Saving money on groceries

Since so many moms are trying to cut costs in order to live on one income and stay home with their kids, I felt it would be appropriate to share some tips for how to cut your grocery bill. This is an area where most people can realize huge savings without compromising the quality of their lives.

Your budget will probably be very different from mine, unless you also have a big family, but the principles behind saving on your grocery bill are the same. I shop and cook for a family of 9, plus guests and my mother on most weekends. Our monthly food bill is about $450, and has been about that for the last year. This is less than half of what most families our size spend. (Before I started buying farm fresh milk and eggs, it was reliably $400 monthly, but adding these into our diets has pushed up the costs.) So you won’t need to spend that much since you won’t need as much food as us. :)

I’ve heard the complaint that to be healthy, you need to spend a lot of money. And sometimes, it does seem like that. Yes, there are lots of costly options, but there are also lots of affordable options. And affordable options don’t mean that we have to limit ourselves to oatmeal everyday for breakfast, and beans and rice for all other meals to stay within a budget.

Since there are so many things to share, I’m going to spread out my points into separate posts to keep this easy to read for you! Firstly, as I said in my post about menu planning, I make almost everything from scratch. Not only is it cheaper, it’s lots tastier and healthier to boot. Many moms will insist that it takes them time they don’t have and they are willing to pay for the convenience. I think we too often underestimate how much we spend for conveniences to save ourselves time, and overestimate how much time it would take to make something from scratch.

Today I took a son out for pizza (he redeemed one of his coupons from the holidays) and he commented how much money people waste on eating out. I explained to him that there’s a benefit to eating out, and the more someone else does to your food, the more expensive it gets. The example I gave him was pizza: we make our own pizza, which means we make the dough, the sauce, and then we sprinkle the cheese on. That’s the cheapest option (and my kids think it’s also the yummiest – and they like that they can eat much more than I would let them buy if we went out!). The next option would be to buy a ready made pizza crust and pizza sauce, slightly more expensive still would be the frozen prepared pizza, and most expensive is fresh pizza at the pizza shop. Is there a huge qualitative difference in what you are eating? Not usually. So what accounts for the cost difference? How much work someone else has done to get the food in edible form to you! The more you are willing to do, the more you can enjoy wholesome and tasty meals at a fraction of the cost it would be to purchase them, and it doesn’t take nearly as long as most people would assume.

Tonight a neighbor stopped by to borrow a can of chickpeas. I’m really glad I could help her out, since this is something that I happened to buy at a really excellent price, but generally, I don’t have things like this in my pantry. Why not? I don’t need to pay someone else to soak a handful of beans and then cook them for me. How much time does making your own chick peas or beans take? It takes about a minute to fill a pot with water, throw in the peas/beans, and let them soak. After a few hours, rinse them, fill the pot with fresh water, and let them cook on low for a few hours while you’re doing other things at home. Total hands on prep time? Maybe 3 minutes. But you’ve easily saved 50% or more on your expenses.

Multiply the above technique a number of times in a week, and you are starting to save some serious money. Take an honest look at all the things you buy ready made: sauces, pie crusts, cookies and cakes, granola, etc. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy anything ready made, but look at what the price of convenience is for you. Don’t forget to factor in the time you spend going to and from the store to buy all of this stuff, because that adds up, too. Cut out bakery goods as much as possible. It’s cheaper to buy a cake mix, and cheaper still to bake from scratch. But if you like the convenience of a cake mix and would like to enjoy the savings advantage of cooking from scratch, consider spending 15 – 20 minutes making up a number of batches of your own mixes and store them in separate labelled ziploc bags until you’re ready to bake.

To get you started, here’s a recipe for Dark Rick Chocolate Cake Mix (makes one 9×13 pan):
1 c. white flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
2/3 c. whole wheat flour  (again, I prefer white whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 c. sugar (I use sucanat)
3/4 c. cocoa
1/4 c. dry milk powder/rice milk powder
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 T. instant coffee

Measure all the above ingredients directly into a gallon sized ziploc bag.

When you’re ready to prepare it, mix together:
one pkg of your mix
2 c. water
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs

Put it in a greased 9 x 13 pan, and bake at 35 – 40 minutes.


9 thoughts on “Saving money on groceries

  1. How did you come up with a recipe for cake mix? I’ve been looking for one. I know this post was from a while ago and that currently you don’t use much white sugar. Do you still make this mix/cake?

    1. Hi, Chana! Someone shared this recipe a LONG time ago from a parenting board I used to be on. After reading your question I went back and added a couple of my adaptations in parentheses – this is how I prepared it then and pretty much how I’d prepare it now, if I were making it. What I didn’t add in is that I’d also cut the sweetener by 50 percent so that I used only 3/4 cup, I wouldn’t use milk powder (rather I’d add milk or coconut milk when I mixed it all together and correspondingly cut the water amount), and I’d use coconut oil or butter as the oil of choice.

      It might be a little confusing to someone reading so far back in my archives, but though I’ve been cooking pretty healthfully from the time I started this blog back in August 2006 (with increasing improvements over time), I used to post recipes that were more standardized for the average reader, leaving out any mention of my healthy inclinations lest I be labeled a health nut. :) I figured that my adaptations were suitable for my family’s tastebuds and my interest in integrating a traditional approach to food, but that most readers wouldn’t be interested or find it valuable. As more readers expressed interest in nutritional habits that I mentioned in passing, I started adding my adaptations in parentheses, and now I tend to post recipes that are pretty much the way I cook.

      Having said all that, I’m not much of a cake mix kind of person, but this is a useful and tasty recipe if a cake mix is what you need! At this point in my life, it’s hardly more work for me to totally mix it from scratch than to mix in a few ingredients to a mix.

      1. FYI–Something is messed up in your RSS feed. It sent this post as a new one to my reader this morning, and I assume it did for the other recent commenters.

        I also got a post about your water breaking this morning.

        1. Thanks for letting me know, Meg. Though I know that people often read back in the archives and will sometimes comment years (!) later, I was wondering why I got three comments within a few hours on a post that was three years old! Someone commented on both of the old posts that you mentioned last night and I’m guessing that has something to do with it. I don’t know exactly how the RSS feeds work, but think that if someone has signed up to receive comments, they might be receiving the entire post being commented on as well if it hasn’t already been sent.

          Have you noticed getting other old posts when a comment is made currently on it? I always thought I was the only one seeing the comments on the older posts. I’ll have to look into it and see if there’s anything that can be done, or if it’s a built in feature that can’t be adjusted.

  2. Hi there! I was wondering if you could use a liquid sweetener like honey instead of sucanut? And just leave out some of the water? :) Thanks! Also, would finely ground red whole wheat flour work?

  3. My husband is from Southeast Asia, and he was astounded by how much restaurant food costs here. Even accounting for currency differences and a lower cost of living, prepared food is still much, much cheaper in his part of the world.

  4. Kangachick – yes, you can use honey if you’re making this fresh and would use correspondingly less water, but to make a cake mix that can be made in advance, you’d want to use something dry like organic sucanat. You can use any kind of whole wheat flour you like; I prefer white whole wheat because the flavor is a little lighter than the heartiness of red, and it looks more similar to white flour baked goods.

    Meg – that’s interesting. I wonder why that is? It seems that you’d have to pay for extra labor wherever the food is.

    1. You do, but with lower payroll taxes, and no minimum wage laws, and much more lax laws about allowing the children of business owners to work there, labor costs are much, much lower.

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