Tips for making a grocery budget,HELP PLEASE

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by James L White, Aug 15, 2004.

  1. James L White

    James L White Supporting Actor

    Jun 29, 2002
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    I asked this on another forum but got nothing but typical sarcastic replies I suck when it comes to spending on, I usually buy $70 /week and that's not for 3 meals / day.(and doesn't include eating out) I'd like to spend about $50 for 3 meals (eating out included in the total)

    Any tips for spending less yet having a full stomach?

    Serious answers only please
  2. ChristopherDAC

    ChristopherDAC Producer

    Feb 18, 2004
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    Buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats as much as you can, in small quantities to last a couple of days, and cook for yourself. With one person you can easily wind up letting things spoil if you buy a lot at once. Fix multiple portions at one time, and freeze the left-overs or refrigerate to take in your lunch. If you get off of buying frozen foods, restaurant meals [fast food is the worst -- expensive and unhealthy] and other prepared meals you can save a great deal.
    Dry legumes e.g. split pease, beans, and lentils can be cooked up in huge messes in a big pot, maybe with some onions, carrots, and perhaps a little bacon thrown in for good measure, which is very filling and highly nutritious, a one-pot meal. Better yet, the stuff only gets better when it has sat in the refrigerator a couple of days.
    Only eat out very occasionally -- set a separate budget, maybe, for it. Particularly, resist the temptation to eat out not because you want to but because it's easier, for that way lies ruin.
    This is the best way to get good value for money when it comes to food.
  3. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Jun 30, 1997
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    I basically stay in the $50/week range by very rarely eating out (or take-out), brown-bagging my lunch for work, and not being worried about eating the same thing for three days - if chicken breasts come in a three-pack at the grocery store, that's what I'll eat for three days running. It also helps that I have no car, so I have to schlep what I buy home on foot - so there aren't a bunch of extra portions in the cupboard to go bad.
  4. Scott Leopold

    Scott Leopold Supporting Actor

    Nov 21, 2001
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    Ramen noodles. You can usually find them on sale for 10-15 cents per package. Hit one of the discount grocery stores and get some frozen veggies, canned shrimp & chicken, and anything else that might sound good added to the noodles, and that little block of sodium suddenly becomes a tasty and nutritious meal. I personally like to make a ramen breakfast casserole from time to time (ramen, eggs, cheese, meat, veggies). I wouldn't recommend them for every meal, but they help to keep the budget down.
  5. Pamela

    Pamela Supporting Actor

    Mar 14, 2001
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    Make a grocery list before you go to the store, and stick to it! It's so easy to buy things on impulse, and many of us do. That can really drive up your bill.
  6. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

    Mar 24, 1999
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    You are supposed to shop AFTER you have eaten too. That is supposed to help.

    Eating out is sooo expensive it isn't funny.
    You didn't mention how much you weigh, or want to weigh.
    Cheap and filling are the packaged macaronis. They will fill you up quick.

    Hamburger Helper can last for at least a few meals too, so that comes out cheap. I hope all of this helps.

  7. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Apr 15, 1999
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    I only eat once a day. Don't eat out. Try to cook real food and make enough of the main dish to last 2 or 3 meals. Prepare large main dishes on Monday and Tuesday, have leftovers from Monday on Wednesday and from Tuesday on Friday so I don't get sick of the same thing night after night. Also use the trick of using small bits of leftover meat cubed up and fried up with some Potatoes O'Brien or reheated with a can of chili and eaten over French Fries on Friday.

    When I'm really lazy I'll pick up an order of deluxe fried rice on the way home and have it with some fried pork chops one night and baked chicken breasts later in the week.

    Keep an eye on the Wednesday paper to find out what's on sale at all the markets that week, and don't buy anything, especially meat, that's not on sale.

    Don't count everything you spend at the supermarket as food expense--toothpaste, tp, paper towels, soap, detergent, liquor or beer, magazines, are not food.
  8. Leila Dougan

    Leila Dougan Screenwriter

    Mar 27, 2002
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    The cheapest way to eat is to learn to cook. Do not buy anything prepackaged since that will only increase the cost.

