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how do you keep weekly food costs down?

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My husband and I eat well- but I am always trying to keep our weekly grocery bill down. If left unchecked- which it has been at times- I spend way,way too much on the two of us.

I shop seperately for my children- their tastes are typical for their age- so I have a handle on their food budget.

I would love to hear what others do to keep the spending in check-

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  1. I try to buy meat at Sams Club but with only 2 of us and my chest freezer gave up the ghost in November, it is hard to store much. They do sell much in large quantities. But my local grocery stores have such high prices like $10.99 for lamb chops and Sams sells them at $8.49/lb it is worth my time to go there. I wish we had a Costco closer but it is a good hour to an hour and a half away.

    I'm not replacing the freezer either. Too much stuff got put in there and forgotten. That was expensive!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      Our household is 4 adults (youngest child is 19), and we do eat well. Nothing comes out of the can (except maybe tomatoes) - very little prepared foods. We've had an 18 cu ft freezer for over 20 years. We buy just about all our meats at Costco, and separate them into smaller packages for freezing. We also buy most of our beer/wine (and everything else) there. The local supermarket is for fresh veg's, milk, eggs, etc - about 2 times per week, and the specialty shops (Japanese food store, TJ's, Whole Foods, Butcher Boy) is about 2-3 times a month (altogether - not per place) to buy butter, specialty cheeses, Japanese items, etc.

      For us, saving money is not eating out. We can drop $120 on a nice meal without going to a really extravagant place - we can drop $50+ on take-out. Every night we "fail" (too tired, too busy) in planning and executing a meal is a big kaching in the food bill.

      The freezer takes care of itself with periodic review and planning. We don't keep a list of what's in there, and we're not that formal about planning (no weekly schedule on paper, or anything like that). But we go rummaging through the freezer at least weekly (it's a chest, so you really do have to rummage), and decide what we're having as main meals for the next few days - also tells us what we need to buy and when to restock.

      I think we do quite well for the quality and quantity of what we eat. We like eating out on special occasions, and periodically with friends, and we like to try special places, and don't mind the cost. But it's the week to week trips to the same old places (out of desperation) that seem to get us so often.

      If I take out 4 nice top loin strip steaks from the freezer and my wife gasps that I'm about to cook $28 worth of meat... but then I remind her what the dinner would cost at just the local steak place, never mind Morton's (and the Costco Choice beef is closer to Morton's than the local Select cuts), and we agree that, well - we shouldn't do this every night, but it is definitely cheaper and better than going out.

      There are a lot more chicken breasts or italian sausage or pork loin or flank steak or catfish or steak tip nights (whatever we make these into) than there are porterhouse or tuna steak nights.

      1. re: applehome

        Applehome, I work around the corner from Butcher Boy, and I'm curious about where the Japanese food store is. Sometimes I go to a Korean grocery on So. Union in Lawrence, and the Whole Foods in Bedford, but I am always looking for new specialty places to shop.

        1. re: lonetree

          I answered your post on the Boston board - see link below.

          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    2. Well, if you handle the kids thing separately, this is what my husband and I, who are childless by choice, do. We eat extremely well - too well, really. He's very spoiled. He is British, so we got in that European habit of shopping every day...this nearly killed us. We were spending up to $400 a month on the two of us. Now we are spending half that and actually eating better. And we have a different meal every night, I don't do leftovers. This was freezer week, so the total grocery bill for the week was just under $50.

      Plan the meals ahead of time. So for example, I plan 5 meals per week. I decide on Sunday what we will eat each night, including veggies and side dishes, condiments and everything. I of course can switch them around at will.

      I make a grocery list of everything I need for the entire week. Everything. You have to plan for any baking you might do, extra butter, milk etc.

      I make one, and only one, trip to the market. I get it all and that is it. No more trips to the market. That is the key to the whole thing. One trip a week.

