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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Out of the frugal closet

Okay, so it's true, our family has averaged about $210 per month this last year, on food, for a family of 5. We've worked hard to find ways to save on groceries. I keep a veggie garden. I have several fruit trees and bushes. I have a car and live in the 'burbs, so I am able to shop at a variety of types of places (see Alternate grocery shopping venues to save you money  and My top secret shopping spot for milk ). I work just part time, so I am able to do all kinds of things from scratch like make my own sunflower seed butter for half the price of peanut butter.  But also, I focus, while shopping, to get the most for my money. I almost always bring a calculator (or two even -- gotta help my teen daughters keep their math minds sharp), and if not a calculator, I will pull out a pen and paper and do the math myself.  (You should know, many restaurant supply places do not provide unit pricing on the shelves. You have to do the math all by your little self.)

This is a very peculiar feeling. I feel as though I've outed myself from the frugal closet. I really don't like to tell people just what we spend on groceries, because it seems so unbelievable to many folks. And I really don't like the skeptics who imply that our grocery spending could not be correct. So I prefer to just stay mum about the whole thing.

Yet, I am here, because I have learned a couple of things that may be of use to someone else. You'll find in my blog that I give specific details concerning where and when I shop, and just what I buy at each place. I want anyone in this area to also be able to get these great deals. But I also want to help others look around their own area, to see if there couldn't be more cost effective places to shop. I know, the doubts and skepticism go with the territory. I'm just not one who deals with that sort of thing very well. Anyways, I needed to say that so that I could just get on with things.

Now, here are my grocery purchases made the other day.  While it certainly doesn't look like anyone could make meals out of what I bought, these are the items I most needed to fill holes in my pantry stockpile. I spent just under $100, that plus about $5 at the produce stand the other day, so I have about $105 for the rest of the month, for great deals on things like meat and milk. My freezer, fridge and pantry are quite full. I roasted a whole turkey the other day, so lots of turkey for the month (yes, I roasted a turkey in June -- I bought 4 turkeys in November when they were a steal; this is our last one). That $105 will be enough, and I'm hoping to have some $ leftover (see June's grocery plan).

The first batch is just items from the more upscale, neighborhood grocery store. They have a much better selection of marked down items in the dairy than the budget-oriented neighborhood grocery.

You see those orange tags? The yogurt and soy milk were mark down items. Love those orange tags! The yogurt I had second thoughts about driving home -- too late then. But it will be a treat for my kids' and husband's lunches, and it was marked down to 29 cents a container -- that's a pretty good price for yogurt in our area.

The chocolate soy milk was for me.  It was also marked down, to $1.39 per half gallon.  I generally pay $1.99 for a half gallon of plain soy milk. I'll use this in my coffee and on my granola, as well as for my drinking.  I already froze one half gallon.  The other will stay fresh for about 10 days.  I will have to make my own rice milk for cooking, if I'm making something for the family that I'd also like to eat (baked goods, white sauces), but I have the brown rice for that already, so no additional cost.

The coffee, well, just can not get around that.  I love excellent coffee, but I don't need to have my coffee barrista-style every day.  I am working at getting even more from our coffee grounds.  I use 1 coffee filter for two mornings.  Day 1, I add the proper amount of coffee grounds to the clean filter. Day 2, I add slightly less than the usual amount of new grounds, right on top of the old grounds. When I'm feeling very frugal (or we're just running low on coffee), before I dump these grounds, I run about 1 cup more of water through them, before dumping the grounds into a bowl (to spread around our blueberry bushes later).  This 1 last cup of coffee on a good day, gets refrigerated then added to the next day's pot.  On a regular day, it just sits in the pot until the new batch is made the next morning. I am looking for ideas on how to cut down our expense for coffee.  I've looked into roasting our own beans at home (you can do that in a hot air popcorn popper), as well as mixing our coffee with other substances (in the "olden days" people roasted dandelion and chicory roots, then ground up to blend with coffee).

