What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow. ~ Martin Luther

Monday, March 04, 2013

Squeezing that Grocery Budget 'til it squeaks.


This years Code Orange financial lockdown has been....interesting...(yeah, that's it) thus far.  To reach our financial goals for 2013, I had to reevaluate an already modest budget to squeak as much extra money out that I could.  The object is, of course, to use our pennies wisely and spend them very carefully.  The less we spend, the more we save. 

As Dave Ramsey is fond of saying (and I am fond of quoting) "Live like no one else now so that later you can live like no one else." 

We'll certainly be living like no one else.  I basically cut our spending in HALF, hoping to use the other half to build wealth (by building our savings or by paying off the mortgage sooner.)  Half is huge, people.

Wanna know my grocery budget?  It is $100.00 BIWEEKLY.  That is $50.00 a week for a family of six, in case you missed it.  So yeah- huge.  

Even more challenging is that I am passionate about giving NOURISHING, HEALTHY food to my family.  Especially now with me trying to lose weight, I try to have plenty of good-for-you snacks to munch on.  And let's face it- that can be expensive!

All other categories of spending that were able to be cut were cut in half too, some of which were already parched as it is.  Our "non-food necessities" envelope is $30.00 which was used entirely up in one shopping trip the day I needed diapers, wipes and saline all at the same time.  And the time before that, it was used up in only restocking the VITAMINS. 

The month of January was easy sailing.  I put some new strategies into play and I thought "Hey- this isn't so bad!"   Then February rolled around and I was sucker punched.  The thing is, I had a nice little food reserve going on~ all sorts of groceries stockpiled and a full-to-the-brim fridge of deliciousness in the beginning of the year.  By mid-February, though, that reserve was GONE and the cupboards were bare and $50.00 a week barely covered our DAIRY needs for two weeks.   I realized I was going to need more than just a few tweaks here and there.

 I have had to become even MORE creative and even more fickle toward my purchases.  I am not saying I am the authority on the subject, far from it~ but if you are hoping to cut your grocery spending, maybe it would be helpful to share?
Here are some things that have helped me cut my grocery bill in half with (a little bit) less sting and a few things I plan to implement which I know will ease the transition even more:

~ Biggest, most helpful change so far has been NOT grocery shopping every week.  We get paid bi-weekly, so now I shop bi-weekly.  On library day (on off weeks) I do go to a local store to pick up gallons of milk- we go through three or four a week and my fridge couldn't accomodate two week's worth.)    Being in stores half the time helps me to save half the money, I can assure you. 

~ Stick to the stores you must go to.  I used to love grocery day.  Go to Aldi.  Go to Walmart for what I couldn't get at Aldi.  Go to Target because it is right across the way and I LOVE Target.  Maybe, if there is time and the kids are cooperating, let's go to the craft store and take a gander there.  And while I am out....    

You and I both know if you shop like that, you are looking for things to buy.  I would walk out of each store with SOMETHING (even something small) but rarely anything NECESSARY.  And I had grocery day every week back then, so I was shopping around a lot.

~ Write a list of items you need from each store and do.not.deviate.

~ From the above, you'll probably guess this one:  Plan your menu!  I make a two week menu plan and stick with it.

~ Use from your 'stores'.  If any of you "puts up food" (freezing, canning, dehydrating) you probably already understand this dilemma.  Sometimes you forget you have something.  Five years later, you find a freezer-burned ham at the bottom of your freezer.  Even if you don't often freeze or can, I am sure you have found something at the back of your cupboard that you had long since forgotten you had.  While I make up my menu plan, I try to use up things I know I have stored up.   You don't need to buy hamburger and beans for chili if you could whip up some zucchini soup instead, from ingredients you already have on hand.

(This, incidentally, helps immensely as I am also trying to be more hospitable having company over for supper.  Before, I would look for yummy things to make and buy ingredients for it.  Now, I have been looking at what I have on hand and making meals based on that.  I can tell you, the company hasn't minded one bit!)

~ No Leftovers Left Behind.  Food is precious once you have so little money to spend on it.  DO NOT LET IT GO TO WASTE.   Have leftover nights.  Eat leftovers for lunch.  Use any little bits of leftovers up in other ways- add them all up and make soups.  Even freeze them.  Also- go through your fridge often so nothing gets lost and forgotten about until it is too late.

~ Bring a calculator and use it.  Maybe it is dorky to walk around at the store with a calculator- but I am a dork and proud of it.  It is the only way to stay within budget. 

