We were never a huge family. Four people, two active dogs. But my husband was six foot six inches and 135 pounds and ate what he wanted. My now-six foot six son grew over three inches in a single year and had to be limited to a half gallon of milk a day. Add that to regular grocery shopping. regularly providing meals to the neighborhood and to various scouting groups and church events, and you end up with a fairly large shopping cart.
Cut to today. I have myself, one (much older) dog and an adult son who is here on and off. To say that I have needed to learn to adjust my shopping habits is an understatement. I used to buy loss leaders in bulk, coupon religiously, play the drugstore game in the extreme, cook in bulk and do all those other things including packing lunches daily. While I realize everyone meets this challenge differently, I have found a few things by trial and error.
I need to keep my budget very low, but at the same time healthy. Speaking for myself, my problem is that I want to eat real food that tastes good. For the most part, this eliminates single serving meals, even though they are often on sale and I expect cost effective for some people. But while I love to eat, I am not a good cook. I'm a great baker and an okay family style cook. I have not the energy nor the inclination to cook every evening. So I'm left with how to eat as closely to the way I like, while still keeping things in check, with my limited cooking skill. As in any other budget endeavor, I have to work with the skills and likes and dislikes I'm given. Someone else might save money by shopping a few times a week, or buying prepared meals so that they don't have to stock a pantry.
So far I have found that I still do shop in bulk. Rather than shopping the loss leaders as I did forever, I am hitting up Costco and getting a month or two worth of meats. I'm getting pork chops, chicken breasts and thighs, ground beef, salmon and other things and dividing large family style packages into individual containers. I'm also prepping and freezing in marinades and doing cutting and chopping before freezing, but that's an article for another time .I do this knowing myself and accepting that the longer I stay in a regular grocery the more I will buy. If I can just run through the produce and milk sections once a week and avoid making any other choices I am better off financially. Someone who has more self control might be better off shopping more often. If I did not already have my freezer I might make a different choice. I'm also cooking in bulk, but at a different level. Most regular recipes are for four or for six. this means that by just cooking a so called "regular" recipe, I've made dinner, leftovers and/or another freezer meal.
I still (in the winter) get out my slow cooker and use it (them). I have a large one, which is now relegated to church events, and a small cooker which makes four servings, again three meals. Although I actually acquired a few books on small recipes, I find that for me at least, it makes for sense to cook on the large scale and divide. This includes main dishes, baked goods, soups and other items. I do have a couple recipes for rolls and popovers for one and two for those special occasions.
One difficult adjustment has been for me to accept the fact that it makes financial sense to some so called convenience items. Not very many, still. I buy the pre cut, ready made packages of fresh fruit because the others would go bad. When I get butter, I get the package where there are quarter sticks.
The hugest shock in changing my shopping habits while staying within a budget has been the "pantry area". I still have to physically stop myself still from getting multiples of flour, or a case of canned vegetables. Earlier this year, Target was having a deal on Quaker instant oatmeal where there was a high value coupon and a gift card given back for every three bought. I bought a dozen!!!! I eat oatmeal about twice a week. I ended up giving over half of it to the shelter -not a bad thing ever, but not what I planned. So I have learned that one item and one backup should be my limit for most items (some canned goods I stock a bit more in case of electricity storms).
Do I still use coupons? I peruse the inserts each week, and if I see something that I will use soon I cut it out. I rarely look for the loss leader sales any more in the grocery aisle, although I do keep myself alert through various websites as to special deals and high value coupons. I no longer store coupons by insert in file folders. Although I still occasionally play the coupon game at the drugstore (mainly to get goodies for the food bank and shelter), but I can always get those coupons through trading or other methods.
There are other alternatives that have not worked for me, or that I have not tried. I do think that everyone should look at all the alternatives and choose what is best for them. Angel Food was not a better deal for me. CSAs would be a great deal if I could find someone to share, but right now an individual share would be to much for me to use up unless my preserving skills increased by leaps and bounds.
There are still other ways I could probably chop my budget, bringing it to another level if I had to. I still occasionally buy steak on sale, as well as buying chicken, fish, seafood, pork chicken and ground beef. wine is included in my budget, as is the occasional lamb or veal. While I don't buy only organics, I do try to buy organic eggs, some fruits and vegetables. So some may find my choices insufficient and wonder why I wasn't doing more.
On the other hand I avoid convenience foods, cook from scratch, keep myself out of the stores by buying everything I can in bulk. There are lots of ways singles and small families can save money on food, depending on skills, talents and local food prices. I intend to stop considering all grocery shopping food shopping and not just track the food costs, but the cost of each food type as well.
Hopefully some of these ideas may help others making the jump from large to small families or trying to feed a couple on a budget. If you have any good ideas on how you cut your budget for groceries for one or two, feel free to share-we can all learn from new ideas.