The eggs were $1.69/18 count carton, while not a steal, good enough till that great buy comes along. And the gallon of milk, also not a great buy, but good enough at $2.49. I needed one gallon of whole milk to blend with the remaining non-fat that I have from the freezer, to make my own 2 % milk. I will stop in at the grocery store with marked down milk today around noon, and be keeping my fingers crossed.  I must look like the crazy lady in that store "look at all this not-quite-gone-bad milk on clearance!" as I pile the jugs up in my cart. And the salt, it was on sale for 49 cents a carton. Salt goes on sale frequently in the grocery store, but not at all in the restaurant/institutional supply store. So, I bought one.

This next batch of groceries were from the Cash and Carry (in Lynnwood, for you locals).  It's a restaurant/institutional supply. Ketchup comes in 7 lb. tins or 5 lb bags, rice in 25 lb. bags if you want the small (50 pounders if you want the large rice), dried pasta in 5 lb. boxes, I think you get the picture.

This week, I bought 50 lbs whole wheat flour, 25 lbs. barley (that'll last about 9 months to a year, I'll keep about half of it in the freezer to prolong its life), and a 30 lb. case of margarine (I know, butter is much better for us -- we buy butter about 1/4 of the time, and use mostly oil in baking; this case will last us 6 months, that's just over 1 lb. of margarine used in our house, per week).

The canola oil I use for sauteeing, baking, and half and half with olive oil in salad dressings. Some months I buy soybean oil, some months, canola.  It all depends which is less expensive. This month that was canola.

The 5 lb. bag of carrots will get us through June. We should be able to dig our early carrots in July.  I considered the 25 lb. bag of carrots, but the savings was not enough, considering we'll be getting lots from our garden next month. Also in produce, the bananas were 43 cents a pound. I prefer to get bananas at Trader Joes.  TJs prices bananas per piece. By selecting out the largest ones I wind up paying about 38 cents/lb. But I wasn't going to be stopping in to TJs this week.

The can of whipped topping is just a treat.  I can't do real whipping cream, so we opt for this spray variety (and even Cool Whip has some dairy ingredients, or else it would be my preference because then I could reuse the container at least).

Even the restaurant supply has sales.  Their sales run for almost an entire month, which is great. I can rethink after I get home and decide I'll stop in again later in the month and buy more. This month, one of their sales was on bottled lemon juice in the 1 gallon jug. In case you hadn't noticed, bottled lemon juice has been super expensive, for almost 2 years now. To find it on sale for $5 a gallon was a surprise.  I make lemonade, iced tea and rhubarb lemonade for summer beverages. This jug of lemon juice will make 32 quarts of lemonade this summer.  My kids have been drinking limeade all school year, as lime juice has been the less expensive bottled juice. Lemonade will be a refreshing change.

The tomato paste. Tomato paste is one of the few canned veggies that actually has more nutrients in the canned version than eating the same veggie, fresh. I'll open this can and make a 5-6 quart batch of pizza/pasta sauce. I'll freeze the rest of the paste to use later in soups and stews, and barbeque sauce.

This is about half of what I'll buy for the entire month of June. I buy to stock my pantry and freezer,  looking for outstanding deals and stocking up on them, not to fulfill a weekly meal plan. I plan from what I have on hand. I estimate this saves us at least 1/3 off our grocery bill. Anyone remember Amy Dacyzyn's article The Pantry Principle? I read about this sort of shopping in a magazine article about 24 years ago.  I was newly married with a baby. I was shopping the way my mom always shopped, for one week's worth of groceries at a time. After reading this article, we went from spending $60/week on groceries to $30/week, just in one month.

This, in a rather long-winded nutshell, is how we keep our grocery spending as low as it is. And I'm certain there are folks somewhere who spend even less.

*update* Thursday, 6/14, I stopped in at Dollar Tree and bought 1 quart of soymilk and 1 bag of marshmallows for s'mores for a whopping total of $2.


  1. Lili, I enjoy your frugal blogs! I like reading the frugal blogs for ideas. Our grocery bill isn't as low as yours, but if I implemented all your ideas, it probably would be pretty close. We all make choices every day regarding how we spend our time and money--it's just that many people don't realize they are making a choice. So don't worry about the skeptics! Keep the ideas coming!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thanks! I think I was just a little thin-skinned that day, Thanks for the encouragement! It's always appreciated. And you're right, we are all making choices, whether we're aware of it or not.


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