First off, let me state the limitations of our budget. The $25 does not include any paper, cleaning or other household products, any eating out, or coffee. The grocery budget is literally only for groceries. Now that the "rules" are clear here's what we do to come out under budget:
- Buy generic. Neither of us has an ounce of brand loyalty and frankly we almost never can taste a difference between generic and name brand. Ok, last week I picked up a big box of generic cheerios for $2 and SO claimed they tasted like cardboard but I bet that would have been true for name brand cheerios too (I thought they tasted like cheerios). This week SO picked the cereal and we have name brand Frosted Flakes that were two for $5 and we bought at CVS to use up extra care bucks and paid nothing out of pocket for. I think they taste like crunchy sugar but it will be my turn again when we run out of cereal.
- Know your basics and stock up when they go on sale. We eat lots of pasta, rice, beans, and canned tomatoes all of which have a long shelf life. The generic prices of these staples are pretty stable so when we see something cheaper we stock up a bit. By having some very basic staples around you can pretty much cook around what other things are on sale in a given week which is especially useful for buying produce.
- Find the best place to shop. We pretty much do all of our shopping for groceries in two places - the cheap grocery store and the weekly produce market. We lucked out that we're about a half mile walk from both. Poke around your neighborhood and compare prices on your staples. Consider coupon policies if you use them (I don't) and the distance you'll have to travel. Check out your local open air markets. We find we can get a great deal showing up just before closing and buying what's left.
- No impulse buys. Impulse buys are a great way to blow your budget. Okay, maybe we have them occaisionally, but they are along the lines of a bizarre 25 cent clearance item than a $6 gallon of ice cream. $6 would completely kill our budget for a week.
- Cook at home and from scratch. We buy almost no processed foods which can be expensive. This also leads us to eat healthier. Our meals basically are some combination of carb, protein and a pile of vegetables. So one night we might have a curry with brown rice, chick peas, onions, tomatoes, green onions and cilantro. Having the basic formula allows us to use up whatever is in the fridge or on the shelf with very little waste.
- Cook nearly vegetarian. Meat is a rare purchase for us and I don't really miss it. We use beans, eggs, tofu, TVP, and other vegetarian options in our meals instead. Beans and a whole grain form a complete protein so don't worry about missing out just because you don't have chicken at every meal. I'd also suggest trying different kinds of beans. Our staples include kidney, black, garbanzo, and cannellini, but neither of us is a big fan of pinto.
- Buy spices at CVS. CVS sells all of your favorite spices for $.99 per jar. My dad claims their recent $.88 sale will be permanent, the new price, but either way it's way cheaper than grocery store prices.
- Reusable bags. Our grocery store gives us $.05 back per reusable bag we bring. CVS will also give you a $1 coupon for every four visits you make with a reusable bag that has their green bag tag on it. So we might get almost a dollar back every two weeks by bringing our own bags. It's about 2% of our budget. It seems silly but the yuppie bags (as we call them) are also a lot easier and more comfortable to carry walking the half mile home from the store. Plus, I like free money.