Trying To Eat Out Less: Ideas On Reducing My Grocery Bill

thumbnail credit: http://www.jonco48.com/blog/grocery_bag.jpgLast month one of our credit card statements spanned two pages because we had eaten out so often. Not only is it more expensive, I’m pretty sure it’s less healthy. So now we’re trying to limit ourselves to 2-3 times a week (minus the cafeteria at work), and making one of our outings to a new restaurant that we haven’t tried before.

This means more grocery shopping. But did you know that grocery food prices jumped 5.3% in 2007? Milk, eggs, and bread all cost from 10-30% more than last year. This year looks to be even worse, especially with rising oil prices making transportation more expensive. In last weekend’s WSJ Sunday edition, there was an article titled Savvy Grocery Shopping that had some good money-saving tips. Here are a few of them along with some others I’ve also picked up elsewhere.

Stockpile and Hoard
Grocery stores constantly rotate the stuff that they have on sale, so that at any one time there is something new to attract you into their store. Then, while you’re already there, they expect you to buy other things at full price. The key is to know when something is at a great price, and then stockpile staples at that price. That way all your pasta, canned veggies, soups, broths, sugar, and all non-perishables are all bought 20-50% off retail.

Keep Track of Prices
The problem: How do you know what is a good price? I forget all the time. Some people keep what is called a “price book”, where you track the price of your commonly bought items so you can start to see the cycles and pricing patterns. There is even a website called TheGroceryGame that will track prices for you and let you know when to buy – for $10 every 8 weeks.

I’ve also noticed that you can also start to learn when they mark down meat, usually a day or so before the legal sell-by date. The meat is still good, I just stick it in the freezer right away until I need it.

Be a Coupon Ninja
There is an entire subculture of “couponers” out there that I call “coupon ninjas”. They find good coupons, then get 20 duplicates of them, go to a store that doubles them (instead of 25 cents off you’d get 50 cents off) and then stockpile like crazy. I’ve seen scans of grocery receipts that show $150 of food bought for $23.47. Sometimes they actually get negative! While I admire their drive, I just stink at using coupons. I’ll clip them, but I always forget to bring them along, or I wait until they are expired. My new store doesn’t double coupons anymore, so the incentive is also less. TheGroceryGame also helps point out good deals.

Buy Frozen and/or Generic
Many times frozen fruits and vegetables are even more nutritious or tasty when you buy them frozen, because they can wait longer before picking them. Also, there’s always store-brand or generics. The article shares that the manufacturer of Birds’ Eye veggies also makes store-label veggies. I love my Safeway frozen mixed vegetables! :) Did you know that produce even has brands now? I didn’t even notice. I like to buy generic on many things, but not all of them.

Comments

  1. ongrowthtrack says:

    Thegrocerygame has a forum which has some good tips. However its highly moderated, the savings people report are on inflated MRP’s. I didnt find the service of thegrocerygame worth paying for. WSJ’s consumerism articles are lame, there is better information out there in many bogs but YMMV. Have fun with reducing your grocery bills.

  2. Most grocery flyers have the real deals on the front page and all the stuff inside isn’t really on sale (static loss leaders or their ‘everyday low price’)

    Something else to try is making menus; not only does this discourage the ‘I don’t know what to make, let’s eat out’ excuse, but grocery trips are planned and meals can be structured around what’s on special. If possible avoid using pre-packaged or so called quick meals: better to pick up a ready-in-under-30 minutes cookbook.

  3. I’m like you with coupons, for sure. But this is what works for me; I shop off of a grocery list. I put “C” next to items I have a coupon for, and then I just bring those coupons along in an envelope.

    Trent over at the Simple Dollar has a good tip I need to try; that is, to save your coupons for 4 weeks to match up the timing with a sale. It’s not 100%, but a lot of the items will be discounted with that kind of timing.

  4. Consider a CSA or the local farmer’s market for produce – it’s much higher quality than what you get at the store for 20-50% less!

    Wish I could get on board with the coupons – maybe I’m just too lazy or unorganzied, but I have never been able to manage them right.

  5. I’ve found that even after doubling most coupons, the item is still more expensive than the generic or store brand.

  6. One word….Costco. Many people think that they can’t pull off the Costco thing until they have a family of 10. My wife and I have been doing it since from the time we started dating (i.e. family of two). We almost exclusively shop there for groceries.

  7. Dan Isaacs says:

    I second the farmers markets. They are usually cheaper, and it’s maybe a day old produce.

