Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part XI

Level 2: Dollar Diva

Shop Wisely

Decrease the number of trips you make to the store—any store. This will decrease your exposure to “wants” thereby decreasing impulse purchases. Really, it works! Not to mention, it is good for the environment. Think about how many ways this reduces your carbon footprint. It also decreases wear and tear on your vehicle, and how much you spend on gas. Calculate how much cutting out two or three extra trips saves you in gasoline expenses.

To make this calculation, multiply the price per gallon of gas by the number of miles driven roundtrip. Then divide that answer by the miles per gallon your vehicle gets. Or check out this online fuel-cost calculator that does the work for you, or this road trip calculator for long trips between specific cities.

For instance, gas at $3.50 per gallon multiplied by 30 miles roundtrip, and then divided by 20 mpg. fuel efficiency equals $5.25 per trip. That may not seem like much, but how many trips do you make in a month? And what could you purchase, pay down, or even earn through investment, instead? Even if you saved—and invested—only that $21 per month at 8% for 25 years, you’d have almost $20,000. Don’t believe me? See how much you can earn.

Here’s where to calculate how much more quickly you could pay off your car. And here is my favorite calculator site for mortgage, credit card, student loan, and other financial decisions.

Remember, the above example takes into account only the savings generated by decreasing your gasoline costs. Think about how much less money you probably spend on impulse purchases at the store, or food to eat while you’re out shopping.

How, specifically, could you improve your financial situation by decreasing the number of shopping trips per month? Take the challenge and let me know.


Homemade Helpers: Baking Powder

Hello, my fellow frugal friends. The last time I tried to buy baking powder at the local grocery store, they were only selling a brand with sodium aluminum sulfate in it. So, when I needed some earlier this week I decided to do some research and found a few different, but similar, recipes for making it on the cheap at home! I thought you might appreciate the do-it-yourself nature.

According to the SmittenKitchen:

To make your own baking powder–some say with fewer metallic undertones than the commercial stuff–mix one part baking soda to one part cornstarch and two parts cream of tartar.

Baking powder recipe from

Baking powder recipe from

According to Wikipedia, to enhance leavening without baking powder in recipes like those of the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet):
Baking powder is generally just baking soda mixed with an acid, and a number of kitchen acids may be mixed with baking soda to simulate commercial blends of baking powder. Vinegar (dilute ethanoic acid), especially white vinegar, is also a common acidifier in baking; for example, many heirloom chocolate cake recipes call for a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Where a recipe already uses buttermilk or yogurt, baking soda can be used without cream of tartar (or with less). Alternatively, lemon juice can be substituted for some of the liquid in the recipe, to provide the required acidity to activate the baking soda.

On Monday, I successfully used the baking powder recipe from to make these tasty muffins (not SCD), and the baking soda/yogurt combination to make the SCD “Mom’s Blueberry Muffins” recipe from Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

If you decide to try it, I'd love to know how this homemade baking powder recipe works for you.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part X

Level 2: Dollar Diva

Challenge Yourself

Look at the three most expensive items on your grocery receipt and find less expensive alternatives. Click here and here to see how others answer the question, “What’s your most expensive grocery item?”

Every month I reevaluate all of my grocery expenditures and search for lower cost alternatives. Here are a few items where I have found less expensive options.

For me, the most costly items are specialty foods for my younger daughter who is on the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet). Once I finally learned to cook some simple meats for her (twenty three years of being a vegetarian meant my meat cooking skills were nil), I replaced the Applegate Farms hot dogs, which were $7.99 per pack at the only store that carried them, with local organic meats from the farmer’s market for between $3.50 and $6.00 per pound. In a pinch, when I couldn’t find local, organic meat—or couldn’t stomach the cost at Whole Foods—I did buy grocery store chicken, but those of you with kids on the SCD know how potentially dangerous that can be given the possible additives.

I also stopped buying cheese, another food of which we eat a lot, at the grocery store. Now, I buy it in five-pound blocks at the restaurant supply store, where they slice it for free. This means that I can make provolone taco shells, SCD cheese “crackers,” toppings for spaghetti squash, and so on without feeling guilty at the cost of the small packages. Earlier this month I paid $2.59 per pound for provolone, and $2.99 per pound for Swiss purchased this way. Another additional benefit is that they slice it extra thin, which extends the number of servings, and makes it easier to melt when we use it as toppings for pizza, etc. Just in case you’re wondering, when I get it home from the store, I separate it into four or five quart-sized freezer bags and store it in the freezer until we need it.