    Skip the Hamburger Helper and instead buy a pound of ground beef and a package of noodles. Skip the box of Rice a Roni and instead buy a 5lb bag of rice. Skip the boxed mashed potatoes and instead buy yourself a 10lb sack of potatoes. Skip the canned chili and instead buy a bag of beans and make the chili yourself.

    Everything that's prepackaged or designed to make things "easier" will only be more expensive than its base ingredients. Just buy the staples and put it together yourself. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will be healthier and better tasting as well.
  9. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

    Sep 26, 1999
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    1. Coupons. They are your friend if you are on a budget.
    2. Get creatively simple. Like buying a bag of Ravioli and then add sauce. 4/5 of those(16 or so in a bag), and you are set along with a vege.
    3. Eat leftovers. Lasagna is EASY to make and can last a while.
    4. Potato dishes fill you up(or it does me).
  10. dustin r

    dustin r Extra

    Aug 8, 2004
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    learn to cook. thats what i had to do.
    eat cereal in the morning, sandwich or left overs for lunch, and cook dinner.

    try something i do.
    buy the tuna helper, but instead of putting canned tuna in, put canned (white meat only) chicken in. tastes pretty darn good.

    hope this helps
  11. David Williams

    David Williams Cinematographer

    Mar 6, 2001
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    I'll echo what Jason said to some extent. I am one of those weird people who can eat the same thing over and over again (until I absolutely burn out on it and the mere thought of eating it again chases away hunger! :b ). I eat in 5 nights a week, one night at my parents, and one night out. I eat a small breakfast, a large dinner and a late night snack and manage to come in under $35 a week at the grocery store (not counting that one dinner out).

    Chicken breasts are very easy to grill on a George Foreman, and can be made a multitude of different ways. A family pack of chicken breasts (6-8) is usually good, refrigerated, for one week... a week's worth of possibilities! [​IMG]

    Ditto what Shane said about coupons.

    Oh, and Alton Brown is your best friend!
  12. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Jan 24, 2002
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    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler
    1. Clip Coupons
    2. As someone mentioned, make a list OR an outline(I'll explain)
    3. Buy yourself, Gladware, it's cheap and effective.
    4. TAMPICO: Ralph's 2for$1.98 (O.J is expensive. ), vitamin fortified, you can dilute if it's a bit sweet)
    5. Top Ramen- Learn to love it. Keep as backup when times get lean.
    6. Cereal: Ralphs- 2for$4 sales or Stater Bros (Do not buy into the huge quantities, sure you can gladware, but the same brand get old, quick. Splurge on the cereal, it also works great for dessert. This is fun food)
    7. MILK: 2 gallons @ $4.98 sounds tempting, if you drink a lot. Just an occasional drinker? Worried about spoilage? Buy lactose-free, it lasts longer)
    8. Rice Cooker- you will love this investment.
    9. CrockPot-okay pricey but you will save in the long run.


    Shop on Sunday mornings(Ralphs), get to know the butcher. Many premium cuts get marked down(sometimes half). Anyways,

    3 lean pork chops $5.00--(mark down) about (1 1/2 lbs. )
    3/4 pound New York Steak (reg price about $6) mark downs as low as $3 (lets say $4)
    1 1lb. tube ground beef $1.99-$3.99 (depending how lean)
    1 package of John Morrel Polish Sausage $4.99 for 10pk. (reg. price)
    1 6 oz. can of tuna 1.49-3.29--from Bumble Bee to Asti

    5 lb bag of rice $3.99-$5.99 (varies in price)
    1 can of Bush Beans-- $2.99
    1 jar of Applesauce- $3.99
    1 box of Tuna Helper-$2.99

    1 bag of mixed vegetables $3.99 (fresh broccoli, Caul, carrots)
    1 bag of Gala Apples or the Orange/Apple mixed bag $3.99

    2 gallons of Tampico 2/$1.98
    2 gallons of Milk $4.98
    Cereal 2/$4

    about $52-60


    From that list i could make 5-6 meals, many with leftovers for lunch. You covered every food group, it's mostly healthy and there are many variations. Dustin's suggestion is good. Try a can of Salmon, chicken or even clams to mix up those Helpers.

    This list not covering coupons. Just a sample
  13. Jack Fanning

    Jack Fanning Second Unit

    Feb 12, 2001
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    Real Name:
    Jack Fanning
    My wife and I shop at Kroger almost exclusively. As you probably know, they issue a "Kroger card" that gives you discounts on some items.