    I never go to the store without a list (primarily because Ill forget what my wife asked for by the time I get out of the garage) and rarely get anything that isn’t on the list. This practice avoids impulse buys, which I used to have a problem with.

    For things I buy a lot of, Diapers, Juicy Juice, individual yogurts. I also like that here in NC, at least, grocers must list the price per serving/unit. That’s the metric I use to determine if a larger bottle of Ketchup is worth getting, or figuring out which item is the better deal.

    We used to buy in bulk and stockpile. But in the end, a lot of stuff just got wasted because we forgot about it. I prefer buying today what I’m going to eat today or tomorrow. Of course, I have 6 grocery stores within a mile of my house. So my options may be greater than most. :)

  8. Don’t forget the most important one IMHO, learn to cook. Cooking from ingredients is better for you, cheaper, and a simple way to improve your quality of life and bring your family together. I have a lot of hobbies and interests but none of them that comes in handier on a daily basis than this one. It took me time to learn all of the basics to free myself from written down recipes but it was well worth it. When you become proficient you can but together great food with more inexpensive ingredients and if ever you really hit the finacial skids you can subsist in a healthy way off of old time staples like beans and rice, garden vegatables and stew cuts of meat for a couple dollars a day. It would be as interesting, but you’d be fine. Convenience and frozen prepared meals are just garbage. I shop weekly on Sunday and make a list with the main meal for each day. You start with shellfish or fish on Sunday/Monday, and progress to less perishable items by the end of the week, usually finishing with a meatless dish. Shop for items in season, better cheaper. Asparagus is just coming in for instance.

  9. I respectfully have to disagree in the case of frozen veggies.

    At least for myself, I’ve never found a way to successfully reheat them that doesn’t involve soggy mush, in essence, boiling them, which has been shown to reduce useful content of the vegetables many times over, and often reduces taste as well. Nothing better than lightly steamed fresh vegetables for almost all of them.

    That said, of course frozen ones are good to have around – they keep longer, of course.

  10. Trader Joe’s…

    We get thai tuna curries ($1.49), indian curries ($1.99) and thai soups ($0.99) for our lunches. Make a batch of rice with the rice cooker on Sunday night and that lasts for 3-4 days in tupperware at work. All told my weekly lunch bill dropped from about $45 a week to less than $8. My wife is close enough to home that she goes back to the house for lunch each day.

    And the Thai tuna curries at Trader Joe’s are pretty good too. As are the indian choices. The soups aren’t great but cheap. And naturally I try to snag leftovers for lunch too.

  11. I do what Heather does, go grocery shopping with a list that I marks for coupons.

    Texas is right, too. Store/generic brands are often cheaper than name brands minus doubled coupons. The trick is to buy each generic product at least once to try it out and keep track of which generic products you like and don’t like.

  12. Most states don’t tax groceries, so there’s another reason to eat at home.

    I don’t like to invest the time in researching prices and cutting coupons. In most urban areas, you’ll have several choice for your grocery store, and it’s easy to notice which ones are cheaper after several trips.

    My wife and I invested in a FoodSaver a few years ago, and it’s really worked well. We often buy our meats and cheeses in bulk and store them in the freezer for months.

  13. See below.

  14. I tried this once, but it didnt post… so here is the short version.
    1. Eat out once a week, a heart attack is expensive, and you dont know who handled your food, or how they handled it.
    2. Pack your lunch – save your money.
    3. Buy in bulk and cook for 4 people.
    4. Use the leftovers from Sunday as lunch on Tuesday (to break it up a bit).

  15. I use coupons on the things I can’t get generics on. It works especially well on buy one, get one free. We shop at Sam’s, Super Walmart, and another local low priced grocery store, and buy what’s on sale in bulk. I usually save about $15 off my bill in coupons per week. We buy meat in bulk from wherever it’s on sale, and come home and divide it into freezer bags appropriate for one or two meals. We have saved a bundle by doing this.

    Another way I save besides buying in bulk is to cook more than we eat at one time. We happen to like leftovers (I’m a good cook :), so we can sometimes eat two or three meals from one cooking. It saves energy, especially if you are cooking something that takes a long time. If you don’t like leftovers, you can freeze the rest, and then thaw it later for a home cooked meal. It saves turning your oven or burners on for hours again when you want to cook the same thing.

    Finally, I use a credit card that gives me cash back!