      I use coupons when I can, but only if it's a regular purchase anyway. I bulk buy what I can. For example, I buy family packs of meat at a discount and break them down. I take advantage of two for one deals, because I have storage space and a freezer.

      I have cut the bills in half. It's working really well and lets us to other things with the money like eat out twice a week.

      Some other things I do....once a week is a meatless night....and I make and freeze extra meals whenever I can. That way, I don't have to buy meat every week. Sometimes I don't have to buy anything. Once a month we have freezer week, where we just enjoy things from the freezer with homemade bread. Also, learn to cook with the cheaper ingredients. Chicken thighs are just as good as breasts, Top sirloin instead of Rib Steaks, that kind of thing, which you probably already to anyway. I don't buy premixed processed food of any kind. I make it all from scratch. I also skimp in one area to splurge in another...for instance, I plan a very cheap meal (pasta or something I can make with what I have on hand) so I can get the really good cheese or the portobellos or whatever. I have learned to trade off in a way that is acceptable to me as a chef and a chowhound and acceptable to my husband as the chief manager of the grocery budget (this means he adds up the reciepts at the end of the month and logs it in the database)

      I'm sure you will get plenty of feedback....looking forward to some new ideas.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Cyndy

        thanks for the input! my husband is British too- from Scotland- and I also tend to shop every day- but I work at home so it is easy to slip out- this has to change.

        1. re: edinaeats

          You will love it...I swear I am so much less stressed. And you never have to think about meals...you just open the fridge and there they are. Since you are working at home, you can spend the time you would ordinarily be shopping on yourself, which everyone needs in a big way.

          Btw...I just love your name...my best friend has a variation of it...her's is A'Dena. Every time I see Edinaeats, I think what a great title that would be for a cookbook!

          1. re: Cyndy

            Do you make lunch every day or buy it? My husband takes lunch to work- so I make extra the night before.
            - but it can be costly.

            Where is your husband from?

            1. re: edinaeats

              My husband is from Worcester...right smack in the center of the country. He takes lunch every single day. Makes it himself, too :-) I take mine most days, but I am fussier about what I eat and such. I don't like to eat sandwiches day after day. We work in a building with a heavily subsidised cafeteria system - one of the very few perks of working in technology is cheap soup, apparently, so it's about 3 dollars a day for a decent lunch.

        2. re: Cyndy

          I don't think you'll find many people in Britain who shop every day for food - that's much more Continental than it is British. Most people here tend to do a weekly shop at the supermarket. (I'm a daily shopper myself). I also don't think that $400 a month is too bad for food, but then I'm extravagant!

          1. re: greedygirl

            The thing is, this thread is from 3 1/2 years ago; I don't know anybody who can get away with $400 a month anymore if they eat a balanced diet. Back then I probably spent $200 to $300, and now it's $500 to $600, and I'm a really frugal shopper and make everything from scratch, and get a good amount of freebies from work too. It's scary how fast everything changed!

            1. re: coll

              I agree, coll. Three years ago my grocery store bill was consistently around $450 for 2 adults, 1 small child and 2 cats. I bought almost all our food at the same store as well as cleaning supplies, paper products, most personal care items etc. I'm also a somewhat frugal shopper. Buy a lot of sale stuff, cook from scratch, use coupons. Well, three years later our monthly bills at the same store are closer to $800 and the only things that have changed are that the small child has gotten bigger, and we added a little dog to the family, who doesn't eat very much. I also started buying milk and eggs without antibiotics and hormones which costs a lot more but I don't use all that much in a month's time (my son will not, absolutely not, drink milk.) It is scary how fast prices have gone up in a very short period of time. And I just read in the paper yesterday that our state's natural gas suppliers for home heating are looking for 22% rate increases for next winter. I am seriously going to have to work a lot harder at finding and making frugal but nutritious meals for my family. I wonder just how bad things are going to get...

        3. I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't have a Costco/Sam's Club membership--I hate buying in bulk, want more variety, and can find the same prices elsewhere w/ a little effort.