    Try to buy store brand items when you can. Some items are just as good as the high priced, widely advertised items. Though there are some things that I have to have (Kraft Mayo for one)

    Buy a big bag of pinto beans and some salt pork seasoning...make a huge pot of it and you've got beans for several days to go along with whatever else you cook.
  14. Mary M S

    Mary M S Screenwriter

    Mar 12, 2002
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    Lelia had some great advice. Don’t buy the rice-a-roni buy the 5pd bag of rice.
    By the way, brown rice is more nutritious than white.

    The other aspect of sticktoitness you need to address is a recipe box. Get 3x5 white file cards in the little plastic box with an alphabetic divider. File under C for chicken dishes etc.
    I’m going to assume that you are not just a vegisaurious and state some examples.
    Chicken is much less expensive (if you eat dark meat also) when you buy the whole chicken. You can turn one chicken into several meals. First night cut off the two drumsticks to bake. Second night the breast area for another meal. Third night, (or better yet do all meals at once in one cooking; and freeze/refrigerate) rest of chicken goes into pot of water with seasoning. (fresh celery into the water is good with some sort of shake seasoning you like) simmer till meat falls off bone, -remove chicken. Strip the meat Keep the broth and make your own noodles. (Very easy -I have a recipe if you need it) Reserve part of meat for soup. Take the rest and turn it into a casserole. (which freezes great!)

    Reserve small amount of broth from your chicken soup
    Corn Tortillas cut into half inch strips one layer on bottom. Sprinkle lightly with broth across corn tortillas on the first bottom layer as this layer tends to get crispy/hard in corners when baked.
    Mix precooked chicken meat with one can Cream of mushroom or Cream of Chicken; this is your next layer.
    Layer of combo cheese on top (half cheddar half Monterey jack)
    Repeat layers till you’re out of portions; always end with cheese on top.
    Freeze. A night you are tired and don’t feel like cooking; pop straight from freezer into oven (about 350) for 45 to an hr. Till cheese is golden and bubbly on top. If you have time to defrost this will reduce time to about 30 min.

    Here you can purchase a 4pd bag of mixed cheddar/Monterey jack. Since most men here (Tex-Mex country) like cheese in eggs/nachos/etc. This purchase can last you a long time if you freeze the bag and just remove portions you need for any given evening. This can beef up the ingredient base you draw from for recipes and is more multi purpose than cheddar alone.

    When I was on the dig into the depths of the cupboards till the next paycheck meal plan. One of my budget tricks was to purchase a large cheap roast (when on sale). Before you freeze it, take the time to cut it up into steaks and a couple of smaller roast. Do this on the weekend and cook your small roast slowly all day. Any leftovers make great quesadillas the next night.
    Keep floor tortillas in your fridge, (these keep a long time) get out some of your frozen cheese and allow to defrost. Slice your leftover Sunday roast into strips, add cheese panfry as quesadillas.
    You can use leftover chicken and assort other things shrimp etc for this also.

    If you can afford the utilities with the ‘cheaper’ cuts of beef roasts, slow oven or crock pots are your friend. Long marinades for your steak cuts.

    Pull out one of your streaks (cut from your roast) leave it for a day (or two) in the fridge to defrost in a simple marinade. Then grill, these can be more tender (due to long marinating) than a more expensive but poor -quality prime cut of beef. My favorite quick grill marinade is any cheap red table wine. (the bottle of wine can sit in a cabinet for months when recorked if only doing cooking duty) I coat the beef with tablespoon of olive oil, pour on a little of the cheap wine, and sprinkle with whatever favorite dry seasoning I prefer. (Currently: Fiesta brand-All Cajun Seasoning).

    One large bottle of powdered seasoning such as above will keep forever and works well for many dishes.
    This same seasoning is a great choice to sprinkle in the pot when simmering chicken for the tortilla-chicken casserole, or directly on steaks when grilling etc.