  16. shopping at wal-mart is like stabbing your community in the back – support your local businesses and learn to consume less.
    wal-mart sells this consume more for less cost theory – how about consume less and you wont have to spend more.
    a complete revelation.

  17. Two words: Chinese, Indian.

    If you live in the Silicon Valley (which I gather you do), then thereare an abundance of these types of markets. These two sorts of markets are much less expensive for raw materials and spices (especially Indian markets) than their western counterparts (Safeway, Lucky, Albertsons, etc). My wife and I (Chinese, Thai respectively) shop these types of markets almost exclusively and would get away with spending about $50 for a car load of veggies and meat.

    The secret is to buy unprocessed foods. Things that come out of a factory are more expensive that things that come directly out of the ground or from the farm. One could argue that farms are now akin to factories, but that’s an argument for another blog post.

    Anyway, try the Chinese and Indian markets and you’ll see the cost for your raw ingredients decrease dramatically.

  18. chriMR,

    I guess I’ll just have to be a community back-stabber. Wal-mart has lower prices, point blank. I got to SAMs Club for things I can buy in bulk and Wal-Mart for the things I don’t want to buy in bulk. If I’m lazy, I drive to Ingles which is closer to the house.

  19. During my first two years in college, I spent my summers working for a wholesale food distributor called Supervalu. Not many people know this but it is the second largest wholesale distributor behind Wal-Mart. My job was to build pallets and fill trucks that would ship food to different grocery stores in the Twin Cities. Virtually all of the Twin Cities grocery stores, from upscale Lunds to big-box Super Target and Albertsons received their food from the same warehouse in Minneapolis.

    Most of the time, the quality of the food was exactly the same. Most generics were unloaded from the same truck coming from the same plant that their name brand counterparts were manufactured at. We then shipped the generic brand and the name brand to a grocery store. The only difference in the end, besides packaging, was price.

    You can figure this out pretty easily in the store. If you see a store brand, look near its UPC label and compare it to the name brand it is trying to replicate. Many times some of the numbers will match, and these are usually the plant or production numbers. Expiration dates and batch numbers are a good indicator as well, since many of the plants use the same machinery to label the generics and the name brands.

    I was talking to a co-worker recently and he insisted that the produce, particularly bananas, at Lunds were far superior to those at Super Target, Cub or Albertsons, because they have a longer shelf life. Therefore, he thought it was worth the increased price. Unbelievable!

    This is how bananas are dealt with: The bananas are stored in different rooms in a perishables warehouse. They all come to the warehouse bright green. Once there, they are ripened in the different rooms using methane gas. All this does is speed up what would naturally happen (ever put them in a brown bag?). The converse is also true. The bananas can be prevented from becoming ripe for a surprising amount of time.

    So the only difference is that the ‘upscale’ stores choose bananas that aren’t ripened as much because they can’t turn them over as quickly.

    Virtually all the stores get the same produce, the upscale stores just sort through it more before presenting it. If you’re willing to look a little harder at a big grocery store, you can often find the same thing you would at an upscale store.

  20. Cashmere Addict says:

    Feel the same way about coupons… want to use them, but just don’t. My suggestion is, shop at Trader Joe’s. I’m in So Cal, and there is a Trader Joe’s in every major city down here. They don’t have coupons, but they do have great prices (especially on Organic products) and I’ve yet to buy something I don’t like.

    Also, my husband and I are very busy, so do get caught in the ‘order in’ or ‘go out to eat’ rut every once in awhile. But, with Trader Joe’s we do it a lot less because they have prepared food (fresh, frozen and canned) that takes minutes to make and is good (and good for you most of the time).

    Love your blog, found it recently and have it bookmarked.

  21. Having worked in 3 different plants that produced Birds Eye products when I was a kid, I can tell you that yes the same plant will produce Birds Eye and the store brand generics, but there is a DEFINATE difference. As the product is processed, it is tested and graded. Management gets bonuses for getting more product that will grade out to being ‘BirdsEye Quality’ and they will push hard to make sure all the processing is going perfect for that (no over cooking, product doesn’t sit waiting to be processed, quick freezing to exact specifications). Things that don’t test out to be of that quality will progressively go down a scale of product ranges until you get to the generics. Taking peas for example, the youngest, tenderest peas will go BE, but the ones with most sinkers (hardest/oldest) will end up store brand generic. Peas are the easiest example, but the same thing happens from Brussel sprouts, carrots, french fries, etc.

    True, occasionally they will downgrade a product to meet incoming orders, but that’s rare as usually there is too much of the low grade product. I would hate to be in the military as the product that doesn’t make store brand generic ends up in bulk packs for the military.

