10 Tips to Stay on Budget for Groceries

DSCN7877.JPG

I frequently get skeptical looks, the side eye, or people thinking I’m starving my kids when I tell them that our grocery budget is $80/week.

It takes a lot of work, but it is doable. I cook a lot from scratch- it’s healthy, cheap, and I can control what goes into each dish (hidden veggies, fruit, less sugar, etc.). I can make a cheese pizza at home for less than $4, and that is enough pizza for the kids for two meals!

Here are a few of our family tactics to stay on budget:

  1. CASH! Go to the bank/ATM and get your grocery money out of the bank every week. This is a great way to start. I get $80 out of the ATM each Saturday for the upcoming weeks’ groceries.
  2. Inventory your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry. Bonus- You’ll also find stuff that needs to be thrown out or donated. If you are looking for kitchen inventory printables, I like the kitchen inventories here. They are great printables.
  3. Menu Plan. Start by using what you’ve got on-hand. Eat food that’s on sale or in season. We eat a lot of strawberries in the summer because they are cheap!
  4. Make a grocery list. Stick to the list Don’t be afraid to substitute brands, or make changes based on what is on sale, or any in-store markdowns you find.
  5. Don’t be afraid to go to more than one store. I’m not saying run all over town, but going to two stores is OK. In our area, there are a 99 Cents Only store and a Grocery Outlet in the same shopping Center. I hit up both each week. Then, on the way home, I stop at Food4Less and buy milk (cheapest in town!), eggs, and bread (if 99 Cents Only doesn’t have the high protein bread we like).
  6. Eat Less Meat. Not only does it save money, but it’s better for the environment.
  7. Take advantage of local resources. There are a few food co-ops in our area. Additionally, there are free produce distributions too. A couple of my friends and I split a co-op lot twice a month. It comes out to less than $20 per person, and we get all kinds of cool stuff. A quick google search can help you find both in your area.  In the summer, we take advantage of Kid’s free lunches too.
  8. Coupon and/or use money-saving apps.  My complete list of apps can be found here. Right now my favorite apps are Fetch Rewards and Ibotta.  I love that I can use Fetch at any store. It helps because I shop a lot of Grocery Outlet and 99 Cents Only.
  9. Speaking of which… Don’t forget to check out stores like 99 Cents Only. There are all kinds of great bargains. Here is my list of 10 Great Buys at 99 Cents Only!
  10. Be Flexible. Some weeks you will go over budget. It happens. Sometimes you need to stock up on staples, or your family wants to eat something that isn’t on sale. Sometimes you really want to order a pizza and wings. That’s OK! Frugality is a journey, it’s not a punishment or a life of austerity and suffering. You can still live a fun, full life while being frugal.

Talk Back: Share a few of your families tips for staying on budget?

Stretch your Grocery Budget with Free Produce Distributions!

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 5.52.21 PM.png
This list is only central, south bay, and east county locations. North County locations can be found on the Neighborhood Distribution Program website.

It’s a pretty common complaint that kids eat A LOT during the summer. There are lots of causes: Increased activity, change in schedules, and let’s face it- kids just eat a lot. This can increase a families grocery budget at a time when they are already spending extra money on activities for their kiddos.

I have a possible solution! Check out the San Diego and North County Food Bank Neighborhood Distribution Program! From their website, “The Neighborhood Distribution Program distributes food to thousands of individuals and families once a month at more than 20 different sites throughout San Diego County.

Distributions take place in our nonprofit partners’ parking lots. The majority of the food distributed consists of fresh fruits and vegetables which is part of the Food Bank’s Nutrition Initiative to provide healthy, nutrient-rich food to our clients.

Neighborhood Distribution Program sites welcome anyone in need of food assistance. I.D. and documentation ARE NOT required, and there are no income or asset restrictions for this program.”

You may be wondering, “But what do you get?” Well, one of the distribution points, Faith Chapel in Spring Valley posts photos on their  Meet the Need Ministry Instagram page!

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 4.45.30 PM.png

White onions, red potatoes, watermelons, honeydew melons, oranges and Washington apples were available today. And it’s not just a few of each. Each person who came through got a bag of white onion, a bag of red potatoes, 1 large watermelon, as many honeydew melons as they wanted, a bag of oranges, and a dozen apples.

This produce is often “ugly” or considered an “allowable second” (a production term used in several industries for an item that is functional but may not be perfect looking), but it’s always tasty and nutritious.

If you’ve got hungry faces that need food this summer, I recommend stopping by your local distribution at least once this summer. If you aren’t in the San Diego County area, check with your local food bank for Neighborhood Distribution Program.

Don’t forget that there are tons of free summer lunch locations all over the state of CA (for more info on San Diego locations, check out this post). Text FOOD  (Or COMIDA for a list in Spanish) to 877-877, or call 211 and you can find a list of free summer lunch locations near you.

