Tag Archives: groceries

I Spend HOW Much on Food?!?!?

It’s been a while since I told you all about my New Year’s resolution to slowly create and live within a budget.  I’m thinking it’s time for an update on my process.

After trying to track my expenses without third-party help, I quickly came to the realization that I am never going to succeed without some help.  Writing down and tracking my own expenses is not so bad, but staying on top of what my husband spends as well just adds a layer of complexity that I’m not up to.   There are seemingly endless budgeting tools available online, and I feel like I’ve tried most of them at one point or another.  But when it comes right down to it, what I really wanted is a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.  I’m pretty good with spreadsheets (because they are very handy for my job), so if I could just get my account data transported into a spreadsheet I know I’m capable of manipulating it in ways that are useful to me.  Thankfully I found Tiller.  This tool connects my accounts to a customizable Google Sheet, so I can sort my transactions by date and category.  I’m on a one-month free trial right now, but I’m already thinking this will be worth the $59 a year it will cost me to continue.  I was able to get it all set up in about an hour, and quickly saw that the biggest consumption of my money (beyond housing and medical bills) is food.

I looked at my food expenses and saw that there is definitely room to cut back on dining out as well as on groceries.  Dining out is the easy piece.  We just won’t do that as often.  This will end up being better not only for the wallet, but also for the waistline.  Groceries are more complicated.  As I’ve done my tour through a few different stores lately, I’ve been paying better attention to how much things I consume regularly cost.  There are some things (predominantly pet supplies) that I sometimes buy online.  This week I compared that cost to in-store prices, and discovered that online is indeed cheaper for these things.  But it would have been easy to just never check because I enjoy the convenience of having kitty litter delivered to my front porch.  Now that I know the online price is less, I’ll make sure I have enough coming that I never have to buy it in store.

Another grocery cost-saver is whole foods versus prepared foods.  A bag of steam-in-bag brown rice is significantly more expensive than a bag of raw brown rice.  A little planning and some quality time with my Instant Pot can make that transition very easy.  A jumbo tub of old-fashioned oats is much cheaper than pre-packaged instant oatmeal or any boxed cereal.  For produce it’s important to consider the time of year.  Fresh produce is not cheap in Pennsylvania in February.  But frozen berries and vegetables can get the job done for a lot less money.  I’ll wait to enjoy fresh when things are in season.  And then there is meat.  There is definitely savings to be found from buying in bulk.  That jumbo pack of chicken breasts can easily be broken down into individual packages and frozen.  That 9-pound pork shoulder roast can be slow cooked and then frozen as several individual pounds of cooked pulled pork for future burritos and casseroles and sandwiches.  Today’s rotisserie chicken is tomorrow’s chicken casserole.  And don’t forget about the poor-man’s staples:  eggs, pasta, beans, rice, and meat that comes in a can (I prefer tuna, but I know there are still Spam lovers in the world!).

There are a lot of ways to shave the food bill.  I’ll keep exploring them and sharing what I learn.


Cutting Corners Without Blowing the Budget

We have officially arrived at the most stressful point in the semester.  Classes are winding down or already completed.  Papers are coming due.  Exams loom near.  Sometimes it seems like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  It happens to everyone.  And, sadly, it doesn’t end when you finish school.  There will always be times in your life when you find yourself overextended.

I’m having one of those weeks right now.  I was traveling this weekend, so I didn’t have quite enough time to get all of my typical weekend adulting done.  I was able to complete my laundry, but I just didn’t have it in me to get to a grocery store last night.  Sometimes you have to cut corners when time is tight.  But the important thing is not to overextend your budget just because your time is stretched too thin.  It would be really easy to exist for the entire week on takeout food and Au Bon Pain.  But that would cause serious pain to my pocketbook.  The better alternative for me was to log into the Walmart grocery app this morning and put together a grocery order for pickup tonight.  Since I really don’t have anything resembling a dinner in my house right now, I’ll stop at Wegmans on my way home to grab something from the frozen case for tonight’s nourishment, and then by 8 tonight I’ll have my Walmart grocery order.  It could have been a whole week of restaurant food, which would have easily been $20 a day or more for my husband and me.  Instead, I took a short cut to really get some groceries.

We can’t always do things exactly the way we’d like, especially when time is tight.  But in this world of modern conveniences there are ways to less expensively work around time constraints.

Exam time is hard.  Sometimes corner must be cut.  But you’ve got this.  Use the tools available to you, and you will make it through!

Food and Stuff: Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I went to three different grocery stores this weekend.  I hate grocery shopping.  And totally on purpose I did it three different times in two days.  But there is, indeed, a method to my madness.  And it’s all about getting the best stuff for the lowest cost.