  22. Qpons can get you so far. Nowadays stores offer e-coupons on their sites which can be downloaded to the store cards (if any). That is a neat way and less painful than clipping.
    We need to plan ahead about what we need. Sometimes ware houses like Costco or BJ can beat the local prices but not always . And we do second the idea of buying local like farmer’s / flea markets.
    Its best to cook from the scratch to save money. And the cheapest stuff is mostly on the lowest shelf!

  23. Eating out 2-3 times a week + cafeteria lunches? That doesn’t sound very frugal. My wife & I try to limit it to 2-3 times A MONTH, and we usually bring lunches to work. Maybe we’re cheap but we can usually eat healthy at home for a week for what one or two restaurant meals cost us.

    Having cut back on frequency ourselves a bit, we now find that when we do eat out, we enjoy it more.

  24. ongrowthtrack says:

    Melvin, you point out a nice difference, but does it matter to me, some of it depends when I cook the peas. There are other factors to keep in mind, like I shop in summer afternoon and during the drive back home some of the peas melt a bit then refreeze in my refrigerator to become hard. More over I really wonder if restaurants get the BE quality.

  25. I have to confess I don’t know the price of bread or milk, I just buy the same thing every week. Sales signs attract my attention in the produce section, but I’m shamefully brand loyal when it comes to things like yogurt, oatmeal, and cleaning products. But in other areas, such as 2 liter bottles of cola, I’m very price-conscious. I’ll be generic pop for $0.89-$1.00 over the $1.25+ name brands. I’ve even found that Walgreens sometimes offers great prices on 2 liter bottles of pop. But I disagree that all generics are the same as the branded products. For a long time I ate generic oatmeal, then at my parent’s suggestion (revulsion?), tried Quaker Oats. Way better! Now I can’t eat generic oatmeal, it’s like slop. So I guess it differs from product to product. Thanks for the post and keep up the good work on this blog, I enjoy subscribing to your RSS feed and keeping tabs on your informative posts.

  26. I guess I’m a coupon ninja! It’s really not that hard – do you shop once a week? Great! Then go through your coupons once a week.

    You could go with the no-method method.
    1. Buy the paper on Sunday.
    2. DO NOT CLIP ZEE COUPONS. File the ENTIRE insert in a drawer.
    3. Every week before shopping, pull the insert from four weeks ago, and clip anything interesting that you and your family might use.
    4. Take ‘em with you. Easy as pie.

    The manufacturers are typically halfway to three quarters of the way through their sell-directives about four weeks after they put out the coupons, so no matter what, you’re going to save.

    Take care, and good luck, grasshopper!

  27. I love the IDEA of using coupons but I don’t like clipping them (nor the time). I have started using EBay as my coupon source. There are people that sell 100 different coupons for 2 – 3 bucks. I usually buy from someone local so I get things that are local to me and after using 2 or 3 of the coupons, the ebay cost is recouped. This is what works for me.

    CARLO.

  28. Another thing you can stock up on is milk.

    One local grocery store often has a sale on milk but requires you to buy 2 gallons. So I put one gallon in the freezer (after emptying it a little) so I can use it a week or two after the first gallon. The only problem is that it takes 4 to 5 days to fully defrost in the fridge, so you have to plan carefully.

  29. I’m not a coupon nut (maybe I should be), but I just make it easy for myself. When the Sunday paper comes, I set the magazines of coupons on my coffee table. I’ve made a rule that I can’t move them until I’ve looked at them. Because they bug me being there, I usually go through them on Sunday night when we’re watching TV, or it may be a couple of days. I go through and cut out all the things we always use…the same shampoo, deodorant, soap, etc. I also cut out the ones that I might use if they go on sale.

    I keep a little wooden box on the lower shelf of my coffee table, so when I’m finished, I put the coupons and scissors in the box (very little movement involved), and recycle the rest.

    We keep a running list on a magnetic pad on the refrigerator, so when it’s time to shop, I get the list and go through my coupons. About once a month I get rid of the expired ones. I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s all because I made one simple rule…I can’t move the coupons until I cut them out. Going through them before shopping seems like a chore, until I find ones for the things we had to get anyway, and it’s $1.50 off on a $2.50 item. Then it’s fun!

