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Downsizing our grocery bill, family of 4....

I am suddenly faced with my husbands layoff earlier in the week. Keep in mind, i'm a chowhound...and a frugal one at that. We eat very little meat, but need to spend a good deal of money on Soy milk for one toddler, and regular milk for another, both of whom are growing rapidly, and constantly hungry. We buy a good deal of our produce from a local wholesale market called Russos and the prices are pretty good there, and I've never spent all that much at Whole foods other than pre-cooked convienience items. Our closest grocery is trader Joes...and I do buy about half of our weekly groceries there, Frozen goods and some dairy items come from a wholesale club....and I've been cutting coupons already for years!

We eat lots of whole grain pasta, cheese, beans,, rice and potatoes, frozen and fresh veggies, tofu and soy.... and chicken and fish about once a week. I don't want to sacrifice health.... and my Penzey's herb stash is in good shape for now.

Any ideas on how an already frugal chowhound can pare down the family grocery bill? We're hoping that he won't be out of work long, but I need to prepare for the worst. I still have my job; but we need to really cut back.

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  1. Hey, sorry to hear about your husband's layoff. It sounds like you're making a lot of smart choices.

    This is a tough one, because you mention you are already pretty frugal and seem to be doing a lot of the things I would already recommend to someone.

    You mention you belong to a wholesale club, but do you have access to a food co-op? At our local co-op you can get a 10% discount on anything you buy by the case, even if it's on sale. I'm thinking of your soy milk. I don't know if this would be cheaper than your other options.

    At my local co-op (I keep repeating that because I don't know if is an option for everywhere), you can also buy bulk cleaning supplies, olive oil, soy sauce, honey, nut butters, etc. All you have to do is bring your own clean, lidded containers. Tupperware, washed out peanut butter jars, etc.

    Is powdered milk an option?

    Do you have any good ethnic markets? I find that produce at the ethnic markets to be super affordable, though, if you can get frozen produce on sale and/or with a coupon at a conventional grocery store, you can do super well with that.

    Also re: produce, I don't know if you are accustomed to buying organic, but if you are, you can keep in mind the dirty dozen (those items for which you would want to pay extra for organic) and buy conventional for all else.

    Another way to trim back your food-related budget is to think about your energy usage. The crockpot, microwave, and pressure cooker are super energy efficient. I know they aren't sexy, but they will help keep your fuel bill down, which would help in overall. (The home oven, on the other hand, is a real energy hog. If you are going to use your oven, use it to bake several things at once. Or, if you can, use your toaster oven, for instance, if you're doing something small'ish such as toasting nuts.) Have you seen Rick Bayless' crock pot beans recipe for instance?

    Here's Paula Deens. You don't even need the ham hock... http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/pa...

    Bittman on microwave cooking:

    Also, I know you already know this, but extend, extend, extend. We're coming on summer and zucchini is super inexpensive once it starts coming. We add it to everything. Chili, meatloaf, soups, etc. We just shred it and freeze it in one cup portions. Same with carrots. We put oatmeal and carrots in our meatloaf. We sometimes add tofu crumbles in addition to our ground beef in things like chili or sloppy joes. You think there's more meat than there is and it feels satisfying.

    Working horse grains: barley, oatmeal.

    Nuts can be a good source of protein in small quantities and you can often buy them on sale and/or with a coupon. Peanut butter, too.

    You didn't mention eggs as an inexpensive source of protein, so I'll mention that just in case.


    Also, tupperware instead of ziplock baggies, dishtowels instead of papertowels, cloth napkins. Good luck!


    12 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Another idea for buying in bulk -- Amazon has a fairly wide range of grocery products, and their Subscribe and Save feature gives you a 15% discount and free shipping when you create a subscription to a product (like soy milk). You can set intervals for Amazon to automatically send you the next shipment, or you can cancel the subscription immediately after ordering with no penalty.

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Here's a list of the dirty dozen (for which you might want to pay extra and buy organic) vs. the clean 15 which you could probably buy conventional produce. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/01/...


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Some of that list doesn't make sense. Apples are on it but not pears? Potatoes are dirty, but sweet potatoes are clean? Asparagus is clean, but celery is dirty?

          1. re: rworange

            A lot of it has to do with farming practices (pesticides typically used on certain produce but not on others, etc), not just the fruit/veg family and what kind of pest or blight or whatever control is needed, although that certainly does figure into how "clean" it is. Some of what plays into it is the fact that so much of our produce comes from just a handful of regions or even a handful of producers, often with similar practices.

            I find it a helpful guide but as usual YMMV! ;)

            1. re: rworange

              This list changes over the years, as the EWG reviews more current FDA & USDA studies regarding the 49 "common" fruits and vegetables they study. (Here's their methodology. Scroll to the bottom: http://www.foodnews.org/methodology.php)

              Funnily enough, pears used to be in the "dirty dozen", but have now dropped out of the dirty dozen to #15 (blueberries seemed to have replaced pears on the list of dirty dozen--wah!) Here's the full list ranking all 49 produce items from best (least amount of pesticides) to worst. http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php

              I'm not a farmer, but assume that certainly some crops are more heavily sprayed depending on the season and region of the country in which they are grown and what kinds of pests plague that particular crop. Also, I notice, for instance, blueberries now make the list of "dirty dozen". Blueberries have become very commercially popular in recent years (my personal observation). It wouldn't surprise me if farmers, in order to capitalize on the popularity of blueberries are growing them in more marginal environments compared to in the past, which might require more active pest control. Supply and demand.

              There is a loose, emphasis on the loose, commonality among the produce items that make the dirty dozen and among those that make the clean 15. The former tend to be produce that has very soft skins and/or are very leafy, whereas the "clean 15" tend to have hard skins.

              There is (at least) one wild card in the study and that is they test the produce after it has been washed and "prepared" to be eaten, including, sometimes, peeling. So, if you always peel your apples, for instance, and the FDA & USDA didn't for their studies, apples might have tested "worse" relative to how you personally consume apples and what your personal exposure to pesticides might likely be. But, there's no way to tell which items were peeled for testing and which were tested whole...

              But, I'm not at all surprised that the study reveals that sweet potatoes don't absorb as many pesticides as regular potatoes do. Regular potatoes are relatively soft and porous, whereas sweet potatoes are very, very hard. I was on a baked sweet potato fry kick a couple of years ago and bought one of those "french fry" potato cutters. It worked fine on regular potatoes and immediately bent and warped when I tried using it for sweet potatoes.

              I don't know why celery might be "dirty" and asparagus "clean", but many people peel asparagus before eating it. Maybe the FDA & USDA did, too, and that's why it tests as "clean"? Also, asparagus is a single stock, whereas celery is in a leafy bunch. Maybe celery is harder to wash? Finally, asparagus is grown in the early spring, whereas celery is planted later in the year. Perhaps there are more pests when the weather gets warmer? I do know that there has been a new pest plaguing celery since about 2007.

              Hard to say. Nevertheless, the EWG just puts this study out and suggests that if you are trying to cut costs, that conventionally-grown produce items that test in the "clean 15" tend to be pretty low in pesticides and you can feel pretty comfortable buying conventional produce, if you are finding organic produce to be too expensive.

              If you are concerned about pesticides, and they are suggesting perhaps you should be if you are pregnant or have young children (and they don't say so, but I will add, "if you have a compromised immune system"), that you might consider opting for organic produce for the items that test in the "dirty dozen," even though it is likely pricier.

              They do say, though, that you are better off eating even conventionally-grown produce, even "the dirty dozen", than no produce at all.

              For what it's worth.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Thanks for taking the time to write a great response.

                What do you mean you are no famer? You are The Dairy Queen. I picture you on a farm surrounded by cows and cheese.

                1. re: rworange

                  It's just like those happy cows commercials here, except a little colder, and with more lakes and fewer earthquakes. I think the real story of my name is on that long, long thread.


