Monday, 27 February 2012

Slashing Your Grocery Bill - Part II

This is a continuation of my ruminations about the strategies  in the Tightwad Gazette.   Amy published 17 ideas for saving money on food.  Last week I talked about those I think we use well.    For these, I think we are sort of in the middle:

Gardening - The whole of the (small) green space in the back of the house is given over to growing veg and fruit, however, the range and volume of foods grown there aren't very impressive.  This is partly due to the cooler weather and shorter growing season than other areas enjoy.  We have various possibilities for creating greenhouse space that we've not explored, partly out of laziness and partly because travel and gardening aren't always compatible.   I think we could possibly do better than we do, but we need to resolve that conflict and I've not yet got my head around that.

Bulk Buying - In the past we've been excellent at this. So much so that we've backed off and have focused on emptying the cupboards and freezers to ensure we're not storing food we'll never get around to eating. These days we shop with a list and pretty much only buy what is on it. If there is a great deal on one of those items we buy lots of it (I bought 20 jars of marmalade once when it went on sale for half price; Bill eats marmalade 99% of the time, so I knew it wouldn't go to waste). However, I don't trawl the store looking for other bargains, so we don't have the stock we once did. I have a feeling I might soon suffer from the sticker-shock we tightwads sometimes experience.

Elimination of Non-nutritious Foods - Amy's list of junk they still bought included coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa. I would have to add tonic, which I like to mix with the fruit juices I find too sweet, and the occasional bottle of lemonade or soft drink. We also buy wine and (when Jane and Chris come) gin, but alcohol is not included in our food budget (nor are toiletries or cleaning supplies).

Choosing Less Expensive Foods - This refers to the idea of choosing tinned tuna instead of tuna steaks, ground beef instead of beef steaks, fruit and veg in season instead of the same foods all year round, etc.   I sometimes wonder if I've fallen victim to the 'superfood' marketing ploy, as we bought broccoli week after week until we started growing curly kale ourselves.  Adding more oily fish to our diet is another thing that costs more.  Bill doesn't care for chicken pieces with bones in, so I buy boneless breasts wholesale and freeze them separately.   We still buy red and yellow bell peppers and sweet potatoes for their nutritional properties. These are relatively expensive, as are butternut and other squashes. We grow and eat beets but find they are not our favourites.  If they weren't so healthy I'd give them a miss altogether, but I am prepared to eat things I only like a little if I think they are really good for me.  So in little ways due to preference and seeking health benefits we have made more expensive choices.  If I were going to be tougher about the food budget, I'd probably start here by looking up the nutritional value of various foods (again).   

By the way, Bill recently sent me a link that suggested one could save £400 per year buying frozen rather than fresh.   My guess is that frozen is more likely to be cheaper if one insists on eating out-of-season items, but I rarely find better deals (except for frozen peas) in the frozen food section than buying in-season at the green market.

Portion Comparison - This also refers in part to choosing less expensive foods. For example, instead of paying for boxes of cereal, make a batch of pancakes from scratch. Amy once published that the price per ounce of brand name cereals was on a par with beef steak. On the cereal front, I can recommend raw oatmeal (porridge) with sliced bananas, milk and sugar.   If you don't care for this idea, home made muesli is not too hard.  Another aspect of this that she doesn't mention is something we're guilty of: when we have a whole roast chicken or a gammon joint we probably don't contain ourselves to a single portion at that first meal, we rather pig out. It's a small luxury, but it does contribute to the increase in our food budget.

Preservation of garden surplus - When we have surplus we definitely freeze it, but this is not a common occurrence. As a rule, we just eat our way through whatever is available because the volume isn't that great and/or because the plants will last long enough for us to finish them off.

A Price Book - I certainly did this when I first come across and food seemed much more expensive to me than it was in the US. I'm not as good at keeping up my price book now.  Prices around here stayed very much the same for a long time and I pretty much knew what was a good deal or not.  Then, right I retired (of course!) everything everywhere seemed to inch (or leap) up.  Our grocery bill has remained relatively low in part because we had so much stock.   I'm still confident that buying fruit & veg at the green market, fish at the fish quay, making bread at home, buying meat and poultry in bulk and dividing it to freeze, buying dried beans and herbs from the Asian market (once a year) is our best bet, and price comparisons still seem to show our local Morrisons is less expensive than other supermarkets.  But I will make more of an effort to update the price book.

Maintaining an Optimum Weight - I do appreciate that if one is not supporting an obese weight one can buy less food.  We are both within the healthy weight range: Bill at the bottom and me at the top (so of course I'd like to weigh less).    I could argue that Bill runs a lot of his calories off and if we didn't support his running we could buy less food, but  That's not going to happen because his running has so many benefits that whatever food he consumes is cheap at twice the price.  Also, and I see this counters my own, instead of spending more to eat less carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta) and more protein as a weight loss strategy, I really should just run more than I do:  inexpensive carbs are the ideal running fuel.

