Eat Well, Spend Less: Buying in bulk, long-term food storage, and our personal methods
This post is part 1 of a 3-part series titled "Eat Well, Spend Less". I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!). I'll be sharing links to their insights tomorrow! (Stay tuned!)
If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!
Do you ever cringe when the cashier finishes scanning your groceries and says your total? I know I do! I don't shop with a calculator in hand, but I do shop with a list and usually buy healthy foods that we need and will use. Still, if there's a way to save money on groceries without sacrificing quality or nutrition, I'm all ears! :)
Aside from going on a diet (which I should be doing anyway...), I'm going to share how we save at the grocery store. The topics covered in this first article:
Honestly, I believe that planning is the single most important thing I do in the kitchen!
Start the week with a list -- your menu plan. Go to the store with a list -- your "shopping plan". Planning will save you frustration and even time -- even when you're cooking from scratch!
Instead of wandering in the kitchen wondering what to start for dinner, you will be making it. Instead of waiting until the last minute and either opening cans of something or going out to eat, you will have started dinner in the crock pot or have planned a freezer meal.
We very rarely go out to eat, but we did one evening last week and while I enjoyed the break from cooking dinner, I quickly realized that cooking dinner at home is one of the most important things I can do to help our family save money!!
Going out to eat seems to offer the choice of cheap food that I feel guilty feeding to my family, or expensive food that we can eat without guilt. We went with the more expensive option, and it brought into sharp focus the importance of, ummm, eating dinner at home! ;)
My grocery shopping posts are a bit repetitive. We live 4 miles from Costco and I've made it my 1-stop shopping trip. (See my post "Is Costco Frugal?" for a discussion about this addiction practice!) I love the quality I find at Costco, the many healthy and organic products they carry, and the fact that their prices are competitive. I stick to buying big bags of whole foods (for the most part, anyway). :)
A few things to remember when shopping at Costco or other warehouse-type stores (Sam's, BJ's, etc.):
Stick to your list! Getting sidetracked at Costco is expensive... nearly everything is $10 or more!
Ask: Can I use this much? If not, consider buying a smaller portion at another store. (Especially if the item is perishable!) If you do go with the bulk purchase, make sure you find creative ways to use the item, freeze some for later (many, many things freeze well!), and don't let it just sit in your pantry. :)
Ask: Is this really a good price? Not everything at Costco is a good price. In general, I find Costco's food to be very competitively priced, though. Find those cheaper items and find ways to use them! :) Also for Costco: wait for your staples to appear in the monthly coupon booklets, if possible. Patience pays off!
Fewer trips to the store always seems to equal less money spent, period. In our apartment, I faced the challenge of a small fridge (with a small freezer attached) and had to make weekly trips to the store for milk, lettuce, and other perishables. Even then, I could still buy many things in bulk!
If it is something you use regularly, consider buying in bulk. Most things are cheaper in bulk! Some of my main bulk purchases:
Flour (25# or 50# bags)
Beans (25# bags... or even 5# containers)
Rice (10# bags)
Cheese (5# bags)
Nuts (2-3# bags)
Honey (1/2 gallon)
...and many other things at Costco!
Short on pantry space? We've stored some foods (in plastic buckets) in our garage or enclosed porch. In our apartment, we stacked buckets in our bedroom closet!
Buying in bulk doesn't have to mean buying a lot of something, though. "Bulk food stores" often allow you to purchase a very small amount of something at a great price, all because you're buying it in a plain bag rather than fancy packaging!
Some of my favorite "small" bulk purchases:
Seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame, etc.)
...and many baking supplies!
I store these smaller bulk items in glass jars in my kitchen cupboards.
We've been weekly shoppers for years. Leaving our apartment fridge for a house-sized fridge and recently acquiring a small chest freezer has made it possible for us to now shop every 2-3 weeks, with an occasional "banana run" in between. ;)
Some of the things I now buy in bulk and freeze, allowing us to shop less frequently:
Milk (freeze in the jug)
Frozen fruits and veggies
Meats (whole chickens, etc.)
Long-term food storage is simply having a supply of certain foods that can be stored for many years.
Did you realize that most grocery stores get many truckloads of food shipped in each day? Most stores don't have huge stock rooms... their "stock" is all on the shelves!
Food is one of those, you know, essential things... and it's startling to learn that the average American has only a week's worth of food in their home. (Why store extra food?)
Having food stored long-term can be as simple as a few buckets of grains or beans. We started with a few plastic buckets, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. (You can read all about how we packed the buckets here!) Here is more information about shelf life of stored foods.
But, to capitalize on the frugal advantage of buying in bulk and storing food long-term, I think it's best to learn how to USE the foods we plan to store, and use those foods now! Sure, keep some food packed away for emergency preparedness... but why not have a rotating short-term storage of those foods, as well? :)
My favorite food storage staples:
Wheat and oats (cook for cereals; grind for breads)
Pinto beans (one of our favorites and so easy!)
Sugar and salt
Of course you can branch out from there! I recommend learning how to use an ingredient and then storing it. I like to store dry foods that have a long shelf life and aren't at risk from a power outage.
(I also recommend having a good water filter. Our Berkey water filter will filter water from rivers, streams, or even rain water.)
Losing weight isn't just about eating less food... it's about trading in those cheap tortilla chips, frozen pizzas, and fill-me-up casseroles (the ones everyone brags about skimping on the meat to save money!) for healthier, low-calorie but filling options. ("Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely)
Here are some of the foods we've used to lose weight without substantially increasing our food budget:
Rolled oats (make into oatmeal for breakfast)
Bananas, apples, or whatever fruit is on sale
Frozen veggies or on-sale veggies (steam or eat raw)
Romaine lettuce (make salads ahead w/lettuce, carrots, etc.)
Dry beans (can cook ahead and freeze; use in these recipes)
Brown rice (can cook ahead and freeze)
Ingredients to make soups (veggie or bean-based, freezer-friendly!)
Lean protein -- chicken is what we get
Phew, that was a lot of topics all in one! But there you have it -- an overview of our personal approach to eating good food, buying in bulk, and storing food -- while staying out of debt.
By the way, my target grocery budget is currently $420 monthly for our family of 2 adults and children ages 7, 5, 3, and 1. I've been blogging my grocery trips this year with item prices, and you can find those posts here! :) I also shared some ramblings (and confessions) about our grocery budget here. :)
I'll be back tomorrow with links to the other great posts from the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :) In the mean time, I'd love to hear from you in the comments... hint, hint ;)