deal than a regular sized jar. How to determine the price per ounces is easy, most of the time stores do it for you! Take a look at the shelf tag- it should give you a price per unit, usually in ounces (oz.) or pounds (lb.).

If the price per ounce/pound on the larger container is smaller, then it is a good deal. When comparing, make sure both containers are using the same unit of measurement

Here is an example of what the shelf tags can look like:

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The majority of shelf tags will list:

  • The Item
  • The size of the container (in ounces, pounds, or units)
  • The Price of the item
  • The price per unit (in ounces, pounds or units)

This is also a great strategy to see if the store brand or a brand that isn’t your usual brand is a better deal than what you normally buy.

If your store doesn’t have shelf tags that break down the price per unit, here is how you can figure it out- I recommend using a calculator.

Take the price of the item and divide it by the number of ounces/lbs/units in the package.

Let’s use for our example the Uncle Ben’s Buttery Ready Rice, pictured above on the left.

$1.93 divided by 8.8 ounces equals .219, which is 21.9¢ per ounce.

If you keep a Price Book, you might want to  include a space for unit price, you would write 21.9¢ in the Unit Price Column. You can round up, or leave it as a fraction of a cent, to get an exact price for comparison. Learn more about price books here.

Ten Great Buys at 99 Cents Only!

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For those of us living in CA, NV, AZ, TX we have the opportunity to save money by shopping the great deals at 99 Cents Only. 99 Cents Only is different from other discount/dollar stores in that the majority of locations feature a refridgator and freezer case with a variety of name brand foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to fesh and frozen foods, most locations have a great diverse stock of shelf stable foods too.
And 99 Cents only has more than food, they carry the same types of items that you have grown accustomed to seeing at discount/dollar stores, such as health and beauty aids, school supplies, and kitchen tools.
While 99 Cents Only does not accept manufacturer coupons, they frequently send out coupons that are good for a free item when you purchase X number of items (most recently they have been buy 5 items, receive one free). And there are a few apps that are not retailer specific (such as checkout51, snap by groupon, Mobisave, berrycart, shrink,and shopnimium) that you can submit your receipts to to earn a little extra cash back!
Not everything is .9999/each, many of the items are .7999/each, .6999.each, 2/.9999, or 4./9999. .9999? What? That’s right, after many years in business, last year 99 cents only had to increase prices just a fraction to keep up with inflation. So at .9999/each (or really, rounded up to $1.00), many things are still a screaming deal.
Here are just a few of the great deals that you shouldn’t pass up:
Carrots. A 20 ounce bag (that’s 1.25 lbs) of baby carrots is .9999. At most regular grocers The same bag is upwards of $2.50.
Bagged greens. Most locations carry multiple brands including Dole, Ready Pac, and Earthbound Organics (just to name a few), which can sell at most mainstream grocers for upwards of $4.00/bag!
Disposable person care items, such as cotton swabs.  1000 cotton swabs for $1.00! That’s a lot of clean ears! A box of 500 or so can run upwards of $5.00 at most mass merchandisers.
Men’s dress socks. I’m serious. At $1.00/pair, you’re saving approximately 75-80% over department store prices. Most of hubs socks come from 99 cents only, and he’s been wearing them for about 2 years.
Cake mix. I’m talking name brand here. Unless there is a sale and you have a coupon at the local grocery store, you’ll be spending a few bucks for a cake mix. Drop by your local 99 cents only and take a gander, you’ll be surprised by the variety and brands of cake mixes available. Last time I stopped in to my local store, they had Pillsbury cake mixes!
Bananas. Most grocery stores in San Diego charge .65/-.80/lb for bananas! Most 99 cents locations have bananas for just .49/lb. some select locations have 3 lbs/$1.00!
School/art supplies. Perfect for the parent of an artistically minded kiddo or a homeschooler, most locations have a great selection of construction paper, paint, craft kits, and bulletin board supplies. We get most of our craft supplies at 99 cents only!
Party Supplies, from disposable plates and utensils to goody bag filler, most locations have a decent variety. Not just plain colors, but fun themed goodies as well. Our local store has princess, pirate, minion, TMNT, frozen, sweet 16 themed party supplies.
Bread. This photo isn’t the best representation of what they have most of the time,cut most stores have a variety of fresh breads from companies like Sarah Lee, Orowheat/Arnold’s, and bread in the freezer case too from brands like Ecce Pannis and Texas Toast. Don’t forget to look for bagels and buns too!
Ethnic spices. Making a batch of menudo? Trying your hand at curry? Need Jugo? Don’t forget to check your local 99 cents only for ethnic spices before you start cooking! I get a large bag of bay leaves twice a year and split it with a friend. Perfect for soups and stews!
There is a lot of stuff that may be a good deal, depending on what your rock bottom price for specific items is. To determine if something is a good deal for my family, I keep a price book with the prices of the top 20 items I buy most often at the 5 stores I shop at most in my area. You can learn more about price books here.
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Yummy fresh strawberries- right off the truck!

Recently I spied .79/can Starkist Tuna can, 10 lbs of potatoes for .99, 1 lb packages of fresh Dole Strawberries for just .99, and name brand ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce for just .69/each.

If you are hesitant to buy produce at a discount store because you are concerned about freshness, call your local store and ask them what day their produce truck comes.  Most of our local stores receive their produce truck on Thursday mornings, so I am ready to shop for fresh fruits and veggies as soon as I drop the Kiddo off at school.
For my family, 99 Cents Only is the starting point for my shopping each week.  I start by filling my cart with tons of fresh fruit and veggies, checking the freezer case for any deals, and picking up any needed canned goods that are not on sale elsewhere. By starting my shopping at 99 Cents Only, I am able to keep our food budget at $50/week! When there are really good deals (like the case of Larabars for only 99 Cents!) I tend to spend a few extra bucks and stock up, since quantities are limited and 99 Cents Only doesn’t offer rain checks.
What’s your favorite thing to purchase at 99 Cents Only?

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: