A commenter asked how to go about setting up a pantry, what a great question. I'll talk in depth about it next time and just a little bit today as it applies. I thought I'd share how I go about shopping for food at the least amount of money.
As with most homemakers, I do peruse the store sales flyers each week to see what they have as loss leaders. If there is something I need (and I have the money at the time), then that store will be first on my list to visit. Otherwise, here are the stores basically in order where I shop.
Wal Mart has the best prices normally in canned goods, coffee, tea, butter and cream, cheese, pet foods, Equate brand meds, and a few other nonfood items. I have found at times the sales at more expensive stores are better so I check the sales flyers first. I rarely buy meat here (just once in the last year that I can remember) and I don't purchase much in the way of produce.
I always try to keep sliced Colby cheese and Triscuits around for those times I don't feel like cooking or someone wants a healthy snack at night. I purchase the Great Value large brick of Colby cheese (around $7.50) and cut it into cracker size slices myself. It is much cheaper than smaller packages of other brands and very good tasting. I like it even better than Kraft (what has Kraft done to their recipe?) Actually, I've never tried a Great Value food from Wal Mart that I haven't found just as good as name brands.
This is the second grocery store I go to most often. It is in my old neighborhood (from when we had the big house "in town") and it is a local/state chain store. It is by far the most expensive of all the stores but it has the best sales overall, the best meat sales of those stores close to me, and great prices on organic foods.
This is the store that has my favorite brand of canned tomatoes on sale every five or six weeks. I stock up at that time. It also has ice cream buy one get one free and I will purchase two or four packages of ice cream for the freezer at that time if money permits. Ice cream is now a rare purchase.
Kroger can also be expensive but it has good sales, especially the 10 for $10.00 sales. It also puts milk on sale more often that other stores.
I love Target for organic butter and yogurt, as well as good sales on items for baking ingredients and paper goods.
As long as I have the money, I always purchase one or two plastic bottles of the Seventh Generation dish soap when I'm there.
This is a Midwestern chain that I first started shopping at in the 1980s when we lived in Western Michigan. It has (by far) the best selection of produce as well as great sales. It is famous for its' Saturday super sales.
Meijers is where I buy my canned goods on sale in the fall and the only place that puts King Arthur Flour on sale at a great price and I'll put one bag in my cart if it isn't on sale. KA regular unbleached flour has a high enough protein too be used for bread as well as regular baking if one does not want to store both bread flour and regular unbleached flour.
I always check their weekly sales flyer when I have money available.
Meijers and Target are where I'll look first for kitchen and storage items, they usually have very good quality items at fair prices (and on sale at times).
I don't shop Aldis often but I love having it available when there are no good sales for awhile at my other grocery stores. Some people shop it first.
I love, love, love Trader Joe's but I hate driving there. Since Sheila is in Finland with her hubby until at least July, I will wait for her to return before heading back to Trader Joe's.
Ethnic Grocery Stores
Since we are a University town, we have access to lots of ethnic foods. I haven't been to one of the ethnic food stores recently but I have friends who love them. They have very reasonable prices for beans (especially the Mexican store) and rice (especially the Asian stores).
Health Food Store
My husband qualifies for their Senior Citizen Discount day. Their prices are through the roof but the discount brings it down to something almost reasonable. The only item I buy there on discount day is my favorite pizza sauce.
Gourmet Food Store
They actually have good prices on items like spices and those little extras which make cooking easier. The one near me also has great monthly sales on high qaulity cookware which will last you a lifetime if cared for properly.
I used to purchase a lot of bulk items through my food co-op when I had even a little extra income. Now my friend shares old fashioned oats with me (often twenty pounds at a time). I also try to buy wheat there but they have been out of it for awhile (yikes!).
Co-ops are great when you keep to a budget but not so great when you start ordering things you normally would not buy just to have enough people filling out an order. Stephanie's food co-op orders once in awhile, the one I belonged to here orders once a month during the school year.
We qualify for all the food pantries in town but we go to one particular pantry each month. It is by appointment only and one qualifies through the Salvation Army. When we haven't had any "extra" money for awhile, we are not able to shop at the grocery stores so we also go to the other food pantries. I don't like to depend on them as their food is not always the best for diabetics (heavy on starches). However, I'm glad they are available and there have been many months my husband stood in line at the other three pantries!
Also, when my own pantry is stocked then I feel better about letting others use the food pantries since they often run out of food before the line of people is through. The one pantry I go to each month is sponsored by a large church in the area and tends to have more of what I can use (they let us choose what we need most from a list of foods) so I make an appt. for the next month when I'm picking up this month's food.
"Other" stores and food places
I stocked up on bulk herbs and spices when we were in Lancaster County last May. The Amish grocery store had them very cheap.
The Farmer's Market isn't necessarily the cheapest place to buy food but it is fresh and local... when I have the money it's well worth it. I buy my local honey there each summer, too.
I also accept food from our church and friends when they have excess. It's not a question of being proud, instead it is all about being grateful. :)
I don't have a written price sheet as I purchase the same items most of the time and remember what stores are the best. If I were stocking up like I used to be able to, then I'd keep a written price sheet for the various stores.
It's all about getting the most value for the money.
Now, someone else needs the computer so please forgive typos and grammar errors as I must hurry.