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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Price breakouts on meals

I have gotten this question on many occasions-how do you figure out the cost per meal? For me, this dovetails into the whole reason I've become such a couponer and sale shopper. Seeing the cost per meal, and then seeing how I can impact that with coupons and sales has been huge for me. This is not a difficult process; for me, it was a several step process, though. Let me explain.

I hear over and over to keep a price book for shopping. For me, this is pretty tough. I have been known to drag a notebook to Sam's so that I can do cost comparisons for certain items, but I was just overwhelmed at the idea of keeping an ongoing price record of EVERY SINGLE grocery item I use on a regular basis.

Instead, taking a shortcut, I picked a few meals that appear in my menus very regularly, and focused on them. A great example is my skillet nachos. This has been a family favorite since hubby and I first started preparing meals together 18 years ago, and is something we eat on average twice a month, without ever tiring of it. It's filling, tasty, easy, and economical. Even so, by paying attention, doing price breakouts and stockpiling, I've been able to save a LOT of money with just one meal!

Here's what I need for skillet nachos to feed my family of 4:

1/2 lb. ground beef
1 can refried beans
taco seasoning (packet or make my own)
6oz. cheese
1/2 bag of tortilla chips

Before I really made any effort to do frugal shopping, other than shopping sales when I could, the typical cost for skillet nachos would look like this:

1/2lb. ground beef (@ $2.99/lb.)= $1.45
1 can refried beans= $1.25
1 packet taco seasoning= .50
60z. cheese $1.50
1/2 bag of tortilla chips $1.50
Cost of meal=$6.20

Not ridiculous. Still a pretty frugal meal. But watch what I've been able to do by getting to know what kinds of sale prices I can expect, or what I can do with coupons.

1/2lb. ground beef (don't like to pay more than $1.80/lb.)= .90
1 can refried beans-with sales and coupons I never spend more than .65-I stock up at this price or better= .65
taco seasoning- I make my own now= .10
6oz. cheese= I don't like to pay more than $1.25 for 8oz. I stock up at that price or better= .94
1/2 bag of tortilla chips (both Aldi and Bakers sell bags for .99)= .50
New cost of meal= $3.09

Yes. You read that correctly. Just by paying attention to the prices of these few items and stocking up when they hit the lowest prices I'd seen, I've been able to cut the price of this meal in HALF. No changes to the ingredients, other than making my own taco seasoning (with less sodium, so healthier, too). Same meal, half the cost. Pretty simple.

Now, if you try to come back and say, "but Michelle, that's a lot of work to save 3 bucks", then let me remind you. We make this meal at least 24 times per year. So if I save $3.11 each meal, over the course of the year, I've saved $74.64. One meal that I serve over the course of the year. Think about how you could impact your own spending with just one meal!

So start small. Pick one or two meals that you make frequently, and concentrate on pricing the ingredients in those dishes, and get them down to your bargain price. Then stock up. It's okay for me to have 12 cans of refried beans in the basement, because just with this meal alone I will use them, not to mention other dishes like quesadillas.