Saving on Groceries

One family of seven has become so adept at saving on groceries they eat for less than $50 a week.

| August/September 1998

  • 168-saving-on-groceries-01-hermans-family2.jpg
    With five adopted children, Mary Jane and Jeff Cardarelle-Hermans recognized they had to start saving on groceries. Left to right: Jacobi, 10; Lance, 11; Dawn, 17; David, 12; sitting on couch: Mary Jane; Trevor, 8; Jeff.
  • 168-saving-on-groceries-03-spaghetti-sauce.jpg
    Homemade spaghetti sauce.
  • 168-saving-on-groceries-02-tofu-spread.jpg
    Apart from tofu (of course), our tofu spread recipe includes onion and salt.

  • 168-saving-on-groceries-01-hermans-family2.jpg
  • 168-saving-on-groceries-03-spaghetti-sauce.jpg
  • 168-saving-on-groceries-02-tofu-spread.jpg

After the addition of four foster sons to their household, Mary Jane and Jeff Cardarelle-Hermans decided it was time to start monitoring their spending. They gradually developed strategies for saving on groceries and transformed their shopping routine. In their self-published book, Eating Economically is Just Plain Smart: How We Feed Our Family of 7 For Less Than $50 Per Week, the Cardarelle-Hermans share their secrets with us.

In 1993, Mary Jane and Jeff adopted their five foster children. Two of the boys had been with them as foster children since 1989, the other two since 1990, and their daughter since 1993. The children range in age from eight to seventeen, and are all biological siblings. As not only a large family but also a bi-racial one, the Cardarelle-Hermans are a visible bunch. Mary Jane explains that people were always striking up conversations with her and asking how she does it. "It must be so expensive to feed your family!" But she is actually spending less on groceries than many families of four. After enough interactions of this sort, Mary Jane and Jeff decided they would compile a book filled with money-saving tips and strategies, a list of all the food they keep in their kitchen, and the recipes they use in their own home. It took about one and a half to two years to write the book in their spare time.

Reducing the grocery hills so drastically may seem like a difficult sacrifice to make, but "it was a gradual thing," Jeff explains. After having comparison shopped in and around their hometown in the Milwaukee suburbs, Mary Jane says, "We have it down." She shops at three different stores and spends less than two hours per week buying both food and non-grocery items. She visits a discount supermarket chain once a week, a regular grocery store every two weeks, and a health food store once a month.

One of the main ways the Cardarelle-Hermans are able to cut back is by cutting out convenience foods, which are more expensive and often contain additives and preservatives that can be avoided when cooking from scratch. Mary Jane says, "People think that cooking from scratch takes hours, but it doesn't. It could, but I'm not making big gourmet meals. My casserole takes ten minutes to whip together, and then one-and-a-half hours in the oven."

Their book offers what they have learned from their experience. For example, "a ten-pound bag of potatoes was a better buy than frozen french fries or hash browns." They also found that a larger container of oatmeal makes more for less than a box of individually packaged instant oatmeal. They often buy in bulk when it's cheaper and look at the unit price to get more for their money. In terms of artificial junk foods, they would rather have the real thing. Instead of buying a box of expensive fruit roll-ups, they'd rather just buy the fruit.

Although they certainly have their system down, Mary Jane tells us they do stray from the list sometimes, but not often. On a child's birthday, for example, they might buy some ice cream. On the whole, the Cardarelle-Hermans stay away from desserts and chips and would rather opt for low-fat food, packed with nutrition. They eat lots of fresh fruit and depend on the seasons for variety. The children do have an allowance that they are allowed to spend on candy, but she says they rarely do.

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