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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Lowering Grocery Bills Even with Corona Precautions and Restrictions


I'd say that I'm pretty good at lowering grocery bills. (I got our monthly grocery bill down to $170 a month for a family of 4 a few While at the moment my grocery bills aren't as rock bottom as I've been able to get them in the past, that's because I utilize my frugal strategies to get higher quality things and specialty ingredients for lower prices than most people are able to. The problem, though, is that with corona virus lock down restrictions, and other precautions, even the more frugal of us can find themselves stumped, because most of our frugal options seem to no longer be available.

For example, the open air market where I'd be going grocery shopping for past prime produce has been closed for weeks, and the scratch and dent stores have been closed as well. There have been restrictions on traveling, even for grocery shopping; you're allowed to leave your home to go shopping for food and meds, however intercity travel for these things and even traveling between zones of cities for things has been banned if there are local options. The cheap grocery store that I go to in the nearest city, therefore, is no longer an option.

Online grocery shopping, as many people are using during this current situation, to prevent the need to leave the house and interact with people and potentially put themselves at risk, comes with a premium, extra delivery fees per order. And because of the fees each time you get a delivery, or the concern about exposing yourself to more people and places, and because of that people aren't going to various stores to shop and are going as infrequently as possible, all to minimize exposure, hitting up sales in various shops, buying what is cheaper in each store, and price comparing- all these options have virtually been taken from us. Add to that that many stores are out of many items, and its even harder, its just a difficult time to frugally grocery shop.

So for those who feel like they can't really be frugal anymore, which really sucks because everyone is hurting financially now, I put together a list of ways to lower your grocery bill, even with just shopping at one, possibly more expensive, store, that works even if you do a big grocery shop at once and not just waiting to stock up on sales.

Lowering Grocery Bills Even with Corona Precautions and Restrictions

Price Compare. No, you can't go from store to store and your price book probably won't help here, but within the store, price compare different companies, different sized packages, etc... This is probably more important than ever. However, it sometimes won't even work, because so many stores are missing foods and they'll often send you more expensive alternatives if you're online shopping, but it's worth it to at least attempt it.

Proteins are Pricey. Usually the most expensive parts of peoples grocery bills are the proteins, specifically animal proteins. One way to lower your grocery bills that is always helpful, but is especially helpful when you can't even go out and shop sales or buy what is cheapest at different stores, is to use lower cost proteins. The cheapest proteins out there are vegan proteins, but not the ready made processed foods or nuts, but rather things like dried beans and lentils and TVP.

If possible, incorporate as many beans and lentils in your diet as you can as proteins, and use other proteins more sparingly. You can also stretch your animal proteins with vegan proteins or even fillers, like by mixing your ground meat with cooked lentils, grated carrots or zucchini, or with TVP.

Alternatively, you can make a dish with both legumes and meat, such as soups or stews, or shepherd's pie with the meat mixed with peas and carrots, and lower the meat content because you can be assured that you're getting good protein from the vegan sources.

If vegan proteins don't work for your family, you can also switch to cheaper animal protein options. If you don't have an egg shortage where you live, they can be one of the cheaper proteins. I find that chicken wings are the cheapest proteins I can get, followed by chicken breast, and then by frozen tilapia or cod fillets, once you factor in the bones and the ice, but I'd suggest looking into these two posts for more information on how to figure this out locally (this one includes a chart where you plug in numbers to figure out real costs).

Make From Scratch. Ok, I'm not going to be one of those people who talks about how amazing this time period is, how everyone has so much free time and they must take advantage of it or they're just lazy. I know this is a really hard period for many families with everyone home, where most of us are in crisis mode. However, if you find that you can make foods from scratch, even some foods from scratch, it can make a big difference financially. And you might have your kids do it (depending on how old they are) which can save you the effort, or you might want to do it with your kids as an activity for them. I'm not going to talk about how much I'm making from scratch now because, lets face it, much of what we're eating is just sandwiches and leftovers, but I am making some things from scratch, like iced tea, lemonade, tomato juice, kombucha, kefir, tomato sauce/pasta sauce, teriyaki sauce, and the occasional bread, pizza, or cake. Whatever you do manage to make from scratch will still be cheaper than buying it store bought.

