Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill: Putting Back

When I first wanted to figure out a way to lower our grocery bill I hit the Internet with grand expectations. Lots of articles were found but all they said was "buy a canner and start canning" or "buy items in bulk" or "learn to cook." I was left wondering what to can, how much to buy in bulk, what should I learn to cook first. As much as the articles meant well, they didn't honestly do much other than give me general ideas. With that in mind, I thought I'd let you all in on the ways we have found worked well. This is just us, but it has also worked well for two friends of ours who were drowning in a tough economy and rising food prices.

The largest way we have found to lower our grocery bill is through setting back quantities of many items so they no longer need to be purchased. We began this with meat when I first bought our pressure canner and a week later all natural chicken went on sale for 99 cents a pound. One hundred dollars of my tax return became canned chicken and chicken stock. This set the ball in motion for our pattern of stocking up. Even when things aren't on sale, small measures go a long way.

First to think about is what to put back? We go with things which ---

1. Do not require many storage requirements. The don't need the electricity of a freezer or fridge, they don't take a ton of space, they are dry or can be packaged so they won't leak.

2. We will never stop needing or regularly using it. Even if the power goes out, even if we decide to move, even if we get snowed in, even if we make a radical lifestyle change, even if zombies attack or one of us becomes abducted by aliens we will still be wanting or needing the product.

3. It costs a lot of money every month for what you get. This seems to fall right in line with the fact that you are always using it regardless of other circumstances. They see you coming and those business guys aren't dumb. Meat is up on the list, cleaners are high on the list, toiletries, most canned goods, fruits, spices, etc. By making these items yourself and packaging them up, you can cut out the middle man and the price drops dramatically.

The example which seems to work the best is laundry soap (and we just happened to be packaging it the other day).

1) When you make the detergent, it only has three main parts (soap, Borax, and washing soda) and all of them are dry with no shelf life.

2) You use it every week rain, shine, tidal wave, zombie attack, alien abduction, what have you and even if you decided to become Amish tomorrow you would still need it. Let's face it, even the Amish wear clean clothes and you don't want blood stains when those Zombies are coming.

3)Laundry soap costs upwards of 10 dollars for the relatively small amount of soap you get. It is quite a racket they've got going. When you make it yourself it costs pennies for what you get.

Next, you need to have an idea of how much you use on average.

When I make one batch of laundry soap, it lasts us for 2 months of normal use. I monitored our usage for about six months to make sure I had a pretty good idea and then just called it good. With something which is used more frequently, like say meat, you can calculate how much is used in a week rather than month long increments.

Now, break out the calculator! Don't worry it isn't crazy math.

Take the amount you use X how many increments happen in one year

If 1 batch of laundry soap lasts our family for two months, how much do we need for 1 year?

1 batch X 6 increments = 6 batches a year

To use tuna as an example: If you eat 3 cans of tuna a week, how many will you need for 1 year?

3 cans X 52 increments = 156 cans per year

We use a year as the length of time to stock up because it means we never have to think about putting it on the grocery list. If you have a years worth of tuna fish, you're sitting pretty good. If you want to become a survivalist and just keep on stacking up cans, more power to you! We feel a years is probably pretty decent.

Start by buying small.
Now that you know how many you will need, buy a few each time you go to the store. Don't burn yourself out. If you drop the money not only is it a really large monetary hit, but it also means packaging time that most families don't have. This is supposed to be a stress reliever not magnifier. We figure on spending only $10-$15 extra on the stockpiled item each month. Ten bucks is usually doable even on a tight budget.

It is important to remember this is extra added on to what you would normally consume. So, we buy 7 Naptha bars and one box of Borax and 1 box of Washing soda each month. That is about 12-15 dollars and gives us 2 years of laundry soap. In one month, we no longer have to buy any laundry soap for two years. If you are paying 10 bucks a month for soap, you just saved $230 by spending only $10 and making it yourself.

Since you no longer have to spend the $10 on laundry soap each month, you can roll it over into back stocking another purchase -- dish soap -- and keep the ball rolling. It initially took us about 6 months to really see a difference, but the savings become exponential.

Our list went something like this: Laundry Soap, Dishwasher soap, hand soap, bananas, peaches, pears, spaghetti sauce, soup, stock and tuna fish.

These 10 items have cut at least 50 or 60 dollars (though mostlikely more) from our food bill each month. Stop buying them over and over in favor of canning them or packaging them yourselves (other than tuna). These items are all canned or packaged dry so that I can add the water later and rehyderate.

Living in 900 square feet, space is at a premium. When this first began we wondered where on earth we would put everything. However, if you begin buying in bulk and creating things from scratch the cupboards begin to thin out at an amazing rate. I had no idea just how much space packaging takes, but it is a TON! Large quantities of backstock (like bulk rice or chicken stock) live in our root cellar in 5 gallon buckets or on the canning shelves we built. The garage is also a great place to store back stocked items.

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