Frugal Eats! A three step approach to cut down the food bill
Madsow writes at Engineer A Debt Free Life. He is a nearly 30 year old test engineer striving to get out of debt. Instead of spending time doing unproductive things, he is spending his time researching frugal life and living for less.
I discovered Clever Dude earlier this year when I started reading blogs as a way to inspire me to get serious about getting out of debt. It has proved to be an inspiration and is one of the blogs that inspired me to start my own frugality and debt-elimination blog. It is an honor to write a guest post for one of my original favorites.
After we started to get focused and came up with a real budget to follow, we found that groceries and eating out were huge expenses. We stopped eating out just about all together, that was a no-brainerâ€¦ but what to do about the massive grocery budget? As an engineer this is what I do, take a problem and design a way out. So I designed a three step plan to drastically cut our food bills.
Step 1: Bulk cooking
We started only buying our meats in bulk when it was on sale and bulk cooking. We started with meat, but bulk cooking and preparation has done many wonders for us. Clever Dude inspired me with his Frugal Lunch article on mass assembling PBJâ€™s. This applies to everything.
Buy ground beef on sale 5 or 10 pounds at a time and cook it in the roaster in the oven. You can cook it plain, bag it and freeze it if you like. We often make taco mix, pasta sauce and sloppy Joe mix this way and freeze into portions. The best part is when you come home tired at the end of the day, you donâ€™t run down to KFC and pick up dinner. You just pop dinner in the microwave and 10 minutes later you are chowing down on a cheap home cooked meal.
Step 2: Take an inventory
Think about this a minuteâ€¦ how much more frugal can you get than not buying things and being happy with what you have? For instance, we spent all of October making many of our meals out of stuff stored in the pantry and freezer. Things were looking pretty depleted and I thought we were going to have to hit the store again, but by taking a few minutes to write out an inventory of exactly what we had on hand I was able to make combinations for dinners and managed to come up with another 29 suppers. Thatâ€™s a whole month of free suppers just by using what we had and as an added benefit you actually eat things before they go bad.
(Note from CD: We actually just proposed to eat only what we had in the cupboards instead of buying new food. We were amazed at what we had!)
Step 3: Plan your meals and make a shopping list
Like many people, we used to go out grocery shopping and pick up whatever we thought we needed to get though the week. Turns out, most of the time we bought about 30% more food than we needed and almost every week we bought stuff we already had sitting at home. By making a set menu the weekend ahead, we could see just what we needed and bought only that. Wow, did this help cut back!
I hope my three step approach will help you with your grocery budget blues as much as it has ours. Bon Appetite!
Don’t forget Leftovers when talking about cooking in bulk! When I was in college, my Dad told me his “secret” of cooking double portions. I’ve put this into practice for years because it saves time (twice the meals in the same amount of cooking time) and allows you to take the “brown bag discount” on lunch!
That One Caveman says
I never considered freezing cooked meat. We buy ground meat in bulk (5-10lbs) and freeze it in 1lb uncooked portions. That way we can thaw only what we need for a recipe.
I’ll try precooking a few pounds next time and see how it affects my dishes.
We used to have a grocery bill of over $150 every two weeks, just for the two of us! We decided to go on a ‘diet’ and eat healthier. To do this we decided to stick to ‘natural foods; that are not packaged (unless they were necessary). Now when we go grocery shopping we stick to the basics; fruits, vegetables, and meats. We also pickup pa few items like salad dressing, pasta sauce, chicken broth, etc. Doing this we have driven the cost of our goceries to under $70 every two weeks!
We also eliminated many premade desert items (ice cream, cookies) as well as premade dinners.
Good tips. The problem with bulk cooking is that you don’t always have room to store it. Since it either needs to be in the freezer or fridge, it takes away a lot of useful space, and even in the fridge has a lifeline. Also try coupons.com to get some cutout coupons for local supermarkets.
I just read this out-loud to my son (13 and hungry all the time!) and my husband, who does the cooking (our deal is he cooks, I clean up).
My hubby said we could even bulk cook chicken and pork roast. The bulk cooking would be especially helpful because during the week dinner can be a rushed affair due to boy scouts, karate, piano lessons, homework, working out, etc.
They liked the idea of only cooking the stuff on hand and we agreed to make an inventory this weekend.