    If you don’t keep a box of quick and easy recipes, you will bust your budget constantly. Nothing is more depressing than on the way home thinking of those 2 shriveled raw chicken breasts left sitting in your fridge. (and this is Thursday, and you have had some version of chicken the last 3 nights) your stressed from school/work and can not think of a SINGLE way to eat them which sounds appetizing. Suddenly it is easy to turn into the drivethrough during commute home.
    Food is not something many men want to think about prepping every day. You have to have a collection of fast/cheap recipes to stick to a budget, when your brain just will not play creative chef. And freezing portions ahead gets you through the “I just don’t feel like it tonight doldrums”.

    Starving pilots in my past used to splurge on a couple of drinks at happy hour. They knew every happy hour snack bar, which served appetizer for miles around. For the ‘happy hour’ price of the drinks, they ‘dinnered’ on buffalo wings etc. Nowadays there are fewer (I believe) who provide this type of spread. I know there is a local chain here “Blue Mesa” which still does a large table of choices at happy hour. (We try to miss this restaurant during these times-it is crowded and very loud.)

    Research ethic rural cultures of Greece, Italy, etc via web/library. These can teach much about healthier, low meat, creative vegetable, rice/legume dishes. Learn to bake bread on weekends, you’d be amazed how wonderful it smells, and it becomes cheap toast, rolls, sandwich base, so much more satisfying than the bagged version. Desert like with jelly or honey for snacking. It’s much easier than you might think. I have a good recipe for a half wheat/white bread that is excellent. The dough freezes well when you get the hang of it.
    Best of luck!
  15. DaveBB

    DaveBB Supporting Actor

    May 24, 1999
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    When you shop take a calculator with you. That way there's no surprise when you get to the register.
  16. andrew markworthy

    Sep 30, 1999
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    (1) learn to cook; most raw ingredients are cheap, but as soon as something is in any way refined/prepared, you are adding on labour costs

    (2) if you have a freezer, buy stuff in season in bulk and freeze it (though obviously be wary of expiry dates - frozen food is not everlasting, as some people idly suppose

    (3) plan menus a week in advance and only buy what you need for those menus

    (4) make the menus varied and occasionally include some more expensive treats - living on nothing but cheap virtuous food is worthy but there's a danger you'll get bored and overspend if you don't occasionally cut yourself some slack

    (5) the great traditional standbys of budget cookery are lentil stews/curries/bakes and pasta dishes. I find it easier to cook a large batch of a lentil dish in one go and then bag it up into portions and freeze it. Pasta dishes if prepared well are an excellent way to make a small amount of meat go a long way (the same goes for noodle dishes)

    (6) make sure however, that you don't pig out on refined carbs - fresh fruit and veg are cheap and should be a staple part of your diet (yes, I know - d'uh).

    (7) invest in a basic range of seasonings - these will make even dull dishes tastier. If you have the space, plant some herbs - extremely cheap to grow and then you can have yet more variety.

    (8) if you're feeling really adventurous and aren't bothered about your waistline, remember that cheap cookery isn't confined to savoury dishes. Many of the great simple desserts of the world (e.g. custard, rice pudding, sponge pudding, pancakes) are all fairly inexpensive.
  17. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

    Oct 5, 1998
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    Boise, ID
    Real Name:

    I do almost the opposite. I know enough about cooking that I can make meals out of almost any combination of ingredients.

    See what's on sale. Vegetables vary in price and quality during the year - and they usually are best when they are cheapest. Red bells for example vary from $5 a pound to $1 a pound - and the $1 a pound ones usually are better.

    Pick a market chain and use their discount card. You generally can get frozen vegeatables 2 for 1.

    Costco meats can be your friend. Beef has gotten expensive but pork is cheap. You can get pork loins for $3 a pound. You can cut chops off the loin or roast larger sections - very versatile! Leftovers go into chili. Actually chili is a great way to "recycle" leftover meats of all kinds....

    James, where do you live? What are your circumstances? How big is your freezer? We need to know these things in order to tailor our responses.
  18. BryanZ

    BryanZ Screenwriter

    Dec 18, 2000
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    1. Much like everyone else said: Learn to cook. Either take a cooking class in college or online, etc. Many sites have recipes.

    2. When eating out or ordering in, plan for leftovers. There used to be a Chinese place I ordered from all the time. $3.20 for General Tso chicken and either fried or white rice. They gave you enough for two meals. Leftover pizza can last two or three days.