My first stop was Trader Joe’s.  I know lots of folks love Trader Joe’s for nearly everything.  For me it’s really a one purpose trip.  It’s all about the canned cat food.  It’s no secret that I’m a little nutty about my fur babies.  And I’ve tried every canned cat food from Friskies to the ultra-high end grain free foods.  But I keep coming back to Trader Joe’s.  The combination of high quality and reasonable price just can’t be beat.  Worth adding a quick stop at an extra store?  Since it’s not far from my house (so I’m not putting any financial savings into my gas tank), I think yes.

Second stop was WalMart.  I know lots of people have ethical objections to WalMart, but I really love having a low price “food and stuff” store close to my home.

My mission there was dry goods, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.  Some of these I can’t find exactly the brand and size I want at my favorite grocery store, so I go to WalMart.  And for things like laundry detergent, it’s just plain cheaper there.

All of that was enough for one day for me, but Sunday morning I was out again, this time to Wegmans.  My mission there was produce and store brand products.  I’m a huge fan of Wegmans brand stuff.  Toilet paper.  Tissues.  Soda (which yes….I know I shouldn’t be drinking…but I have an addiction).  Soups.  Dairy products.  All Wegmans brand.  All cheaper than I can get name brands at either WalMart or Sam’s Club.  And in my opinion better quality than I’ll find in the more expensive name brand items.

So for someone who hates grocery shopping, why did I put myself through this?  Could I have just gone to Giant and gotten everything I needed there for just about the same cost?  Maybe.  Would I have been as happy with the items as what I got by making all three stops?  Definitely not.

For me, the three stop shopping weekend isn’t the norm…but a two stop weekend is not unusual.  This was a big one.  I was out of a lot of things and preparing to not be home next weekend.  But my reality is that the best product for the best price is important to me.  Worth going to three grocery stores in one weekend.

Are you a one-stop shopper?  If so, you likely know that your priority is getting the groceries quickly and easily.  If you’re a multi-stop shopper like me, you know that you’re more focused on getting the best price on the product you really want, without compromise.  Both are viable tactics.

How many grocery stores do you go to regularly?


Rotisserie Chicken: It’s What’s for Dinner!

Tomorrow night’s dinner is my favorite money-saving meal.  Yes….I know what I’m having for dinner tomorrow night.  Every Saturday I sit down and create a menu for the upcoming week.  I use that prepared menu to make my grocery shopping list for my weekly Sunday trip to the store.  Shopping from that list keeps me on point and helps me avoid a lot of impulse purchases and random buying of things I think I might need but it turns out I don’t.  But that’s not what this week’s tip is about.  This week’s tip is about tomorrow night’s dinner.  Rotisserie chicken!

Rotisserie chicken

My local warehouse club sells a three pound rotisserie chicken for $4.99.  This chicken is the best rotisserie bird I’ve ever found anywhere.  For the same price as I would pay for an unprepared chicken of the same size at my local supermarket.  And it’s already cooked!  Add some potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable, and we’ve got a feast for next to nothing.  But the true magic of the rotisserie chicken comes in the days that follow the original feast.

After rotisserie chicken dinner, I tear the carcass apart.  All of the meat goes in one zip top bag.  All of the skin and bones and wing tips and such go into a different zip top bag.  The meat becomes another meal for a later time.  Maybe a chicken tetrazzini casserole.  Maybe chicken divan.  Maybe chicken tacos or chicken enchiladas.  Perhaps chicken salad for my lunches.  The possibilities are endless.  No matter how you slice it (or carve it, as the case may be) a three pound chicken is enough meat for two people to eat at least two meals.  All for $5!

The bag of bones and skin is a whole different project.  This is future chicken stock.  Chicken stock and/or broth are staples in a lot of recipes.  And while containers of stock are readily available on the grocery store shelves, why not make it yourself?  All it takes is to throw some things in a pot of water and walk away while it simmers.  You can find a simple recipe here.  When the stock is complete, we like to freeze it in ice cube trays.  This gives us perfect one ounce measures of the homemade stock which will last for months in the freezer (though we always seem to use it MUCH faster than that).

So…tomorrow I go to the warehouse club and buy a chicken.  From that I get a wonderful roast chicken dinner, a future dinner made from the leftover chicken meat, and lots of homemade chicken stock for cooking.  In my opinion, that’s $5 very well spent!


Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I dislike grocery shopping.  It’s one of my least favorite things I do every weekend.  Yet I regularly go to three different grocery stores every week.  While it’s kind of a pain, it saves me a lot of money…all in the name of getting the best possible product for the lowest possible price.