Limit Proteins- Use Fillers. When making meals, unless you have specific medical needs, you likely don't need to be filling up on proteins. Produce and carbs are cheaper options to use to fill up. Make lots of side dishes like rice, potatoes, pasta, and salads so people aren't just filling up on the meat. For example, if you are up to making nicer meals, having more than one course, such as first having bread with dips and spreads, then a protein free or protein low soup, and then a main dish with proteins and multiple sides will lower how much money you're spending on proteins, which are likely the most expensive part of your shop.

Reduce Waste. This is a big thing, and to be honest, is something that I struggle with and am trying to do better regarding this. Because food that gets tossed is money that is tossed, and it doesn't pay to "save money" on groceries and then throw them in the garbage. So if the previous suggestions I gave won't fly with your family, and the food will be wasted, don't bother. I repeat, its not saving money if it goes in the garbage.

So, in order to reduce food waste, try to stick to tried and true recipes that you know your family will eat. If you are trying something new, stick to small batches so that anything that won't be eaten will be minimal. Or in general, if your family doesn't like leftovers, cook in smaller batches. Or freeze if you make a large batch and you have too much for your family to eat without them getting sick of it.

Revamp leftovers how you can. If you have chicken leftovers, turn it into a stir fry or fried rice or put it in wraps, for example. I had leftover mashed potatoes, I put them in a pot of blended butternut squash and carrot soup. Other leftover potatoes I blended up and mixed with cheese to make a sauce for macaroni and cheese.

And here's where I really fail often. Keep an eye on your produce. Produce that spoils quicker should be used up quickly or at the very least preserved to stop it from spoiling. I regularly find that I have to toss spoiled cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes, and today was no exception. Every time that happens, its literally money in the garbage. If anyone has suggestions on how to prevent that, I'll gladly take it.

Forage and Garden. This works if you live where you're allowed to go out to nature (only today have they let us go further than 100 meters from our homes to exercise, I don't know what rules are with you). But if you are able to get to places where there is nature, try foraging to reduce your expenses. I wrote this post with a list of things that you get the most bang for your buck when foraging them.

If you can't go out into nature and have a yard, you can see if there are any wild edible plants in your yard to use. Right now in my yard I have mallow, sea beet, sow thistle, chickweed, and nettles that I can forage.

Gardening also helps. If you have a garden now, it pays off- I've been picking mint and lemon verbena and oregano that I grow in my garden, but even if you don't already have a garden growing now, you can try growing things like onion greens (just leave your onion to sprout and use the leaves that grow in place of scallions) or stick the ends of green onions or leek in water and it'll start sprouting, and then you can put them in the ground and trim, or you can sprout beans and other micro-greens to increase the amount of food in your house. Here's more info on what seeds you can sprout at home with no equipment.

Ditch the Eggs. Ok, you don't have to unless you're vegan or have allergies to eggs, but I've found that eggs in baking increase the cost significantly, and usually you can use egg replacements and end up with a terrific result for a fraction of the cost. Add to that that in many places there are egg shortages and when you do find them they often have their prices gouged.

So if you want to replace eggs in your baked goods, here's more on how to use cheap egg replacements, mainly flax seeds and chickpea flour, as well as a price comparison explanation. You can even use flax eggs to make your own mayonnaise.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't eat eggs, but if you want to eat eggs, make them count. Make them into an omelet or sunny side up egg or whatever dish makes you really enjoy that egg, and when you don't really care if its an egg or not, but you just want a binder, then use the replacements which are much cheaper.

Infrequent Shopping. This is one way in which corona restrictions and precautions actually are helpful financially. Going shopping as infrequently as possible is a good way to save money, because every time you enter the store you invariably end up spending more money on items you "forgot you needed" and in general reducing your frequency of grocery shopping helps save money.

So even if you just shop local or just shop online with delivery, try to shop as infrequently as possible and make do without until your designated shopping time.

Yes, this is an extra challenging time to save money on groceries, made even more stressful by life circumstances and the greater need to be frugal, but there are ways to do so, even if more limited than usual.

What are you doing to save money on groceries now? Anything you'd add to my list? Anything you disagree with? If you have any suggestions on how to not have my cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes spoil, I'd love to hear them.