Waste Nothing - We eat nearly every bit of our leftovers in soups, quiches and casseroles. We make stale bread into bread crumbs, old fruit into spice cake and we eat our oldest veg first to make sure it doesn't get wasted.   We don't return to the green market until we are down to eating tinned or frozen as a way of ensuring all the fresh veg gets used up. On the other hand, I'm aware that we could do more with the fish we buy, making fish stock; the same could be said of whole chickens or turkey stock. Fish based soups aren't something that appeals much to me, though I should at least try it once.  As to chicken or ham stock, as these contain animal fats.  So, in spite of their use making the food go further, I'm wondering if it doesn't run counter to the other health-based choices we try to make.    Does anyone ever consider this issue?

These don't happen in our house:

Buying Marked Down Damaged Goods - It is one of my pet peeves about British supermarkets that they don't feel the need to mark down any sort of damaged tin. I've yet to discover any place like the 'dented can' place I used to shop in Oklahoma City.  All I can do is try to ensure I get items with perfect packaging, as wonky tins can sometimes be difficult to open.

Coupons - I rarely buy a newspaper and even when I do, I don't see coupons in them unless it has to do with money off a McDonald's meal or the like. I never used coupons much in the States, preferring to avoid the marked up convenience foods they were for. I can't recall ever seeing a coupon discounting a package of lentils or a litre of milk.

What strategies - if any - do you use to keep your food costs down?


Suburban Princess said...

I dont really give out food costs much thought but I do go to Costco and buy the items we use the most in bulk...granola bars, pom juice, frozen berries, TP, cheese, cereals etc. The rest I buy in the local grocery store. Meats, but never ground or processed meats - it's too easy for factories to lop off a tumoured leg and sell you the other parts. Buy meats as whole as possible. I also get a lot of our fruits and veggies in the grocery store as they have an excellent organic section. I never worry about the price as I put our health before saving 50 cents. 90% of my shopping happens around the perimeter and the few things I pick up in the middle of the store are coffee, crackers, spices and some other little treats my son likes.

Suburban Princess said...

Oh and to answer your comment about the cheesy quinoa cakes...cheese doesn't make you fat. In fact fat doesn't make you fat...sugar does. And anything your body will turn into sugar.

Terri said...

We shop a salvage (dented tin) grocery once a month and spend about $100. Then, we pick up the loss leaders at our local grocery, weekly. DH fishes and we raise our own birds and have our own eggs. He kept a garden last summer and did some canning and freezing. Like you, we try to use up all leftovers, often making garbage soup.

I wonder if you could get those winter squash to grow in your garden. They are low maintenance and keep very well through the cooler months.

Beryl said...

Oklahoma food prices are hard to beat, even in the States. I make my stock and then freeze it. The liquid freezes and I just pick the fat off the top and throw it away. Presto - fat-free stock. Haven't done fish stock, but the pieces of fish we cook are so small, there isn't enough left to make a useful amount of soup.

Shelley said...

Beryl, The fat seems to freeze on my stock - is this perhaps a step you take before the whole thing is frozen; I'm guessing fat freezes slower than the rest of the liquid?

Terri, We don't have dented can places in Britain, sadly, and there are city ordinances against keeping chickens in our garden. I think you may be one of the thriftiest people I've run across on the interent. I'm very impressed.

Beryl said...

The fat floats on top of the stock, and when the stock is a solid frozen block, I can just scrape the solidified fat off the top. We rent and the refrigerator/freezer comes with the place, so it might not freeze as solid as yours does.

BigLittleWolf said...

Some of the trade-offs when looking to save on groceries/household items are (a) time, (b) access, and (c) storage.

It can take hours (and gas dollars) to shop where what you're seeking is at its best price and still good quality. For those who are working multiple jobs or working & parenting, that time may be non-existent.

This is, of course, tied to access. Some of us (here I'm lucky) live a reasonable distance to farmer's markets where we can get healthy food at reasonable prices. Often, this requires a car and in the US we're not so hot at public transportation... Again, I'm lucky to be not too far from several stores with many choices and some, with excellent prices.

The issue of storage is also problematic. I would love to buy in bulk! Again, you can only do that with a car, with the muscle to lift in bulk, and the space to store it.

Very often - in the US at least - those most in need of these economies are least in a position to put them into practice.

Nonetheless, many excellent ideas here.

Shelley said...

BLW, I appreciate all the points you have made. I wouldn't drive miles out of my way for than a few times a year. One Asian store where we buy beans, I only visit once a year and I get one of every bag of beans they have! Britain's Office of National Statistics measures deprivation with a number of factors and access to a car is one of the critical items for just the reasons you mention. I lived without a car - or access - for the first year and a half and it was hard work.

SP, I can't get my head around the tumour-ridden leg part! Last I knew there were laws about food quality in most developed countries and I'm not sure I want to think about this, actually! As to the rest of your comment, we obviously look at things from a different angle.