                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  With respect to asparagus, I suspect it has to do with the way it is grown. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that it is mostly underground, and then when the season is upon us, it literally shoots up overnight and grows as much as 12 inches a day. So perhaps the part we are eating may not have spent a lot of time exposed to critters or sprayed, vs. treating the soil, which might not have as much impact WRT residual pesticides.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath


                    I know wild asparagus grows in ditches all over Minnesota. If it can grow in the ditches, I imagine it's pretty hardy stuff. That, combined with your shooting up overnight theory, might explain why they test low for pesticides.


                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      Correct. The asparagus in my bed (outside, that is ;-) has virtually no pests. It's often only above ground for half a day before I cut it, and once the bed slows down and the plants grow into leafy fronds, even *they* seem to have no enemies but weeds. I've never seen a bug on my asparagus in five years!

            2. can you grow anything like tomatoes? Don't know where you live and whether it's too late to get some plants in the ground. My six plants have already given me a great crop and the next crop are setting.

              Make extra for left overs which saves energy, pad out beef and chicken stews with lots of root veggies which are cheap. See what's on sale like 2 for 1 and stock up. Use left over sauces and dressings for marinades rather than throw out, buy dried beans rather than canned. Stop buying convenience foods and cook from scratch.
              Hope your hubby finds a job soon.

              1. Hi, I'm sorry to hear about your husband's layoff too. We had a similar bump a few years ago so I was tightening _every_thing.

                As the others have said, I think you're doing all the frugal food stuff you can so I agree you will probably need to see where you can trim elsewhere in your home. Dairy Queen is right, small appliances really do use way less energy than cooking on your stove. Pressure cookers replace long slow braising and although I generally don't like microwave cooking, I do have a short list of things that turn out nice, including a chocolate cake which would normally take an hour in the oven but is only 6 minutes in the microwave.

                I also have only a few categories of things I will buy new (eg food and toiletries). Everything else I find second hand or make or re-purpose. Antiques and lovely old things cost less than pieces of chipboard crap from ikea or Target. If you like making things at all, you might like www.instructables.com where you can learn everything from how to make your own bacon to designer inspired light fixtures. Lots of cheap but good ideas.

                And I second smartie's idea to grow some things. I grew the things we spent the most on so I had our staples (onions, potatoes, salad leaves) as well as some treats.

                Even though everything is good for us again, I still live like this. I like it. It gives me peace to know I'm using less resources and putting less in landfills and I'm teaching my children good habits and I've been much more creative, so many good things have come from living cheaper.

                Good luck with it all. It was a big blessing in disguise for me.
                Hope your husband finds a good new job.

                1 Reply
                1. We shop at Russo's all the time too, so you must live in or near Boston. I recommend keeping an eye on the Stop and Shop or Star Market flyers and buying in quantity when pantry staples and things that can be frozen go on sale.

                  1. so sorry to hear you guys have hit a rough patch - i hope things turn around soon.

                    you've already gotten some terrific advice here, but you might pick up some more tips in these threads:

                    1. --Oatmeal for breakfast
                      --Apple Juice or Tomato juice
                      --split pea or lentil soup
                      --egg salad, frittatas
                      --cottage cheese
                      --Potatoes, onions, cabbage (look for sales - these keep well)
                      --Tacos (good for stretching meat)

                      Good luck (been there).

                      1. I'm confident I'm going to raise a LOT of growls with this one, but one of the major cost cutters I use is shopping at Walmart. But you have to read ALL of the ads from all of the markets in your area in order to maximize savings. As you go into any Walmart super store, you will find a bulletin board (usually cork) in most lobbies with ALL of the competition's local sales flyers from supermarkets. If a competitor has Campbell's soup (for example) on sale for 4 for a dollar and Walmart's price is $1.12 a can, if you ask for the competitor's price as check out, you will get it! Hass avocadoes three for a dollar (a loss leader) at Kroger;s and they're a dollar each at Walmart? Ask for the Kroger's price and they're yours. And Walmart does sell organic milk and produce. I like to buy those there just to underline the fact that "green" is an important sales tool, not "just" good for our and the planet's diets. Any "warehouse club" such as Sam's can be of benefit when you buy things like tomato paste and such in volumem but you MUST be aware of prices elsewhere or you can get burned. I prefer Sams to Costco because the annual membership is cheaper.

                        You don't mention whether you work or not, but with kids that young, maybe not. In either case, check IMMEDIATELY on whether you qualify for food stamps AND whether your kids qualify for CHIPS or Medicaid in your state. And I'm assuming you live in the U.S., but I haven't checked your profile page. These are critical and very helpful programs. I know. I know. When you're absolutely used to being entirely self sufficient, you often feel unworthy and ashamed when you have to use them. I went through that with my second divorce when some judge thought he was funny and allowed my husband to rob, cheat and steal all of our community property assets, and left me with $300.00 a month to live on after 18 years of marriage. But hey, the American justice system is not something you want to get me started on! So much as these programs may be unattractive to you, check them out for the sake of your kids!

                        Then there is a national program in the U.S. for which there is NO qualifying, just sign up, order by phone, and go pick it up at a local participating church when it's delivered there. No religious or any other criteria to meet. It's called Angel Food Ministries, and you can look over their program and offerings here: https://www.angelfoodministries.com/ At least look over there "menu" for what's available this month. Along these same lines, check out your local food banks. In many parts of the country, you can get all sorts of useful information about available help programs for all sorts of different things by simply dialing 211 and asking. And that can include help paying your utility bills.

                        If your family has any special medication needs, almost all pharmaceutical companies operating in the U.S. have programs through which they supply their drugs free to needy recipients, BUT they only deliver them to the physician of your choice, and you must go to his/her office to pick them up. BEWARE: There ARE "scavenger" companies who will do this for you for twenty five bucks (or more) a pop on the web, but the programs are FREE if you go directly to the drug manufacturer. You can get their phone numbers from "800" informaion. And Walmart has a generic drug program for everyone, regardless of age or financial means, for $4.00 per prescription. Target has a similar program, but I don' know their details.

                        I hope you have a "family size" freezer. Even if you live in an apartment and have to put it in your bedroom. When it comes to cutting food costs they are fantastic! BUT not so much if they're not energy efficient. A large freezer also allows you to cook large quantities at one time and freeze some for future meals. But when you cook things and freeze them yourself, with some things such as soups and stews, it is CRITICAL to have a layer of Seran (or other) plastic wrap in contact with the surface of the food to prevent build up of ice crystals. I use plastic ware, put the plastic film over the food, then seal the top and pop it into the freezer. Then pop it out and into a porcelain bowl to nuke it. For long term freezing of foods, use aluminum on the outside folded over itself to prevent ice crystal build up. No plastic is 100% air proof and will lead to long term ice crystals without the aluminum foil moisture barrier. It pays for itself. I had turkey and dressing last week from Thanksgiving and it was delicious. Tasted much better that at Thanksgiving, but then I hadn't been cooking all day! '-


                        I do make a lot of vegetable soups in very large quantities and freeze them. I do it because I love their flavor, but it turns out they are fabulous money savers too. The process couldn't be simpler. I STEAM a large pot full of any vegetable I like -- carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and leeks, or anything else (well, I haven't tried eggplant yet) until they are soft, then put them in the blender in batches with enough chicken broth or stock to help them liquify and put all of the batches into one pot, then season and flavor with salt, maybe pepper, maybe a little vermouth or other fortified wine, for the cauliflower and broccoli a little cheese of choice but not too much, adjust the thickness of the soup with more stock if needed. Then it's into individual size "coffee sipper cups" with the plastic film toucing the soup under the lids and into the freezer! I do the same with mushrooms, but the mushrooms are best sauteed in butter with some onion, then boiled with the stock before pureeing in the blender and "bumping it up" with a little white vermouth or madeira. Make sure you blend long enough to be totally chunk free. The texture of the califlower soup, for example, is like eating warm velvet. Simply amazing. And.... CHEAP! Have you priced Campbell's "Soup in Hand" per can lately? And this is sooooooooo much better!

