Much the same, here in Israel, I also work hard to figure out how to stretch our shekels. So today, I'm going to share some of my best strategies for making my shekels go farther.
I have a bunch of mouths to feed, what with a family of 6 (that includes 2 teenage boys and 2 preteen girls who can certainly hold their own), and a revolving front door - so there are always other people over here - and I am happy to have a busy, full house! Of course, this means I really need to stretch my shekels as much as possible.
Ways to save:
If you currently eat meat and chicken several times per week, you can save a lot by planning to eat a few more vegetarian meals. This will stretch your budget significantly. If you have special dietary needs, be sure to consult your trusted health professional before making a change like this.
If you currently eat out or get takeout frequently, plan to avoid that - save eating out for special occasions! Here are some tips to avoid the dinner crisis that often leads to getting takeout. When it is time to celebrate and eat out, be sure to save by finding great deals - click here for the latest Restaurant Deals post.
Buy (and EAT) lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that are IN SEASON. And find a store that has "shuk day" deals, or a store that has a "Sug Bet" rack. You can also shop at a shuk if that works for you - but watch out in the shuk - some marketplaces don't have a lot of stalls with kosher certificates, so you need to know how to manage that. If you aren't sure what to do, please read more about it here. You can also find the latest Orlah Fruit update here (for Tishrei 5758), which is really important information to have if you buy fruit from sellers who are not certified.
What I spend on PRODUCE:
My target price for the majority of the vegetables I buy is 2nis per kilo, but of course there are plenty of times I spend more. It's rare that I'll spend more than 8nis per kilo on ANY vegetable ever. I also try to get greens for 2nis per package, though I will spend up to 5 for a really huge head of lettuce. I find lots of deals like these at the shuk (in larger cities, not my small town), at larger supermarkets, and stores with a sug bet rack, or late Friday afternoon markdowns.
For fruit - I love to get deals for 2nis per kilo as well, but that's harder for fruit. I try to get as much fruit as possible for 5nis or less, but I do buy some fruit that is up to 8nis, and on rare occasion, 10nis per kilogram. If I buy watermelon, it is ALWAYS for less than 2nis/kilo.
While I no longer eat dairy myself (I gave it up after discovering that I must be allergic to it), my family LOVES dairy foods and CHEESY foods in particular. Lately, I've been able to get "Alma" brand mozzarella cheese at the cheese counter of the supermarket, for 35nis per kilo! There are a few other cheeses in some stores that are real cheese (watch out for Kfir brand cheese - it's a strange processed mix of cheese and vegetable oils) - that are 35nis per kilo or less. But if you are looking for Chalav Yisrael dairy, some of those cheap cheeses will not do it for you - some are imported and clearly say they are made with non chalav yisrael milk. Alma is all "mehadrin", and the Tara brand yellow cheeses are as well, and are also in the same price range. I recently found out that the local Co-op shop, while often pricey, is a reliable place to buy Alma brand cheeses for 35nis/kg, AND my credit card gives me a discount on any purchase I make at Co-op! So while I still don't buy a lot there, I know that if there's a good deal on something, my credit card discount will make it a slightly better deal, too!
Soft Cheeses/Feta Cheese:
I make my own cream cheese all the time, instead of paying 40 or more shekels per kilo. I believe that it comes out to less than 25nis per kilo to make your own. I've got some easy instructions for you - click here to see what we do!
I have one child who LOVES cottage cheese - and unfortunately, cottage cheese is still pricey despite the cottage cheese protests! So I stock up on several containers at a time when I find them for 5nis or less. If you have found a store that consistently sells them for less, let me know!
It's definitely worth buying feta and other soft cheeses (besides cottage cheese) from the cheese counter. There are often sales, so check prices for the various varieties before you buy. I buy feta if it's approx 4nis per 100g, and I'll buy about 10nis worth at a time, and my kids will shred it to put on salads or pizza. We don't buy it every week - and that helps keep it a special food for everyone!
Make sure you are aware of the maximum amount that stores can charge you by law for (regular) eggs. Find out more about price controlled foods here. I tend to buy trays of 30 eggs for just a bit over 26nis, though sometimes I've found a sale for even less. If you buy specialty eggs - organic, omega-3, free range, whatever - these regulations do not apply. Buy the cheaper eggs if you can.
Chicken and Meat
(I don't buy meat, so I don't have much solid advice about prices for that - feel free to fill me in in the comments!)
Chicken and Turkey - When I really need to stretch my budget, I buy wings - both chicken and turkey wings make good deals. They can be found for about 7nis/kg, sometimes even less. I also ALWAYS buy 2 whole chickens if there is a sale - recently I got whole chickens for about 10nis/kg, and I buy them and freeze them if I don't actually need chicken that day. There are also sometimes deals at my local makolet on various chicken parts (say, drumsticks for 15/kg!), so I stock up when I spot a deal. This way, I almost always have chicken in the freezer so I never have to go buy chicken when it's expensive.
I buy most of my pantry staples from a store in the shuk, where the prices are better than "everyday" prices at all the supermarkets near me. If you live in my town, you can get in on this too - as we have worked out a deal - this particular storekeeper (now a friend of mine) delivers all of the Katzrin orders he gets to my house once every two weeks. If you're local and want to know more - call me. Pantry staples that really stretch my budget are rolled oats, brown rice, lentils, and beans. I use sunflower seeds in most any recipe that calls for nuts (sunflower seeds are a tiny fraction of the price of nuts!).
It's a bit of a time investment, but I bake bread whenever possible. If this is not possible for you, start comparing prices at all the stores you get to, and note the store that sells bread you're happy buying for the lowest price. This way you know to stock your freezer when you're at that store, or to stock up when there's a sale that's better somewhere else!
When your family doesn't object, make SOUP. Tons and tons of soup. Many soups are really not expensive to make (like lentil soup, minestrone soup, or split pea soup), and fill people up easily! If you want, you can make the soup the bulk of your meal, or you can use it as a starter (after eating soup, people tend to eat less of whatever you're serving for a main dish than if they hadn't eat soup). Your call. I know I love winter cooking, I find it easier to fill my kids' bellies when they all eat soup!
I hope you found this helpful! What are your favorite tips for making budget-friendly food? I'd love to hear your ideas!