I borrowed the book “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family” from the library, and wow, what a learning experience!
The book has been a tremendous help with getting me back on track with a budget & saving money! A few months ago, I set up a preliminary spreadsheet budget, but now I have a more detailed budget. It’s become an obsession now!
Although not all of the suggestions and tips apply to every family’s situation, this book could be helpful for anyone wanting to learn how to spend less on groceries, as well as help to organize your kitchen and pantry. Even if you implement one or two of their suggestions, you will win!
The chapters are as follows: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (or More); The Power of the Plan; Shopping to Win; Couponing-One of the Many Ways to Save; Cooking That Will Save You Time, Money, & Sanity; Stocking Up & Organizing-Store It, Find It, Use It; Economizing Equipment-Powerful Money Saving Tools; Family Dinnertime-Building a Stronger Family at the Table; Feeding Your Kids for Less; Where and How to Eat Out for Less; Gardening-Grow It Yourself & Be Healthy; Bag Up the Savings; Bonus: More Ways Singles & Empty Nesters Can Save a Boodle; Recipes.
I decided to read it in order, from cover to cover, and try to implement their advice as I read along.
The book stresses the importance of a solid menu plan, which is probably the area in which I need the most help.
I would love to get into a routine of planning specific meals and building a shopping list that works together with the meal plan. That will be my biggest challenge.
Just last week, I tried to create a dinner menu for the week, but something always changes and I end up off track again. But the book is encouraging, explaining that changes to not happen overnight. It takes time and practice to get things right!
I’m also trying cook extra meal portions to “feed the freezer.” I already do that to some extent, but it needs to be kicked into high gear with better organization and planning. I started keeping an inventory list of what’s in our freezer, because unless you know what’s in the freezer, you won’t use it!
It’s really an awesome feeling knowing that on busy nights, I can rely on a freezer full of ready-to-reheat homemade meals, that just need to be defrosted that morning or the night before. It’s the art of planning ahead!
Shop Less, Spend Less
The authors propose that to save money on groceries, it’s essential to shop less often; they shop only one night a month at 2-3 stores offering the best sales. Once a month would be impossible for me, as I rely too much on fresh produce, but I am aiming for once every 7-10 days. It’s difficult because I do enjoy grocery shopping, but I’m going to give this a try and see if it helps to keep spending within my budget.
The book also teaches some of the tricks & mind games that grocery stores play to get you to purchase more. I learned that stores WANT you to impulse buy, and they make tons from shoppers just stopping to buy “just one thing”!
And I passed my first “test” last week. I wanted to make muffins, but I had no milk (dairy or non-dairy) in the house. I wasn’t planning on grocery shopping until this week, so I really didn’t want to go to the store for one item, and I kept thinking about the advice in the book. Just make due and substitute what you need with something you already have. So, I used my brain-power (whoo hoo), and realized that in place of milk, I could use yogurt, which I had plenty of. Problems solved! I was so proud of myself!
I’m definitely going to try to stick to my shopping list, and not give in to impulse buys! One tip from the book is to keep any impulse items in the grocery cart top rack, and when you are all done shopping, look again at each item and decide if it’s worth adding to your grocery total.
My Personal Tip for Smart Phone Users
I have a tip of my own for smart phone users: The Grocery IQ app is not so “smart” anymore
has been indispensable when I’m shopping. IMPORTANT UPDATE: On May 8, 2012, Grocery IQ updated their app removing the ability for product pricing, thus making the app utterly useless for anyone on a budget! I don’t know what their motivation was, but the app was totally redesigned, also removing my customized aisles and history.
I’ll be writing a detailed review of Grocery IQ app soon, but to summarize, the app
keeps used to keep a running $ total of items in my grocery cart as well as what’s left on my shopping list. That way I know There is now no way to know exactly how much I’m spending and it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to use than I might as well just use a calculator!
I loved the tip in the book about rainchecks. I ask for rainchecks all the time at Whole Foods when an item is out of stock. I never thought about asking for a raincheck for an item that might actually be in stock, but perhaps you would like to purchase at a later date for the sale price.
Prebagged Produce Weighs More
I think my favorite tip in the book was to buy prebagged produce.
Months ago, my sister told me how much she loved buying the 2lb bags of organic carrots at Whole Foods. I always thought it was silly because the price for loose carrots was $1.29/lb while the bagged carrots were $1.25/lb. Why not pick and choose your own carrots for a few more pennies?
