Author Topic: Optimizing Groceries  (Read 19476 times)

Ishmael

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Optimizing Groceries
« on: May 16, 2013, 08:28:18 AM »
Do any Mustachians have any advice about optimizing meal planning and grocery shopping?

I've toyed with the idea of getting some software that would allow me to create meal plans, shopping lists and optimize based on sales, pantry items, total costs, etc. but the hours of recipe entry have always prevented me from doing it.

What solutions does everyone use? Or is just a manual process?

tuyop

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2013, 08:39:53 AM »
It's pretty straightforward. My partner and I sit down, usually on Saturday or Friday, and we make a quick calendar/list:

Snacks
Breakfast
Lunch
Supper

For every day of the week. Then we fill it in, trying not to eat meat more than once a day or tuna 3x/wk while getting 100-200g of protein per day each.

So imagine it looks like this:

Snacks: apples w/almond butter
Breakfast: Omelette w/cheese and salsa
Lunch: Beef stew
Supper: Shrimp pad thai

Now, we look in the food storage places and see that:

1. We have almond butter, cheese, salsa and stew beef.
2. We're out of carrots, eggs, onions, shrimp, bean sprouts and fish sauce.

Put items for 2. on a list. Go to the store with the list and buy that stuff. Try not to be distracted by the delicious cereals and prepackaged frankenfoods.

Come home, cook the lunches and prep suppers if necessary. This is best done on Sunday when you can have fun with it and destress with your spouse while you try new foods.

Edit: Trying new recipes doesn't have to be hard either. Usually I do some research into X cuisine. Let's say I want to try some new Mexican food this week:

Google: mexican cuisine
Discover: tamales are mexican. I've never made those before!
Google: best tamale recipe
Add ingredients to list and enter tamale into one of the meals. At some point, cook the tamales according to the recipe.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2013, 08:44:11 AM by tuyop »

Christiana

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2013, 09:19:19 AM »
All manual:

Grocery list on the fridge with a pen to write down the things that have/are about to run out, as we notice them, and extra things that we would like to get.

Coupons from store flyers are clipped and kept under the grocery list.

Weekly meal plan for dinners goes on a small whiteboard, plus (sometimes) a list of ingredients that need to be used up.  Often I just specify the main ingredients, and determine the rest later--cooking technique, minor ingredients, seasoning.  I don't often use written recipes for main/side dishes anymore; one of the benefits of experience.

So I shop first, keeping an eye open for good deals (a price book can help with this) and then I make meal plans based on what I bought.  I also keep a basic pantry stocked, from which I can make many things.

EK

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2013, 09:34:03 AM »
I've got a pen and paper system.  Twice a month I sit down and write out breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.  If we have planned to go out for that meal, I write that in too.  A lot of meals I plan to make extra, and then I designate a day to eat the leftovers.  By planning the leftovers as meals, it keeps the leftovers from going bad before we eat them.

I keep dry goods and basics like bulk olive oil in stock in the pantry, and if I run out of something I add it to a running grocery list that I keep on the fridge.  Then I go through and add the fresh food we'll need for the next 2 weeks of cooking.

I buy bulk pantry items at Costco now, and buy fresh 2x per month.  I hardly ever buy any food that is frozen or comes in a box.  As such, coupons very rarely help us out (they almost always seem to be for packaged foods that we don't eat), but eating real food has actually turned out to be much cheaper for us than when we used to eat a lot of processed stuff.  And it's healthier and tastes better.

Ishmael

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2013, 11:01:18 AM »
Thanks for the feedback; mostly similar to what we do already, including the weekly meal planning, although we do a bit more stocking up of some bulk items on sales - we have two freezers.

We mostly stick to unprocessed food, although we have hot dogs, canned soups/pastas and a few frozen pizzas that we consider our "fast food" for times when we're just too busy.

We stock up on the expensive staples when they go on sale, like pasta, fish, ground beef, etc. Every week, my wife refreshes the perishables, i.e. fruit and vegetables. 

We have a rural property, so my wife raises meat chickens, and hens for eggs.  We get free potatoes from my brother in law, have a small garden, and I like to gather wild things - fish, berries, etc.

Even with all that, our food bill (for 4) is close to 9K/year, although our category is "consumables", which includes things like razor blades and shampoo. That works out to an average of $2/person/meal. I guess food is just that much more expensive around here (Atlantic Canada). Or maybe we eat too much meat... maybe we can optimize there. I see other people's grocery bills on here and wonder how it's possible for them to be so low!

We've just joined CostCo and are hoping that helps. It's hard to resist CostCo's siren call in other areas though - they have some pretty awesome deals at times! So I'm not sure that will work out positive in the end :)

crestheaven

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2013, 01:07:10 PM »
I avoid big name stores. I look for name brands at Dollar Tree; frequent farmers' markets; and, never buy snacks. I do the Dr. Oz popcorn (place kernels in paper bag and microwave) or make my own baked fries. We eat lots of vegs and only buy high quality ground beef, once a month. Local eggs are great also and we eat lots of those as well as make soup. All You magazine has recipies with the price per serving and most are pretty good and easy.

farmstache

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2013, 10:59:45 PM »
Is it too bad if I help people who found this topic on search function (like me) and need a reference, by connecting to another topic on groceries optimization? Even though it's an old topic? I don't know how internet etiquette works here.

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/ask-a-mustachian/how-to-save-on-my-grocery-bill/

happy

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2013, 01:30:23 AM »
That's excellent etiquette here Farmstache.


I find detailed meal planning doesn't work for me because I like to shop the specials, and I don't know what they are until I get there. Others swear by it.

My system is:

Staples with long shelf life:  I buy large quantities when on special. There are some items I get from Aldi...I do a big Aldi shop say every6 months or so and stock up on these.  I keep my eye on prices (some people write it in a little book, but I seem to be able to remember OK) and know what is a cheap price. I only buy if its a really really good special, and then I buy a lot - like 6-12months worth. I do not have a bulk food outlet available otherwise I'd use that.

