This post is from my series “The Great Grocery Budget Battle: Choose Your Weapon”.
Today I’m so pleased to be “chatting” with my friend Cindy, from My Life as a Rinnagade. I love that she not only sticks to a limited food budget, but she does it while feeding her family whole and gluten free foods. Here’s how she does it:
I believe food is one of the most important things you can spend your money on and my family sacrifices in many ways in order to eat quality food. That being said, eating clean – and gluten-free – does not have to mean atrocious grocery bills. Successful shopping starts before you ever leave your house. Here are three things I do that help me shop and save money along the way…
1. Meal Plan (She’s speaking my language here!)
In order to put a meal plan together I consider the following:
- What is currently in my house (I shop my pantry, fridge and freezer first)
- Coupons (Kroger, especially is good for this when it comes to clean eating coupons – be sure you’re on their valued customer list!)
- Weekly sales
- What produce is in season (Publix is great for this – they even have an “in season” section of their store)
- Our upcoming schedule (Crockpot on baseball nights and mini-meals when my husband is out of town)
Then I go through my favorite cookbooks and online recipes (thank you, Pinterest!) to find meals that match up.
2. Make a List
My husband gets paid every two weeks so I shop big one week (meat and any dry goods that won’t spoil) and leave enough money for fresh stuff we use up weekly for the next (produce and refrigerator items).
I divide my list into sections by stores then I go through the ingredients needed for each meal, marking what I need on my list. After the meals are taken care of, I list what basics we need (I usually keep a scrap paper on the fridge that I can jot items on throughout the week as we run out).
3. I comb back through the “finished” list and ask 3 questions:
- Can I make this item instead of buying it?
Google is an amazing thing. Just the other day I was going to make enchiladas but I needed white sauce so I put it on the list and thought…I can figure out how to make that sauce…so I did a quick search and found an easy recipe. With a simple search you can learn how to make almost all of your staples and most cases it ends up being healthier and cheaper. Just a few staples I no longer buy are chicken broth, spaghetti sauce, soup, pizza sauce, and popsicles. The savings definitely adds up!
- Can I eventually grow that?
I know this one won’t help you today, but it will help to plan ahead. I dream of the day I will never buy lettuce again.
- Do I really need this?
Am I really going to make that recipe? Is this a staple for my family? Should we be eating this or can I substitute something better? (For the longest time, all natural fruit snacks were on the list but have been scratched because of this question and are now a rare treat instead of a typical snack). My attitude about food is definitely quality over quantity. I’d rather sacrifice the fluff and make sure our meals are as good as they can be at this time.
Do you want to know the real secret to saving money at the grocery store?
Do not leave the house without your list.
I mentally vow this to myself as I drive to the store:
I swear to shop off the list, the whole list, and nothing but the list.
And now, for the trip… Where I shop and why
It goes without saying that local is best.
I love to buy seasonal produce from the gas station up the street where local farmers sell and I really love picking food right out of my garden. Unfortunately, we can’t source all of our food that way.
The grocery stores
Aldi– I buy as much as I can off my list here because it’s so cheap and I’m often surprised at their selection. Just the other day I bought sweet potato chips that were fantastic and we buy our Greek yogurt there for less than a dollar a cup! They have very clear and easy to read labels, especially for my magic letters: GF (For our gluten-free family). They can be hit or miss and do a lot of seasonal or special items so if you do find something, check if it’s a regular item or not and stock up if it isn’t. Also, at Aldi’s remember to bring your own bags and a quarter to “rent” the shopping cart. This is why they can offer such low prices.
Publix– great selection of organics, produce, specialty items or hard to find recipe items, coupon policy and customer service. They do buy-one-get-one-free sales and a penny item once a week. Like they claim, shopping really is a pleasure there!
Kroger – this is where I buy most of our groceries. Their natural section is the easiest to navigate and their selection is a little better than Publix. Their prices are a bit better, as well, on non-perishables/frozen/refrigerated.
Target – Yes, for food. Even if it’s not a Super Target, there is a wonderful selection. They even sell coconut oil and Applegate lunchmeat, hot dogs, and cheese now! Plus, I use my Red Card and save 5% (debit, not credit). You also save 5¢ for every bag you bring.
Don’t want to leave the house?
Vitacost: Hands down, my favorite. Most of my baking needs are met here. They have an amazing selection on GF flour as well as a ton of food, vitamins, supplements, beauty, and even pet health products. You get free shipping for orders of $49 or more and fantastic customer service. I regularly receive coupons via email and the best part…clicking this link will save you $10 off your first $30+ order!
More to check out:
To get the best foods at the best prices, it helps to know what the stores in your area offer. As you can see from my list, I use several stores and I have a basic idea of what items I can get the best deal on in each store. You may even want to keep a price book, so you’ll always know who has the products you want and at the best prices.
Make an adventure of it. Be the Virtuous woman, “bringing her food from afar”. With a meal plan and a good working knowledge of where to find the foods you need, you can serve whole foods–even gluten free meals–on a limited budget.
Cindy Rinna is a blogger and freelance writer, as well as a wife and mom of four crazy and adorable children. You can read more from Cindy on her blog, My Life as a Rinnagade where she writes about educating her children, autism, ADHD & healthy living. To read more about clean eating, read Cindy’s series on Turning Your Kitchen Upside Down. Connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.