  30. Until recently I never used coupons….its actually amazing how much they help

  31. Thawing/refreezing between the store and home will affect quality, but think of this… If you don’t do the initial freeze fast enough, more of the cell walls will burst producing mushy vegetables. Don’t go to a low enough temperature and the product will ‘block up’ after it has been packaged or it will get crushed by the weight of product stacking up on top of it. These are just some of the things that are looked at when grading the product.

    Younger peas are sweeter, older are more starchy. Sure, it’s not a BIG difference, only a few days past optimal harvest time or a few hours sitting outside the processing facility, but it will affect the taste considerably. I have never seen a ‘bulk pack’ BE quality package before so I highly doubt most restaurantes are getting that product unless they are buying it small retail packaging.

    Those 6 years working in the processing plants were a real eye opener that I would never want to repeat (except blueberry season, yum). To this day I think twice every time I buy a potato byproduct (potato puff) and I am very selective about the brands that I buy. Sure, I don’t buy BirdsEye every time but if it’s on sale I stock up.

  32. What can I say, we love to eat out. Mexican, Indian, Thai, Greek, Japanese. It’s both one of our chosen luxuries and the place where we can go overboard too much. We don’t eat fancy so it’s usually just for items that are $3-$8 a meal, but I agree it adds up. Twice a week means just eating out for lunch once during the week, and then maybe one on Friday night. For us, that’s about right. The work cafeteria is cheap and usually only used for supplemental items.

    I love Trader Joes! I also hoard their semi-quick meals like frozen pizzas, vacu-packed indian food, jarred sauces, and other frozen stuff.

    I also love Farmer’s markets, but I haven’t been as diligent to seek them out here in suburbia. They used to be so convenient before.

    I also have been buying the bulk fresh spinach and blue lake beans from Costco, along with their broccoli salad thing. I would agree that all frozen veggies aren’t the same. I grew up on public school cafeteria lunches so I don’t mind the mushiness sometimes. :)

    I’ve never thought of freezing milk before! Man, all this typing is making me hungry.

  33. MENUS
    One or Two backup meals in your freezer. Also, nothing wrong with eggs/cereal for dinner!
    MENUS
    Check store flyers online
    MENUS
    Keep previous menus and then just recycle every 4-6 weeks
    MENUS
    Somehow keep a list (I have Handyshopper on my Palm) of ingredients for your most often used recipes; if you spot a key ingredient on sale you can instantly pull together (buy ingredients for) a meal.
    PLAN AHEAD.

  34. I should really write out recipes for easy reference.

    Buying produce at Asian markets is also a great point. You also get to try a lot of greens that places like Safeway don’t stock.

  35. JTMurdock says:

    I know what I’m doing to combat eating out to much: Storing food at work. Gonna hit to grocery store on Monday and buy a pound of meat for sammiches and hide a loaf of bread in my desk.

  36. Bread in your desk will attract ants.. Prepackaged food doesn’t have that problem but isn’t very frugal.

    I also have this problem with ‘storing food in your desk’ that I can’t stop ‘having one more’. I found it’s better for me to occasionally lose something to the ‘fridge theif’ than to eat it all in one session.

  37. Dan Isaacs says:

    Just wondering, is your wife on board with you eating out less?

    (tasteless, but I can’t resist a double-entendre)

  38. Im just amazed that people this into a financial blog are focused so much on personal wealth, and not on building community wealth – ie buying local. You may save a buck by buying national chain, and we all buy a large part of what we buy that way, but if you make an effort to buy local for at least a portion of what you buy, the impact on your community, quality of life, home values, etc all adds up to a long term economic gain for the place you call home… and that is cash in your pocket one day – gotta think big picture here – not just about the 35 cents a coupon saves you today. this is also why i brought up health care costs – its a big part of your financial future, so you have to consider it when spending today.

  39. ChrisMR:

    This is a blog about how to make YOUR money go farther. And hey, I buy locally…they just finished a Super Walmart, Sam’s and Target half a mile from me. Can’t get much more local than that. That’s only a few of the many new shopping centers going up in the same area, which is bringing in new jobs and lots of commerce. It’s having a great impact on the economy, and our property values are doing just fine.

  40. Perhaps try a local food co-op. The bulk food section at my local (Ypsi) co-op is a bargain especially if you like healthy food (grains, granola, beans, meusli, even honey and olive oil…). Mine will also special order food by the case for you – great for getting a discount on pre-packaged frozen lunches.

    If you like quality beer, get a keg for the garage fridge. The equipment costs less than $200. I can drink the local microbrew (Bell’s) for less than half the cost of bottled (about $1.50/btl). It’s also great if you want one and a half beers.