In order to make it more manageable, I usually head to Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s on Saturday morning, and hit Wegmans on Sunday morning.

At Trader Joe’s I get a limited number of items that I find are the best quality for the money (usually just coffee and cat food, but sometimes I’ll get some pasta sauce or snack foods).

At Wal-Mart I’ll get some of my regular grocery items that are less expensive there than at Wegmans.  Why do fat-free cottage cheese and Progresso soup have to be cheaper at Wal-Mart than at Wegmans?  I’ll never know.  But I get those things and several other items with lower price tags at the Walton empire every week.  I also browse through the meats and produce at Wally World to look for bargains.  It’s not my regular go-to spot for these things, but sometimes I find amazing deals.  For instance, a week ago I got an amazing deal on some strip steaks that were labeled “first cut.”  They weren’t pretty.  But they were delicious nonetheless.  And they were much cheaper than the rest of the strip steaks in the case.  And I regularly find great deals there on meats that are going out of code.  Look for the bright yellow labels.  They usually say to use or freeze by the current day’s date.  No problem.  I have a freezer and I love to get a great deal!

At Wegmans I get just about everything else I need.  Believe it or not, many things are cheaper there than at Wal-Mart.  A box of store-brand cereal is a full 28% cheaper at Wegmans than at Wally World.  And that’s just one of many, many things that are less expensive at the store where all the carts do not have at least one wobbly wheel.  And Wegmans is also my go-to for most of my produce needs (though I am thinking about turning to a CSA in the future).

While I don’t go there every week, like the other three stores, my local warehouse club is also a part of my regular grocery plan.  I get most of my meats at Sam’s Club in bulk and freeze them in individual serving sized packages.  The quality of the meats is great and the savings is significant.

Is it a pain in the neck to go to so many different stores for my grocery needs?  A little bit.  I have to take the time to go to a bunch of different places.  I have to have a general awareness of how much the items I use regularly cost in the different stores.  I have to be aware of quality issues (because sometimes the cheapest option has disappointing quality, making it not the best choice).  But going through this exercise helps me to get the food that I want at the best possible price.  To me, it’s worth it.  If I were to get everything in one store, I would have to make concessions on either quality or price.  And those are sacrifices I’m not willing to make.

How many grocery stores do you visit regularly?

Cooking in Advance: Saving Both Time and Money

I’ve been cooking a lot lately.  The normal division of labor in my home has my significant other doing most of the cooking.  He enjoys the task and he has free time before the dinner hour.  It just makes sense.  But he currently has his leg in a cast and cooking doesn’t mix well with his non-weight-bearing status.  So I have been appointed chief cook and bottle washer.

When I get home from work I’m generally both hungry and exhausted.  It would be really easy to slip into the pattern of buying takeout and convenience foods.  But that’s a path that is bad not only for the budget, but also for our health.  But I’ve learned that with some advance planning, I can keep our convenience foods to a minimum.

Crock potCasserole

I’ve taken to making my weekends (when I have a lot more free time) food-centric.  On Saturday I sit down and plan out the menu for the week.  I browse through cookbooks (Yes…I still enjoy using old fashioned cookbooks.  I’ve had them since before the internet became pervasive, and they’ve never steered me wrong.).  I pick out some things I’d like to eat.  And I make a shopping list for any ingredients I don’t have in the house.

On Sunday, I start the day at the grocery store.  I get the things on my list (which I’m sure is saving me money because I’m not just wandering around the store picking up things that I think might be good or that I think I might need).  And then the cooking adventure begins.  In addition to preparing dinner for Sunday night, I also put together meals for both Monday and Tuesday.  Monday’s dinner is always a slow cooker meal.  I assemble everything and put the crock into the fridge.  On Monday morning, I just have to plug it in, and a delicious meal will be ready for me when I get home from work.  Tuesday’s dinner is always a casserole.  I put it all together, cover it with foil, write the baking instructions right on the foil so I don’t have to look it up later, and set it in the fridge.  On Tuesday after work, I just have to heat up the oven, pop in the casserole, and an effortless dinner will be ready in half an hour.  As a bonus, these meals generally provide leftovers.  This means Wednesday’s dinner is the best of Monday and Tuesday, heated quickly in the microwave.  Throw in a night of soup and sandwiches and one pasta dinner, and I’ve made it through the work week with a minimum of effort and a minimum of processed foods.

Once my boyfriend is back on his feet, I’ll be happy to relinquish the kitchen to him.  But in the meantime, I feel like I’ve got a plan that saving me both time and money.