June 10, 2009

Saving money: food

Something that kind of irritates me is when people assume that my husband and I must be well-off financially because I stay at home and we homeschool. Well, we're not! My husband works full-time in shipping at a pork processing plant and makes about 32K a year. Our daughter who has cerebral palsy gets SSI, which bumps it up to about 35K a year (though we're very restricted in what her money can be spent on, so it isn't truly income; what we don't spend on her must be saved in her own bank account, though we are able to use some to pay "her share" of bills).

We were very irresponsible with our money when we were younger, sadly. Currently we're living off a very tight budget as work hard to pay off all our debts. In 2.5 years all we will have left is our house payment and my student loans, praise God! But for now money is extremely tight, and so I thought I would share some of the ways I save money.

Food is the biggest thing. I'm always shocked at home much money other people spend on food! While my food budget fluctuates some depending on what bills are due that week (dh is paid weekly) and exactly how many hours dh worked, on average I spend about $65 a week to feed our family of 5. That works out to be about $293 a month. I read recently that the average family of 4 spends $600 a month on groceries!

I think the biggest thing you can do to save food is cook. The more processed and pre-packaged convenience foods you buy, the more it's going to cost you (not to mention, it's not nearly as healthy). For snacks my kids get fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade breads and muffins, and occasionally I buy a big bag of the inexpensive animal crackers. Most of the food I make is made from scratch; I even make my own flour tortillas. I won't lie, cooking most of your food from scratch is time-consuming, but if money is an issue, you're going to be saving enough that it's more than worth it. And it might not seem like much, but if 2 dozen flour tortillas are $2.50 at the store, and I can make them at home for .25c, that adds up fast. Refrigerated biscuits might be $1.25, but again, I can make a dozen at home for a quarter or less, I bet!

What if you don't know how to cook? I was never taught to cook. I think maybe I took home-ec in 7th grade, but I don't remember! My mom couldn't cook to save her life, she can't even make cake from a box! (She tried once and used extra-virgin olive oil, ick!) So I was never taught to cook at home and our food growing up was all boxed and pre-packaged. I couldn't even cook when I got married; I had to teach myself out of necessity. One of the biggest helps I had was my Betty Crocker's New Cookbook that my sister-in-law gave me as a Christmas gift shortly after my husband I were married. I still have the copy that she gave me, though it's literally falling apart! I love this cookbook because it gives explanations of various cooking terms and techniques, so it's extremely useful for novice cooks who don't know when to use real butter and when it's okay to substitute vegetable oil spread, have no clue what the difference between chopping and mincing is, and are totally lost on how to cook fish in the microwave. And of course it's full of great home style recipes! I really believe it's indispensable if you're trying to learn to cook.

Another way I save money on food is to buy my bread and baked goods at a bakery outlet. I live in a small town, but I'm frequently in a larger town 45 minutes away, where I'm lucky to have access to an Aunt Millie's bakery outlet. Aunt Millie's is easily my favorite brand of bread; many of their breads are whole grain and most (if not all) do NOT contain high fructose corn syrup and other additives and preservatives. I'm able to get high-quality whole grain breads from the outlet for as little as 39 cents a loaf! We have a large chest freezer so I stock up when I go (usually once every two weeks) and save a bundle on bread (their bread can be $3.50 or more at the regular grocery store).

Couponing is another way to save money. I am no couponing master, let me say! And just buying whatever is in the Sunday paper isn't cost effective- it's usually more expensive than generic, and you just end up buying things you wouldn't have bought, anyway. What I do is check the specials of a local store- for me, it's Kroger's. The double coupons up to .50 every day (so if you have a coupon for .50 off, you actually get a dollar off). Every week I check their ad for my region online, and I compare what's on sale to what's available at The Coupon Master. There isn't always a good deal, but sometimes I really score! Last year I was able to get Crest Pro-Health toothpaste for $1 a tube (normally it's nearly $4!!) so I bought 15 tubes and I still have 3 tubes left. So there, I spent $15 on over a year's worth of toothpaste for 5 people. Another time I was able to get Skippy All Natural peanut butter for 30 cents a jar, so again, I bought a large amount (20 jars, I think). Nearly a year's worth of peanut butter for $6! Occasionally I even get items for free! Again, this takes time, and you won't find good deals every week, but it's certainly worth checking. The coupon master does require a minimum $3 order to ship the coupons (you can not legally sell or buy coupons, so what you're paying for is shipping and processing), so you need to figure that in when deciding if it's a good deal or not.

I'm sure I'll have more to add later, but hopefully this is helpful to someone!


Anne Marie said...

Do you have an Aldi in your area? I’ve found their store brand products and fresh foods very good and the prices can’t be beat, even by Wally World.

Unrelated question. Do you use Seaton for homeschooling? I thought I recall seeing a reference to Seaton on your blog. I'm considering home schooling, it's the only hope of getting a Catholic education in my area, and I like what I've seen of their material. I'm considering attending a conference in Lansing next week to do some recon.

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Katie said...

Oh darn, I had a huge comment to you Anne Marie and lost it! There's an Alidi's about half an hour away, but it's in a town I don't otherwise go to, so I don't get there nearly as often as I'd like. They are great, though!

I don't use Seton, I use Catholic Heritage Curricula (with a couple other things thrown in!) Seton is more of a home study program, where you teach the material but also have teachers long distance that grade work and such. CHC does have pre-made lesson plans, but there's no outside person that you're accountable to. Definitely check out the conference! I haven't been to one myself, but my friends that go always say they're invaluable in helping them decide what to go with. You can also get good discounts by buying at conferences. I'll be praying for you as you discern!