Readers in my previous post are making a lot of requests from me. I will try to be at your service, but I'm hoping that there is a life insurance expert out there will kindly submit a guest post because this is not an area of expertise of mine. When it came to selecting life insurance for our family, we called up a friend who sells insurance through a well known and highly rated company and got the ball rolling. We also are required to enroll for a certain level of coverage through my husband's employer, so we don't have all our eggs in one basket so to speak. But I'd like to learn more from a reader of this blog and am putting out my request for a guest post. Otherwise, I will have to do some research, which isn't a problem by any means. But a guest post would be more expedient.
Now, back to the subject at hand. I am passionate about controlling the food/household goods budget. I think anyone trying to gain control over their household budget would do best to start in an area they can exercise a healthy level of control over without having to make changes that might be too drastic. Of course, tackling this area of a diet might involve quite a bit of change if you have to change the way you eat, but it still may be less traumatic than selling your home, car, or pulling the kids off the soccer team.
Many are under the impression that controlling the food/household goods budget is far too bothersome, providing far too little return. I disagree. Getting the hang of it does take some practice and the initial stages can be time consuming (especially as you make menu changes and learn new cooking habits) but once the basic skills have been mastered, it gets easier and easier. Those who haven't learned more frugal skills have to exercise the muscles, and the beginning of any exercise program can be a bit difficult.
Here are a few things necessary to get the ball rolling in the right direction:
1. Spend $1. For at least a year I tried the coupon thing, but could never seem to get a handle on it. I had an envelope with diaper coupons in it, another envelope with cleaning product coupons in it, and another envelope with hygiene product coupons in it. But once I was in the store, I couldn't locate the envelopes for the life of me. Months later, I'd find them while cleaning out the car or cleaning up the desk. Of course, by then the coupons were useless.
Then one day we were in Target and I saw a coupon purse in the dollar section. I spent one dollar and have saved hundreds since then. An compact and organized coupon fits nicely in my purse. I don't leave home without it. And its size and simplicity helps keep me organized.
I try to cut coupons once a week. When my kids are more cooperative, I will put one of them to work leaving me with only the responsibility of organizing the coupons. I file coupons as follows: diapers, food products, household cleaning products, toiletries, gift card offers for new and/or transferred prescriptions, rainchecks, and retail.
Note: CVS Extra Bucks sit in my wallet in front of my credit cards and Rite Aid receipts are filed there due to their valuable rebates. I have found I need these items to be very visible lest I forget I have them.
2. Create a grocery flex fund, say $200-$300. I do not adhere to a rigid budget for groceries. I know it works for some people to put $100 in an envelope at the beginning of the week and call it quits when the money is gone. But, frankly, I'd never survive because inevitably when tuna goes on a 2 for $1 sale, cereal is also on sale at a bargain price, as is cottage cheese, as is pasta, and then, lo and behold, I run into packages of diapers that end up running me less than $5 after coupons. I rarely go to a warehouse store, but when I do hitch a ride with a friend, I can quickly spend $100 on some basics, and while those basics can easily last 6 months, I can't drink the olive oil for dinner. Therefore, I need the flexibility to spend more some months and less other months, hence the flex fund. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Hence my stockpiles of goods we use regularly.3. Create organized storage area(s). If you are stocking up you need space. The space should be as easy to use with good visibility so you can make a quick inventory by sight. I highly recommend buying a stand up freezer (try to find a floor model, you will likely save nearly half) because having this storage area is one of the keys to saving, both time and money.
4. Grocery List on the refrigerator. I keep an inexpensive magnetic pad of lined paper on the side of my refrigerator. Everyone has been instructed that if they want something, they need to add it to the list (supplies don't appear magically). When I notice we are running low on a non-perishable staple, I try to get it on the list before the situation is "desperate." That way I can buy it in the place that I know it is priced best at, rather than the place I need to go.