Convenience foods, specialty items, meat/seafood, dairy, and out-of-season produce are often the most expensive purchases for American consumers. How about you? What are your three most expensive food items?


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part IX

Level 2: Dollar Diva

Challenge Yourself

Set a Goal. After you calculate how much you typically spend each pay period for groceries (not including toiletries or other non-food items), set a goal to decrease the amount you spend by at least 10% the first month. For instance, if you spend $500, you would set a goal of spending no more than $450. (30 seconds to set the goal if you’ve been keeping track of what you spend)

After I wrote this post I decided to google “grocery goal,” and I found a few people who have successfully decreased their grocery budgets by setting new goals, just like we talked about, and a few who talk about the nitty gritty of their personal process.

I’d love to hear about your personal grocery budget goals and any successes or questions you’d like to share.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part VIII

Level 2: Dollar Diva

Be Prepared
After planning your meals and preparing your grocery list, set a price cap for each item based on the in-season sale cost and vow not to pay more than that. Make sure to have contingency plans so that if an item costs over your limit, you can substitute a different item, or use a different recipe. (15 minutes)

For example, if you planned to serve peach pie, but peaches are not in season and are over your price cap, but strawberries are in season and the cheapest they’ll be all year, serve strawberry shortcake instead. This would also be a great time to stock up on strawberries for the freezer, or to make jam, etc.

For an interactive map of what’s in season where you live click here, or here for a more general list. And this site even includes a list of in-season meats and seafoods.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part VII

Level 2: Dollar Diva

Add to Your System

Menu for a month:

This is much easier than it sounds and takes less time every time you do it. First, locate or make, by hand or computer, a blank calendar or meal planner that has plenty of room for writing. Second, grab your family’s calendar for the month and mark on the blank calendar any dates when you won’t be eating at home. Third, note on what dates meals need to be available quickly because your kids have practice, you have a meeting, you know you will be working extra hours, etc.

Easy: Make one week’s menu, then repeat it every week (15-30 minutes)
Easier: Start by planning only dinners (15 minutes)
Easiest: After every meal you eat this month, write down the menu items on a blank calendar for next month on the same date. (1-3 minutes per day)

Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer for the items you will need to prepare the meals you have listed. Add any needed items to your grocery list now. (15 minutes)

This trick alone has saved me the most money. So, if you want a lot of bang for your buck start planning your meals and let me know what happens. If you’re already a meal planner, I’d love to hear how it has affected your budget.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part VI

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Ask Yourself:

The questions that we will be asking ourselves throughout the Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover are what I call the Hard Questions. They may not be fun to answer, but they’re necessary if we are to be honest with ourselves, improve our family’s health, and save money.

I hope you’re sitting down. Here’s the first question: Are our portions too large?
According to nutrition doctoral student Samara Joy Nielsen and Dr. Barry M. Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill schools of public health and medicine the answer is probably yes. In this press release Nielsen offers, "Clearly the problem is that Americans are eating too much food. The problem is the combination of a rapid increase in eating at fast-food establishments, an increase in selected foods such as cheeseburgers and soft drinks and the portion sizes we report in this new study."

If you’re still not sure, you can take this quiz.

Don’t get discouraged; changing the habit is not as hard as you think. Here are a few ideas.

1. Use antique or smaller plates. This is an easy adjustment to make and your family probably won’t even notice. At least mine didn’t.

2. Another solution is to put the “leftovers” into containers and into the refrigerator or freezer BEFORE serving.

3. Transfer your snacks to attractive dishes; don’t eat directly out of the package. Eating out of the package is a sure way for me to kill half a box of Thin Mints in one sitting.

Although we’re talking about portion sizes at home and how decreasing them can help your grocery budget go further, adjusting how much you eat while dining out is even easier.

1. Don’t supersize at fast food restaurants regardless of the savings,

2. Or split the large meal with your spouse, kids, or friend.

3. At eat-in establishments, request a lunch sized-portion or ask if you can order from the lunch menu.

4. As a last resort, ask that half of your food be packaged in to-go containers BEFORE your meal is served.

I hope you have a good weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing some sunshine. And before I go, I know it’s not really related to this post, but I have to give a shout out to everyone from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC, where I did my post-bacc pre-med work and my husband did his Ph.D. Enjoy something at the Armadillo Grill for me!


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part V

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Start a System

Keep track of your food wisely:

1. Organize your refrigerator so that every item has a place. For instance, keep all beverages on the top shelf, all leftovers on the second shelf, all condiments on the second shelf of the door, etc. Make up a system that works for you and stick to it. I know it sounds odd, but using labels inside the refrigerator serves as friendly reminders for family members. Here’s a little more inspiration and instruction.