8 comments:

  1. I agree with all that you wrote! Today I made a pound of dried pinto beans in my Ninja Foodi (pressure cooked AND air fryer) Mexican charro-style, with onions, bacon, diced tomatoes, spices, and some jarred chipotle sauce I had sitting in my pantry. It came out great with a ton of soupy tomato-y broth. Rather than just boil off the excess broth, I scooped out 95% of the beans to cool, then chopped up almost all bits and bobs of veggies in my fridge: 1 huge carrot, 1/4 cabbage, 1 lonely potato, 1 medium zucchini, plus some tiny sausages that were getting old in my freezer, a few chopped up dry corn tortillas (they disappear but make it nice and thick), and 2 small handfuls of some elbow macaroni pasta. Oh, and a little dried oregano, onion, garlic powder, & Italian seasoning. 5 more minutes in the pressure cooker, and then I had about 10 servings of almost a stew! I added a bit of jarred pesto too. We each had a hearty bowl with some toasted buttered bread, a great lunch! Now I have about 8 more servings for later this week, tho I may freeze some. AND pinto beans for beans and rice, tacos, burrito bowls or whatever too. Some will go into the freezer so we don't get too tired of beans! I will also use the pressure cooker to make some brown rice later today as well.

    I just saw a recipe for a Japanese cucumber salad with ground sesame sauce, that looked yummy. Or maybe pickle them in jars for later? Zucchini and tomatoes for me almost always go into a soup like today--which can be frozen for later. I've also seen that zucchini can be shredded and frozen for zucchini bread or muffins later, as it becomes watery when thawed. My sister shreds and makes them into savory pancakes / fritters, tho you have to squeeze out every bit of liquid!

    I like tofu in my fridge, as it keeps so long, and tho it seems harder to find nowadays it also comes in a shelf-stable vacuum packed form too. Tonight we plan on making spicy Mapo tofu, with a 1/2lb of ground meat (or tvp!) and some jarred (refrigerated) Chili Bean Sauce. To that I will add some diced zucchini (cauliflower is good too) and we will eat it over brown rice, and because it is spicy it goes quite far!

    We often do the Costco roast chicken for $5, and I choose the biggest one! I cut it up into pieces right away. The first day we eat it fresh and hot with a cool salad, and later we'll reheat and eat with brown rice and veggies, usually roasted or stir-fried. The remainder might become chicken salad mix, or sliced breast meat in sandwiches or noodle soups (ramen! with an egg poached in broth & added veggies and sliced mushrooms), or added as a protein for yakisoba. Diced & getting slightly dried out breast meat will become chicken tortilla soup (or any soup), added to quesadillas, omelettes, or our favorite: chicken pot pie mix! This can make a ton, so one day as a pie with a crust, a lazier day with quick biscuits. And of course the gelled dripping and bones can become the broth for these recipes!

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    1. DeedaInSeattle, what great ideas! Way to go and thanks for sharing!

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  2. Amazon is offering a free month long Kindle Unlimited, I just oredered your book for free!

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  3. All great ideas and I especially like how you didn't go on about the thrills of homemade cooking/baking during these trying times. You're also the only one that I've heard mention that there's the potential to save money by not going shopping as much which should be obvious but I only just noticed for myself. I hope you and your children are doing well.

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  4. Homemade mayonnaise is even cheaper when aquafaba is used. I cook a big pot of chickpeas every few weeks and use the water for making mayonnaise. Works great!

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  5. Great ideas.
    Regarding produce spoiling, here's what I do.
    1. Buy what you know you'll use. Don't buy huge quantities of produce, even if it's on sale, unless you know for a fact that you'll really use that much (collectively, that much produce before it spoils, plus that amount of each type). I always used to end up throwing out moldy cucumbers, so now I just buy less cucumbers - even though it seems like it's not enough. Some produce is more labor intensive to prepare, or less people like it, or I just know that I don't get around to using it - so I buy what I know we'll actually use.
    2. I don't run out and buy more produce as soon as we run out of some things, as long as we have other produce. That forces me to actually use the stuff I bought last time. Ok, so there's no tomatoes? We'll use the peppers and that random eggplant sitting around.
    3. When putting away new produce, take the old stuff and put it on the door of the fridge. Use it first.
    4. Whenever you notice something starting to look old and icky, put it on the door of the fridge and use it up quickly.
    5. Produce spoils. It happens. Throw it out and don't beat yourself up.

    How to use up fruits and veggis that are sitting around:
    A. Cut them up, put them on a plate, and put them on the table.
    B. Smoothie (best with fruit, but you can throw in carrots too).
    C. Bake it into something - fruit crumble, muffins.
    D. Fry veggis and cook with eggs or fish (and tomato paste, optional)

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  6. kn95 supplier shall increase their mask supply on these grocery stores too !

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