My guest from the Thrifty and Nifty series, Kelly Canfield, is back today to share helpful tips for stretching your grocery dollar. You can read her original post here.
After setting up a budget, I went through the line items that I was responsible for, such as groceries, clothing, and home decorating. I determined to squeeze every nickel till the buffalo hollers! The biggest area of expense on an ongoing basis was groceries, so I focused on that. Reading some books on frugal living gave me some great ideas, as well as garnering tips from thrifty friends. (Two books I’d recommend: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half by Steve and Annette Economides and Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn. And relax, they don’t make you eat nasty casseroles or live on rice and beans.)
The local grocery stores are very pricey, so we eventually determined that it was worth it to make the one-hour drive each way to a more economical store every 3 weeks. Yes, I plan menus in 3-week blocks. (We buy milk and a few perishable ingredients from the local stores as needed). This has saved us hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. I rarely coupon, because even with a great coupon, the generic equivalent is almost always much less expensive than the name brand. I am still perfecting my menu-planning methods, and I recently came up with a template that helps me get the job done more quickly. I should mention that I don’t plan out breakfasts – we just aren’t big breakfast people. Usually we have cereal, a breakfast sandwich, or pancakes. Lunch is leftovers from the night before. So really, all I plan is dinners.
Sample Weekly Menu:
Monday: Company night. Sides: applesauce/fruit salad.
Tuesday: Grilled Chicken/Basil Pork Chops. Sides: garlic bread & green beans.
Wednesday: Hot Dogs or Hamburgers. Sides: homemade French fries and coleslaw.
Thursday: Asian. Sides: fried rice/noodles, stir fried veggies.
Friday: Crockpot recipe/Pizza. Sides: breadsticks and carrot & celery sticks with dip.
Saturday: Italian Salisbury Steak/Fried Chicken. Sides: Cheesy Buttered Noodles and Mixed Veggies.
Sunday: Extended Family Dinner – bring a side.
The largest cost on our grocery budget was prepared foods (consider it servant wages…you’re paying someone else to cook for you), meat, and laundry detergent. Prepared foods are a touchy subject. In our busy world, convenience is a premium. And, I might add, I am not one of those superwomen who can spend a day cooking for the month (more power to them!). What’s worked for me is to occasionally double a recipe and freeze half. It’s not much more work, and it’s a real lifesaver when I just can’t spend the time preparing a decent meal.
Pre-chopped veggies and salad dressings and croutons all fall under the “prepared foods” heading. You pay out your nose for the convenience. And how much time does is really save? Not that much. Every once in a while I’ll splurge and buy salad dressings, but it takes 5 minutes to make a bottle. When I’m getting towards the end of a loaf of bread, I cut it up into cubes and toss it in a bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, I pour it into a bowl, toss it with oil, Italian seasoning, and garlic salt, and bake it at 325, stirring it every ten minutes. Croutons appear (and then quickly disappear!)
Because I plan out our menus in advance, I am also able to take advantage of a monthly truckload meat sale from a local market. Everything else in that store costs an arm and a leg, but I stay zeroed in on meat and meat only when I go there.
Another way I save us money is by making our own sausage (breakfast and Italian), bread, baked goods, and laundry soap. All of these are so much less expensive to make than they are to buy. Pasta, however, is NOT worth the effort of making. (Trust me…I penciled this out, with my Hubby laughing at me, while I calculated the cost of flour by the cup and single eggs and salt by the teaspoon.)
Sausage: I buy a pound of ground pork and a pound of ground turkey, and then use them in my favorite sausage recipes. The pork adds moisture and flavor, and the turkey is cheaper and healthier.
Bread: I have two go-to recipes for bread, and they are both very simple. One is for French bread– it makes two large loaves, and the other is Whole Wheat (sunflower seeds optional) – it makes three loaves. I freeze the extra loaves, and thus only have to make bread every couple of weeks. I also use the bread dough to make dinner rolls, bake them, and freeze for a quick side dish.
Baked goods: A wonderful fact I discovered is that most cookie dough can be prepared and baked while still frozen. I make a large batch of dough, bake a few dozen cookies, and then scoop out the dough (using an ice cream scoop – you know, the kind that’s spring loaded), freeze it on a cookie sheet, and once frozen, drop the balls of dough into a gallon plastic bag. Then, when I want cookies in 20 minutes, I preheat the oven to 350, place the dough balls on a sheet, and set the timer for 15 minutes. Some types of cookies are done at 15 minutes; most take 17 minutes (at least, that’s what I’ve found with my oven.) Voila!
One of the best time investments I’ve made is in throwing together a master baking mix (I use the recipe from cooks.com) I use it for pancakes, waffles (which can be made ahead of time and frozen…buhbye Eggos!), and biscuits. The mix takes me 10 minutes tops to make – I just toss all the ingredients in the KitchenAid and walk away for a few minutes.
Laundry Detergent: This was a huge budget-eater for us. I used to be a loyal Tide-only girl. The cheap detergents just didn’t work for me. But then I tried a liquid laundry detergent recipe (which I’ve calculated costs us 4 cents per load.) That’s what I’ve been using for the past year and a half. A friend on Facebook recently shared a powdered laundry detergent recipe which is easier and less messy to make: one cup EACH powdered Borax and washing soda (this is different than baking soda – it’s in the laundry aisle of most stores), and one bar of any type of soap, grated. Mix together and use one tablespoon per load. How easy is that?
Being prepared is also a huge money saver. For example, we were headed out last week for a morning of Vacation Bible School and a stop at JoAnn Fabrics. I packed a travel mug of coffee and bottle of water, a sippy cup, cheese sticks, dry cereal, yogurt, and an apple. Because of this, I saved at least $10 in drinks and snacks. How long did it take me? 5-10 minutes. That’s an hourly wage of $60.
You may be thinking, all of this is a lot of work. Is it worth it? Yes, it is a lot of work. But when I made the commitment to be a stay-at-home wife and mom, I decided I wanted to be excellent in what I do. I see this as my full time job. It’s my job to be organized and to be a great steward of what I’ve been given. I could be doing a lot more – such as growing a massive garden, canning all our produce, freezing and dehydrating foods, shopping in bulk, etc. These are just the things that I have found work for me in this season of life.
I was raised to be frugal by a mom who knew what lean times were all about. She taught me the value of living within one’s means. In my single days, I worked as a registered nurse in the Emergency Department. Then I met my wonderful husband, was instantaneously swept off my feet, and we were married 10 months later. We look forward to celebrating our 3rd anniversary in August. Our sweet daughter is a very busy toddler and loves to “help” me around the house. I enjoy Bible study, craft projects, and historical fiction.
Below are a few links to help with meal planning:
Have a great weekend!