10.19.2009

How I Feed My Family (Well) For 200 Bones a Month


There are several changes that I have made in the last year that have drastically cut down the amount of money we spend on food, the amount of food we waste, and the quality of the food we are eating.

First, and probably the most important, is that I started price matching at Wal-Mart. I really struggled with wanting to do this because I hate Wal-Mart. They are The Man, and all that jazz. Plus, I hear that the owners of the company steal babies from Africa and eat them. I know. Pure evil, right? But the choice was to either visit five different stores with two boys every time I went shopping, or to visit one store that I hate. I balanced the two options for quite some time (baby tantrums, baby eaters, baby tantrums, baby eaters?). Wal Mart won. But I do feel slight satisfaction when leaving because I really don't think they make any profit off of me, the way I shop. It feels like I'm giving them a tiny kick in the shin-- take that baby eaters (foolish suckas!).

There are probably a lot of different ways that you could go about doing this, but here is how I do it:

Wal Mart will match any advertised price. Every week when I get my weekly ads I go through them, with a pen and blank piece of paper in hand. I have my sheet of paper categorized in four sections: Meat, Produce, Dairy, Other. I pick the loss leader items (the items that the store is offering to customers at cost or below cost to attract customers), and prepare to buy those items in bulk. I write the item, the advertised price, and where the ad is from. Here's an example of what a small section might look like:

Meat
  • Bnls, sknls, chk brst 1.69 pd. ffl [boneless skinless chicken breast for 1.69 per pound at Food 4 Less]
  • cross-rib chuck roast 1.49 pd. sm [Cross-Rib Chuck Roast 1.49 per pound at Smiths]
etc...

Then I shop. I am very organized in how I go about doing this, which is not very normal for me (being organized and all). I bring my list, my ads, and my calculator. I don't buy anything that is not on my list. I start off in produce. Everything that is a per pound price, I weigh and then calculate my total cost off to the side. I do this for 3 reasons: one, sometimes the way Wal Mart, and the way the advertised price store is selling the item don't match. One will be selling per pound, and one will be selling at an each price. If you have the total written to the side, you can tell the person checking you out what the price should be. Two, sometimes the checker makes a mistake and you need to be able to catch it right away, and three, I know almost exactly how much money I'm spending when I get to the line. After I'm done in produce, I quickly add up all the items I've written to the side and put the total price for produce and circle it. Next I head to meat, and follow the previous steps, and then finally I get a few items in dairy, and a few items in the aisles, calculate my total, and then head to the line.

I always have a few items, that I'm buying at Wal Mart's cost, and I make sure and put those items at the front of the cart away from everything else. Try and pick a good checker-- One that you think you will be able to communicate well with, and get along with. And be extra nice to them. This kind of shopping is a pain in the behindy to them, so make sure you've got your act together, and smile at them, and tell them they are the most awesome being alive. It's also nice to warn anyone who comes behind you, that you will be price matching, and it might take a long time. Just common courtesy, in my opinion.

When I am purchasing my items, I put the items that I am not price matching in line first, then I put a divider bar, and then I start putting my price matching items. That way, if the checker starts scanning your food before you've told them what you are up to, it won't cause any problems. Make sure you have your list and your ads ready. Some checkers will check every price on every ad, and some checkers will just punch in whatever price you tell them.

I know this sounds confusing and awful, but it's really not that bad. Because I buy in bulk I usually only shop every two to three weeks at Wal-Mart. Because I spend so little money on each trip, I can splurge a little for items I love at places like Trader Joe's and Costco. If you really want to try this, but have never done it and are scared to, I would suggest either starting off small-- just try it out with a few items, until you understand how it works, and gain confidence, or if you know someone else who does this kind of shopping, go with them. That's how I learned. I went with my cousins wife and my friend Megan, and I really learned well that way. I would be happy to go with any of you who would like to try this. Just let me know!

Some people are really organized and plan meals, and have a list of ingredients that they need and plan accordingly. I've tried that, and it doesn't work for me. Whenever I plan meals, I end up picking recipes that require ingredients that are not on sale, and then I don't end up feeling like cooking the things I planned and we waste food etc... So I keep it pretty simple. I buy the meat and produce in bulk when it's on sale, and keep the meals pretty simple-- meat, grain, vegetable, etc... Sometimes I spice it up a bit with breakfast for dinner, homemade pastas, soups, homemade pizza or whatever else I feel like making. We eat well, and this is what works for me.

I like to do some things in advance-- grilling a bunch of chicken in advance, cutting some of it up, and shredding it, and putting it in individual baggies for certain recipes, browning hamburger etc... I also really love some Shirley J products that I have tired. They make things really easy to make without having a ton of ingredients-- soups, pastas, seasoning, etc... Kate Hulet sells the products here for anyone interested. They have really been a great helper to me in the kitchen!

I also make almost everything I can from scratch-- bread, pastas, beans, cereals etc... I buy my grains in bulk from the LDS cannery. Their prices are cheap, cheap, and eating and buying this way not only builds up a supply of food just in case Obama is really an alien who wants to take over the earth, but it is also much more nutritious to eat this way. You can purchase items from the cannery even if you are not LDS. Just stop in some time, and ask someone to show you around so you understand how it works. You can either make an appointment, and can your own food, or you can buy big bags of grain in bulk, and store them in your own buckets or cans. Whatever works for you. Again, making things from scratch sounds daunting and horrible if you've never done it before, but it's really not bad. I would say again to start small, and then build from there. Exchange cold cereal for oatmeal, dry beans for canned, and on and on, until it will become second nature. I'm still really learning in this area. I would like to do a lot more canning in the future, and more gardening, but I'm still taking baby steps in that direction.

So there you have it, there it is...Hope this will be helpful for someone out there...