Monday, July 31, 2023

Grocery Savings ~ "Real Food" Alternatives

    Every Wednesday, I look through the grocery store ads to see what the sales are.  Stocking up on things we use when they go on sale is one of the main ways I've built up my pantry and fed my family frugally for many years.  I've noticed, however, that the sales are just not what they used to be, and finding a true deal is a rarity.  Now, as I flip through the "sales" flyers, I pass most things up as either unnecessary or still unreasonably expensive.  Usually it is packaged, prepared, or processed food, and the packages are getting smaller while the costs continue to climb.  I find myself thinking, "I bet I can make that cheaper (and potentially healthier)" or, "We could eat something else instead and save more money."  That is the inspiration for this series.

    Many of these ideas might not be revolutionary, but sometimes we get so used to buying a particular item or eating a certain food, that it never occurs to us to consider a substitution or a different method of preparation.  My goal is to get us thinking outside the box, sometimes quite literally.  We have to get creative if we are going to get the most out of our dollars.

    Of course, every family's needs and preferences are going to be different.  Prices will vary from store to store depending on where you are, just as budgets will vary from family to family.  I am basing these posts off of my own family's needs and likes, so glean what you can and tailor it to fit your own.  By no means am I telling you what to buy or what not to buy, nor will I say that convenience foods and treats don't have their place and purpose!  These posts are merely to trigger ideas and offer suggestions.  I am learning and adapting to the climbing costs like everyone else, so please don't hesitate to offer input in the comments.  Sometimes we may think we've thought of everything, only to learn of a new tip we never considered!

    For our first post in this series, I am looking at "real food" alternatives to some of the convenience, packaged items offered in the recent sales ads.  These are substitutions, not copies, but the savings and benefits of these swaps are substantial and worth considering, in my opinion.

    Most of the offers lately have been geared towards back-to-school lunches, breakfasts, and snacks.  One of them was:

Buy one box (2lb) of Mott's Fruit Snacks for $7.98 and get a FREE box (18oz) of Cheerios ($4.78 value).

    At first, I clipped the digital coupon.  A "savings" of $4.78 is pretty good, I thought.  James loves fruit snacks and John loves cereal, so these would be easy treats that they don't get very often.  But as I thought more about it and made my list, I realized that the true savings would be to not buy sugary food that doesn't satisfy my children's tummies.  Both of these foods just leave them wanting more because they are not filling or nutritious- they are addictive.  I thought about what I could buy instead that would be cheaper and more nourishing.

    I decided that fruit snacks could very simply be replaced with real fruit.  Cheerios, which are oat cereal, could be easily replaced with oats for oatmeal.  If we swapped size for size:

  • 2 lbs of bananas ($1.16) + an 18oz box of oats ($2.48) = $3.64.  That is a savings of $4.34 over the fruit snacks and cereal!  That would buy a pound of breakfast sausage with money to spare.  Or an extra box of oats for the pantry plus 2 more pounds of bananas for the freezer.

  • 2lbs of apples ($1.98) + an 18oz box of oats ($2.48) =  $4.46.  That is a savings of $3.52.  That will buy a gallon of milk where I live.


  • 2lbs of grapes ($2.76) + an 18oz box of oats ($2.48) = $5.24.  That is still a savings of $2.74.  That would buy a dozen eggs.

    Some additional things to consider about this substitution: 

    ~ An 18oz box of oats is going to stretch much further than an 18oz box of cereal, as oats expand in size when they cook and are way more filling. 

    ~ Unless you eat it dry as a snack, cereal would require the additional purchase of milk, increasing the cost of the meal.  Oats can be cooked in water and flavored frugally.  I have written a post on oatmeal toppings here.  Oats are also versatile and can be used in many recipes.

    ~ You can purchase fruit based on what is in season or the cheapest.  Mix different types together in a bowl for fruit salad.  The above savings might even make organic options possible, if that is important to you.  

    ~ The ingredients lists on fruit snacks and cereal are long, and they contain a lot of added sugar and other questionable components.  While fruit contains natural sugar, none of it is added and there's only one ingredient!  Oats are also only one ingredient, and you get to control the sugar content based on what/how much you add to it.  You'll know exactly what's in it, and it will be much healthier.

    Another offer in the sales ad was:

Buy 2 bags (15oz each) of corn chips for $5.96, get a FREE 9oz can of bean dip ($2.48 value).

    I thought about what might be a real food alternative, and I came up with cornbread and beans.  No, it's not the same thing, but it's cheaper, healthier, and more filling.

    If I cooked the beans myself and baked the cornbread from scratch using my recipe:

  • 1lb of dry pinto beans ($1.15) + *cornmeal, flour, baking powder, eggs, and milk for a pan of cornbread ($0.94) = $2.09.  

    That is a savings of $3.87, with tons of beans left over for other meals or snacks!  The money saved would be enough to buy a package of shredded cheese and an onion to top the beans with.

    If I went the convenient route:

  • 1, 27oz can of pinto beans ($1.58) + 2 boxes of cornbread mix ($1.20) + *enough eggs and milk for mixes ($0.46) = $3.24.  

    That still saves $2.72.  That would be enough to buy a head of romaine lettuce to put towards a side salad, with change left over.