And if you need further help, here is a post with food resources in San Diego County. If you are outside San Diego County, Feeding America has a really great Food Bank Locator.

 

Talk Back: What is your kids favorite summer snack?

6 Tips for Getting Ready for Back to School!

back-to-school.jpgIt’s coming… For some of us, back to school is NEXT WEEK! For others it’s later in August, and some lucky folks, have until Labor Day in September. Regardless of when your kids go back, it’s nice to be prepared and save money.

 

Here are a few ideas to help you prepare and stay on budget!

Packing an Awesome School Lunch.

Shop Online to Save Big-  I love shopping online, especially at JCPenney and Kohls. Lots of great deals to be had, coupons, and ship to store to save even more!

There is a backpack and school supply giveaway in Santee on August 19th. More info here.  If you need school supplies sooner, Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber is sponsoring a Back to School Kick off and Community Health Fair on 8/11/18.

If you are worried about being able to provide a nutritious, healthy lunch for your kiddos, The San Diego Food Bank sponsors Neighborhood Distributions throughout the month all over the county. You can go and get free, fresh produce- usually between 10-30 lbs. per family.  No proof of need- Just grab your reusable shopping bags and go!

a72904da152a0795ba05aaecba3a28bc.jpgAdjusting back to the school-year schedule can be a little tough- That’s why we start to get the kids back to bed at their regular time starting the beginning of August. For our kiddos, keeping them busy and active all day, really helps. Trips to the playground, beach, zoo, and pool really help.

We’ll be hitting up the night time zoo this week!

And one last back to school tip: Let your kids play and hang out with friends as much as possible before they go back, especially if they aren’t able to see some of their friends at school. We’re hosting a K’Nex Play Time Party with Tryazon this Wednesday at Shadow Hill Park in Santee! If you and your gang will be in the area, please stop by! There will bea chance to win prizes, yummy snacks, and cool toys!

 

Free Food Boxes from Feeding the Flock

file5201250180575.jpg

San Diego, CA area readers, this post is a huge blessing for those who may be facing a little food insecurity right now. Feeding the Flock is a local 501c3 non profit organization. Their goal is to “feed you physically and spiritually.”

Two Fridays a month they are offering free food boxes containing various fresh and shelf-stable food, perfect for anyone who may need a just a little help.

There is no proof of need required, just sign up here.  When you pick up your box, don’t forget your ID.

You can also check up with Feeding the Flock on Facebook. They have lots of great local events helping those in need and the under served. They are looking for volunteers for their events, so if you aren’t in need, but want to help (with time or supplies), contact them!

In Need? Food Resources in San Diego

DSCN2469Updated: June 2019For some of us, couponing and frugal living aren’t enough. Sometimes you need help, and there is no shame in admitting that.

In large metropolitan areas like San Diego County, there are many resources for those who have food insecurity. Some of them require proof of need, proof of residence, or extensive paperwork to qualify. For someone who is embarrassed by food insecurity, these requirements can be a deterrent. Other organizations put a cap on how many times a family can visit.

Here are a few local San Diego County Area organizations that offer food assistance that do not require any proof of need:

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 8.09.41 AMThe Cupboard on 54th. Located at Calvary Lutheran Church 3060 54th Street, San Diego, CA 92115.  They are open 3 times a week.

You can get dry goods one time per month and a produce bag is available each day they are open (for a total of three times a week).

This is located at the same location as a free clothing closet. They have clothes for men women and children, as well as shoes and accessories.

Journey Church in La Mesa has a food bank that distributes food three times per month.

  • 1st Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm
  • 2nd Friday of the month – produce only – at 9 am
  • 3rd Saturday of the month from 8:30 am

Christ United Methodist Church 3295 Meade Ave San Diego, CA 92116 has a food bank three days a week. They ask you how many people are in your home (adults and kids) and they put together a kit for you. Lots of canned and boxed goods! Everything is in date and in good shape.

Hours: Mondays 1-3pm, Wednesdays 10am-Noon and 1-3pm, Fridays 10am-Noon and 1-3pm

Park in the rear lot and look for the Good Neighbor Center Food Bank sign.

The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank has neighborhood distribution sites all over San Diego. There are no requirements or proof of need (no ID either).  Just bring a few reusable bags or a cart to carry your food home. Learn more about Neighborhood Distributions here.

unnamed.jpgFaith Chapel in Spring Valley has a great event once a month called Meet the Need. It is the 1st Sunday of each Month.

There is a free lunch starting at 1pm with some fellowship (a great way to meet your neighbors), followed by shopping in their boutique for free clothing and household items, and free grocery distribution.

You can learn more by visiting or contacting Faith Chapel here.  Pastor Josiah and his crew are wonderful people!