                        Lots of Japanese dishes are extremely reasonable in price, plus being extremely healthy. Miso soup is a wonderfully flexible soup that can be served so many ways, and miso paste is amazingly stable if kept refrigerated. My current kilo sized bag is almost five years old and still good to go! Most Asian diets evolved meeting financial and/or availability restrictions, so many many Asian dishes are GREAT budget helpers! Not to mention downright delicious.

                        And I would also suggets you buy a lot of large bags of rice and put them in a long term friendly storage place. Rice prices have shot up in the last couple of years, and who knows what this Iceland volcano spewing into the atmosphere is going to do to all food prices for the long term? Some rices I used to pay a dollar a pound for (and thought they were expensive) are now four to six dollars a pound and getting expensiver with every passing year!

                        I'm sorry to hear about your husband's lay off. But if misery love company, you're not the only ones. We live in really strange times when people are holding on by their finger nails to stay in their million dollar homes and being forced to eat with food stamps. BUT...! THAT is what HELPING programs are for! And you guys have paid your taxes and all of that good stuff, so take care of those wonderful children, and full steam ahead! Good luck!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          (In the last sentence, she does mention that she does have a job.)

                          Following on caroline1's excellent suggestion, ethnic markets can be great places to buy big bags of rice or beans in bulk.

                          I love the idea of buying in bulk and using coupons, as long as you're not exhausting yourself running all over town wasting fuel just to shave off a few pennies. You do have a job and you need to keep yourself healthy and sane. Don't overdo. You are just trying to make some more smart choices on top of the smart choices it seems you've already made about your food budget.

                          You can do a lot of meal planning and grocery shopping strategizing online, in advance, looking at circulars and sales. When buying in bulk and using coupons is don't be overly swayed by the promise of big savings. Make sure you only buy the things you would buy anyway, that is, things you'll actually use. A good deal on something you're not really going to use isn't really a good deal in the long run.

                          There are a lot of smart replies in this thread on how to grocery shop to take get the best deals. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6466...

                          P.S. it's a great time of year to grow some herbs, especially ones you use a lot of, in pots. But, I love that you've got your Penzey's collection. A little spice can go a long way in feeling like you're a chowhound, and to make an otherwise uninteresting meal seem appealing.


                          1. re: Caroline1

                            One problem with Wal-Mart: The OP lives in Boston. The nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter is in Salem, New Hampshire, an hour away. They would lose all of their savings in gas money.

                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                              So much for Walmart being ubiquitous! '-)

                              1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                No, there's a Super Wal-Mart in Reading. Still not great, but it is closer than Salem.

                                And I'd never ever ever buy meats from Wal-Mart, although staple items are usually much less there. I just dislike shopping there in general, due to the overall state of the store. "Grimy" is probably the polite word I'd use.

                                ETA: I just realized that Reading isn't a Supercenter. But if you're NOT buying food items there, and just buying household cleaners, toilet paper, paper towels, etc., Wal-Mart is definitely the way to go.

                                Also - check out generic version of shampoo, etc. Price differential on those items are vast at many stores.

                              2. re: Caroline1

                                Caroline, your soup recipe reminds me of my Generic Soup. To whit:

                                Choose a raw veggie and put about a pound of it, prepped and chunked, into a pot. Add some onion and a celery stalk if you have it. If the veggie is not starchy, add a little peeled potato to provide some heft (or add potato buds at the end). Carrots are starchy, and surprisingly cauliflower is not.

                                Into the pot goes the liquid - a can of Campbell's condensed chicken broth or 1-1/2 cups homemade broth. Or, whatever.

                                While the vegetables are cooking, have the container of your blender filled with hot tap water to heat up. Measure a cup of buttermilk and have that sitting in a bowl of hot water too.

                                When the veggies are ready, dump them into the (drained) blender container. Blast. Add enough buttermilk to make it near the top and blast on low to stir.

                                Serve quickly before the soup gets cold. Any leftover buttermilk can be dribbled decoratively on top of the soup.

                                1. re: Sharuf

                                  I use buttermilk in my lighter-than-air waffles, and I love it by the glass with black pepper on top, but hadn't thought of it in soup! I'll give that one a try! Thanks, Shar!

                              3. I actually find soy products to be every bit as expensive as (and sometimes much more expensive than) the meat they're meant to replace, so I don't buy them except as a treat.

                                Have you thought of switching to homemade rice milk or almond milk for your (presumably dairy-allergic) kiddo? Rice milk is especially frugal and super-easy to make. My most frugal friends, who raised four kids on one part-time income while the dad was in school, limited their kids to two small glasses of milk per day. They made homemade yogurt from powdered milk, which is obviously another SUPER frugal method that keeps the calcium up. You can make soy yogurt as well.

                                My first rec for folks in newly straitened circumstances is http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/

                                Not ALL of her tips are good ones, but many, many of them are, especially the basic home cooking stuff, tips on grocery deals, make-your-own everything, etc. There are lots of recipes but also some general lifestyle things related to cleaning, laundry, gardening, making extra money on the side... She also has an emergency $45-per-week menu for SERIOUSLY tough times. Here's hoping that your hubby finds a job fast and extremes become unnecessary! :)

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  Since you're in the Boston area, I highly suggest Market Basket. They are worth the extra drive if you don't have one in your neighborhood. They have the cheapest prices anywhere. As mentioned above, stop/shop/shaws etc are good to cherry pick their sale items but that's it. The Chelsea MB is huge and easy to shop in, some of the older stores are cramped. I'm amazed at the savings, even over TJ's sometimes. Things like cream cheese, always, always .99 at MB, I see it for $1.19 or more at other stores. I've bought items at the big chains when in a pinch and I don't want to head to MB. When I get home and pull the old item out of the cabinet I'm appalled at how ripped off I feel. Things like Good Seasons salad dressing box $1.39 at MB, and $2.69 at Stop and Shop !! Crazy price differences. Good luck!

                                  1. re: trishaluna

                                    Agreed on shopping Market Basket. The newer stores (or recently renovated stores) are nice and big (wider aisles so two carts can now pass by each other, provided they aren't stocking shelves :::grin:::). I get 4 sale flyers in Friday's mail - Market Basket, Stop & Shop, Shaw's, and Roche Bros. I tend to use RB and MB the most, depending on what the need is.

                                2. CIR: I feel your pain. I have been unemployed for 1 year now (after over 20 years with the same employer). Still have not found anything.

                                  One of the best things we have going for us is a freezer. We buy in bulk and use a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer regularly. We watch ads, make menu's each weekend and buy what we need for the whole week. If it is on sale, I will make more than one meal and seal and freeze it. Like you, we don't have a Wal*Mart near us. So that is not an option. I just shop the coupons and keep flexible. Saturday Farmers Market is good, but you have to be careful. Sometimes they can be overpriced. Again, though, if they have a good bargain, be flexible with your menu. This may sound weird, but we buy our ground sirloin from a local steak restaurant as we can get it cheaper than buying hamburger at the local market. Ask around. There are bargains to be had, we just have to look a little harder.

                                  Good luck to your DH, and I know it must be stressful to you as well. Hang in there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: boyzoma

                                    Also - I agree with growing your own herbs. I don't have a big back yard, so I have to do "container" gardening. The only place that gets sun is our deck, so I am growing herbs in planters that straddle the railings and have various tomato's and pepper varieties growing in large pots around the parameter of the deck. Started doing this last summer after I got laid off and it paid off wonderfully! Even when the frost started coming on, we pulled the tomato plants and hung upside down in the garage and they still produced tomato's!

                                  2. If you have a yard, try growing some veggies or herbs. Basil and oregano are easy to grow. Avoid plants that require additional expenses (e.g. lots of fertilizers, cages, etc.) Chard and kale are also easy to grown, depending on your area.

                                    Ethnic markets, if available, can often be very cheap, but you need to know how to discern the quality of the produce or meats. The quality often varies more than in a more conventional supermarket.

                                    Best of luck.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: raytamsgv

                                      It looks like you are already eating frugally, but I just wanted to reinforce on the ethnic market thing -- I spend too much on groceries and have been trying to cut back.

