6/7/2011 12:07 PM ET|
3 meals plus snacks for $4 a day
Slash grocery bills with a little planning and careful shopping. And no, you're not doomed to eat ramen at every meal.
Worried about your grocery bill? You should be. Food prices hovered near record levels in May, the U.N. reported, rising faster than they have in three decades.
That's the bad news. The good news: Food is the area of your budget with the most wiggle room. You probably can't negotiate your rent or your car payment, but you can slash grocery costs with just a little planning and careful shopping.
You're not doomed to live on ramen, either. To prove it, my editor proposed a 14-day grocery experiment with a budget of $53.86 per week: the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) benefit of $33.34 per person per week plus $20.52 for the 9.8% of net income that the average American spends on food; in this case, the income is 130% of the federal poverty line, the level that qualifies a person for SNAP. (Want tips on eating well when money's tight? Read Liz Weston's column.)
Almost $54 a week sounded like a lot to me. And it was: In two weeks I spent just $48.39 from the imaginary food-stamp budget, plus about $7.91 of my own money (i.e., food I already had).
That works out to $56.30 total, or $28.15 per week -- about 52% of what I was allowed to spend. Since I didn't use up all the ingredients I bought, the money technically went even further.
Your mileage may vary, of course. But here's how it shook down for me.
Rule No. 1: Make menus based on sales
Sounds elementary, I know. But many people just grab whatever looks good.
Be sure to scan every page of the store ads, because the best prices aren't necessarily up front. One supermarket circular had a coupon for 10 pounds of potatoes for $1.50 on Page 5; as soon as I saw it, I knew I'd be eating spuds.
Here's what I bought and took from my cupboards and freezer:
- Produce: several pounds of "reduced for quick sale" apples, 2 pounds of carrots, two oranges, one onion, nine bananas, 10 pounds of potatoes, five 12-ounce bags of plain frozen vegetables. (I provided dried plums and apricots.)
- Canned goods: tomato sauce, salsa, two cans of tomato soup, two cans of diced tomatoes, one can of tomato paste, two 5-ounce cans of chunk light tuna. (I provided canned fruit, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.)
- Protein: Package of 10 chicken thighs, 2 pounds ground beef, one dozen eggs, one 8-ounce package of cream cheese. (I provided 2 cups dried pinto beans, peanut butter, 1 ounce jack cheese, ham and a "reduced for quick sale" steak.)
- Miscellaneous: Multigrain bread, oil, sugar, pretzel sticks, 4 ounces Greek yogurt (for starter to make my own), one Butterfinger bar, 2 cups bulk cornmeal, 1½ gallons milk and cookies. (I provided: Wheat Thins, bagels, tricolor pasta, flour tortillas, tea bags, oatmeal, Sweet'N Low, various store-brand spices, M&Ms, dried coconut, vanilla, butter, rhubarb and pickles.)
Note the absence of fresh greens (expensive and sporadic during this experiment) and fancy-schmancy ingredients. I eat the kind of food my mama fed me -- plain home cooking on a tight budget. Like her, I make food stretch; for example, that package of 10 chicken thighs became two chicken dinners, a stir-fry, a batch of chili, two chicken salad sandwiches and, finally, a pot of soup.
Rule No. 2: Shop strategically
One-stop shopping is easiest but, cherry-picking the deals at multiple stores could save you a bundle. I visited five nearby stores. Not everyone has that many choices, or that much time. Do what works for you and what makes sense -- don't drive 10 miles out of your way to save a dollar.
Think outside the supermarket, too. The Sweet'N Low for my iced tea cost nothing thanks to ink-cartridge trades at Staples. I hit sales and used coupons to get bagels at Target and cream cheese, eggs, pretzels, sugar and clearance taquitos at Walgreens. (Yes, Walgreens sells frozen foods. Taquitos aren't the healthiest thing in the world but, a 38-cent serving now and then won't kill me.)
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Sleight Of Hand,
Where I live the president of one of the regional chains of supermarkets is constantly on TV touting his food store's unbeatable new and lower prices....if only that were true. He must be the only person who thinks the prices are great because he's probably making a $500,000 annual salary. In the past year since they started that ad campaign virtually every single food item in the store has gone up between 5% and 15% on average, and some even more, and it's the same at all of the other stores. If the price is indeed still the same or less than before it is only because the volume or amount of the product has been downsized and then re-packaged. On any given day I hardly have enough food in the house to keep a parakeet alive, but who in hell can afford decent food these days, especially those with a whole family to feed? The entire situation is a crime and it is literally light years away from the 50s and 60s when I was growing up. I feel truly sorry for the younger people and families out there who have another 30 or 40 years of very hard road ahead of them.
Here in the Phoenix AZ area we have 99c Stores that have great produce, selection of frozen food, dairy and breads all for 99c each! I love to buy Natures Own bread for 99c and compare with chain store for $3.29. I check all the experation dates...I have NEVER found one that was expired or close to expiration. I have noticed more and more Lexus, BMW and even a Mercedes customers parking and buying at the 99c store. Don't have to be "indigent" to shop smart.
One person can eat pretty good on $50 a week, $200 a month and eat meat daily. Shop smart, buy sale items only, discounted items only, buy in bulk when on sale and freeze the meats, vegatables,unless can goods. $25 a week, $100 per month would be limited with numerous sacrifices. This is dining in, not dining out, food only, not paper products or cleaning supplies
The budget was figured on the upper end of poverty level and assumes the person has 8.9% to put toward a food budget. In reality, some people find themselves disabled, unable to work and can only get subsidized housing (maybe) and food assistance until they have gone through the lengthy process of getting a determination of disability. They are receiving what most would consider 'toiletry' $$ in cash assistance that is used to pay for transportation to get to the store.
Not being a balanced diet would concern me in the long term & using the high end of the scale & assuming the household has enough wiggle room in their cash flow to pay out 8.9% of their income skews this whole concept! Was wondering why she didn't get some Dollar Store dried fruit to add to her oatmeal to make that a more balanced meal! Worked for my mother feeding 6 people on very limited resources (no assistance, for those that easily jump to conclusions here)!
Nope, I've never been the recipient of any form of govt. assistance, but have been in circumstances where our food budget was cut to <5% of poverty level for a family of 4 and we ate fairly well, but it did take menu planning & carefully avoiding junk food. Our kids would have qualified for free lunches, but we managed to keep them on full price because at the time, the f/r lunchers were given a voucher type lunch pass while the other kids had regular tickets! (Ostracizing to say the least!)
Having worked in social services for 8 yrs helping the disabled budget their limited resources, I had many successes helping them cook from scratch what they were buying packaged (eating what they chose to eat) and saving enough that they could afford a splurge per week. It can be done!
how do you know that your vegy is not GM and if so you have to buy organic. were is your savings now?
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