I shop weekly for perishables, again going for the specials. My butcher is well trained...if I buy a big quantity he will give me a  good discount...if he has no specials on that I like I ask him...often he will have something needing to be used quickly he will sell me for a cheaper price and I will do some batch cooking and freeze.

Since I am cooking regularly I keep my eye on what needs to be used up...NO waste. If I have odds and ends that need to be used up I create something!

I have a sense of the rhythm of my week.  I know I will have a couple of nights I can cook something a bit more time consuming and/or do some batch cooking to freeze. I know there are 3 nights a week I will probably be too busy/tired to cook - I use meals already prepared either fresh or frozen. SO I buy roughly 2/3 meals to  cook on a particular night, and something to batch cook most weeks.  If I run out of fresh store bought veges at the end of the week  I supplement from my vege garden.  If I'm caught short on a particular ingredient I improvise or cook something else with what I have.



hybrid

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2013, 07:09:27 AM »
I'm with Happy.  I bike to the store once or twice a week for perishables, but the bulk stuff comes from Costco and the occasional meat sale at a supermarket (that goes in the freezer).  We've reduced our food waste quite a bit and still have room for improvement, but getting there quickly.

I like to cook on Sundays since we both work during the week and having meals at the ready when we are tired on Monday or Tuesday night makes a big difference.  Today will be a long day and beef stroganoff awaits this evening....

Personally, I don't find $750 a month for a family of four to be at all outrageous, that's just about $8 and change a meal for four, or just over $2 a serving.  I'm sure others can do it much cheaper, but it depends on what is in your diet.  I made a chili verde recipe last week with pork from Costco that was purchased on sale and it still came out to about $2.50 a serving, even when produced in bulk using meat that was only $2.40 a pound.  In general I've found the best way to lower the food bill once you get to a certain point is to eat things that just plain cost less.  And, of course, avoid eating out much.       

HappyHoya

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2013, 08:08:24 AM »
I used to use an excel spreadsheet (more of a table, really) that was as good as any software I've seen that does those things for you. Better, IMO, since you could totally customize what you wanted to track, and didn't have to spend a lot of time inputting info. that you may or may not need. My household is in a pretty steady rhythm now, so I don't track, but I learned a lot from tracking that definitely still benefits me today. I used a system where I would have the days of the week going down the side, with nested rows for each outlining breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The main box for each meal would be merged from several cells, and provide enough space for me to write in plain language and maybe link to a recipe online. To the right of each meal I would dedicate a column for ingredients (so there was a large box with the whole meal right next to a couple of cells breaking it out by parts- I only used this for new recipes, for established ones you can just copy the numbers from a time you've used it before), then columns for things I wanted to track about those ingredients- cost, calories, protein, price/gram of protein, etc. The cool part is once you have these numbers in, it's very easy to automatically generate totals. It's also easy to see the effect of changing your meal plan on the big picture.

Unfortunately, this was years ago and the spreadsheet was lost when an old computer hard drive died (saved to desktop-oops). If you are familiar with Excel this should be easy to put together, if not you may be able to find templates online that provide a good starting point or instructions for how to make one from scratch, if you prefer.

Mickijune

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2013, 08:45:51 AM »
www.ziplist.com!!

You can "clip" recipes from websites or add your own. You can add meals to the calendar, then create a list and add the meal to the list. I usually plan two weeks of meals, then create a list for those two weeks and add all the meals to that list.

The only hiccup is I have to sort through the list and consolidate the items. I can have 3 separate entries for "juice of half a lime" so I write it down on paper as 2 limes total. I also found that you should never delete a list before deleting the meals on the list, or the meals stick on calendar but somehow don't show up.

I love looking for new recipes and ziplist lets me for the most part easily plan/shop for meals!

BoulderTC

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2013, 10:33:45 AM »
There is a service out there that optimizes your grocery list for you (probably lots of services, actually). The one I've tried is called The Fresh 20. It's $5 per month subscription (or ~$55 for a whole year). They give you your meal plan and grocery list for 5 dinners (you're on your own for lunch, but you could just double some recipes and have leftovers). The idea is to buy only what you need and use everything you buy, with 20 or fewer fresh (non processed) items per week. They assume you have things like salt and olive oil on hand already. They expect you to prep for 1 hour on the weekend and then each meal only takes 30 minutes to make. They have different options, too, like Classic, Vegetarian, Gluten Free, etc. I think they try to keep it to $10 per meal for 4 servings - so not much better than what you're already doing.

My sister subscribes and really likes it because she simply does not have time to sit down and think about what she and her family should eat that is healthy, fresh, and affordable. I think it really does save her money. She sent me the meal plan one week so I could try it (for Vegetarians). I liked it, but I wasn't in the mood to just make whatever is on the list. I have time to choose my meals, so I am going to continue to do so.

jfer_rose

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2013, 10:56:23 AM »
I had been thinking about buying a meal planning software package (after reading about one called YummySoup and another called Paprika) but in true Mustachian style I tried to see if I could figure out a system on my own and so far it is working really well.

Here's what I do:
I use a free list making app called Wunderlist (available on computer and smart phone). The app allows you to keep multiple lists. I list out the ingredients to my favorite recipes or new recipes I want to try (if it is an online recipe, I also include a link to the recipe). I also have a list called groceries, where I keep the staple items I need and then I list out the names of the recipes I want to cook for the week. Then when I'm at the store I just check my lists to make sure I have everything I need.

Right now I've got about 20 recipes in my arsenal but I am adding to them gradually. This system has been working pretty well for my style. I think the reason I like this so much is that it easy to change my meal plan on the fly if I find a really good deal on something while I'm at the store, or if my mood changes. For example, yesterday there was a great price on squash and so I was able to check to make sure I had all the ingredients for a squash dish I like to cook.

Last week I spent $35 on groceries and this week I spent $31. So this method in combination with eating lots of dried beans is certainly helping me save money!