                                      My in-laws visited us (from India) last month and I was SHOCKED by how little my mother-in-law and I spent at the local Indian grocer for food that fed the four of us for a week. Shocked. Of course, they eat very little dairy (just one or two packs of frozen paneer) but overall we ate very well -- and had a pretty varied diet (beans, cauliflower, spinach, peas, fruit, buttermilk, eggplant, tomato salad, carrots, etc) -- for much less than what I normally spend.

                                      1. re: anakalia

                                        We have a large number of Indian markets in Waltham... I'm not Indian, and don't know much about about Indian culture in detail... but in general, I like indian food..}
                                        (Beans and rice are similar accross many cultures!!!!)

                                        We also used to shop at Super 88 in Alston, back in the day... which had all kinds of diffeent ethinic cuisines, with cheap produce. And, when I lived in Waltham, used to walk in to the markets on occassion, too.

                                        For example are Rice, Lentils and other staples "bargains" compared to other stores?
                                        Are they fresh? I've noticed the Rice at TJ;s can be pricy... esp basmatti rice...

                                        I can over look the dust or disarray, and embrace cultural differences if I know I'm getting good stuff, cheap!

                                        Are there specific markets you can recommend?

                                        1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                          ch-in-recovery - have you been up to H Mart in Burlington? HUGE Asian supermarket with prices that are pretty good on ethnic staple items like rice or udon noodles (at least they were excellent the one time I ventured there, which was soon after they opened, and it was a madhouse).

                                          Not that you'd be buying a 50 lb. bag of rice, but they had them on pallets in the aisles - I can't recall the price exactly, but I do remember being amazed at the prices.

                                          Just another idea for shopping - not too far from you up 128 on Middlesex Tnpk. There's a long thread on the Boston board with lots of info about H Mart.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            We stopped at an H Mart in Dallas on our way out of town (visiting relatives for Thanksgiving) and the darned place nearly made my daughter--who loves Asian food--and I cry: sooooooo many gorgeous vegetables and fruits (every single kind in the world? Seemed like it!), more seafood in tanks than you can imagine, etc., etc. forever.

                                            We stuffed as much as possible in an already over-packed Elantra plus two dogs, for the drive back to a part of Iowa with the most atrociously boring and plain grocery stores imaginable. My daughter rode 750 miles with a gallon jar of kimchi between her feet, and every single nook and cranny of the back seat stuffed with spices, fresh noodles, mung bean buns, bubble tea ingredients, fresh mushrooms, etc.

                                            It was gloriously fresh and astoundingly inexpensive.

                                            1. re: Beckyleach

                                              What a wonderful story. I know the feeling of long travel for foodstuffs.

                                              Does Des Moines have any grocery stores that fill that need?

                                          2. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                            While specific places to find ethinic food in general will get more response on a local board, my experience from ethinic markets is that you will be getting fresher product than at TJ's because the cuisine is heavy on certain items such as rice or beans. Also, people of that particular culture aren't going to put up with sub-standard varieties of their staple food.

                                            1. re: rworange

                                              Completely agree with this. If you're eating rice three meals a day, you aren't going to settle for stale product. And, you know the difference.


                                              1. re: rworange

                                                Totally agree. The quality and variety of, for instance, basmati rice at an Indian grocery vs. a gourmet grocery? No comparison. I bet there are twenty varieties of rice at my local Patel Bros. store, and 40 varieties of legumes, all of which have a really high turnover rate. And they're probably 30-50% cheaper, sometimes more.

                                              2. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                                I can answer this! We shop at the Patel Brothers on Moody Street in Waltham all the time, and both the prices and the quality are excellent, especially on rice, legumes and similar products. You can shop there with confidence.

                                                I don't know if you've been back to the Super 88 in Allston since the switchover to Hong Kong Market a few months ago, but it's greatly improved. The produce in particular is much better, although still dirt cheap.

                                                1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                                  Asian markets are gonna be your friend, especially if you're buying soy milk and other soy products regularly. Worth the extra trip.

                                                  Good luck!

                                            2. Some others wrote some very long replies and I'm sure I'm repeating them, but here's a little list I think helps out big time.
                                              1. Do not buy junk food (if anything, I go for popcorn)
                                              2. No bottles water, it's cheaper to buy a water purifier.
                                              3. Don't stick to one supermarket. I've noticed that the sale items rotate supermarkets near me and you can basically find everything on sale if you are willing to put the time in.
                                              4. Make coffee at home. If you like iced, make it at home also and bring it with you. I see more people complain about money and spend $7-10/day on coffee at chains.
                                              5. Even though it's nice, skip takeout.
                                              6. Some chowhounds will cringe, but sometimes specials on canned or frozen veggies can be pennies on the dollar compared to fresh veggies.
                                              7. Make big dishes that freeze well (sauces, chilis).
                                              Just some thoughts, sure there are more and better ones

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: jhopp217

                                                I agree with everything except canned goods. Frozen are great, but canned goods are often a shortcut to hypertension because of the tasteless (and therefore very dangerous) salt content.

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  But I've noticed that many canned goods now come "No Salt Added"...have been buying tomatoes that way for a few years now in particular...fresh is much better and am growing my own but sometimes you can't get good fresh items...beans are another item that are now salt-free, though making them from dried beans is best, too. Just saying...in a pinch, it can be done with No Salt Added.

                                                  1. re: Val

                                                    Obviously there are SOME canned goods that are salt free, but that's not an "across the board" situation yet, if it ever will be. You just do have to read lables closely, and since the OP has young children, frozen may be the much better way to go. BUT... My supermarket isn't yet overflowing with frozen tomato sauce, paste, or frozen tomatoes, so there are SOME canned goods that are a good choice.

                                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                                    canned goods can be inexpensive, particularly if purchased in bulk. I relay on canned tomatoes and garbanzos for a lot of inexpensive meals. Canned garbanzo beans can be a great convenience food, actually.

                                                    One way to possibly reduce salt content, at least a little, and that I picked up on CH: drain the canned garbanzos or other veggies into a kitchen strainer or colander, and then rinse them thoroughly before using.(won't work well with tomatos)

                                                2. As others have said, seriously check out ethinic groceries ... and ethnic recipes.

                                                  Here's my recipe for wat. The berber is the only must have spice. Go to any local Etheopean market. It is cheaper and better than Penzy's. Or you can research chowhound for how to make your own.

                                                  Gringo quick and easy, healthy, low-fat, low-cost, one-pot wat Recipe

                                                  NEVER throw any piece of food out. Buy veggies like radishes with the tops. They make an excellent green sauteed with garlic. Leftover bread ... croutons, bread pudding, breadcrumbs etc.

                                                  Buy whole fish and fillet. Use head, bones, etc for stock or chowder

                                                  I assume you buy whole chickens, cut them up and use bones for soup.

                                                  Store stuff properly so it doesn't go bad. Glass jars will keep berries, cherry tomatoes fresh for weeks. Wrap celery in aluminum foil ... also fresh for weeks.

                                                  You sound savy, so some of this you may know. Buy in-season and what is on sale produce-wise.

                                                  Put a post on your local board asking about bargain stores in that area of all types ... regular, ethnic, etc. You might even start a monthly thread about extrememe chowhound-worthy food bargains each month.

                                                  Shop at farmers markets. Go to your local farms and stock up.

                                                  Coupons are also online. The suggestion to link to local markets to check the flyers each week was a good one.

                                                  I STRONGLY do NOT agree that this leads to a lot of running around. I did a couple of topics on eating on $3 a day (even buying at the most expensive farmers market) and was slammed by some people because they thought it was too much time. No it was NOT.

                                                  I just make shopping a part of my normal routes. On the way to or from work, keep an eye out on outside displays at ethnic markets. Make a stop if anything is great. If three supermarkets have great sales, one day on the way home stop at one, the next the other. You don't need to shop at one big store in one huge trip.

