How I shop, Part 2.
Quick sidebar before I get started on my meat shopping - I wanted to point you in this direction: FEEDING A FAMILY OF FOUR FOR UNDER $200 A MONTH The lady who authored this book gives a brief history of her own situation and goes on to describe how she keeps her costs low. She doesn't do all the same things I do (or vice versa) so I perhaps you will find things both on my blog and in her ebook that can help you reduce your own bills. In particular, we differ greatly on our meat purchases, so - pardon the horrible pun - I think her book is great "food for thought."
Before we go shopping in the morning, we get out our cooler and fill it with ice. (I make ice during the week and put it in plastic grocery bags in the freezer to save specifically for this purpose.) We first do our "other" shopping - such as thrift stores or garage sales. Then we get to the actual grocery shopping. We start at the farthest store we go to. I go straight to the meat section to see if anything is marked down. I do sometimes find great unadvertised sales, but mostly what I'm looking for is the things that are reduced for "quick sales." And - and this is important because I suppose it involves being a bit, *ahem*, brazen, something I know few people like being! - I will also pick out meat a day or two from it's sell-buy date and take it to the front/service counter and ask for a discount. You'd be surprised how often the manager is willing to do a quick mark-down. I guess some people might think this is akin to begging or something, but I consider it shrewd bargaining. After all, if no one else comes along to buy it within the next 48 hours, the store will have to throw it away. It's a good situation for us; we get the discount, and for them; they get the sale, even if it is at a reduction. Once I have one or two different meats - perhaps some ground beef and a whole chicken or some smoked sausage and a pack of chicken thighs, I'll start planning meals beyond my loss-leader meals.
I know this is tricky. You might be thinking - how can I plan the meals, standing in the grocery store? How will I know the other ingredients that I need? The answer to that requires its own post, the explanation is so long, but in a nutshell, this is where cooking everything from scratch using basic homemade mixes and staple ingredients come in. Once I finish all my shopping posts - I'll go into much more detail there.
After I've decided on some meals, I'll quickly cruise the rest of the store, to pick up any of their loss-leader items and to purchase anything else I stumble across that's a very good deal, also checking prices on any necessary items I might need to complete the meals I'm planning. If the prices are good, I'll purchase them there. If not, I'll wait for the next store.
We leave store number one, put our meat in the cooler, and head over to store number 2, where I repeat the process, though sometimes I won't find anything we want at this one.
Then we continue on to store number 3. Here I will finish out our shopping. If, on occasion, it turns out I passed something up at a previous store that I should have purchased because it was a better price, I come up with a substitution or different meal plan. This really doesn't happen much at all to me anymore, just because I'm so familiar with these stores' prices in general, but, if this isn't something you're used to doing, keeping a price book like I MENTIONED IN MY FIRST SHOPPING POST can help you here.
Meat is our single biggest price item, but we still don't spend more than around $15 a week on it. If you read my $3.50 CHICKEN POST, you'll already have a good idea of how I use meat in our meals. One whole chicken is four meals for us, not one. Have you ever read a diet/nutritionist's description of how much meat is one serving? I've seen it described as anything from "the size of a small fist" to "the size of a deck of cards". We Americans and our huge portions! We've become so accustomed to eating much more than that. And that can contribute to both budget woes and weight problems!
For us, one $2 pound of sausage is two meals. Ground beef is stretched with bread crumbs, milk, onions, and seasoning, then browned in batches or made into meatballs. I get 5 meals from 2 pounds of ground beef.
We rarely eat pork chops because I can't typically get enough meals out of them. We do eat fish when it is on sale. I will every-so-often buy a beef roast, if I can get it drastically reduced, and the same for ham.
Turkey deserves a special mention. When turkeys drop in price to under twenty cents a pound, right before Thanksgiving, I buy three of the largest turkeys I can find. I freeze two for spring & summer time and cook the other that week, and I get a dozen or more meals out of each. (FYI - Turkeys can be frozen for a LONG time; however, most people say after a year the quality suffers. I've never had a turkey frozen for more than about 8 months, so I can't give any personal testimony to that.)
So, when I get home with my "almost expired" meat, I do one of two things. I will either freeze it for use later or I will cook it on the spot, as in the case of the ground beef. I brown it and/or make the meatballs and keep it in either the freezer or refrigerator, to be added to whatever recipes I've planned.
Also, and this is an important note, too, we do not eat meat with every lunch and dinner. We have some "vegetarian" dishes we eat as well.
My next shopping post, I'll talk more about the other ingredients I purchase and then talk about shopping in one store, as we had to do for about a year when we were living in an outlying area with only one grocery store nearby.