CopperTex

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2013, 11:49:32 AM »
I have two spreadsheets set up in Google Docs - one is a master list with everything my family needs on it, one is a blank list.  I shop once a month and put everything we need for the month from the master list to the blank list and then stock up.  It takes two trips into the grocery store, first for dry goods, then for refrigerated items, but then it's done and I don't have to worry about it again for another month.  Once a week I take a 5 minute trip into the store for bananas, milk, bread, etc. Most of the things we use stores easily for the month.  I don't use meal plans, but purchase all the staples we will need to create whatever it is that we want.  I love only thinking about grocery shopping once a month and it helps keep me on budget when 95% of the shopping is done on one day.

SisterX

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2013, 12:46:50 PM »
I probably have one of the lower-tech systems (that's not pen and paper, that is).  I just use the notepad on my iPod to keep one giant list.  The top is a grocery list, under that is a list of meals we can already make (we have all the ingredients), and under that is a list of meals we'd like to make soon, so that I know what to add to the grocery list in the near future.  Since I'm never entirely certain how many leftovers there will be, it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to plan it out day by day.  We just say "we'll make these this week" and have a mix of more and less complex meals so that on busy nights we can be sure to have something either really easy to make or there will be leftovers.
Lunches are pretty much always leftovers, but we're also a 2 person household for the moment, so it's easy to make enough for that.  Snacks are fresh fruit, sometimes with a bit of cheese or meat if we need something more substantial.
Since perishables are by far the most expensive thing for us (non-organic, cheap apples are about $2/lb. here when they're in season, milk is $4-5/gallon, just for reference) we stock up on what's on sale and I keep a mental list of what perishables we have on hand at all times.  So, I had half a cabbage leftover from one meal and, to not waste it, immediately put a different meal which uses cabbage on the current meals list.  The second meal used up a few other odds and ends, as well, so it eliminated a lot of food waste and I didn't need to add anything to the grocery list.  If we have milk that's in danger of going bad I'll make something I can save for later, like freezer biscuits, or something for breakfasts.  Apples that go mealy get cooked into something, like oatmeal or muffins. 
Just finding ways to eliminate that food waste is probably the biggest money saver for us.  But since I've got the running list on my iPod, I don't ever have to have one dedicated time when I sit down and think about everything.  I can do it all on the go.  My husband tells me when he wants a meal, or I ask him what he wants to make, and he tells me when I should add something to the list.  It's been ridiculously easy since we switched to this system.

Cinder

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #15 on: October 21, 2013, 02:15:24 PM »
www.ziplist.com!!

You can "clip" recipes from websites or add your own. You can add meals to the calendar, then create a list and add the meal to the list. I usually plan two weeks of meals, then create a list for those two weeks and add all the meals to that list.

The only hiccup is I have to sort through the list and consolidate the items. I can have 3 separate entries for "juice of half a lime" so I write it down on paper as 2 limes total. I also found that you should never delete a list before deleting the meals on the list, or the meals stick on calendar but somehow don't show up.

I love looking for new recipes and ziplist lets me for the most part easily plan/shop for meals!

I second ziplist.  DW and I use it, we can both update the lists from the web page / smartphone app, do our meal planning etc..

Just be sure if you have recipies linked from the web, that you save a copy somewhere!  We've had some just 'vanish' because the site was changed.  We now print out any 'keepers' to PDF form and keep them backed up incase it vanishes!

lauraredcloud

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #16 on: October 21, 2013, 03:23:28 PM »
I tried meal planning for a few weeks, but it made my gf and me feel constrained and rebellious, and we never ate what we were "supposed" to. We'd invariably plan some time-consuming new recipe for a day when we were both beat, or put lentils on a day when we wanted anything but (even though we normally love them).

So instead I've just tried to keep it down by internalizing a few basic rules about shopping:
1. Shop the edges of the store (produce, deli, bakery, frozen)
2. Buy produce in season (I have a list, but it's also evident based on what's on sale, and we go to farmer's markets)
3. Limit expensive specialty items to sales (my weaknesses: aged cheese & chocolate, gf's: meat & unusual cooking oils). We've already cut out most prepared foods & junk foods because we cannot justify it, mustachianly-speaking or calories-wise.
4. Keep staples in stock (this will vary depending on what your standby meals are - ours are rice & beans, lentils, omelets, felafel, pizza, black bean burgers and veggie curry, plus lots of tea, so we try to keep in stock all the needed dry/canned/frozen ingredients for those things and supplement with whatever fresh ingredients we happen to have on hand in the moment)

Sometimes one or both of us will have a recipe in mind we want to try in the next couple of days, and we will make a list from the recipe. Other times we just replace whatever we've run out of. In the evening we then just look at what we have and scrape something together, even if it's yet another variation on rice and beans (fajitas! quesadillas!) It helps that we don't mind eating the same things over and over (and we don't know how to make that many things). And we live a short walk from the store, so we can always run and grab whatever odds and ends we've missed. If we had to make big shopping trips once a week, we'd probably have to be more organized.

Norrie

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #17 on: October 21, 2013, 06:53:58 PM »
We're not great at meal planning/cooking at home, because my husband hates to do it, and while I enjoy it, I often don't get home from work until just before dinnertime. We dumb it down as much as possible, keeping two things in mind: 1) things that we all love to eat and 2) stuff that makes good leftovers for lunch the next day or so.

We have set meals on certain days. Tuesday = Taco Tuesday (they're actually fajitas, but the kids like naming the days). Wednesday = Waffle Wednesday (gluten-free waffles, scrambled eggs, and bacon...who doesn't love breakfast for dinner?). Mondays are almost always pizza, either made at home, or the place that has $6 for a large night.

Tonight I made a big batch of risotto with mushrooms and caramelized onions. We have about 1/2 a pound of mushrooms left, so we'll either use them in another recipe this week, or dh will roast them with a bunch of other leftover veggies.

Our cheapest, big batch meals are red beans and rice (I have a killer recipe from a friend who lives in Louisiana, if anyone wants it), and roasted carrot and potato soup.

Basically, we eat many of the same things over and over and over again, but dumbing it down has helped reduce waste, and has kept us from getting take out. Meals don't have to be fancy to be filling and taste great.