                                                  Too bad there's no Wal-Mart superstore. On certain things they can be great price-wise, others not so much. Do check the flyers for drug stores like Walgreens (if you have them). Often they have a lot of food products at super prices. I find the best bargains for paper there. If you have a CVS, get a card. They have fabulous online email promotions such as $5 off total purchases.

                                                  SCRATCH. SCRATCH, SCRATCH. Even with coupons frozen veggies are rarely a bargain.

                                                  Buy fresh veggies on sale and freeze. I have neither the time nor the patience to cook much. So I usually spend one half day cooking and freezing. Veggies and soups from those sessions last weeks. You don't need to pick over-priced stuff from Whole Foods deli when you are tired after work. Just pop something from the freezer into the microwave.

                                                  Make extra pancakes and waffles and freeze.

                                                  I am an incompetant cook. I hate being in the kitchen. I'm saying this so you won't bypass what I'm going to say next because if a fool like me can do this anyone can ... that is the word CAN

                                                  Canning can be really easy. There are lots of recipes for refrigerator jams. Each year I make some exquisite brandied cherries at the height of the season ... which fortunately coincides with brandy sales. It involves nothing more than putting washed cherries in a jar, adding a tsp of sugar, covering with branding and storing in the back of the fridge. I love these at Christmas since they recall summer days.

                                                  Go to the market when it opens. Many stores put out their markdowns then. Even meat will be half price. Do a post inquiring about stores in your area that have good bargain bins. Not all of them are swill. Keep an eye out in the corners of the stores. At the end of they day they are picked over by savy shoppers and all that is left is swill. One of my great scores was whole organic tomatoes for 50 cents a can.

                                                  Stop by farmers markets at the end of the day. If a markdown isn't being offered ask around.

                                                  Do NOT buy tomato sauce.Tomato paste is cheaper and healthier and really no more trouble than adding some water and spices. Remember that I hate to cook. If I can do it, you can.

                                                  Check out generics. Some are good. The large Wal-Mart oatmeal sells for $1.99. The same size Quaker Oats is over $4 these days. Even with coupons and sales, that price is rarely match. The generic Wal-Mart Oatmeal is just as good as Quaker Oats.

                                                  BTW, why are you going to Whole Foods? I cannot think of one thing there that is worth the price. If it is only deli stuff, again, scratch and freeze.

                                                  27 Replies
                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    Interesting about keeping cherry (and presumably grape) tomatoes in jars to keep them fresh longer. I'll have to try that. But for regular tomatoes, keep them OUT Of the refrigerator and keep them stem side down, blossom side up, and they'll stay fresh for ages. It's magic, but it works! But it could be a real pain with cherry/grape tomatoes. '-)

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Yeah, For some reason, cherry tomatoes don't seem to suffer the same fate as regular (good) tomatoes in the fridge. Even the pricy farmers market cherry tomatoes seem impervious to the cold.

                                                      Speaking of veggies, look into more root and lower-cost produce ... especially in bargain markets. Then google recipes. Besides being a learning experience, you might find some stuff that is really swell ... but most people outside of that nationality just don't know what to do with it. Post on home cooking if you don't know how to use it. I love posts like that and it usually sets me off on scanning the world-wide web.

                                                    2. re: rworange

                                                      Didn’t have time to include links before

                                                      Here’s my dining on $3 a day topics

                                                      Dining deliciously at the dollar store – OR - Going gourmet at Grocery Outlet for $3 a day

                                                      Here’s my earlier topic that included the top SF farmers market

                                                      Conclusion - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day

                                                      If you look at the menus, almost every day for each month I had oatmeal. I doubt you will find it was the same on any day even over the total two months. Oatmeal is your friend in terms of health and price. It doesn’t need to be boring. I did a comparison of eight brands of oatmeal and there actually was very little difference from the most expensive to the least. In fact, for me, Silver Palate was at the bottom of the list

                                                      OATMEAL-O-RAMA – The best oatmeal

                                                      Don’t forget to post asking about what markets have the best prices. I lived in the Bay Area for decades, passing a store called Grocery Outlet because I’m not into discount stores. Then Chowhound got me hooked because this joint was offering things like organic food for a fraction of regular prices … and if you didn’t like something, they take it back no question. Here’s one SF GO thread about mothly deals. You could do a more generic thread on your board such as “June 2010 – Outstanding Chowhound-worthy deals at markets” Sigh … looking at that … Haagen Daz for $1.49 a pint … wild, smoked Alaskan salmon $7.99 lb

                                                      Here’s some links for store circulars to get you started if you don’t already have the links

                                                      If this is the place, you might rethink some of your shopping choices. It may be inexpensive compared to Whole Foods … but … your food budget may get eaten up quicker than you would imagine.

                                                      Stop and Shop

                                                      Star Market / Shaw’s

                                                      Good deal on grapes this week, pretty good for Hellman’s mayo especially with a coupon (better than CVS). GREAT deal on Brown Cow yogurt and they often have coupons

                                                      BTW, grapes are something else that keep for weeks in the fridge in glass jars.


                                                      Great deal on toilet paper and paper towels this week, especially if you have coupons. BTW, Scott 1000 roll toilet paper is one of the best bargains out there. Scott lasts twice as long as most brands. CVS also has good dishwashing deals every week usually rotating Dawn and Palmolive. They are the smaller size usually but with the 25 cent off coupons that are often available, it becomes quite the bargain. Just for signing up for their card you will probably get a discount so that toilet paper, etc could cost you zero dollars this week if you add your own coupons.

                                                      One thing I forgot to add. On my last eating on $3 a day thread, something so simple hit me that I can’t imagine it escaped me all these years. Pay CLOSE attention to price per portion. These were my two big surprises

                                                      1. More is less.

                                                      Pay attention to the number of servings. This was the big revelation for me. It doesn’t mean unit price and buying those monster groceries at Costco,.

                                                      It means when something looks like a bargain, quickly estimate the cost per serving. A bag of cookies for $1.49 may be the better deal than that 50 cent box of cookies if the price per cookies is 2 cents for the first and the price per cookie is 10 cents for the latter.

                                                      2. Size matters. Smaller is sometimes better

                                                      Large apples might be on sale. If you are eating them for a snack the better deal might be a smaller size apple at a little higher price. That 99 cent lb large apple might average out at 50 cents each. While 16 apples in a 3 lb bag … may average to 12 cents an apple.

                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                        At my supermarket the private label frozen vegetables (Kroger in this case) are often 10 for $10. I always stock up then and have broccoli, carrots, chopped spinach (which gets put into everything) cauliflower/broccoli, Italian green beans, peas, etc on hand in the freezer...another reason to have a freezer!

                                                        1. re: Squint

                                                          I'm assuming you mean those small boxes that have four 1/2 cup servings?

                                                          If that is the case, then it is a conveniece thing not a savings thing. With the exception of peas or maybe spinach which cooks down, buying on fresh veggies on sale or at the farmers market just gives you more bang for your buck. With carrots, you are just throwing your money away buying frozen. Buy it fresh, cook it all up and freeze it.

                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                            My local Kroger sells the regular sized (12-16 oz) bags in their 10/$10 sales. The only boxes to which the sale applies are the ones that come pre-sauced. Kroger brand frozen veggies are a super bargain all the time, but especially during the sale.

                                                            1. re: LauraGrace

                                                              i'm going to echo this, about getting frozen vegetables being on sale being a good deal (depending on the deal, of course). My market often does two for 1 deals and you can use coupons on top of that. The thing about frozen vegetables is that there is no waste; you're not paying for anything you're going to throw out. And you're getting the vegetables at their peak. Now, of course, the ideal thing is to buy everything from scratch and use the trimmings for stock, etc., and I am certain that even on sale with the frozen vegetable comes at some extra cost for the convenience.

                                                              But the OP is a the sole breadwinner in a household with two small children. She's just asking for ways to downsize her bill; she may not be at the point where she feels she needs to cut it to the very, very, very bare minimum. She might still be interested in getting a good price on some conveniences. So, I still think it's a good suggestion for a place to trim back costs.