2. Use the restaurant rule of “first in, first out.” If you have two gallons of milk in your fridge, the oldest one goes in front so it gets used up first. (5 minutes)

3. When you bring groceries home place the newest items behind the older ones. This works for non-perishables in the cabinets too. (5 minutes)

4. Organize your freezer so that every item has a place. Use plastic containers to group like items. (15-30 minutes the first time)

5. Keep an up-to-date list of your freezer’s contents. (I keep mine in a magnetic file on the side of the fridge.) This will really help you use the food efficiently and decrease the chances of forgetting food in the depths of your freezer. Remember to add to, and subtract from, the list when you add or use food. Train your family to do the same. Here is a freezer inventory form to get you started.

What’s your favorite money-saving food-organizing tip?


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part IV

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Shop Wisely

• Shop alone! I know it can be incredibly hard to shop without your children, but doing so can be a huge time and money saver.
• Shop on discount days at stores that offer them. Some stores offer discount days for seniors or students, while other stores have monthly discounts for everyone.
• Choose where you shop wisely. Buying all of your groceries at the same store is often more expensive. Where I live, the best deals are at the bakery thrift store where you can find the same breads sold in your supermarket, including Earth Grains, for .50-$1.50 per loaf everyday, the locally-owned chain grocery store, and sometimes the discount/clearance store that carries nonperishable foods. However, when I choose to shop the discount store, even for organic products that are drastically discounted, I remind myself that everything they sell is processed and is a “want” versus a “need.”

• Here is a sample list of shopping options:

1. Bakery Thrift Stores such as Entenmann’s, Kern’s, Pepperridge Farm’s: Bread, bagels, buns, cookies, etc. at deep discounts.
2. CSAs (community supported agriculture): Local, seasonal food directly from farmers.
3. Specialty food cooperatives or buying clubs: Purchase in bulk the items you would normally purchase at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or health food stores. Be careful. The prices are not always better, but you do support the co-op and save a lot of packaging and gas since you make only one trip to pick up the items.
4. Farmer’s Markets: The freshest produce and homemade goods you can get without growing or making them yourself. I have found the best prices on local, organic meats here. Some cities have them year ‘round and even take food stamps/EBT.
5. Local farmers, orchards, wineries, etc. for fresh produce and meat: Bulk and pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. Especially good deals can be found at the end of the season. Check Craigslist, Local Harvest, and regional online groups (type in “local food” and your geographic area).
6. Amish, Jewish, Asian, or other specialty stores owned by members of your community: Specialty products such as fresh Amish butter and kosher products.
7. Colleges and universities: Purchase locally raised meat, produce, prepared items, plants, and seedlings online or at farmer’s markets.
8. Produce auctions: regional auctions of local produce at outstanding prices (Google “produce auction” and your geographical location.)
9. Regional stores like Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati: Even if you don’t live nearby, the discount produce section makes this store well worth the trip.
10. The Grocery Outlet and similar stores where you can find traditional groceries at deep discounts. (I would love to live in an area that had one of these.)

This list is not exhaustive, but just a start to get you thinking outside of the box if you typically do all of your shopping at one store.

What’s your local favorite?


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part III

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Challenge Yourself

• Use an envelope system for groceries this month, if you’re not already. See how to set one up here or where to purchase one here. (15 minutes to set up if you have not made one before)

• Challenge yourself while using the envelope system. Instead of putting your entire grocery budget for the week or month into the envelope, put in only a percentage of it. Try to make it to the end of the week or month without adding your reserve. If you really need it, you know you have it. Be proud of yourself when you don’t have to use it. (No time, unless you need to add the extra cash to your envelope)

• Personally, I use two envelope systems, one that I carry in my purse and one that I keep at home. Once a month, I write a check to myself for the amount we will need for our monthly “envelope” expenses. Then I distribute the money into the two different envelope systems, putting the bulk of it into the one I carry, and lesser amounts into the one I keep at home. I also use the one at home for expenses I know I won’t incur until later in the month so that I don’t have to carry as much cash. This allows me to make a conscious decision to decrease our spending, but gives me the security Dave Ramsey talks about. For example, I may budget $75 dollars per month for household expenses, but want to challenge myself to decrease this to $50. So, I put $50 into the main Household envelope and $25 into the reserve Household envelope. I know the money is there if I need it, but I challenge myself to stick to the $50. Most months I make it :)

• We really do spend more when we use credit versus cash. Don’t believe me? Check out this audio clip from NPR (the information about McDonald’s is particularly interesting), this article about a recent research study, or the original article entitled, in part, Monopoly Money.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part II

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Be Prepared

Prepare a list of five to seven quick dinners and post it on your cabinet door (or someplace less conspicuous if you prefer, like the inside of the cabinet door or in a notebook).