(*based on cost per cup/egg/teaspoon in the brands that I would normally buy, usually generic)

    Looking over these swaps, here is a sample of the cost comparison:

If we bought the convenience foods on sale-

    Fruit snacks: $7.98
    Cereal: Free 
    Corn Chips: $5.96
    Bean Dip: Free
    Total: $13.94

If we paid full price for the real food options-

    1 lb of bananas: $0.58
    1lb of apples: $0.99
    1 box of oats: $2.48
    1lb pinto beans: $1.15
    Cornbread ingredients: $0.94
    Total: $6.14

    Savings: $7.80!!!

    You can see that the real food versions are much cheaper than the convenience foods.  You get more food for less than half of the price, and that is even with coupons for the packaged foods!  Imagine the cost if they were regular price.  People buy these kinds of foods regularly.  I know they are buying the fruit snacks because the website now says they are out of stock. 

    These are just two examples that added up to almost $8 in savings.  Think of the rest of the grocery trip and how much would be saved if each coupon was scrutinized in this way.  That money could be put into savings, transferred to other parts of the budget, or used to buy more groceries and build up your pantry.  Not to mention, your health would be better off!

    As a side note, if you have children and you purchase a treat because it's on sale, they aren't going to understand why you won't buy it again when it's full price.  Ask me how I know!  That is the whole point of coupons- it's a marketing tactic.  Companies want to lure you in with a "good" price so that you will try their product and be hooked enough to pay full price for it later on.  Definitely something to consider!

    These are just a few ideas and observations I had after looking at coupons last week.  I have more ideas in mind for future posts, but I would appreciate your feedback in the comments.  Is this something you would be interested in reading?  Please let me know if you want me to continue this series!


  1. I’m definitely interested in this series, Kelsey. I love you real life examples. One thing we can also do with the oatmeal is to make our own cereal. I have a recipe for crockpot granola on my blog that won’t heat up the kitchen right now and won’t burn like it tends to do I. The oven. I’ve also been thinking of doing a blog post about foods we buy but can make the, cheaper at home like taco seasoning mix and ranch dressing mix. This is a great blog post. I’m going to share it with my readers on Friday.

    1. Yes, homemade granola is so tasty and way cheaper than store bought! I look forward to reading the post you have in mind and I'll check out your recipe for granola, too.
      Thanks for your interest and thank you so much for sharing!

  2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2023

    I love this, Kelsey! We've been doing this for quite some time and keep a list of what it costs in the store and how much it cost to make it myself. Speaking of oats, I've been making my own oat flour to bake with. It also makes delicious gluten free pancakes for pennies and is way less expensive than gluten free flour or almond flour. My family loves English muffins. Here they're $6 for 6 of the store brand. I make those as well with a no knead recipe that rises over night. Costs about $2 to make a batch of 3 dozen. Keep up the good work. We can all learn new tips and tricks. Cookie

    1. Thank you, Cookie! Making your own oat flour is a great idea. I like to substitute half of the regular flour in my chocolate chip cookie recipe for oat flour. It doesn't make them gluten free, but it does make them delicious! I usually do small amounts in a coffee grinder, but doing batches like you would save a lot of time. Thank you for sharing that tip! That is a massive savings on the English muffins, and I'm sure they taste better and have healthier ingredients, too.

  3. This is a great post!! I am very interested in seeing more of these posts. When our children were growing up a deal would sometimes come along to be able to buy a treat for almost nothing. I always told them that this is a one time deal that will not likely come along again so we won't be having this again but isn't it great that we can have this to enjoy!

    1. Thank you, Lana! That's a great thing to tell the kids, letting them know it's just a treat to be thankful for and enjoyed in the present. I once got a free pack of yogurt with a rebate that came with M&Ms to sprinkle on top. Of course, I took the free food knowing John would love it. To this day, he still asks when we are going to buy that again!

    2. We got the yogurt deal too and the grandchildren loved them and then went home to another state. That was an easy pass!

  4. I would love to see more about this. It crossed my mind just last week how much I could be saving by making alternatives and healthier versions of things at home.

    1. It's so true, Mandy! I hope to incorporate some recipes and how-to's into the series as we go. Thank you for your feedback!

  5. Great post! I always need ideas on what I can do with "basic" foods for more variety while sticking to a budget. ~Jenny

    1. Thank you, Jenny! I'll be adding meal ideas and recipe posts into the series, so stay tuned!

  6. Another helpful post! Thank you.

    1. You're very welcome! Thank you for your comment.

  7. I love your posts but the font size is so small that I'm having trouble being able to read the whole thing. I've looked for a way to enlarge it on my end, but haven't figured that out yet. I just thought I'd mention it in case anyone else already has their glasses on, but is still struggling :)

    1. I'm sorry, Debbie! I've adjusted the font size, so hopefully it is easier for everyone to read. Thanks for letting me know!

    2. Kelsey, thank you for adjusting the font! It definitely felt easier to read. This is an excellent and informative post! Yes! Keep going with the series! These are things that I've thought of from the ingredient perspective, but not the cost perspective, so I'm learning a lot.

    3. I'm glad you found it helpful, Debbie! Thanks for the feedback!


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