                                                              My household is smaller than hers, and I have a full-time job and numerous volunteer commitments. I have a spouse who does his share of household chores, including shopping and cooking on occasion. Nevertheless, my job and life is stressful and sometimes I'm too exhausted to do all of the shopping and cooking for my household, even though I am a rabid planner. Day in, day out, month after month after month. Sometimes you just want a little time to rest on the couch or exercise or take your kids to the park.

                                                              ETA: also, in some regions of the country, you may need options for vegetables in late fall and winter. By March, you're really desperate for something GREEN, not just root vegetables. And, still, you're a good 6-8 weeks away from something green and local that isn't from a hot-house.


                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                Seconding Dairy Queen, if the issue here whether frozen veggies can be good in themselves and a good deal. Absolutely yes.

                                                                Like most people here, I am ready to put in all kinds of time prepping foods. But when I see those one-pound bags of frozen "peas & carrots" or green beans or whatever for under a buck, I buy what I think I can fit in my freezer. Simmer or steam them up and toss on a pat of butter, and them's good eats.

                                                                Plus it's easy to use corn and peas in this form to toss into risotto, stir fries, etc. Properly frozen veggies are plenty nutritious, too.

                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  >>> She's just asking for ways to downsize her bill; she may not be at the point where she feels she needs to cut it to the very, very, very bare minimum

                                                                  Yeah, I'm getting that feel. Staying away from the deli prepared food and Russo's might be enough of a cut back. There was a time in my life, I thought TJ's was a discount store. I've gained some respect for TJ's, but only because they have so much organic stuff. However, in the Bay Area you can do better.

                                                                  Ditto on the frozen veggies. There is just so much good, fresh, inexpensive produce that I'm not lurking around the frozen food department. In season, I can get brussel sprouts for 99 cents a lb in season and I once hit the jackpot of buying organic brussel sprouts for 49 cents a pound ... ya know, most of the brussel sprouts in the country are grown in this area.

                                                                  My two months of $3 a day experiments ruined me. I am always on the prowl for the bargain. If you pay attention, you find them. I would just rather spend my bucks on other things.

                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                    The OP seems to be in MA, not in the Bay Area, where there might not always be good, fresh, inexpensive produce available. Sometimes, when you're on the prowl for a bargain and paying attention, a two-for-one on frozen vegetables plus a coupon is a good bargain. And, the quality can compare pretty favorably to the "fresh" vegetables that have been trucked or shipped in from elsewhere.

                                                                    What is the best bargain can really be very situational. I would hope the OP, and any of us, would be attentive enough to snap up organic brussels sprouts at 49 cents a pound. That does sound like fantastic bargain. (Your eagle-eye has gotten razor sharp! Plus, I love the point you made about shopping when the market opens. I like shopping early in the morning, mostly to avoid lines, but your point about the mark-downs makes it feel like more of a bonus!)

                                                                    Really, you have to pretty nimble, flexible, and as you say attentive, when you're trying to stick to a budget because you just don't know when you'll trip across an amazing deal. You just need to keep your eyes open, for both the the 49 cent brussels sprouts and for the two-for-one frozen vegetables.

                                                                    I personally can't remember the last time I shopped out of the deli prepared food section, except on the rare occasion, maybe once or twice a year, when I'm really backed into a corner (plans fall through, that sort of thing) and pick up a roasted chicken.


                                                                2. re: LauraGrace

                                                                  Yes, the regular bags. And living in the mountains in Colorado where a snowstorm may preclude going to the store for a few days...it's good to vegetables on hand.

                                                                3. re: rworange

                                                                  I will never dispute the quality of fresh over frozen, but please tell me where this mystical farmer's market is? Most farmer's markets are wonderfrul for their freshness, but you walk away wondering who stole your wallet.

                                                                  1. re: jhopp217

                                                                    SF Bay Area. Some are more expensive than others, but I can score good produce for less at any. People get sucked into the 'name' stands with the sexy produce like peaches or strawberries. They overlook the tiny stands that don't market their name.

                                                                    Even at Ferry Plaza which gets a hit as the most expensive market, I can usually get rasperries year round for $1.50 a basket. The best figs are the least expensive because they are not from the name stand but at the olive vendor stand. They have a tree in the backyard and the father picks them. For these you have to go early because they sell out.

                                                                    I'm also very seasonal in my buying, so I wait for the best prices at peak of season. I accomodate my meals to what is freshest and least expensive.

                                                                    However, I will buy that $8 bag of salad mix or the one ounce bag of smoked dried onions for $6 because they are simply the best in the world. I would rather spend my expensive buying dollars on top quality with the money I save from other produce purchases.

                                                                    At other farmers markets the value is at the end of the day. There's a totally unloved market in Richmond. Nothing is organic. However, at the height of summer if I wait till the end of the day I can get peaches, plums, apricots, etc for 50 cents a pound.

                                                                    I don't shop at flea markets often, but you can get some good values there such as 10 medium avocados for $1 or a dozen pomegranites for the same price.

                                                                    I'm not overly fussy either. I try to stay organic or natural with produce. However, a deal is a deal.

                                                                    There is a store, Giovanni's, with outrageous bargains outside on the sidewalk. It was on my route home so I'd make a one block detour and drive by to see if there was anything amazing that day.

                                                                    There are times when they sell perfect romanito tomatoes for 10 cents lb. They also have organic bargains like the 10 cent bunch of organic fennel. I had no idea what to do with it when I bought it, but at that price I learned. You can find my posts about Giovanni's deals on the SF Board.

                                                                    I think few of us have unlimited funds. So bargain hunting lets me throw money at better things.

                                                                    Seriously though, I thought I was a good bargain hunter until I did those two Eating on $3 a day topics.

                                                                    I cut coupons, looked for doubles, shopped on sale. But when you really, really need to cut back there are all sorts of other things other things. Once I learned them, it was difficult for me to just throw money away for no reason.

                                                                    I will admit to not being an extreme coupon user ... the type that walks out of the store with $100 of groceries for $10. But for the things I use I usually have coupons and if I think it is remotely possible I'll buy it I clip the coupon anyway.

                                                                    So I'm not adverse to frozen veggies, I've just rarely found a true bargain there even with coupons.

                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                      I don't think you should feel bad about not being an extreme coupon user: I know some extreme coupon users and they often end up with a bunch of junk no one wants. Coupons are only a good deal if they give you a price break on something you really want and need. Clipping judiciously the way you do is the way to go, I think.


                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                        Totally agree with Dairy Queen here. Over time I've come to ignore coupons most of the time, because they are almost invariably for things I don't buy (excepting that there are coupons for yogurt every so often)

                                                                        Coupons seem mostly targeted to developed or processed foods (like, say, frozen dinners) rather than simpler things (like a can of garbanzo beans). I never have known closely what coupon pros do--that is, how often do they buy something they wouldn't otherwise have desired?

                                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                          Coupons are good for paper goods and cleaning supplies. Scott regularily puts out $1 off coupons on toilet paper. Combine with a sale, possibly a place that doubles and there is a deal. As someone mentioned, if you get on a toothpaste track, you can have free toothpaste for life.

                                                                          Haagen Daz often puts out $1 off coupons ...again, sale and double coupon ... you have something.

                                                                          They are often good when a product is being introduced. Usually there is a big bargain or a freebie. I get sucked into wondering what that latest and greatest product is like and I can take a test drive without throwing my money at it.

                                                                          If you buy supermarket coffee, there's a little break there. My husband likes crappy coffee (sorry for canned fans) and Walgreens usually has at least one can for under $2 ... so with a coupon I can spend less for crappy coffee ... the better to spend on my own artisan lb.

                                                                          If you buy frozen dinners they are often good. I have pretty much totally eliminated those from my diet though.

                                                                          I stock up on canned soup for my annual winter flu/cold and Target always has the best deals and I can buy it on the cheap there.

                                                                          Occasionally even fresh produce will have a coupon ... usually tomatoes or those little cutie tangerines ... with a sale of 5lbs for $3.99 and a $1 off coupon, that is the deal.