    3. Shop smartly. Albertson's, for example, sometimes does 10 items for $10. If you need ketchup, stock up then. If you have coupons to go along with this, all the better. Combine coupons whenever possible. Best deal I ever saw was a guy get 5 name brand boxes of cereal for $0.05. No joke. If he hadn't been in line in front of me I wouldn't have believed it.

    4. Related to above but watch for sales. You may not need something right then but you can get it now and save money later.

    5. Keep in mind the grocery store may not be the cheapest place to buy a product. Pert Plus runs $4.50 at the grocery store yet $3 at Wal-Mart.

    6. Duh statement but do not go out of your way to save money. Going across town to save $0.10 on an item is foolish as you just used that much in gas.

    7. Practice self control. This means you'll have to teach yourself to limit impulse buys to less than $5. Stick to the list as much as possible.
  19. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Pretty much a repeat of everyone’s suggestions:

    Learn to cook.

    Buy produce in season—that is when it is cheapest and best (don’t buy asparagus in the winter, for example).

    Until you are as experienced as Dennis and some of the others, make a list and stick to it.

    But, it is actually better to be flexible and take advantage of the specials of the day or week.

    Try out some vegetarian meals: something as simple as spaghetti with a tomato and garlic sauce is easy to make, nutritious and extremely cheap. Add a simple salad and you are set for a great meal. Basically we are talking about 1/2 lb of spaghetti, a can of tomatoes (or a pound or two of fresh tomatoes), a couple fo cloves of garlic and ¼ cup or so of oil—not exactly expensive. And some lettuce and perhaps a half a cucumber for a salad.

    Most especially learn how to make soup. You can make great soup from leftovers—or from scratch using such things as beans, split peas, lentils and so on. There is a great Italian soup that can be made using celery and rice and chicken broth. And it is not time consuming. And none of these ingredients are expensive.

    As Leila has suggested, buy in bulk—but not so much bulk that food spoils. Bags of rice and lentils are very cheap, good, filling and healthy. Making soup from a 5 lb bag of rice is really cheap.

    Some dishes lend themselves very well to leftovers. Shane has suggested lasagna. Chili would be another example. You don’t have to eat the same meal two or three days in a row—just refrigerate or freeze half of what you make, and you will have a fast, cheap and easy meal another day.

    In some cases you can make a base item and use it for a lot of dishes. Make a meat/tomato sauce in bulk and freeze most of it. Use some for spaghetti the first day. Make lasagna from the leftover sauce at another time. Or you can add to some boiled rice. Or almost anything else. Such as leftover chicken from a different meal.

    Both Zen and Mary have some sound, practical advice.

    Learn to make some very simple dishes well. You will be surprised how fast you can make a meal from scratch when you have the technique down. For example I know exactly when to put the water on the heat while I am making a tomato sauce, so that it is boiling with just the right amount of time to cook the pasta and add the cooked sauce. I can get home begin the sauce (with an apron over my work clothes) and put a pot of water on the stove, go upstairs and change and come back in time to pour myself a glass of wine while I assemble the dish. Nothing to it—and the cost is minimal.

    Learn to cook some (what seem to be harder) dishes next—such as roast chicken. This is really easy, cheap and good. Plus you might impress a girl with something like this.

    Follow Andrew’s advice (and Mary’s) on seasonings—especially growing your own herbs. And if you have the space, you can grow a lot of basil and make pesto—you now have one of the world’s great dishes for free (OK, you do have to buy the parmesan and olive oil and pasta).

    If you are really cheap, learn to bake. Nothing beats fresh bread—and the price of flour and yeast is really minimal.

    Good luck.

    Oh—and read some of the recipe threads in this area. Not to brag too much, but my detailed instructions on making chili and tomato sauce are guaranteed to produce results.
  20. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Producer

    Mar 5, 2002
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    $.39 can of sweet corn. add some butter and salt and you've got the cheapest tasty dinner you could want. I watched Secret Window and have been on a big corn binge ever since.[​IMG]

    Don't forget the 12-pack mac & cheese.

    Eggs! Less than 2 bucks a dozen. It takes 2 eggs (and some milk) to make an omlette. An omlette costs $6 at my local diner. Making your own omlettes save you 900%! (omlettes are your new best friend if you find yourself facing a low-carb diet).

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