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Strategies for Stretching Our Food Budget

by Tara Kuczykowski on April 4, 2012 · 18 comments


I don't know about you all, but there's something about Tax Day looming on the horizon that inspires me to buckle down and clean up our finances. Admittedly we've gotten a little lax with our spending, but also as our children continue to grow, our grocery bill is creeping up along with them. So in an effort to trim our food budget, I'm going to be focusing on some of these tactics:

  • Snacks are a big challenge for us with the kids. They love the Clif Kid Bars, but the five of them can go through them in no time flat, and they're not exactly inexpensive. We're encouraging them to try eating more fresh fruit for snacks by having it cut up and readily available in the refrigerator, and Cuties are always a hit (however, finding a good batch of them this year has been a disappointing endeavor). This is still a work in progress, so I'm hiding the Clif Bars and rationing them out in the meantime.
  • When we do choose to eat out, we always make sure we're getting the most for our money by utilizing loyalty programs, coupons, and special promotions. A smart choice for our family is always IHOP. My husband and I can choose from their 7 for $7 meal offerings, and the kids can choose from their reasonably priced kids' menu. Plus I hate bringing home leftovers because they typically go uneaten, and I never have to worry about them not cleaning their plates here!
  • We'll be joining a CSA again this year. Yes, it can seem like a lot of money out of pocket up front, but our weekly CSA baskets were more than enough for our large family each week, and we're still enjoying some of the excess fruit in our smoothies. Plus having a set amount of money already deducted for produce makes budgeting a little easier.
  • The whole family is drinking more water. We do purchase bottled water for the kids to easily grab when they're playing outside, but for the most part at meals and during the day, we're all drinking tap water from the refrigerator dispenser. My husband and I like to squeeze a little lemon into ours, but we've discovered that they kids are perfectly content with a big glass of ice water. The only downside is our ice maker is having trouble keeping up with the seven of us, so I've been trying to turn on the ultra plus feature at night before we go to bed and emptying it into a bin first thing in the morning so we always have some extra on hand.

By this time I think we all have a good handle on how to save money with coupons, but lately it seems like the number of food coupons is dwindling. Did you notice how many health and beauty and cleaning product coupons were in the recent inserts?

What strategies are you using to save on food beyond coupons? Are you making more staples at home too? What about saving on eating out?

Disclosure: IHOP has provided me with compensation for the time and effort spent creating this post. However, my opinions are entirely my own -- always have been, always will be.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Leigh Elliott April 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I am also making my own bread from scratch as well as pizza, even hamburger buns! It's very easy, and with just a little bit of planning, you really just need time. I am home a lot so that is pretty easy for me. But many bread recipes are "no knead" and dough can be kept in the fridge, taken out and baked as needed.
As for dining out, we definitely take advantage of many of our local restaurants which offer a kids eat free night. Typically m-th. Pizzeria Uno has family day on Tuesdays, kids eat free for every adult entree purchased, lunch or dinner. Last week, I took my daughter to lunch there and she ate for free and I had a personal sized pizza which was enough for 2, I took home leftovers, and also had unlimited soup. For $11.03 before tip, we both had lunch and a meal to take home!
I have also found a lot of good deals for entertainment in my local area, movies, kids gyms, etc, through valpak.com the deals change frequently but they are good.
As for stretching the food dollar further, adding in things such as a can of beans or a can of diced tomatoes to stretch the dinners out, and fill us up more on the cheap, are good choices. And buying less meat. We usually have one night a week at least that is just pasta/veggies, and usually one night when I make beef or another kind of meat, I'll make enough for leftovers.
Also, buy frozen veggies vs fresh. They won't go bad and you can just use what you need. They usually taste better too! Except in the summer time when the local farmers markets have tons of beautiful fresh veggies and are so affordable.

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2 Rachel B. April 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

We're making our own pancakes on weekends and freezing the surplus for other breakfasts instead of buying frozen waffles, buying popping corn in bulk and using a brown bag in the microwave instead of expensive microwavable pop corn and using bulk vanilla yogurt and fruit to make smoothies and popscicles instead of buying ice cream or novelties.

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3 Tara Kuczykowski April 4, 2012 at 8:13 pm

We make the homemade microwave popcorn too! Here's how we do it if anyone's interested: http://unsophisticook.com/homemade-microwave-popcorn/

Pretty scary to learn that the store bought stuff contains contains nearly four dozen chemicals!

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4 melissa April 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm

A great way to skip on the butter but not on flavor is to spray your popcorn with cooking spray and then season wikth gralic salt and/or parm cheese! Yum! (a dr. oz tip)

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5 Courtney April 4, 2012 at 5:01 pm

With 5 kids gettting bigger by the minute this is a very timely post! Thank you!! One thing I have started doing is making smoothie "bags" to keep in the freezer. At the beginning of the week I portion out fruit in ziplock bags (usually strawberries, some other berry and bananas). Then for snack or a quick lunch on the go, just plop the whole thing in the blender with your choice of water, juice, milk, etc and there you have it. Popcorn is another big favorite too. Like the comment above, we also buy in bulk and pop our own.