                                                                          In California, there are coupons off milk with the "California "sticker on it . Wal-mart sells a half-gallon of non fat for $1.12 so with a 50 cent off coupon ...

                                                                          Booze often has coupons. There's always a coupon for Irish Whiskey (sp) around St. Patrick's Day when the stores have a sale on it. You can usually get a few bucks off various types of booze during the winter holidays

                                                                          There's lots of things you can buy regularily with coupons that aren't junk

                                                                          One year I kept track of my savings for the year. I can get obsessive. It turned out over the year I saved less than $50 ... and that was with rebating. Still, I can't see paying a $1 more for toilet paper than I need to ... so I continue to cut.

                                                                          I used part of the $50 for one of my favorite champagnes for New Year's which was on sale for $37 so I got some chocolates to go with it.

                                                                          The future they say will be coupons downloaded to our phones and scanned or something like that.

                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                            Awesome list!

                                                                            Although, this is definitely one of those "eye of the beholder" moments: you cringe at the idea of buying frozen vegetables and I cringe at the idea of buying frozen dinners and canned soup. Also, I guess I would pretty much cut booze out of my budget if I were really trying to save money. Lots of other things I'd rather spend my money on.

                                                                            But, that's just me. Again, we all have to make our own choices about what we value and what we do not.

                                                                            Nevertheless, if you're going to buy these items, and you're really going to use them, definitely use a coupon if you can!


                                                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                          Couldn't agree more. My friends who are either drugstore-points users or couponers come home with bags full of nearly-free, processed junk food and the occasional box of cheerios. I think a prerequisite to couponing extensively is kind of not caring what you come home with. And if you're in a seriously tight spot, that might be a good thing, but it seems to me there's a steep learning curve and a whole lot of xxtreme Pringles and Trix-flavored yogurt to be dealt with, KWIM?

                                                                          1. re: LauraGrace


                                                                            I wanted to clarify, though, that I mean manufacturers coupons are often a waste. Grocery store coupons are a different animal and you can get some pretty good deals again, if you shop judiciously.


                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                            You can save money by using coupons judiciously, on food items which are not highly processed or junk. Among food items for which I typically use coupons, generally in combination with a reduced price at the store:

                                                                            Canola Oil - I generally buy the store brand, but save coupons for the branded versions (Wesson, Crisco, etc) and use them when they are on sale. This is can save you a lot especially if the store sale is buy one/ get one free, so you can use 2 coupons.

                                                                            Branded products for which you have a strong preference: There are certain items where we have strong brand loyalty -- e.g., cream cheese , canned tomatoes & tomato paste, tuna fish, and mayonaisse. Again, especially when combined with a sale, using the coupon can bring the price below the generic/store brand.

                                                                            Dairy items in general - yoghurt, sour cream, 1/2&1/2 are all items that get couponed.

                                                                            Bacon - I find that the quality of the store brand is inferior, not so much in taste, but because the slices are not uniform in thickness, so I tend to rotate between a handful of national brands, based on what's on sale and what's couponed.

                                                                            Salad dressing - We make our own salad dressing to dress salads, but I buy bottled Italian to use as a marinade on meats (mainly chicken). On sale, with a coupon, you can pick up 16 oz bottled Italian dressing for about $1.50, or less (I generally buy Kens, Wishbone, or Kraft). Per oz. this is probably less than I spend on homemade vinaigrette.

                                                                            Canned broth - If you always make your own, bless you. I don't and I like to have cans on hand for making rice or to use as a base for a soup prepared quickly on a weeknight. Swanson's nonfat broth is frequently couponed; combined with a sale, you can get the price down to 50-75 cents per 14-1/2 oz. can.

                                                                            1. re: masha

                                                                              Good info!

                                                                              Between your list and rwo's, I might have to consider clipping coupons again. I just get so frustrated when I flip hrough the coupon section of my Sunday paper and see so many for sugar cereals and canned foods, I've started skipping the coupon section completely, thinking it is more of a needle in a haystack situation. Maybe I need to reevaluate.


                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                Just stack up the clay-based colored papers, and flip thru them all at once. If there's a coupon that seems right, then pull the whole sheet, set it into the "may cut" stack, then keep skimming till done.

                                                                                Now lick your fingertips, reach for the 5" scissors, and go to the "may cut" stack. You may not want them all, but pulling and stacking before cutting gives you time for a second appraisal.

                                                                                The most important thing is to incorporate your stash of coupons into your shopping list, so that they actually get used. I use a 9 x 12 clipboard, with the week's ads folded but visible. It helps get things done.

                                                                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                                  I use a coupon organizer. You can make your own as suggestioned by this site which also has tips on how to organize

                                                                                  That is a nice link as it had ideas I never thought of after decades of clipping such as putting a "C" next to items that have coupons if you make a shopping list

                                                                                  There are also links to other coupon organizing sites.

                                                                                  Or you can buy one like these from Amazon. If you read the customer reviews you can see what is helpful

                                                                                  I started with one of the cloth organizers that you can hang from the handle of the shopping cart.

                                                                                  I leave they first divider empty and after reading the ads, pull any coupons from each category that I might need that week. Sometimes I will clip the part of the ad as well for items that are on sale but have no coupon. I don't make shopping lists so this reminds me of items on sale without lugfing along the ad and searching thru it at the store.

                                                                                  At the end of each month, I go through the coupons to see what has expired and toss those.

                                                                                  I ended up buying a plastic coupon-sized accordian file from the stationary department in the supermarket. Each section h as a plastic divider with an intext tab on top where you can put a label for what is in it.

                                                                                  Most have index cards which wear out over time. so this was the best I've found. It doesn't hook around the cart, but I never used that much.

                                                                                  Use something that you can easily bring to the store. A index card file might organize things well but it is a PITA to take to the store. I just kept my organizer in my purse as you knever know when you might find a great sale item.

                                                                                  Or keep it in the car if you have a small purse, no purse or switch purses often.

                                                                                  Envelopes are ok. You can take them with you however they fall all over the place and wear out quickly.

                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                    That is a nice link as it had ideas I never thought of after decades of clipping such as putting a "C" next to items that have coupons if you make a shopping list
                                                                                    I just use a star that is circled - stands out.

                                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                      I usually put the cents off & the brand (if the list just identifies a food item). That way, I can compare the net cost of the couponed product to competing brands, including the store brand.

                                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                  Coupons.com actually has gotten me back into clipping coupons as there is NOTHING in the ones that come in the paper that I am even close to using. Just this week I clipped coupons for coconut milk ice cream, cascadian farms organic veggies and muir glen organic pasta sauce.

                                                                      2. re: Squint

                                                                        I agree; I've been able to buy bagged veggies on sale 10/10.00 also and I'm talking from 1 pound to 2 pound packages depending on the veg and the brand on sale. I don't know about anyone else, but I can't get fresh green beans or brussels sprouts or mixed summer veggies at any farmers market for less than or even $1.00 a pound.

                                                                    2. You've already gotten some great suggestions, but I don't think anyone has mentioned doing things like making your own cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc. Vinegar is a great cleaner and there are lots of sites devoted to making things yourself for cleaning, etc. You may need to look at some other areas of your life for ways to cut to help make up the surplus. For example, cut your paper towel budget down to zero by switching to dishclothes and cloth napkins. Look at going "no poo" for shampoo (you wash less frequently, with baking soda and vinegar). All kinds of stuff out there about these other products you buy and how to cut those costs.

                                                                      Also, are there things you can sell that you don't use that can bring in a little cash here and there? Either one at a time via craigslist or eBay or via a garage sale? Or take some old kids' clothes to a consignment store? Or turn in all those books and CDs you don't use anymore to a used bookstore for a small amount of cash? Also, examine your spending and see what you can cut. Luxuries like cable should go down to the bare minimum for now - you can get local channels for only a few dollars a month. Any recurring monthly charges like gym, netflix, etc, should all be cancelled if possible. lastly, start looking at your options for moving - if the layoff sticks for awhile, that may be necessary for you; you could rent out your house if you don't want to sell it, and downsize to an apartment.

