Friday, July 11, 2014

Grocery Budgeting

No recipes today, but another topic about  which I feel strongly: grocery budgeting.

Sticking to a small grocery budget can be difficult, even for someone who doesn't have food allergies. My grocery budget is around $100 per week for our family of 5 with allergies to egg, wheat and shellfish. This includes toiletries and food for our two dogs and one cat. Here's how I am able to do that: 

Planning, planning, planning!
Once a week I sit down and plan out the menu for the following week. My weekly planner also includes a spot for activities going on during the week, because that can have an effect on what I plan for a particular day. For example, if I work late, I might plan something that's quick or something that can go in the crockpot. If I don't work, I might plan something that takes longer to fix, like a roast chicken. 

Sale Ads
I build our menu around what we have in the fridge and pantry and what is on sale. I have definite thresholds for what I will buy. For meat, it is generally $1.99/pound. For fruit, it's generally $.99/pound. I do buy pre-made cereal, and my threshold for that is $1.99, with coupons.

Naturally Allergy-Friendly Meals
As I'm planning meals, I look first at meals that are naturally free of our allergens. Allergy-friendly substitutes can be found, but they are generally very expensive. To avoid wheat, I look for dishes that are rice-based or naturally grain-free.


Some people criticize coupons for only being for highly processed stuff that doesn't work for people with food allergies, and I admit that I used to think like that too. Then I was in on a webinar with a couponing expert whose son had food allergies. She put it this way: anything that she could save with coupons was more that she could put toward allergy-friendly food for her son. That clicked for me. She also pointed out that many allergy-friendly foods often have coupons. For example, I can regularly find coupons for Schar Gluten-Free, So Delicious Dairy-Free and Van's. Enjoy Life has coupons that you can print monthly. Subscribe to your favorite allergy-friendly brands' emails and like them on Facebook for more coupons.

I also try to stack coupons with sale ads to maximize savings. For example, cereal that is normally $3+ still doesn't fall under my threshold with a $.50 coupon. However, cereal that is on sale for $1.49, with a $.50 coupon makes for a more affordable treat.

Some people go hog wild with coupons and sale ads, buying as many as they can get at that price. If you have unlimited storage space and grocery budget, this is one way to fill in the gaps between sales. However, for those of us living on a strict budget, spending $25 on salad dressing because we can get it cheap is not necessarily a good option. As with most things in life, moderation is probably the best thing here. 

Whole Foods (not the store)
I tend to buy whole foods - that is foods that aren't very processed. Most weeks, the bulk of my shopping list is produce, much of which is on sale. 

Gleaning and Canning
During the growing season, I'm not bashful about letting people know that I will take any extra produce they may have. I use surplus tomatoes to make salsa, zucchinis to make relish, and fruit to make jam. I have yet to find the fruit or vegetable that leaves me stumped as to what to do with it.

Non-Food Items
I have absolutely no brand loyalty whatsoever. I will buy whatever is cheapest with sales and coupons. This extends to non-food items as well. With sales and coupons I am frequently able to get shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant cheap or free.

Splurge Sometimes!
With my kids' restricted diets, I do allow splurges from time to time, usually something that's on sale and for which I have coupons. One thing that I do periodically is have the kids draw a recipe. I keep track of all the recipes in my collection and once a week, the kids can each draw a recipe from the recipe bag. It's fun for them and can sometimes break us out of a menu rut.

What are your best grocery budgeting tips?

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