HappierAtHome

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #18 on: October 21, 2013, 08:39:08 PM »
We're pen and paper people (luddites??), so we have a word document with a template for a week of meals, spaces for us to write down what we have in the freezer/fridge to use up, and a little table of the different sections of the supermarket for us to write our shopping list in. Not super fancy, and almost a direct rip-off of the system my brother uses :-)

So basically, each week we start making notes on what we have that we should use up in the next "cycle" of eating. We plan our lunches to make and pack for work and our dinners to cook at home. We account for leftovers so we don't waste food. As for scheduling lentils and not feeling like them that day, we use our menu plan as more of a "pick and mix" menu, and would just eat a different dinner from the plan if we didn't like what was planned. In fact we did that last night and ate pan fried mushrooms and avocado on toast - yum.

One thing we've learned is that having homemade frozen pizza on hand is a really great way to avoid unplanned takeaway.

Our system reduces waste, improves our diet (if you have to write it down, you're bound to pick healthier options) and saves us money. But YMMV.

Re: price books, I spent hours and hours creating one. In doing so I learnt prices more or less off by heart and now, ironically, do not need a price book :-)

I would like to shift to a once a fortnight system, but that's something the BF isn't comfortable with yet.

Oh, and I spend all of five minutes checking the specials online before we shop, so that we know which aisles to visit to stock up at discounted prices.

KimPossible

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #19 on: October 21, 2013, 09:37:52 PM »

Our cheapest, big batch meals are red beans and rice (I have a killer recipe from a friend who lives in Louisiana, if anyone wants it)


Yes, please!  I would LOOOOVE to see the recipe!

cats

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #20 on: October 21, 2013, 09:45:57 PM »
Our two strategies are meal planning (reduces waste), and generally orienting our diet towards cheaper foods (lowering the cost per meal).  We eat a lot of legumes, good fats, fruits and vegetables based on what's in season. Meat & cheese are usually used more sparingly.  I am an ex-vegan so cooking this way is pretty much second nature to me and we definitely eat plenty of tasty food.

Also, I notice you said you're in Canada--there does seem to be some consensus on the boards that Canadian food prices are just a lot higher, so if you're comparing yourself to what Americans are posting you may be unecessarily setting yourself up to feel like you're doing things wrong.

backyardfeast

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #21 on: October 21, 2013, 10:35:10 PM »
I'd love to hear from others in Canada about their grocery budgets.  Some food staples are definitely more expensive here (dairy!), but I can't seem to get my head around a goal budget.  I'd love to get our bill down around $350/mo for 2 people, but I don't think I could do it unless we *had* to, meaning we were in financial difficulties and had to prioritize cost over nutrition/quality.

We grow a ton of our own produce, can and freeze and store what we grow.  We crab and fish and have chickens for eggs, barter for meat birds.  We buy in bulk (although I'd like to do this even more, buying 50lb bags and storing in sealed buckets), often through friends producing the product (canned tuna, maple syrup) so we get some things less than wholesale.  We know our prices, stock up on sales, use Costco when it's worth it (cheese!), and buy almost no processed food.  We rarely eat out, and I am a very good cook (if I do say so myself! :) ).  We always take leftovers for lunch, and there's so little waste that kitchen scraps are an occaisional treat for the chickens!

There are a few things we don't do that we could--we have an awesome bakery down the street, and could probably save $40/mo if we made our own bread. :) 

One thing I have tried to do is to cost out each of our common meals/snacks, to see if there were items that we just too expensive to buy/eat at all, and maybe find a substitute for.  Nuts, for instance, have become pretty expensive, so I'm thinking about that.

But it's a trade-off.  We should probably eat more rice and lentils. :)

BTW, even with all we do, our grocery bill is closer to $500/mo.  If I was buying all the stuff I'm NOT buying (but growing, etc), I'm sure we'd be easily $200/week, maybe more.  So some of that has to be Canadian prices.  Right?  Sigh.  Or maybe we're just living in the lap of luxury...food is pretty close to our favorite thing in life, lol.

perthcyclist

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #22 on: October 21, 2013, 11:54:09 PM »
I would also love the red beans and rice recipie ;)

Norrie

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #23 on: October 22, 2013, 08:01:06 AM »
Just went to get it, and it looks like it I'll have to re-type it. I can't find it on my damn computer. Will do so after work!

swick

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #24 on: October 22, 2013, 09:29:36 AM »
Below I'll repost my review of Plan to Eat, I still use it and find it incredibly helpful because we have to drive two hours each way to get groceries. There is nothing worse then two days after getting back from a shopping trip and realizing you forgot something you really need.

Backyardfeast - we spend an average of 600 a month for two adults plus an extra adult for dinner (we feed our boarder) This is in Northern BC. Prices are definitely higher in Canada across the board especially up here, but with everything you are doing and where you are living, with all those amazing opportunities to get food, I can't quite see spending as much - although does that include chicken feed?

Also, you might be farther north on the island which might have a bearing on prices too (I'm thinking around Victoria)

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I was given a three month trial to a website called Plan to Eat*. I was really skeptical because I have tried tons of recipe organizing software and they all seem bulky, time consuming and not that useful. Well after test driving it and playing around with it, I can definitely see it's uses!

Might not be for everyone, but for someone like me who loves to cook...is horrible at organizing blog recipes I want to make, and can only grocery shop one a month at the most, this is brilliant. I don't know how many items are in my pantry because I wasn't sure if I needed something so bought another "just in case" or was upset with myself because I forgot something I really did need.

The website is divided into three main categories: Recipes, Menu Planning, and Shopping List. The brilliant thing is how these categories interact.

You input your recipes either copy and past or there is a widget you can put on your search bar that you click and it will take the recipe from whatever site you are on. This works really well for the main recipe sites, it is hit and miss for blogs that have lots of text and pictures (Hubby was very impressed with what it could do, he says the coding would be a bear) but it usually gets the ingredients, a picture, the title and it saves the link to the recipe.

