Monday, June 4, 2012

Gourmet Eats on a Grilled Cheese Budget

Howdy kids!  I’m back from vacation, but fighting off the remnants of some sort of Evil McNasty Sinusy Bronchial Thing (TM).  As such, I haven’t been cooking very much (aside from a HYOOOOJ batch of my mom’s chicken & noodles and assorted Cups O’ Soup).

I’m just about back to 90% health, thanks to a weekend of laying on the couch watching sappy movies with my favorite pup.  One of these movies is an absolute fave of mine, “Under The Tuscan Sun”.  I heart this movie SO hard.  The scenery, the ancient buildings, the beaches, the handsome Italian men…

What’s your name?”

“Of course it is.”

…and of course, the food.  The FOOOOOOOOOD.  I managed to make it about halfway through the movie before I was all, “I need a plate of olives & some fancy cheese & grapes & crackers, STAT.”

My old job at Martin’s in New Orleans spoiled me a bit when it comes to those uber-Euro foods that we all seem to think of as luxuries.  I spent my grad school days nomming on cornichons and picholine olives and Trois Petits Cochons pate and Bucheron goat cheese (hello, employee discount).  Them habits is hard to break.

So you’d think it would be easy to afford those delicacies now that I’m a professional something-or-other making 3x the cash, right?  Well, sure…but that doesn’t mean I WANT to blow my whole paycheck on food.  Here in the FeauxCajun household, we actually have a pretty tight food budget, and we’re good at coming in under budget each month as well. 

As a two-person family, we eat outside of the home about 3 times a week, so our grocery budget accounts for the other 36 meals / week (average of 156 meals / month).  Our average monthly grocery spending is $185, which breaks down to a meager $1.19 per meal investment (less if you were to break out snacks separately—I’m just using a 3 meal/day average).  Not bad when you consider the national average is about $100-150 per WEEK.

And hey—this is a food blog: you’ve seen what we eat.

We’re tight with our budget because, while I like to snack on foodie sampler platters at home, I LOOOOOOVE to snack on foodie sampler platters IN EUROPE.  Or on the Gulf Coast.  Or on the West Coast.  Pretty well any coast.  We love to travel.  And if you don’t save some dough, you can’t afford to scamper off on vaycay.


So here’s a few tips from my kitchen to yours on how to dine high-class for low-dollar.

1. Price Matching: I cannot promote this enough.    If you are organized, you can save about 30% on your grocery bill while only adding maybe an extra 15-30 seconds to your time in the checkout line.  Wal-Mart will match any ad price—and they don’t require you to bring in the ad.  You just need to be able to say where the sale price is from.  So, whenever it’s grocery time, I make my list of things we need first.   Then I go through the weekly ads (ours come in the Wednesday paper) & if the things I need are on sale somewhere, I write down the sale price & the store next to it. 

IMG_20120604_145343 (yes, my handwriting is horrible.)

Then I go to WallyWorld, put all the stuffs I need in the cart, & proceed to the checkout.  THEN—I place all the non-price match stuff on the conveyor belt first, and put all the price match stuff to the back, and tell the cashier I have some price matches and that they’re all on the back of the belt.  That way he/she knows, but it’s not slowing them down—they can scan away while I’m unloading.  And there’s no stop-and-go—once we get to the price match items, he/she just asks the sale price (which I can read to them off my list), makes a couple keystrokes, and bam—it adds maybe all of 2 seconds per item.

It may sound like a hassle, but not when you consider the alternative—driving to each individual store to get those deals.  Aldi’s runs amazing produce sales every week, but the quality of their produce is sometimes a little “meh”.  But the produce at Wal-Mart tends to be REALLY great these days, so yes—I would rather pay $1.25 for a Wal-Mart pineapple (regularly $2.48) than the picked-over piles at my local Aldi’s. Same goes for pints of grape tomatoes (also $2.48 at WallyWorld’s normal price, but only 79 cents with the Aldi’s sale price). And don’t even get me started on avocadoes—Aldi’s runs 49 cent sale prices on those almost every other week.

2. Always look for generics: This goes double for price matching.  Sometimes a generic price will be even cheaper than the sale price on the brand name from some other store.  This is probably an obvious one, but it bears mentioning.  We love Greek yogurt at our house, and I recently discovered that Kroger has started selling Kroger-brand plain & vanilla Greek style yogurt.  Paying $2.50 for a 24oz tub (10 cents/ounce) rather than $6 for 32 oz of Chobani or Oikos (19 cents/ounce) is definitely worth it.

3. Coupons: I am not, I repeat, NOT one of those crazy coupon ladies…but using coupons for things you would already buy is just common sense.  I use maybe 4-5 coupons in a trip to the store.  Our Wednesday paper and Sunday papers have the Red Plum, Smart Source, Proctor & Gamble, & other assorted coupon booklets in them.  There are also tons of coupons online—a quick Google search will hook you up.

Are there things you love that don’t necessarily show up with coupons in the papers—or random high dollar items that you can’t live without?  Check their website.  I am NUTS for Chobani greek yogurt, but they rarely have coupons in the newspaper, and one 8oz cup is typically $1-1.25 at the store.  However, they typically offer at least 3-4 different coupons on their website.

4. Coupon Doubling.  Wal-Mart won’t double coupons, but most other grocery stores (Dillons, Kroger, Price Cutter, etc.) will double the 50 cent and under ones.  So if you have coupons that are for less than 50 cents, think about taking those to a store that will double to get the maximum savings. (For example: I can take my 30 cent Chobani coupon to Dillons & pay only 65 cents for my amazingly decadent pineapple Greek yogurt.  And if it’s on sale for $1 that week, my delicious treat tastes even better at only 45 cents.)

