How to Eat Good for Cheap

I think for a lot of girls, getting married is a huge reality check.  Trying to buy food without breaking the bank is hard, and often something that we’ve never had to do.  We’ve heard our parents talk about eating cans of beans and ramen noodles, but few of us have actually had to eat that way.  Dad goes to work.  He brings home the money, and mom goes to the store to bring home the bacon.  We take little thought on the fact that food costs money until we find ourselves the woman of the household, trying to make good food on a budget.

When I got married, I took it for granted that I would be trying to save money on food.  I read books about couponing and saving money on groceries, and I was all ready…or so I thought.  One year of marriage has really taught me a lot. News flash, you can’t be one of those people who buys $500 worth of groceries for $5 unless you:

1.) Live in an urban environment

2.) Buy mostly processed foods

2.) Have an exorbitant amount of free time

3.) Need a life

One of the biggest challenges for me was that when I got married, I moved to a very small, rural town.  We have a small Walmart supercenter, a small Harps, which has a small selection and high prices, and Wilson’s Town and Country, which has a few small things at good prices.  I don’t have a selection of stores with in-store coupons, or who double or triple coupons.  Harps doubles coupons, but only up to a certain amount.  Harps and Wilsons both publish their sales each week, but often the sales are on things that I don’t typically buy.

The other challenge I had was that I wanted to balance healthy, nutritious food with saving money.  The big couponers of the world typically buy mostly processed foods, because those are the items that have sales and coupons.  My ideal foods are whole and organic. 

You may be in a similar situation or have your own set of obstacles.  Don’t give up though!  You can save money on groceries if you take the time to discover your own assets.  Here are the four main ways that you can save money on groceries, and what I’ve learned about them in the past year: 

1.) CouponsSo, coupons are the main way that you see people trying to save money.  There’s even a new tv show called “Extreme Couponing”, which is about crazy people who spend way too much time trying to spend hardly anything buying a stockpile of processed foods and household goods.  Who has 35 hours a week to spend doing this?  That is beyond a hobby…it’s an obsession!

The basics for these couponers are simple.  First they clip as many coupons as they can find and organize them for easy access.  Next they look at the weekly store circulars for what’s on sale, and try to match each sale item with a coupon.  If they are lucky, their store will double or even triple their coupons, saving them a large sum. 

This past week, I got my first item this way.  I checked out the Harps circular and saw that Kraft BBQ sauces were on sale for $1 this week.  That’s something I buy normally, and I remembered I had a coupon for it.  The coupon was for 45 cents off, and Harps doubles coupons up to that amount, so I got 90 cents of the BBQ sauce, snagging it for 10 cents.  Yeah, pretty cool.  Now, if I were extreme about this, I would get tons of those coupons and buy a million BBQ sauces for that amount and stockpile them.  But I’m not extreme, so I didn’t. 

Although I got this awesome deal with a coupon, in general I have found coupons frustrating and rarely rewarding.  For one, Harps is the only store in town that has weekly sales, and our Harps is so small that they have maybe half of the items advertised.  Secondly, most of the sale items that have coupons are processed foods, and I try to steer clear of them as much as possible.  BBQ sauce on occasion is one of the exceptions, but I typically don’t buy too many canned or boxed goods.

However, if there are items you buy that you don’t see coupons for, I would encourage you to look them up on the internet.  Usually, you can get coupons on their website or sign up for a newsletter to get free coupons.  For instance, our Walmart carries Stonyfield organic yogurts, and you can get coupons for their products through their website.  It’s great, and you can save a little money too! 

Other internet resources for coupons are coupons.com and redplum.com.  The internet is a wealth of resources, so I would encourage you to use it!  A word of caution about coupons, however, don’t clip them if you’re not going to use that item.  Buying something you won’t use for 10 cents is just a waste of 10 cents…as well as your time.

2.) Sales.  Even without couponing, store sales are a great way to save money.  When something is on sale, buy a lot of it and freeze it.  I know a lot of women who plan their menus around weekly sales.  I’ve found it easier to just get what’s on sale that I will use, freeze it or store it, and use it as needed.  I have a good list of meals that Andy and I enjoy, and I try to keep the ingredients on hand for them.  That way I don’t have to worry about using purely what’s on sale that week. 

A great money saver is to look for the discount meats which are about to expire.  You usually can get great deals on them, and either use them right away or freeze them until you are ready to use them.  Also, don’t be afraid to buy in bulk.  Ground beef gets cheaper the more you buy of it, and the fattier it is.  If you’re worried about fat, just drain it off yourself.  You’ll save yourself a lot of money that way! 

Andy and I would like to eventually get a chest freezer to keep things in that we get on sale.  You can freeze almost anything…fruits and vegetables, meats, bread, even pizza dough!  Use your freezer, and store sales, wisely.

3.) Making foods from scratch. One of the best ways you can save money is by simply making more things from scratch.  Not only can you cut out a lot of artificial junk, but you’ll save a lot of money in the process.  It doesn’t even have to be a lot more work.  For instance, I used to make bread after coming home from being at school all day.  While making bread takes a lot of rising time, it’s not a lot of hands-on work.  I would set some bread to rise, make dinner, punch it down, clean up, and it would be time to bake. 

In addition to bread, try making your own granola, snack bars, pizza dough, pie crust, croutons, and even refried beans.  the cost will be a small fraction of what you would spend on pre-made items.  Some other ideas are salsa, ketchup, salad dressings, taco seasoning, chicken stock, and flavored creamer.  The possibilities are endless!

You can also try canning a few items.  Almost anything that you buy as a canned good can be made and canned for a great price.  Canning is not limited to jams and jellies–you can can pickles, salsas, tomatoes (to replace all your cans of tomatoes from the store), pickles, and spaghetti sauce.  While I haven’t done much of this myself, I plan to try canning a lot of things this year and see how it goes.  This leads me to the final way you can save money on food…

4.) Grow it yourself.  Last summer my “kitchen garden” consisted of four pots with a pepper plant, a tomato plant, a basil plant, and a parsley plant.  While I learned a lot about gardening (especially to get those little green worms off your pepper plant before it kills it), I didn’t come away with a huge stockpile of food.  I got a few tomatoes, a good bit of parsley, and an inordinate amount of basil.  That basil plant grew like a weed!  I ended up hanging it up to dry, so now I have a nice size container of dried basil, which was way cheaper than buying a little seasoning container at the store! 

This year, my garden is expanding.  I now have several plants each of romaine, spinach, sugar snap peas, bush beans, carrots, watermelons, summer squash, hot peppers, bell peppers, and tomato plants, all of which I started from seed.  The only things not doing as good are the pepper and tomato plants, so I bought a nice little roma tomato plant at the store for canning purposes.  I also have several sweet potato plants now! 

Oh, and did I mention that all of these are in containers?  Yep, that’s right.  I knew that Andy and I might be moving soon, so I didn’t want to start a garden only to have to leave it, so for now all my plants are in either little pots, seed trays, or giant white Baskin Robbins ice cream buckets.  I am pleased to say that they are all doing surprisingly well!  I’ve had a few snap peas already, as well as baby spinach and lettuce clippings.  It’s very exciting knowing that you grew the little plants that are now bearing fruit, and it really isn’t that much work.  You can save quite a bit of money growing your own food, depending on what you’re growing. 

 

Regardless of where you live, you can save money on groceries and still eat healthy too.  Just experiment and see what works best for you.  Saving money on groceries is constantly a work in progress, but a work that pays off in the end.  Do you have any money saving tips or tricks?  I’d love to hear about them!  Email me or leave a comment with your ideas!

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