Money is never abundant in a single income large family. Part of my responsibility as my husband’s helpmeet is to use our money wisely to feed our family. My grocery budget doesn’t change and yet my children keep growing and so do their appetites! We budget $600 a month to feed the nine of us (ten this summer!), with the exception being Mason’s expensive special formula – another $325 a month. He is finally consistently eating pureed food and getting over his oral aversion from the tubes down his throat for his many surgeries, so that formula cost may disappear in the next few months.
Our budget is $150/week for groceries. In the last two months I have not stayed in budget because my children are always hungry. I have bought more food each week and felt that there were better ways I could spend my money. If only I could figure out how.
This month in an effort to take control of my grocery budget I made a price book. It is a work in progress but already I see many ways this will help me get more food in the house while staying within budget.
A price book is a list of the regular price of items at each store in that you frequent. With a little math I broke down prices to units that are more easily compared, such as ounces or pounds. A few examples from my price book:
|Cream Cheese (Aldi)||$1.19||8 oz block||14.9 cents/oz|
|Cream Cheese (WalMart)||$1.78||8 oz block||22.3 cents/oz|
|Nutella (Aldi)||$1.99||13 oz||15.3 cents/oz|
|Nutella (Walmart)||$6.56||26 oz||25.2 cents/oz|
|Cheerios (Aldi store brand)||$2.49||12.8 oz||19.5 cents/oz|
|Cheerios (Multigrain @ WalMart)||$3.98||16.2 oz||24.6 cents/oz|
|Cheerios (WalMart Bagged Brand)||$5.98||39 oz||15.3 cents/oz|
A quick look at that table reveals that Aldi beats Wal Mart in two items price wise by a large margin. That was not the case for cereal, which I would not have known without finding a way to compare packages of different sizes. That is why I took the time to break the prices down by the ounce for cereal.
A few ways my price books helps me feed my family for less:
I can see which store, overall, is the best place to shop at for my money. There are other stores in my area that I will add to my price book over time. What I have so far shows me Aldi is the best bet for most items, especially as we do not use coupons, which are most often for overly processed foods we would never buy otherwise.
Second, I can look at grocery ads and see if a sale is actually worth making a trip to another store for. This week my local Meijer had cantaloupe for $1 each, apples for $.99/lb, and strawberries for $1.33/lb. All three prices are the best I can get right now and all three items are loved by my family. We eat 9-12 lbs of apples a week, every week, plus other fruits and vegetables. As Meijer is 30 seconds from WalMart and Aldi it is easy to stop in.
Third, when meal planning I can choose dishes that fill my cart for less. When I need to fill bellies on a limited budget which is wiser – spending $10 on 5 lbs of chicken to be used in three meals? or using the same $10 to get:
- 10 lbs of potatoes ($1.99)
- 2 lbs carrots ($.99)
- 3 heads romaine lettuce ($1.99)
- 1 lb of natural peanut butter ($2.29)
- 2.5 lbs of apples ($2.49)
Can you see the difference? Both in variety and actual amount of food? Filling the hungry bellies is my priority and my price book is helping. Can you tell I’m excited?
How to Start a Price Book
There are several ways and mine was not the most efficient. I brought a stack of index cards with me on a price checking trip one day when my sweet husband was available to watch all seven children. In the first store I went aisle by aisle writing down the best price for items we often use, with the size of the product. In my lack of planning I did not leave room below each item for the matching food from WalMart. I also forgot to grab a second color pen, so the easiest way to differentiate prices and amounts from the second store was to write that upside down next to the original entry.
Once I came home I wrote each item into a notebook similar to the table I made above. Yes, I realized too late that it would have been more efficient to just bring the silly notebook and write all the information once. Each page in my notebook is a food category, such as meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, or dairy. It took probably two days to transfer things to the notebook and do the math calculations.
What Comes Next?
I plan to start a page for household items we use such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies. These items are often on sale but if I don’t know what I pay regularly how can I know if a sale is merely good or truly great? My price book will make that clear.
Believe it or not I will also be checking a few prices on Amazon. I would not be surprised to find that buying toilet paper or other household goods in larger quantities is a better deal than the sales I see in the weekly ads.
My price book will have an impact on my menu planning in the next few months. I am much more willing to put in a few minutes chopping fresh vegetables and fruits each day for snacks and meals when I see how it saves us money over packaged snack foods like pretzels or graham crackers. I suspect we will use less meat and dairy (expensive items) in favor of more grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
With a baby turning 1 this week who is allergic or highly sensitive to milk and soy our foods will be changing anyway. We are investigating his food allergies soon and will see what needs done. It’s not like we have no experience in that area – one of our other children was allergic to milk and eggs as a baby and young child and is still deathly allergic to eggs. We’re an egg free household and used to be milk free. I’m wondering if we will become milk and soy free now too. (Have you seen how many things have soy in them? It’s crazy!)
We also have a child who is extremely sensitive to chemical based food dyes. We have tried to eliminate many sources of dye from our diet in 2012. It is amazing the behavior changes we have seen with this child. With all these food issues in the family grocery shopping and meal planning feels like a chore. The price book is just one more way to ease the stress surrounding feeding my family.
Do you struggle to keep your food purchases within a budget? Have you ever made a price book to help? Would you be interested in learning more about the food issues my children have, the ways we work around them, and what results we have seen from specialized diets? Leave a comment and let me know!!