  41. For the past few months, I notice that I have been eating out far too frequently. I would reason that the food at home is not good and since I have a lot of work to do, I need good food. Sometimes, I would find myself hungry in the afternoon and order for delivery instead. Grocery shopping though is much more inexpensive. But only if you take the time to budget.

  42. Asian markets are definitely cheaper than Safeway where I am, too. For produce especially, it helps to get closer to the source—specialized produce markets and farmers’ markets will have lower prices than Safeway.

    Another way to save money on food is to eat less. For example, Mark writes above, “But in other areas, such as 2 liter bottles of cola, I’m very price-conscious. I’ll be generic pop for $0.89-$1.00 over the $1.25+ name brands. I’ve even found that Walgreens sometimes offers great prices on 2 liter bottles of pop.” Water is still cheaper (and better for you).

  43. Here’s a non-cooking tip. Instead of eating out, consider substituting carry-out sometimes (from the same restaurants). When my wife became disabled, it became a lot less fun to eat out. But I carry out after work commonly still.

    It isn’t all that much healthier than eating out, but it tends to be cheaper. 1) you typically don’t buy drinks, 2) you don’t tip wait staff, and 3) you don’t tip a driver.

    Carry-out doesn’t avoid the ‘dishes’ part of dinner, but at least it gets you out of the cooking part.

  44. Jonathan,

    Two words: Entertainment Book

    http://www.entertainment.com

    There are hundreds of two for one coupons in this book. The coupons last until November, and the book costs $25 or less… (Currently $12.50 in Austin.)

    It is a great way to find new restaurants you haven’t heard of and the book pays for itself in about two nights out.

    They also have two for one on things like golf and bowling and a variety of other things.

    I just assumed you had one… (maybe you do?)

  45. We tip 10% on carryout. They still had to put it all together and wait staff live off tips.

  46. When I became pregnant with my first, the first thing we did was cut out the eating out.

    It is much easier cooking though, and saving money, now that we cook for 4 instead of 2. (The kids are small but eat way more than us. LOL).

    Anyway, over the years we have trimmed our grocery bill to under $400/month. With really little effort. But it has taken time and practice to get there. When everyone is complaining about inflation, our bill is still going down as we continually shop better and use our groceries more efficiently, etc.

    I can’t tell you how much we used to spend eating out. But the difference is huge.

    Good Luck!

    P.S. Oh, we have both lost a few pounds too, with the change.

  47. Some great points and ideas expressed here by Jonathan and other readers. I wish I could get into the spirit of couponing more.

    ChrisMR:
    Although I agree in principle about supporting the community, not everybody can afford to avoid shopping at Maulmart. For some truly lower income people it isn’t just saving 35 cents or a buck as you mentioned. Instead, it is about saving thousands of dollars over the course of many years. I don’t shop at Maulmart myself but I understand why some people go there. Supporting the community is meaningless if you are starving.

  48. i have never had a problem with heating or cooking frozen veggies… even before they had the steam fresh bags all i would do is break up any lumps in the bag, cut the corner off and sit them on a plate in the microwave, all you have to do is watch for billowing steam and they are usually done perfectly.

  49. Tom Miller says:

    My wife and I used coupons all the time (she was a coupon ninja), until we changed the way we eat. We now eat (most of the time) healthy whole foods, and not processed foods. There are usually not coupons for these items, so we actually cancelled our Sunday paper because were not saving enough with the coupons from it anymore to justify buying the paper.

    I agree with what ChrisMR says about local, and disagree with what Rhonda says about local. Rhonda states “And hey, I buy locally…they just finished a Super Walmart, Sam’s and Target half a mile from me. Can’t get much more local than that.” Do you realize that most of the products that are in those stores have traveled an average of 1500 miles to get to those stores? How is that local?? When I talk about local, I mean purchasing items from local farmers/growers and other local sources. Most communities have resources and you just have to look a little harder to find them. I started searching and have found a lot of local sources for the items we buy. I now purchase my eggs and meat from a local farmer. I know that I am getting a good quality product without all of the growth hormons and antibiotics that factory farms use to maximize production, plus I am supporting my local economy, which is good for everyone in our community. Here is a link to a great website that will help you find these local sources in your area.

    http://www.sustainabletable.org/

    Meal planning is the other way my wife and I keep the cost down. We sit down and decide what we want for breakfast/lunch/dinner each day once a week, and only purchase ingredients for those items. We save a bunch of money doing this.