Make sure you have the necessary ingredients on hand for these dinners. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry now. Write missing items on your grocery list before you forget.

I utilize a few meals that take 5-15 minutes to prep and 5-15 minutes to cook for days when I’d really rather order a pizza. (15 minutes to prepare the list if you look through cookbooks or online)

Ideas for quick and tasty meals can be found here, here, and here.


Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover Part I

Level 1: Bargain Belle

Get Organized

• Place a blank piece of paper on your counter in a notebook, or taped to a cabinet in your kitchen, in a location where it can live for the month. (30 seconds)

• Whenever you or a family member realizes you’re ALMOST out of an item, write it on the list. (10 seconds)

• Organize your list: Make it easy on yourself and write the item on the list in the approximate location in which you will encounter it in the store. You can make either a traditional vertical list, or assign each section of the store a location on the page.

For instance, if you shop at a store like our local Kroger where the produce section is on the left as you come in and the frozen food section is on the right, place all fresh fruit and vegetables at the top of the page on the left-hand side, first column. Frozen vegetables are near the bottom for the traditional vertical list, or on the bottom right-hand corner of the page because they are on the far right-hand side of the store as you enter, and therefore the last section shopped. (30 seconds)

• Check out this site for free printable grocery lists.


How to Subscribe to My Blog

After a few emails asking how to subscribe to LivingLaVidaMama, I did a little search for tutorials and found this one. Not only is it the best tutorial I found, but the site is enjoyable to read and full of feisty frugal ideas; definitely my kind of place.


Warming Up for the Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover

Happy FruGal Friday everyone. As I always say, I know the name is corny, but the thoughts are sincere.

Next week, the Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover will kick into full gear. To get ready, we need to have a good sense of how much we spend per week, or per month, on groceries and other food.

If you’re doing the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace University, then you probably have a good sense of this already. If not, let’s try to get a realistic estimate of your total grocery costs.

If you have receipts that are representative of your average shopping trips, total them up and use those. If not, make your best educated, REALISTIC, guess.

Don’t get stressed out. The goal of this exercise is to give you a baseline, a starting point so to speak, so that when you are saving a lot of money, you’ll actually know how much you are saving. For instance, if you typically spend $700 per month on groceries, and after the Grocery Budget Extreme Makeover are spending $500 per month, you’ll know that you’re saving $200, or just under 30%.

Include these categories to determine your total food expenses (some of them overlap):

1. Eating out
a. Restaurants, sit-down or drive-thru
b. Hotels while traveling for business or pleasure
c. Convenience Stores
d. Meals out of the home while working, running errands, etc.
e. Coffees, teas, waters, or sodas while out of the home

2. Groceries
a. Typical groceries such as produce, dairy products, meats, baking supplies, etc.
b. Groceries purchased at farmer’s markets or CSAs
c. Entertaining: Any food purchased to host family or friends in your home, or to attend a function at someone else’s home, at church, etc.
d. Processed foods
i. Cans
ii. Jars
iii. Boxes
iv. Bagged mixes
v. Frozen foods that contain more than one item, i.e., frozen peas by themselves don’t count as processed foods.
vi. Candy, snacks, junk foods, special treats, or other addictions
vii. Snacks purchased at health food stores
viii. Prepared specialty or diet foods
ix. Sodas
x. Juices
xi. Bottled water (not necessarily “processed,” but heavily packaged)

3. Any other food items I have left out

You know what you eat better than I do. This isn’t an exercise in feeling guilty about what we do or do not eat, or how much we do or do not spend; it’s simply a bookkeeping exercise to determine if we know what we’re actually spending on consumable food items.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what you spend on groceries every month. Most people don’t. Click here to read more.

Use whatever method of tabulation works for you. If you prefer pen and paper, use that. If you prefer Excel, use that. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. And don’t forget to have fun.


About LivingLaVidaMama

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Formerly, I've worked in publishing and been a medical student. Currently, I'm a freelance writer and copy editor, and full-time mom with two exceptional daughters. LivingLaVidaMama focuses on intentional frugality and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet that has dramatically improved my younger daughter's autistic-like symptoms. Contact me at MadForWriting at