Money for nothing

November 21, 2011 Off By Jana

Back when we hit our financial low point, our grocery budget was $30 for every two, sometimes 3 weeks, for the two of us. It was during this time that I learned how to cook on a very strict budget and the cookbook Cheap. Fast. Good. was our saving grace. That $30 budget made me really appreciate the day our grocery budget hit $100 per week.

When I first started shopping with $100 each week, I felt rich! The first time I walked into the supermarket with that much money in my wallet, I didn’t know what do to with myself. It was as on odd feeling to be able to walk down the aisles and the perimeter of the store with the ability to buy extras and stop looking wistfully at items like Sabra hummus or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or pomegranates. Even with that money, I still shopped sales, bought generics as much as possible but it was weird (and almost unsettling) to have that much money to buy food each and every week. I had longed for the day of being able to shop with more than $30 and here it was!

One of the side effects of our increased budget was having more treats in our diets (this happened mostly due to my newfound love of baking pretty much any sweet you can imagine). Another side effect was buying things like cheese and fish (the two reasons I will never be vegan). We were finally able to start building a small stockpile of staples like rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, and beans. More fresh fruits and vegetables found their way into our fridge. I was such a wonderful feeling to expand our menu plans and have a few more choices. We started sailing along on our $100 budget with no problems.

Until recently. I’d been reading a lot in the news lately about the increasing cost of food, the incredible shrinking food packages but it wasn’t something that I had really noticed. I figured the cost increase was mainly on foods that I didn’t eat. But recently, I’ve noticed the huge spike in seasonal produce. I’ve noticed that the jars of peanut butter don’t have the same amount of services or if the servings are the same, the price is much higher. I’ve noticed that the sales aren’t as good as they used to be, or happen as frequently as they used to. Our $100 budget isn’t going nearly as far as it used to. Sometimes, I come home from grocery shopping having spent $80, $90 or even the full $100 and I feel like I’ve spent my money for nothing. Like this weekend’s trip:

Money for nothing

$80 worth of groceries. So very sad.

It’s frustrating and aggravating to feel like we’ve come so far in our food budget only to feel like we’re taking a step back. So, to combat the increasing prices, and since coupons make me both dizzy and annoyed, I’ve started implementing the following strategies:

  1. Stockpiling on good sales. For instance, our supermarket is having a deal on canned organic beans (I do not like dried beans. I never, ever cook them correctly and they taste atrocious. So I buy canned beans), and they are only one penny more than the store brand. Each week, I’ve been buying a few cans of each kind of beans. This way, when the sales stop and everything is back to their normal price, I don’t need to buy them.
  2. Avoiding prepared foods whenever possible. I try to make as much as I can from scratch but I did have a few cheats–spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce, Morningstar Farms soy products. As the price of healthy items has been going up, I’ve cut back on all of these considerably and I even make my own spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and other sauces from scratch. Also, I’ve been paying much greater attention to ingredients and the vegetarian substitutes are pretty much a pricy chemistry experiment.
  3. Having a very strict shopping list. I usually make a detailed menu plan and shop with a specific list but I had become very lax about picking up items that were not on the list because I could afford them. Not so much any more. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the wagon. When the husband and the daughter come with me, I have to patrol them very carefully–nonapproved items have a tendency to sneak into the wagon when I’m not looking. One caveat: I keep a tally with the calculator on my phone. If I am very under budget and all necessary items have been purchased, I will allow one or two extras.
  4. Comparison shopping. A few weeks ago, in order to get my food shopping done as efficiently as possible, I went to a supermarket that was on the way to my daughter’s school. Historically, this store has been less expensive to the one I normally use and I was looking forward to the savings. I don’t say this often but I was wrong. Something happened and now this store is exponentially more expensive than my regular one. Needless to say, I will not be shopping at this supermarket on a regular basis.

I know that these are common sense strategies, and ones that are advocated by all smart and savvy grocery shoppers. But I’ve had to remind myself that I need to implement these strategies or I need to increase my grocery budget and compromise on other areas. It’s taken too long to actually have a restaurant budget and a “fun” budget; I don’t want to have to sacrifice those in order to afford my weekly groceries.

What changes have you had to make to deal with rising food prices?