  50. foodsaver vacuum sealer – fresh vegetables; leftovers; meats its essential for bulk preparation then storing for my wife and I. Cook for eight – freeze the rest. We buy in family-sizes for meats – yep freeze the rest.

  51. For those who like Asian stir-fry, here’s a quick and easy recipe:
    Ingredients: Oyster Sauce [~$1.40 per bottle] , Veggies (whatever you like to add), Meat (or tofu or none) and Noodles (if making chowmein)

    1. Prep your ingredients by cleaning and cutting into preferred sizes.
    2. Stir fry each ingredient separately in non-stick pan (about 2-3 mins or less) with a little bit of oil and dash of salt and pepper (chili flakes too, if you like it spicy). Set aside until last ingredient is stir-fried, then put together all ingredients in the pan.
    3. Make a hole in the middle and pour sauce (1-2 tablespoon of Oyster Sauce + 1 teaspoon of flour dissolved in 3 tablespoon cold water). Wait until the sauce bubbles up then mix properly to coat ingredients. Voila! Better than take-out.
    (If you don’t care for Oyster sauce much, there are other kinds. You can even make your own [I was aiming for quick and easy here.] Over time you’ll develop a preference and you can add more or less of the sauce.)

    I also agree re Asian markets. Meats and produce are so much cheaper there. I shop at Costco too but it’s only me and my husband so we end up throwing stuff out. I’ll stick to dry goods and frozen items when in Costco.

  52. Not sure about out West there, but we’ve decided to plant a garden here in Ohio. I figure that I can grow up to 10% of our vegetable consuption. Not to mention the extras such as berries that tend to be luxury-priced at the supermarket.
    If you’re creative enough, you can fit a lot of stuff into 1/3 of an acre.

  53. I actually do The Grocery Game. Don’t just look at it from a food perspective. Based on the deals I also get almost all my health and beauty items for almost free. And-they are the expensive types. Also, they have a message board that detail lots of different deals that helps to save money.

  54. Maulmart – funny. My angle is that generally wal-marteque stores run out local competition, then ease their prices up to increase profits – esp. in smaller communities. in large urban areas, its less likely to occur to the same degree.
    for folks that are LMI, i get the walmart necessity – but those who can support locally owned businesses, should when they can – im not nazi about it, just give it a thought.
    in the end, much of this ties back to the sense of entitlement and overconsumption that is the american dream — it all adds up to oil demand, etc that raise prices and impact your bottom line – how you spend your money and what you spend it on day to day is a small piece of achieving wealth in the long run.

  55. Maulmart is funny! My husband calls it “boremart” because you can get almost anything there, so you have to stay in there forever. I think Johan said it best. People go to discount stores to get discounts because they can’t afford to pay more to try to support their local, higher priced stores. I live in a large metropolitan area, and there aren’t many mom and pop stores around. Plus, the discount stores are all extremely close, next to our bank, my husband works less than 2 miles from our home and I work at home. We spend very little on gas, so we sure aren’t driving up the gas prices.

    One thing I haven’t found in our area is Asian markets. As far as I know, we have one Oriental store, which I frequent once a month, but it has no fresh produce.

    Anyway, for me, I think every penny counts, and it has paid off for me. All any of us can do is what is best for us (until we know better).

  56. I belonged to the Grocery Game for almost two years, but have noticed the accuracy declining in recent months, and recently canceled. Often they list items as on sale when they are not. Even more frequently, the coupons they tell you to combine with sale items do not exist, or are listed for the wrong amount.

    In addition, I found myself buying items I wouldn’t normally (you’d be surprised how often fruit snacks and maxi pads are on sale), just because they appeared to be such a great deal.

  57. This is the joy of owning a home in CA you have to coupon clip even with two making 6 figs each. In TX you can have 3x sq. ft. house, no state income tax, and live like a king..

    ..on one 6fig income. :)

  58. I started purchasing my groceries at a normal Wal*Mart store about a year ago. I estimate that I save $80 per month, and I’m single. For example, Silk Soymilk is nearly half the price at Wal*Mart compared to Acme grocery stores, which here in Delaware are less pleasant retail environments than the Wal*Mart. Also, cereal at Wal*Mart is nearly half the price.

    I am very proud to save the environment and help Wal*Mart put local businesses out of business. I drive fewer miles because I can purchase more things under one roof. I no longer have to pay for the waste, inefficiencies, and incompetence of small local businesses. Wal*Mart is also taking the lead in reducing packaging. What little mom-and-pop store has the bargaining power to change the entire retail industry (Wal*Mart also lead the widespread use of bar code labels because they required their suppliers to use them).