This works fine for me because I like going back the original recipe to read all the comments anyways. I love this because I have a very bad habit of looking up countless recipes and then keeping them all open in tabs because I want to make them but might not have the time or ingredients. Now that I have closed all those tabs, my computer (which I thought was dying) is working much faster:) and I have also saved lots on ink and paper!

There is a "recipe book" where al your recipes are and you can hover over it without clicking on it to list the ingredients, it also tells you have many ingredients are in the dish, and how many of the ingredients are already in your pantry.

Then there is the menu planning feature...the recipes are on one side divided by category and you can drag and drop them onto a calender to get your meal plan. Then the ingredients for any recipe you select are automatically put on your shopping list. This is accessible by mobile...but I don't have one so can't test out those features. The very coolest part of it, given this particular challenge, is there is a "Pantry" section...you have to enable it though by using the little gear on the shopping list section. It allows you to type in everything that you have in your pantry...even better it allows you to search for recipes based on your pantry ingredients! (can you tell I'm excited?) So I can do a pantry search, it lists recipes I have in order of least ingredients needed - then I add those recipes onto my planner and automatically get a shopping list for the ingredients I don't have.

The pantry also allows you to break it down into categories  I have tried to do this on a spreadsheet in the past one for the fridge, one for the pantry, one for the freezer...not only did it take forever, I wasn't good about updating when things got moved around or used. I'm hoping it will be easier and more fun to do online:)

There is also a bit of a community  around it so you can share recipes and such with other people and use their recipes as well.

*The site is run by a husband and wife team and the regular subscription rate is 4.95 a month or 49.00 (I think) for the year. I actually think the time, food,  and money it will save me is worth the price. However, they do have an affiliate program that gives you 20% of anyone you refer. The neat thing is they offer you a free month trial to see if it is something you really will use. Like I said, it probably won't be as perfect for many people and it does take a bit of time to set up. You can sign up for the free trial and the affiliate program right away, but you won't get paid unless you subscribe...so in the first month you can test it out and if you like it share and perhaps get your subscription paid for - and more people to share recipes with.

I'm only telling you all about this because I really do think it will make a difference in how I organize, plan and shop and thought it might be useful info for a few of you. If you are interested in getting an invite for a free month trial and don't mind if I get a bit of a discount if you do end up subscribing, send me a message:)

*If the mods or anyone doesn't think this post is appropriate, I'll definitely remove it. I've just never come across a solution to all these issues I have around food prep and am a little excited.

PurposelyVague

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #25 on: October 22, 2013, 10:27:07 AM »
I keep all of my recipes in OneNote, so they are accessible from any computer or my phone. I meal plan once a week and add any items that I will need that I don't have on hand to a grocery list app in my phone. When we run out of something in the fridge or pantry, it also gets added to my phone. This is more of a manual process, but it works for me. I know there are a lot of meal plan websites out there, but I really prefer to use recipes that I know are tried and try and will work with my family's preferences.

stealmystapler

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #26 on: October 22, 2013, 10:48:48 AM »
I've looked into the programs that do meal planning for you, and they always seem too complicated and inefficient for two. We love trying new recipes, but also don't like to have them dictated to us, I suppose - we're too independent!

We usually go to the farmers market on Saturday and buy a few vegetables we intend to eat that week. Sunday morning, I go through our fridge and pantry, come up with a mental list of priorities and come up with seven dinners for the week. As we like trying new recipes and combinations of things, I tend to search for recipes on google.

We save all of our recipes in an "event" on Google calendar for the week. I number them, but we don't tend to plan to eat a specific meal on a specific day. We do like having some freedom that way, and hosting the list on Google calendar makes it easy for my husband and I to check the list and discuss what we'd like that day.

In the end, it works for us, and keeps us from eating the same basic things every week. Without the list, we find it too easy to slip into a routine of basic pasta, stir fries, fried rice, and burritos/burrito bowls. Not that we don't like those things, but variety is nice :)

As an example, here's this week's menu. It clearly reflects our farmers market purchases (turnips and swiss chard), as well as the fact that we took advantage of a sale on potatoes and bacon last week!

1) Crockpot Chicken and Turnips http://dorothy0328.hubpages.com/hub/Crockpot-Chicken-and-turnups
2) Cheese and Bacon Potato Rounds http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cheese-and-bacon-potato-rounds/
3) Swiss Chard Ricotta Pasta http://www.motherthyme.com/2013/01/penne-with-swiss-chard-and-ricotta.html
4) Roasted Turnips and Carrots with wilted Turnip Greens with Bacon http://www.bojongourmet.com/2011/06/roasted-turnips-with-wilted-turnip.html
5) Italian Wonderpot with Sauteed Swiss Chard http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/05/italian-wonderpot/
6) Broccoli Potato Curry http://vegetarian.about.com/od/potatoesandsweetpotatoes/r/Broccoli-And-Potato-Curry.htm
7) Italian Sausage Pizza

galliver

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #27 on: October 22, 2013, 11:11:16 AM »
I tried meal planning for a few weeks, but it made my gf and me feel constrained and rebellious, and we never ate what we were "supposed" to. We'd invariably plan some time-consuming new recipe for a day when we were both beat, or put lentils on a day when we wanted anything but (even though we normally love them).

I had the same problem. I think it helps to "hybridize" the meal-planning vs stock-the-staples systems. I always have pasta, rice, tomato sauce, frozen veggies on hand. I then plan and shop for about 3-5 days ahead. I usually know if I'm in the mood for chicken, beef, fish, mushrooms, etc that week, or if there is a recipe I want to try. I need to learn to shop for *good* sales on the specials instead of stocking up when I feel like it (ok, usually it's "when I'm at the store for just 1-2 things and have room to carry some stock-up items").