 

For residents of the City of Santee, the Santee Food Bank is available to you twice a month. Once for regular distribution (from whatever donations they have received), and once for commodities (that’s more like pantry staples). More information and updated contact information can be found here. Proof of Santee Residency (like a utility bill) is required.

Feeding American San Diego has a map on their website of various resources in the San Diego area, many of them require no proof of need or paperwork.

If you have any food resources to share, please leave a comment!

Cutting down on food waste in 30 minutes!

One of the ways that we save money is to cut down on food waste. For me that means once we are home from the store and all of the perishables are put away, I pull out the cutting board, a sharp knife, the spiralizer, some zip top bags, and reusable storage containers.

IMG_3168

This was last weeks fresh fruit and veggies (plus 3 bags of baby carrots and a cantaloupe- not pictured).

I set to work, chopping, packaging, and spiralizing.  In less than 30 minutes I had all of the fresh fruits and veggies prepped and measured into small bags to be dropped into lunches, or packed into plastic containers.

This of course is only for the fruits and veggies that require prep. The oranges, apples, and bananas require no prep to eat, so they just go into the fruit bowl.

IMG_3169
Fruits and veggies all ready for a week of healthy lunches!
IMG_3170
Cantaloupe chopped up and ready for my belly!! The bottom container has 3 spiralized Italian zucchini squash, ready to be made into “pasta” salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By spending a little time each week getting veggies and fruit ready to eat, you’ll cut down on food waste, because the food is all ready to eat. No scrambling to cut up cucumbers for lunch early in the morning, no putting off eating something because you are short on time in the evening.

You will also be saving money over purchasing pre-chopped and pre-packed vegetables and fruit. All of this produce was purchased at 99 Cents only for less than $12.00. So you can eat well (and healthy) on a budget!!

And if it turns out atthe end of the week that you aren’t able to eat all of your veggies and fruit and they can be frozen (pretty much anything except melons), toss the bags in the freezer and you now have veggies for a casserole, or fruit for a smoothie!

The average American family of four throws away $25.00 in food a WEEK!  Here are a few more tips to help your family curtail food waste!

Eat your leftovers:  this seems like a no brainer. When you divvy out your portions for dinner, make yourself your lunch for the next day.  If you won’t eat it right away, pop it into the freezer- label it, so you don’t forget what it is.

When it looks like your fruit is about to go south, freeze it
. This includes bananas!  You can use defrosted bananas in banana bread or frozen bananas are great in smoothies.  Other frozen fruit can also be used in smoothies.
Citrus fruits can be juiced and frozen or the juice can be consumed for breakfast or put in smoothies.   Apples can be peeled cooked into applesauce or made into apple butter.

When I buy fresh tomatoes and they get just a little too ripe- I freeze them whole, then I bake them with chicken breasts and herbs and top with fresh parm- Yummy!

Buy less. I know it seems like a strange concept, especially with all of the really great deals you will be finding, but, the one proven way to waste less is to bring less home to waste.

Shopping for healthy food with coupons: It can be done!

One of my goals for this blog is to show you all how to save money and continue to eat the same healthy foods you already eat, or give you new avenues for saving so you can afford more of the healthy foods you like that you can’t find coupons for.

Today I went to Ralphs. For $7.30, I bought all of this:IMG_2850

That’s 10 1 lb. packages of Driscoll’s Strawberries and 3 cartons of Dream Blends nut milk.  I used ten Driscoll’s coupons I earned from the Driscoll’s Advisory Panel and three Dream Coupons that I printed from a recent Facebook Campaign (they are no longer available). 

The Strawberries were $1.48 on sale and I used a .75 off coupon on each package, for a total of $.73/each.

The nut milk was marked down to $1.79/each and I had $2.00 off coupons. Because the coupon price was greater, the cashier adjusted the amount of the coupon on her register, so I received the nut milks for free.

But, what am I going to do with 10 lbs of fresh fruit? I’ve already chopped up 5 lbs and put them into snack size Ziploc bags. They are chilling in the freezer, perfectly portioned for smoothies or to go into yogurt.

Henry is taking two pounds to school tomorrow to share with his class (his school has a no baked goods/candy for birthday celebrations rule).

One pound we will eat tonight, and the remaining two will be served at Henry’s birthday party on Saturday. Ten pounds of fruit doesn’t go all that far when you have two guys that LOVE fruit!

If you follow a healthy diet and are looking for more coupons on the products that you regualrly purchase, here are a few suggestions:

  • Check the websites of the products you like. You’d be surprised how many have printable coupons on their websites! That’s how I found out about the Driscoll’s Advisory Panel!
  • Don’t forget to check websites like Coupons.com, Redplum, Smartsource, CommonKindness, and Hopster for healthy printable coupons. Common Kindness and Hopster specialize in “whole” food coupons.
  • Don’t skip out on the money saving apps! This article has a pretty comprehensive list of money saving apps.