Friday, September 19, 2014

How has my grocery shopping changed over the last year?

So, we're doing "okay" with our reduced grocery budget this year (a budget of about $165 per month, for food only, for 5 of us), even with some rising food prices. But to make that happen, I've had to make even more changes in the last 12 months.

A year ago, I posted about various ways I am cutting our grocery budget/spending. One of the methods I've used is shopping at a restaurant supply and buying institutional sizes. Even at the Cash and Carry's regular prices, institutional sizes saves us a lot of money.

However, I've now moved to an even more advantageous shopping strategy. I've become a very opportunistic wholesale shopper. The Cash and Carry does have sales. Every 2 weeks they put out a new ad, and it's available for me to view online. I go through the ad very carefully and make a list of what's on sale at a great price, determine the quantity we would need to get through 6 months to 1 year, and add that to my list. Basically, this is institutional loss-leader shopping.

Shopping this way means that I can't always pick up what we're out of, but may have to wait a few weeks, instead, to find it on sale. But it allows us to pay the absolute minimum price on almost all of our basics. (I do need to occasionally buy something at their regular institutional price. Last month, I really needed all-purpose flour, to continue on with our baking. So, even without a sale price, I bought a 50-lb sack of all-purpose flour for about $12 or $13.)

Here are a few examples, with stock-up price as well as regular price:

  • whole wheat flour -- $12.99/50lb sack (regular price $13.59). I had about 25 lbs still at home. I bought 100 lbs of new flour. It should last many months. We don't have a pantry moth problem in our kitchen. But I will still re-package this flour into 25-lb bags and cycle through the freezer, to kill anything that has hitch-hiked into our kitchen.
  • #10 cans (6 lbs, 10 oz) Libby's canned pumpkin -- $4.25 (regular price $8.77). I bought 4 of these large cans and will repackage into 15-oz freezer containers as we open the cans. This amount will hopefully carry us through the entire year. (Update -- We are already going through this pumpkin, and I may pick up another couple of cans near the end of the month. Sale ends on Sept 30.)
  • 5-lb bags of shredded mozzarella cheese -- $11.98 (regular price $12.58). I wound up buying 4 bags (20 lbs). This cheese will be frozen as room in the freezer opens up, and should last well into spring.
  • #10 cans whole, peeled tomatoes -- $2.37 (regular price is about $3.49). I bought 15 cans, a one-year supply. Canned tomatoes can be frozen after opening. So, I repackage and freeze canned tomatoes in amounts that I typically use in cooking.
  • 1 gallon jugs of white vinegar -- $2.47 (regular price -- $3.29). I bought 6 gallons, again, a year's supply. We use a lot of vinegar, for hair rinsing, cleaning, making flavored vinegars for salad dressing, making pickles and for a substitution for baking powder (1 Tablespoon baking powder = 1 Tablespoon vinegar plus 3/4 teaspoon baking soda).
  • 3 lb bag of dried cranberries -- $5.87 (regular price $7.37). I bought 1 bag and am saving them for holiday baking. I don't usually buy dried cranberries other than holiday/winter baking. So this should be it for the year.
  • ground ginger (9 oz) and curry powder (13 oz) -- $2.88 (regular price $4.19) and $4.24 (regular price $5.17), respectively. I needed both of these, but waited until they went on sale.
  • 5-lb bags frozen peas -- $3.54 (regular price $4.23). I bought 3 of these bags, for a total of 15 lbs. This should last us through most of winter and into early spring.
You can see that some items have a pretty decent "regular" price. But when you see the sale price, in some cases, the savings are significant. The canned pumpkin was about half price from the "regular" price. It worked out to about 60 cents per 15-oz portion (standard size of canned pumpkin to make 1 pie).  The canned, whole peeled tomatoes were on sale at a price of about 30 cents per 14.5 oz (about the regular-sized can for whole tomatoes), or about 60 cents for the larger 28 oz sized can. For reference, in our area, the 14-oz sized can of tomatoes goes on sale in regular grocery stores for 49 cents. The cheese worked out to about $2.39 per pound. For reference, the next best price I find on cheese of any kind is 2-lb blocks of cheddar on sale for $4.99--or $2.49/lb (and usually limit of 1).
One thing I learned many years ago about stocking up like this -- it doesn't work in our household to stock up on snacky items. So most of our stock-ups are for basic, healthy food.(The snacky food gets eaten too quickly, and winds up pushing healthier foods out of the diet.)

My hope is to continue feeding my family as well as possible, while keeping our grocery budget low. I still may need to "find" more money in the budget to allocate to groceries. I'm currently working on plugging some spending holes, here and there.  And I may be able to increase our grocery budget a smidge in the coming months.

I understand that for the most part, absolutely none of this is helpful to most of you. I just wanted to offer some explanations for how we can keep our grocery spending as low as we do. Anyway, with each budget crisis, or bout of inflation, I do find myself wondering just how I'm going to pull another rabbit out of my well-worn hat. And somehow . . . we manage.

Have you found any ways to reduce your grocery spending, overall, in the past year, despite the inflation that is hitting all of us? How are you handling price increases? Are you adding to your grocery budget? Eliminating the purchase of some foods? Do you have any stores that carry institutional sizes? (When we lived in Salt Lake City, we had one store that carried some #10 cans of fruits and vegetables, and many large families took advantage of these sizes.) Do you tend to stock the pantry, or buy just what you need for 1 or 2 weeks? If you stock the pantry, do you ever have a moment of feeling overwhelmed by how stuffed you pantry can look and feel? I know this might not make much sense coming from me, but sometimes, even I look in my pantry and get this feeling of being overwhelmed by it all.

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