I have a feeling that trying to get a week-in-advance meal plan may be pushing the envelope a little too far.
Thanks for the tips!
2 other things – one, we rarely have leftovers with a 13 year boy and a home improvement contractor in the house (LOL)! And 2, what do you put the bulk-cooked food in for freezer storage?
We usually put our bulk cooking in 1 quart freezer bags or tupperware (more like cheapo rubbermaid stuff at our house) so that everything is in neat and easy to microwave portioned sizes.
Perfect for busy schedules. 5-10 minutes later a home cooked meal is served. VOILA!
The Happy Rock says
1 and 3 work great, but I have found that they are hard to make habits since real life usually interferes.
Having stuff frozen in the freezer is awesome, especially when life has you drained or on the run.
@ Sue – For freezing items with lots of water in them, look for containers that have sides that slope outward (Like this \_/ ), as it freezes it will push up instead of out or down. We have a few regular shaped Rubbermaid tubs with cracks in them now 🙁
The canning area of your Walmart/FleetFarm etc will have specialized containers for this too.
We froze squash and pumpkins I got from my parents last fall and can use them in bread, bars, or with the squash just add some butter and brown sugar and serve them.
Hi, I make frozen dinners all the time. I got tired a long time ago of eating frozen dinners bought from the store. I live alone. So one day I decided I would make my own frozen dinners. I will make a crockpot full of beef stew, or pork stew, or chicken stew and put them in glad containers and and put glad wrap over the top of the food to keep frost bite out and then put the top on. I can get 5-6 meals per crockpot. Put them in the freezer and I have a frozen lunch for work every day. I sometimes will make about 18-30 meals in a weekend..To give me a variety to choose from. Then when those get low…I start the process all over again. I also will make chili in the crockpot. I also make pasta sauce and freeze it without the pasta, also I make large pots of veggie soup. A large pot gives me about 12 meals which I freeze for lunch or whenever. I do this to make sure I get one really nutricious meal every day…rest of day will be fruit or a sandwich..etc.
I don’t buy cookies, chips or junk food..I gave up all that due to it not being nutricious and trying to keep my grocery costs down. This year I put in raised beds to start going my own veggies to keep costs down that much more.
Great blog! I’ve been buying meat in bulk for years, and it’s fantastic for our family (two teens, two adults). I usually buy the biggest packages I can find (around 5 lbs), and cook one package with onions, drain the grease really well, and then add taco seasoning. I’ll let this simmer for awhile, cool, and then pack into 5 flat gallon freezer bags. If they are flat, they stack well, and defrost quickly! I also cook the other up with onions and garlic, degrease, cool, pack the same way, and then defrost for spaghetti sauce, Hamburger Helper, pizza toppings, etc.
I do this same exact thing with chicken–sometimes I’ll use the huge $5 rotisserrie chickens at Costco–and sometimes, I”ll use chicken on sale, etc. Either way, it’s easy/fast to store/defrost/reheat these big, flat packages–and I don’t get grumpy about making dinner anymore…it has saved us a ton of money! (I’ve started doing this with grilled veggies, now, too–but I don’t freeze them–I just use them for the week in omelettes, salads, sandwiches, salads, pasta, etc..yum!!
Thanks for a terrific blog–can’t wait to read more of your wonderful ideas!
Steve in W MA says
One thing I do is a weekly fridge and freezer “lookaround” once a week, usually on Friday. I pull all the stuff out of the front of fridge shelves so I can see *everything* that’s in there and root around to see what needs to be used next and if anything is bad (I’m trying to cut down on that! There is a woman who has Food Waste Fridays on her blog which is a pretty fun idea–she takes pictures of all the food that has gone bad during the week and posts it on her website).
Anyways, from that I can see what I need to eat next or freeze before it goes bad, do some basic planning, and tweak the shopping list with the goal of using up the fridge and freezer stuff before it goes bad. It really cuts down on food costs for me, plus the fridge is a lot nicer because of it.
Steve in W MA says
ahem…it’s frugalgirl’s and her site is here:
You can post your own pictures too! Fun!
Jen@ flowers tea says
You’re definitely on target with those list. In this times of hardship, we only need to buy what we really need. Inventory is very important. Sometimes we can’t control ourselves from buying just about anything you can see on the grocery store. Your post is really helpful to remind us to be frugal and teach us not to waste.