Now, onto the shopping tips:
1. Get your paper and pencil ready. The day that the circulars arrive in my mailbox, I quickly scan through the ads, circling everything of interest to me. Once you have figured out how the stores lay out their circular you will learn which pages to look at and the time spend will quickly be cut in half. The kosher consumer can often skip more than half the ad. The front page normally contains any super sales (e.g. cereals, produce bargains, ice cream bargains). The middle pages are mostly filled with items of no interest to the kosher consumer (meat, cheese, deli, seafood). If I believe I have a coupon for an item, I note "coupon" right on the ad and move that coupon to the front of my file. The real deals often come from matching up coupons with items on sale. How I got cereal for 80 cents: the store was selling general mills cereal 10 for 10. You had to buy 10 at a time. At checkout they gave you a coupon for $2 of 5 boxes on your next purchase. So, I went back and the next 10 boxes cost me 80 cents, as did the next 10 and the next 10. I found a hiding place for the cereal and bought a huge supply.
2. Get to know different store's policy on coupons. Presenting coupons is unfortunately the only way to get to know the policy, but it has been well worth it for me. Some stores will double coupons 55 cents and below, others 99 cents and below. This means the same coupon is far more valuable in store b than in store a. Some stores don't care if you are buying the exact product in the exact quantity so long as the manufacturer is the same (e.g. a coupon for one type of Kellogg's cereal can be used to buy a different Kellogg's cereal). Some stores are more than happy to take coupons that have recently expired, other stores are strict about the expiration date. I tend to throw out all coupons past their expiration date because I don't want my file to become overwhelming. But one drug store is happy to take expired diaper coupons, so if I have a more valuable diaper coupon, I hold onto it.
3. Note non-sale prices on basics either mentally or in a notebook. Just because something is on sale doesn't mean it is a good price. Also there are large discrepancies on basics between many stores. I refuse to go to 6 grocery stores a week. So I stock up on things we need that don't regularly go on sale whenever I am at the grocery store that has the best price.
5. Ask for a Raincheck. If there is a really good sale on an item, it will often be gone be gone by the time you get there. I keep rainchecks behind a separate tab in my coupon wallet so they are easy to locate.
4. Shop with a calculator. Bulk doesn't mean less expensive and unfortunately grocery stores don't always match their units. You can't compare pints with gallons without a calculator.
6. Damaged Goods. I can't even begin to tell you how much money I've saved buying slightly dented cans, cereal and foil in crushed boxes, and packages of diapers with damaged packaging. I have paid 5 cents for small cans of tomato sauce, 25 cents for cans of pineapple, and I've even picked up free cereal after applying coupons. Find out where the damaged items are kept and visit that part of the store religiously.
7. Stock up only on what you use. Buying in bulk is only good if you regularly use the item. Buying an item that is a good price for that item, but not really a good price, will only put you behind. I stock up on frozen vegetables, canned tomato products, cereal, and cuts of poultry/meat that we regularly use.
8. Past its Prime. I have made large batches of soup for almost nothing by buying produce that is past its prime. So long as you have time to put up a soup and space to freeze, I recommend looking for produce past its prime. I made a sweet potato soup from onions and carrots on hand combined with 6 sweet potatoes I picked up for a dollar. I believe I had enough soup to serve for six Shabbat meals. More recently I made an entire stockpot of minestrone soup from not so fresh tomatoes and other vegetables I had on hand. The tomatoes cost me $2.50. This Shavuot I was planning a dessert, but ended up spotting a beautiful raspberry tart for $1.50 on the day old bakery rack. I would not have thought of looking on the bakery rack, since the items baked at the store are not certified. But a kosher certified package caught my attention and we were out the door with a great treat (and it really was tasty).
9. Package your own snacks. Enough said.
10. Water. Challah. Soda, seltzer, and juice can put a hit on any budget. Sometimes you have to wean your family off their drinks. Fortunately water is good for the waistline too. And do learn to make your own challah. I can mix up a water challah (five cups of mixed flour) in five minutes for almost nothing. To think that only 5 years ago I was spending at least $6 a week on challah. It is almost embarrassing.
And lastly, don't wear yourself thin. Good habits take time to build and get easier with time. My food/household goods budget has been just about the same for the past few years despite a growing family. But I've expanded my menu options, learned how to juggle my cooking, learned how to substitute ingredients, learned more about freezing, and I've learned new skills like making a variety of soups and baking challah. I've also managed to settle into better cooking routines that don't take away great amounts of time. I really see this part of homemaking to be a lot like an exercise plan. It takes some time to settle into and learn to enjoy it.