~ Use cash.  Debit cards are beautiful things.   You can decide last minute to pick up dinner on your way home- or add a bag of chips or a half gallon of icecream for a 'treat'.  Yeah.  They are beautiful, dangerous things.

The only thing I use my debit card for now is for buying gas so I don't have to 'prepay' every time I am at the pump.  (The gas, too, has its own virtual "envelope".)

~ Buy in bulk, when it saves you.  (But make sure it does!)  And when a sale is great, buy as much as you can afford.  When 3# bags of carrots go on sale at Aldi for 79cents, I buy five bags.  

~ Don't spend money on boxed foods.  A box of Rice-a-Roni is cheap, sure, but it only feeds your family once (if you are lucky.)  Buy a big bag of rice and it will feed you much longer.  This is true for pretty much all convenience foods.

~ Eat lots of cheap, healthy foods and often.  Rice, dried beans, pasta, bags of potatoes, popcorn, and bananas are all CHEAP to buy AND filling. (SCORE!) There is nothing wrong with eating potatoes several times a week because that is all you can afford.  In fact, I think if instead of food stamps, our  churches gave out rice, bean and potato certificates, the world might just be a much better place! 

~ Make homemade yogurt, instead of buying it.  We eat this a lot and would save so much making it!  (This is one of those TO-IMPLEMENT things.)

~ Make your own hummus, instead of buying it.  We eat this a lot too! And laziness has made me pick it up at the store instead of making it like I once did.  (Another change to implement soon.)

~ Buy popcorn kernels in a large bag- not in those microwavable pouches or worse-already popped!  If you don't have an air-popper invest in one- OR, you can use lunch bags to make homemade microwavable popcorn bags.  But then you have to buy the bags...

~ Make from scratch.  This is huge. Bad for you food SEEMS cheaper but it really isn't.  Instead of bread, buy flour.   Instead of canned soup, buy cornstarch and bouillon cubes.  Instead of cookies, buy sugar. Then, make them at home.

~ Avoid the snack aisle at all costs!  Don't buy chips, bagged popcorn, fruit snacks, cookies, candy, etc.  You know, all those delicious things!  Most of these aren't good for you and when you are on a tight budget, there is no room for them anyway.  The only "snack" foods we buy anymore are crackers (for peanut butter crackers, hummus, cheese crackers or soup.), marshmallows and raisins.  Once in a GREAT while I will get honey pretzel rods from Aldi.   Oh- I always try to have a bag of tortilla chips to eat with our home-canned salsa.

Some of our go-to snacks are air-popped popcorn.  (Homemade) Cookies.  Raisins.  Marshmallows. Granola bars. Bananas.  Banana and apple chips (from our dehydrator) or the aforementioned crackers.  ;-)

~ Use coupons- only if it is worth it.  There are plenty of coupon guru's who can get free or more-than-free stuff all the time.  I was one of them, once upon a time.  I do it less often now because I don't want to go to store after store after store every week, hauling four children behind me, but I realize it can be worth it.  BUT.  Just because you have a coupon for it doesn't mean it is worth it.  Don't buy things you wouldn't ordinarily buy and don't buy name brand (with a coupon) if you can get a store brand cheaper anyway.  Coupons take plenty of time and plenty of wisdom but they can be helpful.  

~ Cereal can be SUCH a rip-off.  We have it once a week, on Sundays when there isn't much time to make a home-cooked breakfast before scurrying off to church.  Our usual weekday breakfasts- eggs (in all their many forms), scones, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, toast, muffins or cornmeal mush.  All healthy and all much more cost effective (and filling!) than a box of cereal.

~ Fix soups.  A LOT.  In the summer I fix salads often- having a big garden outside my door helps make beautiful salads.  In the winter though- there is nothing better to warm you up, use up leftovers or create INEXPENSIVE meals that to serve soups.  Think about it- it is mostly water!  I try and include two soups a week, once for supper and once for lunch.  Eating it more often, will save you even more money.

~ Who needs paper towels?  Dishrags work fine.  I do have some leftover paper napkins from a party once-upon-a-time, for the odd case of the throw-ups.  Anything else gets a towel.

~ Eat vegetarian at least once a week.  Our freezers full of our home-raised beef and pork are fast dwindling.  In order to conserve until the next batch, we are eating more vegetarian than ever.  Adding vegetarian days to the mix really lessens the financial load- meat is expensive!  It isn't that bad- if my meat-and-potatoes man can do it without compaining- anyone can!

