Stretching Cents: Groceries

I've been living paycheck to paycheck (or so it seems, as I count my debts as part of my basic living expenses) for the majority of the past five years.

In fact, if it weren't for the generosity of my brothers and my parents, I'd have ended up in a worse situation once or twice (thanks, guys!).

It doesn't bother me as much when I'm in a normal working situation, as my health prevents me from spending much money being social (and until I met Fedora, I didn't have anyone to travel with either).

But being laid off twice in the past two years has thrown a wrench in things. I've had to live off of my unemployment benefits (10 months, the first time around- of which my ex, Scotsman, stole half- and 5 months, this time around), and used my entire savings.

I haven't mastered the art of stretching every penny, but I'm pretty darn good at living hand-to-mouth right now. So I thought, hey, why not share my cutting costs expertise with the blog world? I'll be posting a regular segment on the different ways that I stretch our pennies (so I don't overwhelm you with info). Feel free to email me if you have specific questions!

Most of you probably already know this stuff, but just in case it will help someone in a similar situation to myself, here's the skinny on how I do it:

"Time is money"

+ Fedora and I spent a weekend and went around to every single grocery store near us that we might shop at, with a notepad and pen.
We wrote down the prices for the stuff we buy every month (milk, almond milk, sour cream, cheese, canned and dried beans, pasta, rice, fish, green onions, kale and spinach, tomatoes, uncured bacon, mushrooms, etc).
Then we compared them.

We found that Trader Joe's has the majority of our staple groceries for lower prices than other stores.
Of the stuff we couldn't get at TJ's, Thriftway and Saar's (depending on coupons and sales) had the rest for a better price.
And Grocery Outlet has our vitamins at the cheapest.
So we ONLY shop at these places

+ We eat before grocery shopping, to cut down on hunger-inspired impulse buys.

+ If we see something we want to put in the cart but don't need, we make a mental note an return to it AFTER we've grabbed everything we do need. Chances are, by that time we realize how much we're already spending, and pass on it.

+ I cut coupons religiously. BUT I only cut the stuff we will buy and eat within the month (even if it will last longer than a month). That way, I'm not buying something unnecessary, just because it's a great deal. We also signed up for newsletters from those stores, and sometimes get store-specific coupons that way.

+ We only buy meat if it's on sale or marked down, and when we get home it goes into the freezer. Sometimes this means we have a ton of chicken legs, but we know we can make that last for months by only thawing what we two will eat at a time. I'd say, not counting bacon and the occasional SPAM (and eggs), we eat meat maybe once per week.

+ I make our bread (using no-knead dough), which is much, much cheaper (and more eco-friendly) than buying it anywhere.

+ We use everything we have, even if it's something nasty that was given to us, or something we bought by mistake. It makes a creative challenge, which we love, and also keeps us from feeling like we're wasting food.
That sugar-free pancake syrup? I'm using it instead of sugar in this brownie recipe. The unsalted PB? Thinning it with coconut milk and adding spices to make a Thai-inspired sauce.

+ We buy bulk...when it's a good deal.
We don't go to CostCo or Sam's Club, but we do fill a bag at the bulk bins for things like lentils, dried beans, rice, and split peas. These staples will last a long time on the shelf, and are a minimal effort to make ready (as canned, pre-cooked versions are). Be aware, though- sometimes the price per ounce is cheaper for the canned than the bulk bin version. You have to be willing to take the time and do a price comparison.

+ We make our own versions of the stuff we love. I can't afford to buy buffalo chicken wings every week. But I have vinegar, and chili paste, and spices, and some cheap bulk wings. So I *can* make it, for less.

+ We troll the damaged cans/nearly-expired section first. It may look less appealing, but the still tastes the same. And with items like milk, you can freeze it (just know that you're going to use it within a week of thawing, if it's close to expiration).

+ We ask for "seconds" at the farmer's market. These are the bruised fruits and nearly-wilted greens that make the rest of the products look sad, so sellers don't put them out for display. But they would rather sell them to you for cheap than throw them out, so it's worth asking. If we're not going to eat that peach right away, we chop it and freeze it for using in sauces, pies, or smoothies later.

+ We make stock, in our crock pot, of every bone and bit of offal that comes with the meat we've purchased, and freeze it for later use. This way, we never need to buy broths (and ours are healthier) for soups, sauces, etc.

All of this takes time, which has whatever value you assign to it. We're both unemployed right now, so we have much more time than money. But taking a couple of hours on a weekend to spend grocery shopping (not trying to cram it in after work), can and will help you save money.

* These images are not my images. If you own these images, I will respect your wishes and gladly credit you for them, just let me know.

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