TGod

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #28 on: October 22, 2013, 11:13:52 AM »
Hi Backyardfeast…looks like we're neighbours on the island.
 I am also struggling with trying to reign in our spending on the food front. We’ve never budgeted for food (or anything really) until I found MMM a couple of months ago. I’ve been looking for ways to get a grip on our finances and food and the food thing is a struggle (that and the huge miscellaneous/house bucket that we seem to throw money into ALL the time)
We also grow a lot of food (we just moved to a new city this summer so we didn’t get much out of our garden this year), fill our freezers with salmon in the summer and buy in bulk where we can.  I generally buy the big stuff at Costco, bread (which is CRAZY expensive now, I have a breadmaker buried somewhere in our moving boxes in the basement that I could use and save myself a lot of money) , cheese (the higher value stuff like feta, boursin), and hit superstore for the rest (buy in bulk when the mozzas on sale). I’ve also just signed up for a local organic produce delivery for the winter. I’m not sure if it’s worth it financially but I’m gonna give it a try for a month. I think that will save on groceries in the long run if we can get into the habit of using what we have, not just buy stuff we need for a particular recipe when our fridge is full of other veggies, it will also cut down on after work grocery visits that my husband makes when he’s starving which generally result in snacky foods being bought. I’m in the Comox Valley so even though I didn’t have a garden this year, I was still able to get my hands on a lot of local produce to do a bunch of canning (canned 3 different curries this year…yay!) and bought a bunch of potatoes and squashes to put up in storage.
We are hoping to get a few chickens in the spring, for the eggs and the poop. Organic/free range eggs are expensive, and we can power through eggs.
The buying in bulk and storing in buckets reminded me of my parents. Years ago they had a group of families together where they would order huge amounts of dried goods and partition them up and save a lot of money that way.
I spent a bit of time yesterday looking for a free meal planner/recipe holder/grocery list. The one that seems to be the easiest is Pepper Plate. It has a desktop component, so it’s easy to browse recipes and then copy and paste the URL into the recipe page and it will find the recipe. You can then add the recipe to your meal plan and also add it to your grocery list. I tried it yesterday, made a plan for the week and did a grocery shop for the stuff I’ll need. I wish it had a pantry list tho, since I was just staring in my pantry this morning wondering how old those lentils were…I’m thinking 3 years. I think I will print the meal plan off and tape it to the fridge and start filling our recipe binder up with new recipes for that to make it easier for my husband and I to be on the same page as to what’s for dinner that night. I’d love a tablet on my kitchen wall to house all my recipes etc, but I don’t really need it, so I can go without it.

MrsPete

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #29 on: October 22, 2013, 11:30:03 AM »
My system's rather like Happy's.  I keep a large pantry, and I stock up on shelf-stable items while they're on sale.  I shop weekly for fresh produce -- we eat lots of fresh vegetables. 

Day-to-day, I choose what I'm going to cook based upon 1) what we want, and 2) what perishables are going to go bad first. 

Cinder

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #30 on: October 22, 2013, 12:24:20 PM »
We save all of our recipes in an "event" on Google calendar for the week. I number them, but we don't tend to plan to eat a specific meal on a specific day. We do like having some freedom that way, and hosting the list on Google calendar makes it easy for my husband and I to check the list and discuss what we'd like that day.

That's another nice thing about ziplist, it can connect to your google calendar and it puts the meal entries on there.  Both the DW and I can look on our phone and see what is for dinner that evening.  (I still ask her, and she always says 'just look yourself'... *shrug*)

Miamoo

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #31 on: October 22, 2013, 02:13:49 PM »
Yes Norrie!  Red beans and rice recipe please!!!!!!  Also looking for a good rye bread recipe.  Anybody?

backyardfeast

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #32 on: October 22, 2013, 03:23:01 PM »
Thanks Swick and TGod for those Cdn comparisons.  Swick, I appreciated the review; I had no idea these softwares could do so much!  It sounds like our budgets are very similar: about $200 pp/mo.  I know that we make some very luxurious choices in what we do buy, so your example makes me feel better!  Chicken feed isn't included in that total; we sell enough eggs to cover that basic cost, and what we would spend on eggs if we bought them.

TGod, we are almost neighbours--we're in the Cowichan Valley.  Welcome to the Island if that's where you're new to!  I'll be interested to hear your budget experiences as you get settled into your new routine.

And, just to confirm that we pay a lot here (maybe more in BC than elsewhere in Canada too?), thought it might be fun to put some actual comparables out there...

Organic, free range eggs here are $7.50/doz at the grocery store (I think I could still get regular ones for $1.99 on sale though!!); we sell ours (uncertified organic) for $5/doz, though I know others who sell for $6

Good quality cheddar at Costco is about $3/100g (umm...$13.5/lb?)
BIG bucket o' Feta cheese at the DEEP Costco discount is about $12 (1 kg? 2.5lbs?)
I buy the 2 litre (1/2 gallon?) soymilk at Superstore at $1 less than everywhere else: $4
Good quality, nitrite-free, naturally produced but not organic bacon $10/lb

Ok, now that I write that out, it does seem absurd--prices are both high, and clearly we are choosing to be very spendy.  I will shut up about my food budget woes...lol.

Can I hear some screams of horror from our American neighbours?




Janice

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #33 on: October 22, 2013, 04:02:25 PM »
WOW - I thought I was the only one who uses spreadsheets in Excel for grocery shopping- HA!  I recently cut our bill from $600/mo to $400/mo for myself, DH and 2 growing boys.  I started tracking our consumption and came up with an average volume for each item per month. At the beginning of the month I do a big ALDI run, budgeted at $150, where I get the majority of the groceries. Then I do a Trader Joe's run spending $50. Every week thereafter we budget $50/week and wind up at $400/month. I'm pretty anal about staying on target so I write down our weekly spend on our calendar in our kitchen so I can keep track easily. I too have a list on the fridge of missing items for the next run. It's amazing how much you already have in the pantry and freezer and at the en dof the month have to get creative to use it instead of buying more!

As far as menus, I keep it simple. I always have 3-4 options for breakfast, 2-3 options for lunch and for dinner have 3 categories: a variety of protein, vege and carb on hand. Whatever we feel like having we eat - any combo will do as long as those 3 categories are represented.

iamlindoro

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #34 on: October 22, 2013, 04:02:36 PM »
www.ziplist.com!!

