On the mundane: Food budgeting

If you look up “Grocery budget” on the internet you will find endless sites and blogs that drone on about meal plans, sales, and coupons in a variety of either utterly boring or irritatingly in-your-face ways. You will also find a variety of sites where blog moms or scam artists (or both?) will claim that they feed their family of six three square healthy meals a day for $50 a month. Looking through all that was profoundly intimidating to me. How could I get my scattered, inattentive, and occasionally lazy brain to stay on task long enough to make that stuff a reality?

The honest answer is that I can’t. It’s not realistic. Like Victoria’s Secret models, the Pinterest craft god(dess)s, and housekeeping bloggers, the $50 a month shoppers have achieved a level of inhuman perfection that simply cannot be achieved by most normal people leading normal lives. (The mental image of all of the above combined into one super human person just accosted me. It was scarier than any Halloween costume I’ve ever seen, I swear.)

I finally made my peace with my inability to achieve perfection several months ago, and subsequently tried a few different not-so-perfect approaches to dropping our food bill.  In the process, I learned some basic truths about food and shopping that hadn’t really made themselves apparent until that point. Some of them are absolutely contrary to what those shopping tip websites have to say, which really surprised me.

  • I don’t care what the “shopping authorities” say- store brand neither tastes the same nor is of the same quality as name brand. When it comes down to it, I would rather spend the extra quarter and get name brand.
  • That said, some name brands ARE better than others…and they are not necessarily the more expensive ones.
  • In terms of produce quality and variety (in the Portland area at least), Fred Meyer > Safeway > Thriftway > Albertson’s > WinCo, and the prices between those stores only vary by a few pennies. I neither know nor care where WalMart falls in that scale because I do not shop there.
  • Fresh meat is cheaper and tastes better than the flash-frozen kind, and it only takes a few seconds to portion it into bags and pop them in the freezer for use later.
  • “Extreme couponing” methods are a mystery to me. How can you “stack” coupons when every coupon I’ve ever seen says “cannot be used in combination with other offers”?
  • On the other hand, the coupons I get at the checkstand at Safeway are remarkably useful- and they are designed to fit in a standard sized wallet.
  • It is unrealistic to expect to eat the same thing for snacks, breakfast, and/or lunch for weeks on end, no matter how much I like it and no matter how cheap it is on sale.  If we switch it up every two weeks or so, however, we go right through it.
  • Similarly, buying food just because it is on sale is silly. If I didn’t eat it before, I won’t eat it now- so why waste the money?
  • Pregnancy causes complications in even the best-laid budgets. My cravings (and revulsions) are painfully abrupt sometimes.
  • The one truly effective method I have found for cutting down on the grocery bill is to make a weekly meal plan and stick to it. Our bill has dropped by $125 a week since I did that, and we’re eating better than we ever have before. No regrets, my friends.

Random musings on groceries are all I’ve got today.  Now it’s back to work with me!