Friday, July 2, 2004

We'll eat out more to cut grocery bill

Married with children

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry

I spent nearly $700 at the grocery store last month.

The month before it was closer to $750.

Year-to-date, I'm out about $3,800 to my friendly local grocer, plus unknown hundreds more to my pals at Wendy's, McDonald's, LaRosa's, Pizza Hut ...

This is astounding. This is appalling. This is enough to feed an entire Third World country for a year.

And I'm only providing meals to three young children and two less-young adults. None of us are super-sized and neither are our appetites.

So how come I've shelled out an average of $30 per person per week on food so far this calendar year?

Lemme think. Lots of steak-n-lobster dinners? Not that I recall. Too many gourmet items in the cart? Nah. Lots of overpriced bags and boxes of junk food for the kiddies? Guilty, but that doesn't explain it entirely.

A detailed analysis suggests:

• We eat at home too much. Silly me thinking serving three squares a day, with fresh fruits and vegetables, was economical. The real bargains come from the 99-cent menus at the drive-throughs.

• We waste too much. Half a bagel here, half a bowl of cereal there, barely touched glasses of milk - all down the drain, all money gone.

• We give away too much. All those darned Popsicles for the neighbor kids and cans of creamed corn for the school collections are killing me.

• We entertain too much. New policy for guests: BYOF. We'll provide the plates and cutlery. They can bring the chow.

• We eat too much. Hey, who couldn't stand to lose a few pounds? Kids: You're all on 500 calories a day, starting now.

I know there are ways to trim my grocery bills.

I could become a coupon queen, one of those women who get written up in magazines for buying $175 worth of food for $27. (The last time I bothered with coupons I saved about seven bucks. Oh, goody. OK, kids, you can have drinks with your 99-cent nuggets today.)

I could become a bargain hunter, driving from store to store to save 10 cents a pound on bananas. But, time is money, too, and really, I'm gonna buy milk when I need milk, whether it's 99 cents or $3.19 a gallon.

I could grow fruits and vegetables in the back yard. And raise farm animals for meat, too. Sure.

So I make modest efforts to cut back.

The untouched milk gets used in the next day's cereal. Meats and veggies make a second trip to the table, camouflaged with a few new ingredients. I deny my children the really overpriced packaged foods - like gummy candies sold as fruit snacks and $4 boxes of chocolate for breakfast.

In the years ahead - heavy-eating ones, according to the parents of teens - I guess I'll just have to have the kids help out with the grocery bills. They can order a la carte from a menu and pay accordingly.

Either that, or take jobs in the exciting fast food industry where bargain burgers are a fringe benefit.


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