          It's just me and my husband, and we eat and cook like the foodies that we are. What I do to keep costs down w/o compromising our chowish needs: only buy items on sale and produce that's in season. This means not being a slave to recipes and just opening up the fridge and throwing stuff together.

          When I feel like I'm buying more than we're using and the pantry's getting full, then I play a little game w/ myself and force myself to use up what I have w/o shopping for X number of days. Some of my best creations have arisen this way...Also stay away from useless and unhealthy processed/packaged items as much as possible.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Carb Lover

            Just the two of us here and two dogs who have their 'separate' menu. We do the same thing - being a war-time baby I cannot throw out food so we always plan a couple of days ahead and often finish up leftovers for lunch (not always, sometimes we cook for lunch and have the leftovers the next day for dinner). For the most part - its high end gourmet cooking by either one of us and we have tried in recent months to make less food so there aren't any leftovers. I always keep the receipts - good to keep to have an idea of what is going out on food. Now eat more at home and less out because we travel a lot on business and I hate to eat out traveling and then eat out at home.

            1. re: Zoe

              With the exception of saving receipts, your description applies to us exactly, right down to the two dogs. We make no particular effort to constrain or keep track of our grocery bill. If we feel like economizing, we don't eat out - which is no great sacrifice because we're both traveling and eating out too much anyway, and we learned a long time ago you can make better food at home - better than all but a very short list of nationally famous restaurants - for a fraction of the price. And, because we planned properly 20 years ago, drink better wine.

              1. re: FlyFish

                Did you lay down good wine 20 years ago? In my case I used to be able to drink Plonk but as I grew older, must have a decent glass of wine/champagne to drink or would rather drink water.

                1. re: Zoe

                  I bought a substantial number of cases of classified growth Bordeaux in the mid-80s - enough to last me the rest of my life, with a bit of careful management. I really didn't appreciate at the time what a good investment it would be. For example, I still have a couple cases of '85 Ch. Gloria that I bought when it came on the market in '87 (or maybe it was '88) at a bit under $9 a bottle. It's really drinking marvelously. Not only could I not afford it now (which goes without saying) - but I really can't bring myself to pony up the $50 or so that the current vintages of Gloria are retailing for.

                  1. re: FlyFish

                    I'm envious - we just have to rely on Wallys Liquor down the street from us in Westwood (Los Angeles) - he has an unbelievable selection of wine. His annual 'tent' sale is the weekend of Feb.19th - marvellous buys in wine, champagne and all the other drinks that make our lives happier.

                    1. re: Zoe

                      YOu live in LA and have to rely on Wally's? How come--there's a zillion places to buy wine here.

            2. re: Carb Lover

              we don't have a club membership either- and avoid all processed foods.

              I do the buying whats on sale and in season- but for some reason I think the area we live - food prices expensive (I know that folks in other areas will laugh...)

              It is a challenge to eat well- and fresh- and remain on a reasonable budget. I go through phases when I also try to add 'only organic' to the criteria- but the costs just soar then...

            3. What a great thread. Thanks. I never thought about asking anyone else about this.

              Cheers.

              1. Maybe you shoudn't be shopping separately for you and your kids? One of the lessons I learned via Chowhound and through some child rearing books is that your kids should be eating what you eat. No short order cook. My son is 19 months old and we eat as a family and all the same food. I definitely cook a bit differently - more chicken and more rice but not so different than I used to. Because of it my sons favorite meal is tandoori chicken and he loves spicy food, falafel and pasta with meatballs etc.

                Also, planning meals and shopping once a week is key, Every Sunday my husband and I plan by day what we are eating for dinner, we make the shopping lsit according to that plan and I shop based on that. If there are things on sale (we live in NYC and circulars are not common), I change the dinner plan on the spot. Weekends are for new recipes since we have more time.

                Hope this helps.