You can "clip" recipes from websites or add your own. You can add meals to the calendar, then create a list and add the meal to the list. I usually plan two weeks of meals, then create a list for those two weeks and add all the meals to that list.

The only hiccup is I have to sort through the list and consolidate the items. I can have 3 separate entries for "juice of half a lime" so I write it down on paper as 2 limes total. I also found that you should never delete a list before deleting the meals on the list, or the meals stick on calendar but somehow don't show up.

I love looking for new recipes and ziplist lets me for the most part easily plan/shop for meals!

I second ziplist.  DW and I use it, we can both update the lists from the web page / smartphone app, do our meal planning etc..

Just be sure if you have recipies linked from the web, that you save a copy somewhere!  We've had some just 'vanish' because the site was changed.  We now print out any 'keepers' to PDF form and keep them backed up incase it vanishes!


My thanks to you both.  I hadn't heard of or used ZipList and I'm just prepping to head out to the grocery store with a Ziplist-provided list in hand.  This visit will be a little haphazard as I didn't sit down and do serious planning but rather picked based on OOOH, SHINY AND DELICIOUS!  But still, if it works out OK and I can get organized, this is a neat solution to keep meal planning organized and to avoid wasting food, which drives me crazy!

Norrie

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #35 on: October 22, 2013, 09:29:50 PM »
Red beans and rice recipe (that's a lot of Rs) sent to those who asked. Let me know if you didn't get it.

swick

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #36 on: October 22, 2013, 09:36:23 PM »
Red beans and rice recipe (that's a lot of Rs) sent to those who asked. Let me know if you didn't get it.

Ohh can I have it too please?:)

TGod

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #37 on: October 23, 2013, 11:16:03 AM »
Quote
The only hiccup is I have to sort through the list and consolidate the items. I can have 3 separate entries for "juice of half a lime" so I write it down on paper as 2 limes total

Pepperplate consolidates your recipe lists. Not sure how ziplist does it, but PP amalgamates all the recipes that you've chosen to add to a list, breaks everything up into sections (produce, dairy, cheese, snacks etc) and then consolidates your items there. So if you have 3 recipes 2 of which call for 1/2 lime and the other 1/3 lime it will list 1 1/3 limes under produce. Just check items off as you're done.

Stache In Training

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #38 on: October 23, 2013, 10:18:08 PM »
One thing we do, is only buy specials.  Not only what is on sale, but also (since I live in a small town and safeway is my only choice, really) we use safeway's just for u program.  so we sit down and see what they are offering, and write them down so we can buy that stuff.  It doubles with the regular specials in the store.  Also, manufacturers like to give away free items through just for u.  Usually it's a new item that they want people to try.  We usually get at least 1-2 free items per trip. Free is my favorite price!

Obviously we don't by everything that's on sale, but sometimes you'll see a really really good deal on say eggplant.  Well we would probably never have gone out an bought eggplant, but now, we will because it's super cheap, and then it keeps us from falling into ruts and making the same cheap food over and over again. So then we look up an eggplant recipe to try.  Same principal applies to this program in town where you buy a cheap basket of food from local farmers.  only catch is, you don't know what food it's going to be.  so you can get some weird things, but then again it keeps it you on your toes, and eating a variety.

Also, buying meat is usually not very mustachian.  However (for those of us that love to eat meat) if you're going to buy meat, as it can easily be the most expensive item per pound, look for the "managers special."  It's meat that is about to expire.  (so make sure you don't buy it and wait around a week till cooking it)  You can usually get it at 30% off.   So if you were going to buy meat anyway, hey, 30% off is great optimization on groceries.

rogera

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #39 on: November 05, 2013, 03:46:21 PM »
I have a couple of strategies I've been using for myself and two kids:

1) We crockpot a Lot - at least twice a week (try the French Slow Cooker cookbook for recipes with eggs -- super cheap per serving and they come out amazing).  We also crockpot soup every Sunday so we have a batch to dip into all week and take to school in thermoses for lunches

2) We have very little waste from veggies used in odds and ends meals. I always keep a mix of pizza dough, a premade crust, or a cheap cheese pizza in the freezer. Whatever leftover veggies we have (onions, peppers, whatever) and even lunch meat like salami, we always throw on a pizza crust sometime during the week.

3) I'm a pretty big fan of recipes in Real Simple magazine -- there are some more expensive meat options (which we do once in a while) but there usually is a veggie one and a crockpot one and, best of all, they usually only have a few ingredients so don't have to run out and buy expensive spices, etc.

4) Rachel Ray has several good recipes for spaghetti sauces (and they actually don't have more than a few stock ingredients such as a can of tomatoes, olive oil, and spices, which is unusual for her!)

RockinRobin

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #40 on: November 05, 2013, 04:08:01 PM »
Hi! I'm working on lowering my monthly food bill too. Some good resources in this dept. can be found on Reddit too. There are several forums that I read regularly - r/budgetfood, r/frugal, r/slowcooking, and r/paleo all have recipes, tips, etc. for healthy eating on a budget.

Melody

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #41 on: November 05, 2013, 04:21:56 PM »
I go to the green grocer, buy as much produce as I think I can eat in the week... whatever is cheap that week. Then I look at what was purchased and go, hmmm I can probably make x, y and z. Then I grab some basics (no-name stuff) and meat (whatever is on special) at the supermarket that will help with making these things. I don't really plan. I can look in the fridge/pantry and always pull something together without needing recipes. (Although I do sometimes go "what will I do with this cabbage - and then google cabbage recipe or whatever, I don't follow the recipe exactly just put in whatever I have on hand.) A well stocked pantry is the key to this approach. As is a soft-hard approach (use the soft food first as it goes off quickest.) It's fun to do this, and means I get a lot of variety and my food bills are really low. $55/wk compared with average of $104 for a single person in Australia.

farmstache

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #42 on: December 10, 2013, 09:26:43 PM »
Guys, anyone has a good, working price comparison/consumption tracking spreadsheet to share? I'm trying to develop my own and it's going a bit hard. Not my specialty, really. :)

scrubbyfish

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #43 on: December 10, 2013, 10:27:19 PM »
I guess food is just that much more expensive around here (Atlantic Canada).