~ Eat Seasonal.  I am not going to try to convince you (or myself, for that matter) that eating "seasonally" and "locally" (the two big buzzwords these days) are somehow more holy than eating otherwise.  I like my bananas too much.  I will say, though, that there is something to be said for being without for a time- it makes you appreciate it when you have it that much more.  Strawberries never taste so good as the ones in June, after a winter without.  And garden tomatoes- don't get me started on those.  Not to mention- strawberries in January are seriously hefty prices for seriously cardboard taste.  Am I right or am I right?  

~ Prepare in advance for Lean Times.  Finally- as any reader of this blog for any length of time knows, I do a lot of "putting up".  Just take a gander at my sidebar over there ----->; and you'll see I have a lot of sweat equity put by.  Having a large garden is a saving grace to the summer food budget and freezing/dehydrating/canning the excess is the saving grace to a winter food budget.  It is how we can have huckleberry pancakes in February and summer squash gratin in March and pesto at Christmas and fruit, in some form or another every single day of winter.

I simply COULD.NOT.FEED.MY.FAMILY on this tight of a budget without the preparations from last summer.  PERIOD.

It's a lot of work, sure, but there is a whole lot of reward (and peace of mind) too.


Now it is your turn~ do you have any good suggestions for how you keep your grocery bill down?  

Even with all these strategies in place, it can still be a challenge to stay within our grocery budget.  I would certainly love to hear about things that have helped you. I have 10 more months of this- I could use all the help I can get!

Come garden season, come!


Julian said...

I'm so glad you posted this! I've stocked my freezer and pantry and am not going to the store except for fresh vegis and milk the whole month of March. We also have six kiddos. So. With That said, I'm trying to learn how to spend less and eat healthy on a waay smaller amount of money.
Good post thanks,and good luck in your endeavors:)

Terri said...

I do pretty much what you do - almost every. last. thing. from. scratch. Breads, desserts, crackers, seasoning mixes, and on and on. My garden was horrific last year so I do not have such a great stockpile at all and that does eat into my budget. We are a family of 5 with 3 adult males mixed in there so we do spend more than you do but that's because those guys eat so stinkin' much! lol!! I spend approximately $100 per week (some weeks a bit more) which includes all household supplies and personal items such as shampoo, etc. One thing that I do need to do a better job at is making a list because I fall into the trap of grabbing for snacky items if I'm not brutal about sticking to the list.

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beth said...

oh, how I've needed and am soaking up this post - thank you, rebecca!

my plan for the remainder of march, and beyond:

"write a list of items you need from each store and do.not.deviate."


Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias said...

Love this! We spend quite a bit more due to food allergies but we don't use any paper products in our home and use all homemade soaps(we spend zero on toiletries and when we had babies we used cloth). We aren't milking cows at the moment but because we get it raw and from the farmer it is half of what it would cost me at the store.

One thing that we do is make bone broth. We get all of our meat bone-in and save all of the bone. If I roast a chicken, I pull all the meat off, put the bone in a pot of water with about 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar (to pull out all the minerals and gelatin from the bones.) Let is simmer for 24 hours and you have the best soup base ever. And, because you get all the minerals, marrow, and gelatin from the bones, I don't have to add any meat to the soup, just tons of veggies and a bit of barley or rice.

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Katrina said...

I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago...love it! (I read some of your old posts and already made a Molly Monkey. Too cute!)

Do start making your own yoghurt. Its so so easy, we do ours on the stovetop and then kept warm with an electric heating pad in a basket for 24 hours. So much better for you than the store bought stuff, and so much cheaper!

Renata said...

Hi Rebecca
I loved this post and it is full of great ideas!!
I also try to do a lot of these things although my grocery budget is a fair bit higher than yours (here in Australia food is expensive - that's one reason we try to produce a lot ourselves when we can).
I just want to add that yoghurt is so very easy you have to make it! I make a batch each week and my boys just love it! I make mine in my slow cooker and it's a very easy and forgiving process. I have my method on my blog if you are interested.
Thanks for sharing your ideas - I loved it and am in awe of how much food you put up. I am slowly learning how to can- we freeze a lot, but it's not the same.

Renee said...

My Mom kept a jar in the freezer and any leftover veggies, meat, rice, pasta, potatoes etc. were put in it after dinner. When the jar was full, she thawed it all out and added a can of tomatoes. The best homemade soup ever. Plus it was always different.

terricheney said...

I'm an 'old hand' at this eating well for less deal. We have an ample budget right now but I am trying to trim back somewhat. I don't garden (my husband sees no point in buying what is for sale at the store. He grew up city. I'm a country girl.)