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6 brenda blaine April 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm

1. for school lunches I pre-package my own snacks (crackers, dries fruit etc...)
2. I also buy generic cereal and make my own cereal bars.
3. I pre cook pancakes for a fast throw in the microwave breakfast b4 school.
4. I also installed a clothes line last sring and shaved 200 bucks off my electric bill.
5. plant my own garden and doubled the tomato plants....made my own sauce and freeze it to last the winter.
6. I barter with friends that provide services that I need.

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7 Tara Kuczykowski April 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm

You know, that's something else I've been thinking about -- school lunches. The prices seem to be going up and up every year. I was just telling my husband recently that soon we'll be paying upwards of $50 a week just for the kids to eat school lunch. Surely packed lunchs would be less expensive, though less convenient. Might be time for a family meeting on the topic!

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8 Bryan April 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

We mostly save when we eat out by just drinking water. It's boring, I know, but saving $5-$6 on soda whenever we eat out does add up.

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9 melissa April 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm

For sure skip on the soda...especially after watching the clip on 60 min called
"sugar, the toxic truth". You will never enjoy soda like you used to. lol

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10 Amanda L April 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I just have a 9 month old, so I'm not sure about saving on eating out or anything with kids. We just don't eat out and that saves cash. :)

We have started making many more staples at home and are seeing a savings. A bread machine saves my life! We also buy meat in bulk. If you can find somewhere to get meat from a farmer/butcher it can save a lot. We got half a cow and it was less than 2.50 a pound for organic meat. I know places also offer whole chickens and half/whole pigs at lower prices.

I have also been trying to buy less cleaning products and doing more things with simple vinegar, baking soda or other ingredients to cut down that end of the budget as well.

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11 natalie April 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm

yogurt drops are my current favorite snacks - my kids are 20 mos and 3, and you take a container of yogurt and spoon it into a bag, snip off a corner and make drops onto a cookie sheet then freeze one hour. They're great! My kids love clif z bars too.

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12 Rainey April 5, 2012 at 1:13 am

I saw this and thought about trying it, its making your own energy bars like Cliff bars.
http://www.practicalhacks.com/2008/08/04/homemade-energy-bars-cheap-delicious-and-surprisingly-easy/

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13 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2012 at 9:05 am

Thanks for sharing. I'm gonna try this!

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14 Danielle April 5, 2012 at 8:08 am

I have been using that bread book for a few years now and love it. I use organic flour, so it is more expensive but cuts chemicals. We are vegetarian, so don't have to spend money at the grocery store and instead hit the much cheaper and fresher fruit stands. We found recipes online for our own cleaners and bug spray. I buy natural shampoo/soap bars from the farmers market ad make my baby's food. Just by not buying baby food we have saved over a hundred dollars this month. Plenty of recipes online for things like clif bars so you can drop the processed junk out of your diet. By making our own cleaning products we have saved a lot of money, reduced our waste, and rid our bodies and house of harmful chemicals. Now we have more money for organic produce!

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15 Carmen April 5, 2012 at 11:33 am

I'm wondering how you save money on making your own butter. For us, the price of buying cream ends equaling about $3 per pound to make butter! Instead I've been stocking up when our local gas station and grocery stores have it one sale for $1.69-1.99 / lb.

We're also rural enough that we can't do this, but a friend told me just last weekend how they never eat out without using some Groupon or LivingSocial deal. Saves that family of 5 a ton of money!

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16 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2012 at 11:48 am

Where do you live, Carmen? I rarely see butter at those prices here -- only recently because of the awesome Land O Lakes coupon.

And I should say that I don't make all of our butter, but we do prefer the homemade for toast and bread.

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17 Carmen April 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I live near the border of Wisconsin / Minnesota. Kwik Trip (gas convenience store) currently has butter for $1.99 until April 13 (limit 5). They do this every few months for 3-4 weeks and I stock up (I go at least once a week). Hyvee just put butter on sale for $1.58 through next Tues (limit 2). Is the quality as good as Land O Lakes? No. But when it's mixed into foods we really can't tell.

I think the last time we picked up a pint of cream, we ended up with only 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of butter. It tasted incredible, but too pricey unless we get our own cow LOL.

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18 SavingwithSaveOne April 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm

I did notice that there are more health & beauty coupons rather than for food.

I pretty much eat the same things all the time, so I always make sure to find coupons for those specific products and I switch brands all the time to which ever coupons are available, like I eat soy tacos a lot, so I will eat different brands of taco shells depending on which coupon are available. Same thing with pasta, burrito shells and pasta sauce. I also love that steam in the bag veggies are always on sale for .99 cents. That's really awesome! I always have a freezer full of them.

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