Hey Ishmael, I'm in Canada too. I've been talking with lots of US-folks for a few years now and yep, it seems food really is quite a bit more expensive here than there. I'm near a border crossing and am considering going across for staples. I've been trying hard to support local employment, but I've had some rough financial breaks this year and am having to reconsider a lot of what I do.

I recently made my first grocery trip to Costco, too, as an interim measure. Yogurt was literally half the price of that at our regular stores!

Cinder

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #44 on: December 11, 2013, 02:47:09 AM »
Guys, anyone has a good, working price comparison/consumption tracking spreadsheet to share? I'm trying to develop my own and it's going a bit hard. Not my specialty, really. :)

The term used in the tightwad gazzette is a 'PriceBook' 
http://www.stretcher.com/stories/05/05mar14c.cfm

I have a nifty little spreadsheet I use for doing direct comparisons, but I have to manually enter it time after time.  I'm working on an android app to be a combination price-book and best 'price per unit' comparison, but I got sidetracked a bit during the holidays.

Code: [Select]
PricePerUnit = (Price*NumberPurchased-Discounts)/(Units*NumberPurchased)

'lowest price lookup' = G3 / MIN( FILTER($G$3:$G:14 ; $G$3:$G$14>0)
where my pricePerUnit results are in G3 though G14. 

This is useful when comparing prices when they don't give you cost per unit on the tag, and when you are adding in discounts (coupons, store offers, etc.)  The logic for it is pretty dumb, so it requires you to know what you are putting into it.

Example. 

Code: [Select]
A B C D E F G H
Price Discounts Units Number price per unit Price to min
Coke 12 pack 4.33 12 cans 3 0.360833333333333 1.57454545454545
Giant soda 2.75 12 cans 4 0.229166666666667 1
Sams 32 pack Coke 9.98 32 cans 1 0.311875 1.36090909090909

I have some conditional highlighting that makes anything that is 1 turn green in the Price to min column.  This is in a google doc that my wife and I can access though our smartphone.  This allows her to just enter the information into the sheet and see a green indicator pop up as to which one is the best value.


Example with coupons. Say you have a $3 off when you buy two on Pantene Products instore coupon at your local store.  You have to make sure you have '2' in the number column, and put your total discount ($3)  in the discounts column. 

Code: [Select]
A B C D E F G H
Price Discounts Units Number price per unit Price to min
Pantene @Sams 6.75 40 oz 2 0.16875 1.0125
Pantene @Local 5.99 3 25.4 oz 2 0.176771653543307 1.06062992125984
Small Pantene @Local 3.5 3 12 oz 2 0.166666666666667 1

Here, the price per unit without coupons would have put the sams club at 16.88 cents per oz, where with coupons it is 17.6 cents per oz for the 'family size' containers @Local, and 16.6 cents per oz for the smaller bottles @Local.

Unique User

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #45 on: December 11, 2013, 10:10:00 AM »
Pen and paper here, I work from home so makes dinnertime easier (at least sometimes).  We have a couple strategies that we use, I think we average around $350 to $400 a month for 3 of us.  I look at what we have in stock and look up recipes on the internet using those items. We almost never go out and buy all the ingredients for a meal, usually it is one or two things to round out a recipe.   We cook a lot of things from scratch and know how to butcher a chicken, make stock, bread, etc.  No costco nearby, but Aldi is right around the corner.  Our food categories are:

Meat - purchased only on major sale or on markdown for under $2 a pound.  When we see packs of boneless chicken thighs marked down to $1.50 a pound or chicken breasts at $1.69 a pound or sausage at $1  package, we buy as much as we can and freeze in meal size portions.  Marked down rotisserie chickens are awesome, we regularly see them for $2.50 and will buy 3-4 at a time then package the shredded meat and make chicken broth from the bones.  Occasionally there will be marked down Hormel type packaged meals for $2.50, I usually will try to keep one or two in the freezer for emergency meals.  Couple times a year we splurge on steaks. 

Produce - purchased only on sale or at Aldi.  This limits our veggies somewhat, but we eat lots of onions, green beans, broccoli, carrots, salad, apples, cabbage, tomatoes.  Couple weeks ago there were 8 oz bags of snow peas marked down to 99c, I bought all four. 

Packaged goods -  purchased only on sale and with a coupon or at Aldi.  If i see a great deal on pasta at under 50 cents a box, I buy 10 boxes and we eat pasta for the next month or so.  If we run out of 50c a box pasta, we eat something else, I won't pay more.  We don't eat very many processed foods, but do buy things like pasta sauce and packaged sauces, but again only with a sale and coupon.  We rely on things that I can get cheap with coupons (like 10c a can beans or taco shells for 50c a box) to provide variety.  I do have a limit of what I'll spend for certain things, like packaged cereal - I don't consider it very healthy so I'll buy it when I can get it for 50c or less a box, which makes it a treat rather than a staple.  I spend an hour or two a week on a local mommy blog looking at the deals for the week.  Sometimes the deals can be awesome, like last week when I got 15 big bottles of Tresemme shampoo/conditioner for 15c a bottle. 

Drinks - we don't drink soda, we make iced tea and generic crystal light lemonade mix or drink water, milk or coffee.  We get milk from Aldi and I try to buy coffee with a coupon and sale since we love the good stuff. 

I think we are able to keep our bill low more because of what we don't buy and not being afraid to buy markdowns or in bulk.  I would love to buy organic or have things like nuts/berries regularly, but we are all very healthy with great cholesterol numbers/blood pressure and rarely go to the doctor.  We may change in the future, but right now 50%-60% of our after tax income is going to mortgage principal and savings so we are trying to keep our budget figures as low as we can.   

anastrophe

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Re: Optimizing Groceries
« Reply #46 on: December 11, 2013, 10:40:15 AM »
I'm working on an android app to be a combination price-book and best 'price per unit' comparison, but I got sidetracked a bit during the holidays.

When/if you finish it please post--I've been using a spreadsheet and would love an an app.