Our current budget is the same as what we spent eight years ago. We just get a lot less for the money these days. I've been pulling out my old tricks, rusty but not forgotten.

My kids loved LOVED rice pudding for breakfast, which was simply our leftover rice from supper the night before with cream and sugar (like oatmeal). It was warm and filling and could be dressed up with raisins and cinnamon.

I learned to use 1/4 pound of meat as a flavoring in many meals and we ate LOTS of potatoes, rice and beans in those days.

I learned to use parts of chickens that most people won't eat. Livers for one thing and backs were always used. I grew up cutting up whole chickens so that there were 10 pieces (back and pulley bone) instead of just 8.

Funny thing is we had LOTS of company in those days and it was not unusual to not only serve my family of seven but another five or more, too.

A pot of chili (beans with hardly any meat to speak of but loads of onions and tomatoes) would be served over rice to stretch the meal and to cut down on spiciness for the younger ones.

I made meat loaf and burgers a lot in those days but I added in bread crumbs, grated carrot, finely minced onions and celery, sometimes mashed beans, whatever I could to stretch that meat. I did the same with lasagna and spaghetti sauce, too.

And just a funny point of view: I serve meatless meals once or twice a week even now. My husband NEVER complains...unless I serve Vegetable plate. For some reason he doesn't realize he's eating meatless if we have bean and rice burritos or a tamale pie that is chili beans and corn, or a casserole of mac and cheese, but put a plate of butter beans, corn, sliced tomatoes and fried zucchini before him and he looks at his plate, sighs heavily and asks, "Sooo...we're eating vegetarian now? lol

Unknown said...

*gulp* I'm do SO badly in this area! WOW!!! $50 a WEEK!!!!

Peggy said...

Wow, Rebecca, you are doing wonderful! If you can get a copy of "The Everlasting Meal" from your library, I would recommend it. It is filled with lots of ways to stretch ingredients. We had been keeping a jar in the freezer for the odd tidbits of veggies, meat, beans, rice, etc. but with our youngest hit a growth spurt is eating every bit of leftover food that he can find. My solution... start baking bread again plus putting in a bigger garden this year. We lost all our newly planted strawberries last year to rabbits, mice, and our dog... so we are moving the bed and our neighbor has offered us runners to plant later this spring.

Have a wonderful day! (i know i disappeared for a long time... but know that you all were not forgotten!)

Mrs. Bowen said...

I'm inspired! We are soon to be a family of six and these are some good ideas. I'm going to challenge myself this week when I go to the store to see if I can spend below budget. I already go shopping biweekly and that helps tremendously. Good luck with your efforts!

Full of Grace said...

Bob said "they can do it because they show self- restraint, I have none" ;) Well, I guess you know how our budget is, and you also can guess that often I go grocery shopping ALONE for a REASON :) lol! :)

Alyssa Spring said...

I'm redoing our budget too and so these tips were super helpful. We have to be gluten/casein free so even though I do most homemade it's added at LEAST 20 bucks a week to our grocery budget. We live in the city so I have no "stores" set aside...we have to eat a ton of veggies and all the gluten free flours are more. We drink almond and coconut milk ...so I'm doing a lot of couponing. :)
Oh...and I got the lovely package. The picture of the tomatoes is over my desk, I've worn the necklace several times, and I've gotten so much inspiration from the book. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Could you post one of your 2 week meal plans? xxx

Kathy said...

Like Megan, we do bone broths...I use them as the base for soups, to turn leftover chili into "spicy chili soup, and for homemade "rice a roni" type dishes ;) We also buy beans, etc in large bulk - like 25lb sacks - and store in mason jars to avoid vermin. We no longer have wee ones...but are on a super tight budget due to job changes (and, to be honest, due to my insistence that we eat well and not "fake cheap")...the economy has not been kind to folks in publishing since 2008, so I have pinched pennies, expanded my wee garden, canned and frozen fruits and veg, and more. Reading about your gardening and canning exploits has helped me to stay inspired when I feel like a wet rag over a steaming kettle in August - LOL! I guess the best advice I would give anyone is to to your very best within your circumstances - and do not feel guilty if you must *occasionally* spend a little more to stock up something super healthy (and I find that the budget tends to balance out after "stocking up" anyway - LOL).

Renaissance Chick On a Budget said...

Nice reminders, thx! :) I listen to a radio program called Splendid Table and they sometimes do a game where the host must make something delicious from five random things a listener has in their fridge. I've created a lot of "keeper" recipes from that plus saved dough!
Keep up your efforts. :)