Well, I’ll tell you why. The book states that prebagged produce by law must contain at least the weight claimed on the bag, and most manufacturers will err on the side of caution and add more ounces to the bag.
They’re right! I weighed the 2 lb bag of prebagged carrots I bought at Whole Foods and it was 2.33 lbs. That brings the cost per pound down to $1.07, saving over 20 cents per pound vs the loose carrots. No, it’s not a budget shattering savings, but it made me feel good, and at the same time, it made me think of my sister, whom I love very much! <3
Know Your Prices
Following the advice in the book, I set up a “best price” spreadsheet for regularly purchased items, along with an additional spreadsheet to compare bulk pricing. Yes, it is time consuming, and the book warns you about that, but once I researched prices from Whole Foods, Amazon.com (subscribe & save) and iHerb.com, it was amazing to see the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in price.
I keep a pdf copy of the list on my iPhone, and also a printed copy if needed.
I still have a long way to go with price organization, but I’m off to a great start!
Buying Used Appliances
The authors suggest buying used vs new when it comes to some appliances, but you must be informed before purchasing. Know the value of the item, check sales to compare to how much it costs as new. Research the brand name for reliability. Is the seller the original owner, do they have the sales receipt and instruction manual? Visiting the seller’s home can tell you a lot about the integrity of a person.
It’s okay to haggle to get the best price, and again, that’s where researching fair market value is helpful.
It’s very important to know the item’s serial number and either call the manufacturer or research on www.appliance411.com/service/date-code.php to find out the age of the product. Sellers notoriously under-age their products, and it’s always a good idea to know beforehand if a product truly is 5 years old or if it’s 25 years old. They suggest a cap of 4-5 years old when purchasing used items. If a serial number plate is missing, it could be stolen.
Get a receipt when purchasing used with date, amount paid, serial number, and buyer & seller names.
There are great suggestions in the book concerning organizing your freezer, including placing the contents in paper bags – something I’m going to try!
They also warn against keeping your freezer in an area that has temperatures less than 55° – I did not know that! We have our chest freezer in the workroom downstairs, and I’m not sure if it gets colder than that in the winter. I’ll have to check into it.
Another great tip is to use table linens/cloth napkins actually made of linen not polyester. Linen lasts a very long time and is stain resistant, but it needs to be ironed. It’s also lint-free, which also makes older, warn linens great for cleaning windows and glass. Estate sales are a great place to find linen table cloths and napkins for very cheap prices.
Cheap Food is Not the Answer
One strategy that I strongly disagree with is their advice to purchase cheap food, especially meat, dairy and eggs. Purchasing beef at $.99/lb is NOT a healthy choice.
Cheap meat is directly related to factory farming which abuse animals and destroy our environment; I would rather pay more for better-raised meats and just eat less of it.
The more we encourage “cheap” food, the worse our nation and our economy will become.
It’s not just animal products, cheap produce encourages pesticide usage, which affects the health of farm workers, as well as the health of those consuming the produce.
Farmers can’t afford to keep growing responsibly, because the public demands low cost food! Organic is not always the answer, but at least it protects the environment and farm workers from being exposed to toxins.
It’s unfortunate, but we’ve become a nation that is dictated by the thrill of a “bargain.” I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to save money when grocery shopping, but we shouldn’t expect rock bottom prices either. There’s a reason that it’s so cheap, and we’re paying the price with our health and our environment, while big food companies are gaining huge profits!
But I don’t have a large family to feed (there’s just two of us) so I really can’t blame the authors for purchasing “cheap food.” I consider myself lucky that I am able to have that choice, and realize that other families cannot afford to.
Admittedly, there are occasions that even I can’t stop myself from buying something that I know is not humanely raised, like a block of good cheese. And there are moments (especially after reading this book) that I think about how much I’d really be saving if I just gave in and purchased cheap food on sale in the weekly fliers. But until the day that I’m desperately in monetary straights, I will continue to eat as I do, knowing that yes, I am probably spending a lot more, but it’s worth it!
And THAT is the beauty of the book, you aren’t forced to do as they do, unless of course you want to. There were plenty of other ideas that I found extremely beneficial.
I encourage everyone to grab a copy of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family
And to boot, the book is at a bargain price of under $7 brand new shipped from Amazon! – but if you want to save even more cash, then borrow it from your local library like I did! I promise either way, you will learn something that helps your food budget!
America’s Cheapest Family website – lots more tips, and videos of their appearances on various TV and radio shows. This family is marketing genius!
America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money – their first book, which I have on order at the library. Looking forward to reading it!