                                                                      1. If you have time to learn the system, you can pretty easily get free toothpaste/shampoo/conditioner/toothbrushes at CVS and other drug stores.

                                                                        there is a learning curve at first and a lot of planning, but after a week or 2 it's pretty easy to get the hang of. there are whole message boards that are devoted to this, if interested my favorite is slickdeals dot net - forums - grocery/drug store

                                                                        good luck

                                                                        1. There is no reason for humans toddler-aged and above to be drinking milk. Let them quench their thirst with water, and save a lot of money.

                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                            So you don't enjoy the nifty mutation that allows some populations to digest milk? Speaking only for myself, I find it incredibly nifty that my ancestors mutated.

                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                              That's not what the government thinks which is why the WIC program is still in effect through age 5 for children

                                                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                                The government doesn't "think" this. The government is under the sway of the dairy industry.

                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                  Whatever...the government is endorsing it & providing for toddlers age group to get access to it (if the family qualify with income levels) so apparently they agree these children will benefit nutritionally from them.. Also because WIC covers cereals, I suppose the goverment must be "swayed" by the cereal industry as well as soybean product industry, juice industry, farmers (because WIC packages include dry beans) and the fishing industries.

                                                                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                                    The government is swayed by the soy and grain industries. The US agricultural system has a tight cycle of federal subsidies which lead to surplus goods. The gov't encourages the consumption of the surplus through programs like WIC and through the use of surplus foods in schools and other publicly supported food programs. Some items on the WIC list are there b/c they are truly nutritionally sound, others are there b/c of lobbyists.

                                                                                    1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                      But is milk one of those foods that does not nutritionally benefit the growing child? I'm pretty sure that the government's reason for the allocation of milk on the WIC program is not because they have a surplus of milk stored up someplace. Grain & soy products, perhaps... The issue here is really about whether a toddler will benefit from drinking milk. I'm assuming the OP is giving her children milk NOT just to quench a thirst but to allow them to gain some nutrition from the milk.

                                                                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                                        Personally, I'm neutral on dairy products. The digestion of milk after infancy/weening requires a genetic mutation - some people have it, some don't. Humans identified milk from cows and other animals as a food source a long time ago, and I don't think the consumption of milk is any less natural than the consumption of other animals and plants we've bred into submission. That said, I also think the idea that children *need* milk is overdone. We can get the nutrients in dairy from other sources, but the US dairy industry has worked extremely hard to convince us otherwise. If you like milk and can afford milk, then drink milk, but if your kid is drinking 2-3 glasses a day and it's busting the food budget, maybe it's time to look into alternatives.

                                                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                          Plus, like, 100 to this. Practical, sensible, and balanced advice. :)

                                                                                          1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                            While chowhound is a great place for how to eat more deliciously, taking nutritional advice from the web probably isn't the best idea. Work with your doctor or a credible nutritionist for that type of information, especially where children are involved. What is fine for one person is not for another.

                                                                                            This is just antidotal, but I'm living in a remote part of Guatemala right now where milk is ot a part of a child's daily diet. I hae seen so many tragically ill children and babies with soft bone disease. While milk may not be the only source of calcium, etc, I have never seen anything like this in the US.

                                                                            2. not a general idea, but a specific recommendation for the soy milk.
                                                                              whole foods sells their own brand "365" of soy milk that is organic (in refrigerator section). it tastes good and only costs $3/half gallon regular price.
                                                                              also, the prices at the BULK FOODS area of whole foods are surprisingly good. i get all my grains and dry legumes there (oatmeal, popcorn, rice, chickpeas, split peas, etc). because i only buy the exact amount that i need, there is much less waste.
                                                                              also, i find that it isn't too hard to actually make some of the things that i used to buy: the black bean dip at trader joes can be pretty much replicated with a blender. i found that i can do a darn good job of making hummus myself too for much less money than it costs to buy it preprepared. (i use the organic dried chickpeas from the WF bulk food dept)
                                                                              italien hearty bean, vegetable, and pasta soups are a low cost main dish.
                                                                              i make fajitas using the super-firm high-protein tofu sold at trader joe"s (it comes wrapped in plastic, NOT the stuff in the plastic tubs)
                                                                              vegetarian chili is made just with beans, peppers, onions, chili peppers, tomatoes, and spices served over rice is another good inexpensive dinner.

                                                                              i'm sure you're already doing this, but all soda purchases need to stop.
                                                                              to the extent you can, use water that is filtered at home, and not the stuff that comes in bottles.
                                                                              i got a supply of the little glass bottles, the ones that starbucks uses for their frappachino(sp?), washed them out and put iced tea in them so that an individual serving of ice tea can be pulled out of the fridge at any time.
                                                                              those bottles get reused and reused.

                                                                              1. These replies are great.... my question started some interesting banter! To answer many of the Q's:

                                                                                Yes, I am the primary breadwinner right now. I did some research and we make too much to qualify for WIC or any government program.

                                                                                Yes, I do cut coupons, when the coupons are relevant; I'm NOT the type who buys lots of junkfood, so most cupons go in the recycling bin... but occassionally you can get some nearly free deoderant, shampoo, or other useful item. The new Chocolate cherios are still healhty enough when mixed with TJ's plain version of cherios.

                                                                                Convienience is still important... I still work, and this week my husband hasn't done much shopping, so I will need to hit Russos .. or somewhere today. There aren't any cheap farmers markets around Boston.... unlike SF or greater California. Produce is rather expensive out here. The farmers markets haven't even opened yet for the season, and when they do, the offerings tend to be high quality, high expense items for urban dwellers with large grocery budgets. (Think lettuce for $6 a bunch! Or fancy beets, fancy heirloom tomoatoes for $3-5/lb depending on the season) . Even Apples in the fall at these markets are crazy expensive; to justify the vendors' expenses in being at the market and survive as "sustainable /organic farmers".

                                                                                Frozen peas, tomoatoes, and baby carrots are among the few veggies my tots will eat these days, which is why I rely on them. And because of the ease and storage of frozen broccoli, spinach we also buy it regularly. In the fall, i did a lot with squash and seasonal produce... but at this time of year, on the east coast, we are limited. I've tried other veggies with the kids...and they don't really eat them yet. There's nothng worse than having your kid throw an expensive Avocado on the floor!

                                                                                I am going to try out Super 88 again... and maybe Patel Bros...love those places if I can get there. The hubby probably won't go without me.

                                                                                We may get out to Nanasket Beach this weekend... can someone tell me about "CAN MAN"?in Quincy. Its right on the way, and Im wondering if its like Super 88?

                                                                                Someone did suggest to me that we try making our own Soy milk. To me... that seems like a lot of work... but I'm intregued at the idea of it.....

                                                                                Thanks so much chowhounders!!

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                                                                  When I was in Boston last summer I went to a Farmer's Market in Cambridge (not sure the exact location; I found it wandering around, but I remember it was near the river..off of Kennedy Drive, maybe?? Somehow Kennedy Drive sticks in my mind). Anyway, I don't remember exact prices, but it seemed to me that the prices were not that high, and certainly in line with those of Farmer's Markets on the west coast. Quality was good as well. I found a bunch of green garlic, which is very difficult to find, and brought a huge fragrant bag home on the plane so that hubby could make a chutney.....

                                                                                  1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                                                                    one other thought: granted, I am most definitely NOT a Trader Joe's fan, but I can't imagine it is the cheapest place to buy groceries if you are really buying half of your weekly groceries there. For me, it is more of a spot to buy certain specialty items without spending a lot. I'd look around a bit and compare prices with other grocery spots nearby.

                                                                                    1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                                                                      Kam Man in Quincy is located in what used to be a Bradlee's, so it's big - bigger than the Allston Super 88 for sure. I haven't been in a while, but prices were reasonable and the selection is plentiful.If you're on the way to Nantasket, it is well worth a visit.