Okay, I nicked the title – so shoot me.
At any rate, this week’s Spin Cycle is a subject I know quite a bit about, actually. When my older kids, now 25 and 22, were growing up, to say I was on a fixed budget is something of an understatement; I was the Queen of the Penny Pinchers. We didn’t have a car until Darling Daughter was a freshman in high school and either walked or took public transportation everywhere (oh, to have the figure now that I had then…). When The Young One was a baby, his father and I worked different shifts to save on daycare costs. And to be perfectly frank, the house I live in now is the first house I’ve ever actually owned. We did a lot of “hand to mouth” existing, for a lot of years, and without government assistance.
So I can give you a lot of advice, not on how to save money (because I never saved a red cent until the last 10 years or so), but how not to spend it (simply because I didn’t have it to spend). I could quote you line and verse about swallowing your pride and shopping thrift stores, taking public transportation when and where you can, clipping coupons (although I was never much of a coupon-clipper, for reasons I’ll go into in a moment), shopping sales, etc. but there’s already plenty of advice out there already for that. Besides, this is my blog – what else do you expect me to talk about?
After housing, a family’s largest expense is often food. It is estimated that the average family spends approximately 15% – 20% of it’s income on food – that’s really mind-boggling when you think about it. So while you may not be able to do much about your mortgage or car payments, you can do something about the amount of money you spend to feed your family.
Tip #1 – Probably the most important tip I can give you: STOP EATING OUT. Even today, when I have more discretionary income than I’ve ever had in my life, we eat out on the average of once a month. Yes – once a month. This has never been hard for me, for we never ate out when I was growing up or raising my older kids; we simply couldn’t afford it. But a lot of Americans eat out several times a week, simply out of convenience, and did you know that it is cheaper to make your own cheeseburger than to eat a 99-cent take-out burger?
Makes you think, doesn’t it? Don’t eat out, and don’t eat at fast food restaurants at all (your arteries will thank you, if nothing else). Save restaurants for special occasions. Not only will you save money, you’ll find you enjoy it more.
Tip #2 – Probably the second most important tip I can give you: LEARN TO COOK. You don’t have to be Julia Childs, or even Bobby Flay, just learn the basics. I know it’s easy for me to proselytize about this because I know how to cook and enjoy it, but you truly don’t have to be a gourmet to cook great meals for your family. In all honesty, the dishes our grown kids love the most are the simple ones that can be prepared on a tight budget. You’d be better off investing in a crock pot, a food processor and a couple of cook books than eating out 3 or 4 times a week.
Tip #3 – CONVENIENCE FOODS ARE NOT NECESSARILY YOUR FRIEND. Until my first husband and I had our first apartment, I’d never eaten potatoes or rice that weren’t “instant” – my mother considered them miracle foods. When I had a family of my own, however, I quickly realized that I could get as much as 4 – 6 times the amount of servings out of “raw” foods (i.e. raw potatoes and slow cooking rice) for the same price as 1 serving of the “instant” or “convenience” and that the time savings was NOT worth the extra cost. For example, I can make four servings of plain white steamed rice that will take 15 mintes, for the cost of 1 serving of Minute Rice at 5 minutes. Think about that for a minute – is the world going to end if you serve dinner at 7:15 as oppsed to 7?
Tip #4 – STORE BRANDS ARE YOUR FRIENDS. Is your 6-year-old going to be able to tell the difference between Lucky Charms and the store brand of marshmallow cereal? There can be as much as a $2 – $3 per package difference, and that can add up. For that matter, can you tell the difference between a can of Green Giant green beans and a can of Top Choice?
It ALL adds up – buy the store brand. Which brings me to my next point…
Tip #5 – MAKE SURE YOUR COUPONS ARE A REAL VALUE. The vast majority of coupons you find in the Sunday paper or the weekly circular are for items that are really expensive – a lot of the time you can purchase the store brand less expensively than you can the name brand, even with a coupon. Even then, make sure it is something you really need and can’t make from scratch more cheaply, no matter what the brand is.
Tip #6 – UTILIZE YOUR LEFTOVERS. You can eat leftovers for pennies on the dollar when compared to eating even a fast food value meal. If you find a roast for half price at the grocery store, you can make it for dinner in the crock pot on Monday night, have chopped beef sandwiches for lunch on Tuesday, then make a stroganoff casserole with what’s left using cheap noodles, cream of mushroom soup and milk for dinner on Thursday night. Even if you pay $4 a pound for a 3-pound roast, that’s a pretty damn good deal – 3 meals for 3 -4 people for $12? You can’t beat that with a stick. All it takes is a little forethought.
So there you have it – 6 tried and true tips for saving money on your grocery bills. Research on the interent will render even more help; all you have to do is look. And check back here every now and then – I have money saving yet tasty recipes out the wazoo…even if they do require more than four ingredients. 😛