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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Feed Your Family in Tough Economic Times

Anyone who has been in a grocery store recently knows that the price of food has dramatically increased. The same groceries that cost 100 dollars one year ago now cost more like 150 dollars. These days, it costs more to buy items on sale than it did to buy the same items at regular price one year ago. What makes it worse is that consumers are being hit on all fronts. It’s not just at the grocery store that we’re taking a beating. We take a financial beating each time we open our heating and electric bills, when we’re at the gas pump, when we look at our paycheck and see another year with no cost of living increase, when we lose our job, or lose our benefits. Now when we can least afford it the price of groceries is spiraling out of control.

While there have always been frugal shoppers, it is increasingly common to see people seeking out affordable food. What can a consumer do to provide good nourishing food for their family? How do you go about getting kids enough food to eat, while making sure you don’t run out of food before you run out of money?

There are some general rules to follow that can help take a bite out of your grocery bill. The following suggestions can help you squeeze every last cent out of your overstretched budget.

First, eliminate impulse shopping. Saving money starts at home. Start by preparing a grocery list. When making out your list, there are several considerations.

The first rule is, when money is tight, staples must come first. Snacks and goodies can be added in at the end if there is any money left over. Staples are those foods that your family can live on, food that will keep everyone fed and healthy. Staples are food that will keep your family from hunger, should times get really hard. What are staple foods? Food like potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, cereal, bread, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables are all staples. Also basic cooking essentials such as oil, butter, salt, and sugar can be considered staple supplies. If you can keep pasta, canned tomatoes, canned soups, bread, peanut butter, eggs, milk, and potatoes in your house, your family will not go hungry. They may long for potato chips and soda, but those foods are relatively expensive and will not keep your family healthy and well fed. Snack foods can drain the household budget. So put staples on the top of your grocery list, and make buying them your priority.

The next rule for saving money is to take advantage of sales. Look through the shopping lists at before heading to the store. Plan your grocery list based on what is on sale that week. If you are thinking of having chicken but there is a sale on pork, make the switch. If you notice coupons on the shopping list that you have saved from your Sunday newspaper, cut them out and use them. Be sure to set aside those coupon inserts each week before recycling your newspaper, you never know when you'll need them.

Find out if your supermarket offers a double coupon day, when they will match the savings offered by manufacturers’ coupons. Coupon and sale savings may seem like small change, but that change will add up. If you're able, purchase extra Sunday newspapers, and the coupon savings will add up even faster. Every bit of money you save is money you can spend on something else, whether a special snack or treat, or to pay another bill.

Another way to save money is to apply for a supermarket store card. Many stores offer these, and it takes just a few minutes to apply for one. Usually you’ll receive your card right away, and the card can often save you significant money. Many stores offer special savings to card holders. It is possible to save 10 percent or more of your grocery bill by presenting your card at the check out.

Once you have your grocery list, with staples given priority, your coupons, and your courtesy card, you are ready to shop. When in the supermarket, develop the habit of cruising for sales stickers. No doubt you know where to find all your old favorite food items, but try to change the way you shop now. Go aisle to aisle looking for the sale stickers that indicate markdowns. Watch for Catalina promotions that offer savings off your next shopping order if you buy a specified amount of an item. Buy as much as you can on sale. If a different kind of cereal than you normally choose is on sale, buy it. If your normal brand is on sale, try to buy two. Train your eye to spot sale signs no matter what section you are in. If you regularly reach for sale items, and incorporate these into your weekly groceries, you will see the savings at the register.

Look for local products, in season. Local apples in the fall are less expensive than apples flown around the world. The same is true for tomatoes, berries, melon, corn, and all produce items. You will save money and help the local economy by buying products from where you live.

Try to buy larger sizes of items. This can be difficult to do when you are trying to spend less, because initially you have to spend more money to buy the larger size, but in the long run you will save money. Say you normally go through one small (16 ounces) jar of peanut butter per week, at a cost of $2.60. If you buy the larger size (28 ounces) instead, you will pay about $3.70, which is $1.10 more. But you will have nearly two weeks of peanut butter, and the second week’s supply you are getting at about half price. Week in and week out, those cents add up, and you can put them to good use. Because you initially have to spend more money for a larger size item, try to choose just one or two items to begin with. Each week, with your savings adding up, you can add a few additional large size items. Your savings will definitely accumulate.

The next rule may mean making changes in how you prepare food, but it has the potential to save you the most money. The rule is: make it yourself, bake it yourself, mix it yourself and grate it yourself. The more prepared and packaged food is, the more money you will spend buying it. Plain ingredients cost less. If you focus on buying staples like potatoes, rice, chicken, and cheese, and prepare food for your family the old fashioned way, you’ll save a lot of money.
Perhaps you like to buy prepared chicken dinners from the frozen food section. You can buy a one pound chicken dinner, ready to heat and serve for around $3 each. For a family of four, that amounts to $12 for dinner. Each dinner contains 4 to 5 ounces of chicken with gravy, 4 to 5 ounces of mashed potatoes, 2 to 3 ounces of corn, and a 3 ounce brownie. But for the same $16, you can buy a 4 to 5 pound roasting chicken (about $6 fresh, or about $5 frozen); one 10 lb. bag of potatoes (about $3.99), two cans of corn (about 75 cents each) and one brownie mix (about $1.49). You can reduce this price further if any of these items are on sale. So the same $12 dollars provides ingredients for a complete homemade chicken dinner. In addition, there will be enough for a second chicken dinner the next night, and very likely a little left over for a chicken sandwich or two, or the makings of a batch of chicken soup. Also, you’ll have brownies left over for a day or so, and a large bag of potatoes to eat for a week or more. By making it yourself, you more than double the purchase power of your money.

Making something with grated cheese? If you buy 8 ounces of grated cheddar cheese you’ll spend about $3. For the same price, you can get twice as much cheese (16 ounces) by purchasing it as a bar and grating your own. That way you’ll have cheese left over for sandwiches, omelets, casseroles, or snacks. Get it on sale and you will really save money.

The examples are endless with convenience foods. Avoid single servings and individually wrapped snacks and drinks. You are paying extra for packaging. Instead of juice boxes, buy a large bottle of juice. Convenience sizes may be convenient, but they are a budget buster.

Don’t forget to apply the savings suggestions toward snack foods. Snack foods can be amongst the most expensive items in the supermarket. Try buying a bag of unpopped corn and pop it yourself. Buy brownie mix, and have the kids help you make a batch for an after school snack. Buy jello and pudding mix packages for about 50 cents each and let school-age kids take charge of preparing dessert. Buy more expensive items like ice cream, boxed pizza, or soft drinks only when they on sale. Treats raise everyone’s spirits when money is scarce. But don’t let packaged cookies and soft drinks derail your food budget. These are extras, and your family will be healthier if they become accustomed to having such snacks as an occasional treat rather than every day.

In tough economic times, it is necessary to watch every penny you spend. Incomes are not going up, so most people have to find a way to make do with less. Good healthy food is a priority. If you follow the suggestions above, you will find it a little easier to provide your family with good nutritious meals.


Julie said...

You have to be careful that buying a bigger container of something is really a better deal. Sometimes the medium packages cost the least amount of money per ounce.

Tightwad Mom said...

Thanks for the great article!! Very timely! Do you mind if I link it to my blog (with proper credit going to you,of course).

The McDonald's said...

If anyone lives in Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, Arizona and Utah check out It's a great way to save money on produce.


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