Any coupon higher than 50 cents automatically goes with me to WallyWorld.

5. Compounding your Savings:  What’s the ideal bargain?  Well, of course it would be an item being on sale, AND having a coupon for it, right?  Well, who has the time to search for that?  Not me.  Thankfully, we live in the 21st century where there’s someone who’ll do it for you. The Coupon Mom website is an AMAZING database—available to you, FOR FREE.  Super quick to sign up, and then you can search for coupons by state/store, and it will show you the best deals available at that store, using the sales & coupons currently available.

Example:  We do most of our shopping at WallyWorld, but there’s a Dillons a block from my office.  Dillons doubles coupons up to 50 cents, so I occasionally make small trips there for good deals on the way home from work.  So here’s the Big Deals at Dillons right now:


You can sort these lists different ways—alphabetical, price, etc.  This is sorted by % saved.  And the lil’ box on the left hand side is so you can print off a list of only the deals you want to purchase (to take to the store with you).  If the deal is related to a printable interwebz coupon, the link to that coupon page is listed (in blue).  The codes along the left (05-13 S, etc.) refer to which newspaper that coupon was in (ie the May 13th SmartSource)—no worries, there’s a glossary on the website.

Unimpressed by those sales?  Me too.  But check out the Wal-Mart list right now:coupon2

See the red?  Those are FREEBIES.  Meaning the price at Wal-Mart is less than the value of the coupon. 

And if those are items you don’t really need?  Go ahead & get them, & donate to your local food pantry.  Our church has a mission campaign called One Heart, where churchgoers can just drop off bags of goods at a booth in the foyer, & those items get distributed to people here in our community who need a little help.  Oh…and let’s not forget that you got that TAX-DEDUCTIBLE gift for FREE.  Bonus!

6. “BYOB” stores:  No, I’m not talking about boozing it up while you shop (never a good idea anyway…”OMGyesssss I TOTALLY need an ecom-unny size jar of peanut butter!!!”)  I mean “bring your own bag”—the discount grocery stores that don’t automatically bag your groceries.  I’m talking Sav-A-Lot, Food-4-Less, Aldi’s, and the like.  A lot of these stores have really been kicking it up a notch when it comes to the quality of their off-brand goods.  I can get a 4oz roll of fresh goat cheese for about half the “other store” price at Aldis.  They also carry some really tasty brie, gouda, & havarti.  And according to this blogger who attended a “taste comparison” party at Aldi’s, many of the generics tasted BETTER than their name brand counterparts.  I love flavored coffee creamers—and the Aldi’s brand pumpkin spice was UH-MAZING…and HALF the price of the CoffeeMate version.  Oh, and a few weeks ago, the hubs & I scored a 12oz ring of big, beautiful cocktail shrimp…for $3.99.

7. Save by buying bulk:  I don’t mean buying 4 lbs of cinnamon in the “Value” aisle at WallyWorld.  Many stores (Hyvee’s, Price Cutter Plus, etc.) have bulk bin sections now.  Our local natural foods market MaMa Jean’s carries bulk spices, tea, coffee, flour, rice, and grains.  For Christmas, my husband’s mom wanted some whole nutmeg.  A small jar of that costs $7-8 at the grocery store.  So I went to MaMa Jean’s and bought a new empty spice jar (99 cents) and enough cloves to fill it… for $2.   I wanted cinnamon sticks for all my fall dishes…  MaMa Jeans sells them for $5/lb… whereas McCormick charges $12.50 for 8 oz.

Want to try a new recipe with jasmine rice, amaranth flour, or some quinoa, but not sure if you will ever want to eat it again?  Go to the bulk bins.  Buy just enough for your recipe, and you’ll invest a buck or two, rather than the $6-7 for a whole box of it.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that cohabitates with the Amish, Mennonite, or Pennsylvania Dutch communities, find out if there’s a Country Store in your area.  They also very frequently have bulk sections, AND cheap prices.  There’s a Mennonite Country Store near my hometown that has a HUGE bulk section.  And there is nothing, NOTHING in this world better than warm, Amish homemade bread (particularly with some homemade strawberry preserves on top, YUM).

Most grocery stores also run crazy-cheap deals on Family Packs of meat—invest in freezer bags, buy a 5-10lb package of whatever’s on sale, and divvy it up into meal-sized portions when you get home. I recently got 5lbs of chicken quarters for 69 cents/lb that way.

8. Farmer’s Markets/Roadside stands: Keep it fresh, keep it local.  Help out a small business owner by checking out your area farmer’s markets or roadside stands, and you’ll be getting garden-fresh produce that’s in season (aka abundant & cheap), rather than something that was picked too soon & ripened while it was on its way here from Mexico.

9. Grow it yourself.  Right now, thanks to Pinterest, I have my own stockpile of celery, radishes, & potatoes.  My husband’s parents are big gardeners too & hooked us up with a load of zucchini & green onions.  And my mom, who has mastered the art of the Topsy Turvy planter, has over 5 varieties of tomatoes in her backyard.  Money not spent on produce can go towards other items…like some delicious deli-made fresh sausage or a snack-size container of mixed olives.

10. Groupons.  This probably also goes without saying.  If you can get Groupons / Living Socials / DealChicken / Get My Perks / etc. deals in your area, go for it!  It’s a great way to try out new restaurants, or save cash at your favorite places.  Going on vacation somewhere?  Check to see if there are half price deals for that town!  I always make sure to peruse the deal sites before I head down to Louisiana for work. ‘Cuz New Orleans is a tourist town, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay tourist prices.

No comments:

Post a Comment