    Wal*Mart is good for America!

    P.S. I drive a Toyota and will never purchase an American vehicle.

  59. Hey Jonathan;

    I loved the information in the post (and the comments), but I’m calling BS on the very first lines:
    Last month one of our credit card statements spanned two pages because we had eaten out so often. Not only is it more expensive, I’m pretty sure it’s less healthy.

    Eating out is no more or less healthy than cooking at home. Heck many of the restaurants get quality ingredients that you can’t even get at the grocery store. We know that freshness impacts the health quality of the food you eat. Well, the stuff in my Safeway has been in the cooler for several days/weeks, the stuff at my local farmer’s market was picked on Thursday and sold on Saturday. Guess where the restaurants get their stuff?

    I also have a rough time with the more expensive comment. As a challenge see if you can remember what you ate for the last month every time you ate out. Now try to remake those dishes from scratch and see how much it costs. It’s easy to say that it’s cheaper to eat at home, but that’s not an apples to apples comparison. Most people cook very different foods compared to the foods they order when eating out.

    There’s also the matter of time involved in cooking these foods. A restaurant’s “per item prep time” is much lower than your prep time. You guys both make 100k / year, so your time is very valuable. On a 2000-hour year, that’s $50 / hour! So what’s your time worth, what’s your leisure time worth?

    Making 200k / year as a childless couple, I have a difficult time believing that grocery shopping and cooking is truly efficient for you two. If anything, order big portions every second evening and save the left-overs for the next day’s dinner (typical US portions are huge). Order take-out to save on tips and drink costs and then find convenient foods for breakfast / lunches.

    Either way, don’t discredit eating out for highly-paid professionals. I personally question why you bother to cook (unless you really like it?) :)

  60. sfordinarygirl says:

    I find just buying fresh vegetables, cutting, chopping and preparing them in large batches is time consuming! It took me over an hour to make two big vats of stir fry to refrigerate and freeze. In that hour I could’ve added more time to my studying. And that was just cutting up vegetables and stir frying.

    Sometimes I split a falfel or a chicken kebab meal at an Indian restaurant in half and take it home. This way I eat less during dinner time (metabolism slower and food digests less in the evening) and have more food for the next day.

  61. sfordinarygirl says:

    I forgot to mention GatesVp makes a good point – if you’re making $200K a year without kids, why not eat out more and spend the time not cooking on other more possibly fun things, unless the two of you like cooking and make it a ritual, that could be another incentive.

  62. Although I sometimes get tired of the “art” of cooking, the reward is how my husband and others enjoy it…much more than eating out or take out. Well, that’s not the only reward. Because of the bargains I find when things are on sale (and coupons), we can honestly average around $2.50 per person or less per meal, and I’m talking about great food, and lots of it. Last night we “splurged” on grill cut butterfly shrimp that was on sale for half price. I marinated them for an hour (while we were a team doing yardwork), and then we put them on the grill for 10 minutes. Along with some homemade fried rice and a salad, I am still afterglowing. That meal would have cost us 5 times more eaten out, but we enjoyed it even more because we were in the comfort of our own home. Plus, no tip or drink prices.

    If you are single or money doesn’t matter to you, eating out all the time makes sense. (I rarely cooked for myself when I was single). Otherwise, cooking and eating at home can make a huge difference in your financial budget, and enhance your time together at home.

    As for all the time it takes to cut up the ingredients, get and learn how to use a food processor.

  63. Well, I’m a coupon ninja, and there are amazing places to get help with it if you’re interested, like afullcup.com, dealtaker.com, ellenclairwood.com, etc. CVS is amazing, too. I’ve spent $50 there, and saved $788. My local grocery store doubles up to .99 cents, so I get to support a local business, and save tons of money! I NEVER shop at Sams Club or Wal-mart, because their prices are not lower, and since my local store doubles up to .99 cents, generic is NEVER lower than name brand.

  64. A while ago my wife and I began using emeals, an site that customizes your weekly recipes, based on regional supermarkets or dietary needs, and gives you all the recipes and a grocery list. Emeals attempts to use seasonal products and reuses the same items over, both cost-reducing methods. Since then we have just gone it our own and can normally keep the food bill pretty low and don’t cook too often, since most of the meals can be made in bulk.

    http://www.emeals.com/

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