**This post has been entered in Pennywise Platter Thursdays at The Nourishing Gourmet and Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom!**
How much do you spend on groceries? Especially if you focus on real food. People say that real food is “just so expensive!” So I started to do some reseach about how much people really spend on groceries so I could figure out where I fit in, then I started looking for ways to save even more!
According to U.S. gov’t data, a family of 4 should spend a certain average amount on groceries per week. Here are there breakdowns:
$147.50 (low cost)
$182.70 (moderate cost)
$226.30 (liberal plan)
To me, that seems like a lot! I spend between $100 – $125 per week on groceries and I find that to be VERY liberal. I could easily do it for a lot less, I’m sure. And I buy tons of fresh produce, high quality meat (and a lot of it), entirely organic foods. One would expect my food to cost a lot more. By the way, I’m feeding two adults with huge appetites (I’m exclusively breastfeeding an 8-month-old and breastfeeding a 2-year-old 3 – 4 times a day) and a 2-year-old with a huge appetite (my friends are shocked at how much she can eat).
So how do we do it? And how can we save even MORE?
First, if you think that buying “real food” means buying organic potato chips, Annie’s bunny snacks, organic canned food, organic pop…stop right there. Yes, that’s horribly expensive. And no, it’s not any better for you. Go back and read several articles in my blog to get a feel for what I mean by “real food” first. You’ll see I don’t include any processed or packaged snacks at all. The only “packaged” snack I buy is dried fruit. THAT is the first, HUGE money saver! So now, here is more:
*Plan your meals in advance.
We’re going to talk a LOT more about this soon. But if you write down exactly what you’re planning to have each day (all meals and snacks, not just dinner), you can make a grocery list based on it. No more last minute “what’s for dinner” followed by a quick trip to the store. No more purchasing food you don’t end up using because you just didn’t make any meals that needed it. Less wasted food = cheaper.
*Buy in season
Have you noticed that strawberries are dirt cheap in May and June and extremely expensive otherwise? You might find them for $1 or so per lb. in the spring and $5 or more the rest of the year. Why? Because strawberries bloom everywhere in May and June so the supply is huge. The rest of the year they have to be grown in hot houses or flown in from who-knows-where. You can save a lot of money by knowing which produce is in season in your area and when. Then, buy primarily those items to plan your meals around. What happens if you live in a climate where it’s cold part of the year and nothing’s really in season, like I do? We’ll get to that.
*Buy at a farmer’s market
Grocery stores have to mark up their prices because they’re really the “middle men” in the transaction. They don’t grow the food, they get it from the growers and sell it. So why not go straight to the growers? Many areas have farmer’s markets, usually on Saturday mornings (but not always, so check your local listings). Often times, this produce is picked that morning before being brought to the market so it’s as fresh as possible. It’s not marked up because there is no middle man. And you might be able to strike a deal with some of the farmers if you buy enough or if you know them, because unlike retail stores, they set their prices and have the ability to change them if desired.
*Join a CSA
We talked about what this was yesterday, so go back and read that post (click the link at the top of this post). CSAs can save you so much money, because you’re paying a flat fee for guaranteed fresh produce every week (barring some natural disaster that kills the crops, obviously). You’ll get a lot of produce for much less money over all. We calculated we’ll save at least $700 on produce just through a 4-month growing season. But it doesn’t end there….
*Can fruits and vegetables at home
This is a HUGE money saver. Take advantage of your CSA or farmer’s markets and stock up on that local produce when it’s super cheap. Buy TONS more than you could possibly eat right now just because of the freshness and great prices. Then learn how to can and put it up for the winter. Your produce will still be local and fresh (sort of) and you’ll have saved tons of money. If you choose, you can just freeze it. But my freezer is full of stock and meat, and later I’ll have to put sprouted grains in there, so I’m going to choose to can my fruits and vegetables. This year, we’ll be canning apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes (as sauce and salsa), and who knows what else! Some things don’t need canning — potatoes, garlic, and onions, for example — just store them in a cool, dry place, like a pantry or root cellar to keep them good through the winter.
*Buy in bulk
Bulk always saves you money and it’s not just for packaged purchases. Sometimes you can find apples for $3/lb but $20/half bushel. A half bushel weighs at least 20 lbs. (It’s not done by weight but by volume.) See how that works out? If you can buy 20 lbs. of apples or pears or strawberries or tomatoes at once, you can save a lot of money. Just can the ones you can’t eat right away. Buy meat in large quantities — a quarter cow, a side of cow, a half a cow, etc. The same can be done for pigs, sheep, etc. Chickens may be able to be purchased in bulk, too, although that would mean several chickens. We’re planning to get half a pig soon, and we’ll be paying only $1.75/lb hanging weight, as opposed to buying bacon, ham, or pork roasts at $6/lb or more. By the way, if you don’t have a huge freezer yet, get one. You can also buy coconut oil, lard, etc. in bulk too. The sky’s the limit here!
Another hint about bulk buying: we’ve started to set aside money every time we use up some of our bulk purchases. So, every time we use a package of ground beef ($6, 1.5 lb. package), we move that money into a savings account. When our beef is nearly gone, we’ll have the money right there waiting to buy more. This works for any bulk purchase. Start setting aside $5 – $10 per week now, and then buy a bulk item when you can afford it. Set aside a little money when you use it, and maybe a little extra if you’re looking for another bulk item. You’ll eventually get on a “bulk rotation,” where each time you get paid, or each month, you replace a different bulk item. Other bloggers have discussed this more indepth; we’re just starting out with it.
*Buy directly from farms
What happens when farmer’s markets end? Well, keep track of your favorite farmers and ask if you can buy directly from their farms when the season’s over, if they have food that is still available (like beef, maple syrup, etc.). Most will say yes. Some will even give you a discount for driving out to the farm. Sometimes they’ll give you a great deal for buying in bulk. You never know! But get to know your farmers and who knows what kind of deals you could get.
*Grow your own
If you’re so inclined, start a garden. It doesn’t have to be huge. A small pot of herbs on the windowsill is garden just as much as a half acre full of every food imaginable is. Do it as big or small as you want; it will require tending but you’ll get SO much fresh produce from it. Then preserve it as desired and you’re set.
When you buy a chicken, don’t just roast it and eat the meat. No, eat the skins, use the bones for broth, cut the bones open and tap out the marrow and eat that too. Eat every part of the vegetable, reserving the “weird” parts for soups or stocks (a lot of bloggers have said they keep a baggie in the freezer of vegetable scraps to use for stocks. I keep meaning to try it and forgetting but it’s a great idea!). If you really can’t use it, feed it to your animals or put it out to compost, so you can use it to grow your own food.
*Focus on nutrient-dense foods
If you’re feeding a big family, or just people with big appetites, it will seem like you’re always fixing food. I can make a couple pounds of meat and several apples, a couple pounds of carrots and assorted other veggies and it’s gone in one meal. Really. But the thing is, if you’re feeding your family good quality eggs, meat, and lots of veggies, you won’t need to buy as much as if you were feeding them junk, because those foods have so many more nutrients per gram of food. Plus, some of the most nutrient-dense foods (like eggs) are really quite cheap!
How much do you spend on groceries per week or month? How do you save money?
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