One of the things I do to grocery shop on a budget is to prioritize the shopping list. I didn’t used to use a list consistently and we spent a lot more money back then. I would just go to the store and come up with our menus on the fly. I always ended up needing to go back a few days later for more ingredients to make meals. I’ve learned to plan ahead and cook differently, if I’m missing an ingredient I make do without it or make something else.
I write down everything we want or need on my weekly food & supplies list and make a dinner plan based on what meats are on sale at the local stores then go from there. There is only one list, I can’t keep track of several, and I add to it all the time as I notice something we need to restock. Most weeks, I don’t buy everything on the list and that’s to be expected. We budget $150-$250 a week on supplies including food, clothes, toys, household supplies, fast food, etc. Whatever we need at the time. I approach the shopping list as a draft that will be edited/cropped before I hit the store knowing that, just because I have it on the list doesn’t mean we need it.
Take paper towels for example. I cut out whatever I can to make sure we can cover the necessities and not overspend. So Paper towels: do we really need them? No. They’re convenient, but I have kitchen towels and they work just fine. Also I can drain greasy foods by reusing brown paper bags from the grocery store. So I don’t buy paper towels. Other things we can do without include:
Cleaners: I make my own spray cleaner that is a disinfectant and cleans well. I use it everywhere except the windows. For the recipe see this post.
Fabric Softener: You can make your own or just use straight white vinegar. Find a recipe here.
Baggies: I use plastic wrap and wax paper instead of baggies. Wax paper is pretty cheap, about $1 a roll, and we get plastic wrap in a commercial size roll from the local Cash & Carry for about $11 which lasts a couple years. I also wash & save cereal and bread bags, glass jars, tin cans and plastic food & drink containers. All are great for storage. If a reusable container comes through my house I pause before tossing it. You can reuse these things in so many ways. When I freeze food, the plastic wrap aluminum/foil combo works well. I also love using glass jars in the freezer. (See my post on things we reuse for more ideas.)
Convenience Foods: When looking to reduce costs and extend your grocery budget, making things from scratch is a great place to start. I know from experience that I can’t handle doing it all. I don’t make bread for instance, and I require come conveniences simply to make my day go smoothly and maintain a positive outlook. Only you can decide what you need or can do without. A good rule of thumb is if it’s pre-made you can probably do it for much cheaper and it will be healthier. Here are some of the convenience foods I skip when grocery shopping.
- Mixes: I make pancakes from a Martha Stewart recipe that I’ve used for a couple years. Simple and consistently good. You can check that out here. I also make gravies & sauces, skillet meals (like Hamburger Helper, Rice-roni and Macaroni & Cheese) from scratch. It’s nice to know what goes into our meals and homemade means fewer ingredients.
- Frozen dinners: Make your own lasagna, everyone will be so impressed. Since it’s a time consuming recipe though I always double or triple it to have extra in the freezer for another time. Work smart not hard, right?
- Snacks: I make cookies & muffins instead of buying them. We eat stove top popcorn (microwave popcorn costs a lot more) instead of Doritos or Fish crackers. I cut up cheese cubes and fruit for snacks or roll some PB&J into a tortilla. Even yogurt is a quick and easy snack. There are so many ways to snack without buying something pre-made. I do buy frozen chicken nuggets, though. Quick toddler food and a fast dinner on a busy night. Better than the drive thru!
- Frozen waffles: Instead of buying these I make extra pancakes and keep them in the fridge for a quick heat-up in the microwave. Homemade pancakes & waffles freeze well so you can make a bunch and store for later.
- Pancake syrup: I make this and other flavored syrups like those you would buy for your coffee or Italian sodas. Making from scratch is a lot cheaper and very simple. I’ll post those recipes soon.
- Pop-cicles: Okay, I do buy Otter Pops in the summer to keep in the deep freeze. My kids go through a lot of cicles because we live in a neighborhood where the Ice Cream truck (also known as the music truck , because I tell the younger more gullible kids that it “only brings us music!”) circles the block 10 times a day. When all the neighbor kids are whipping out their cash my kids head for the garage and get an Otter Pop (or two). However, I do make popcicles out of smoothie leftovers. I just pour what’s left in the blender into pop-cicle molds. They usually have yogurt in them and are like frozen yogurt pops. You pay extra for pops like this in the freezer section.
- Birthday cakes: I make these if at all possible but not from scratch. I need the box cake mixes.