Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to save on your grocery budget…

I read this on Yahoo and it put me in mind of other ways to save on groceries. Feel free to comment and add your tips!

-Start with a menu or plan and stick to your list. My mom keeps a stocked pantry and buys enough meat for two weeks then she decides what to do with the ground beef or chicken or whatever at lunch, that is her way and it works well for her. I make out a menu and make my list from that. Whatever way you plan make a list, check it twice (that’s very important) and then stick to it! This is especially true if you go to those wholesale stores. Some of the things they offer there are not a value at all. We don’t go because there’s not one close by, and it seems like they cater more to small businesses and offer mostly name-brand and pre-packaged items. I have started using a master grocery list, it helps me to not forget butter and mayonnaise and things like that which I easily overlook as I make my list. It is also a reminder to check my fridge and pantry.
-Packed lunches strain our food budget like nothing else! But I try to avoid buying individual-size packages. For instance, instead of buying a six pack of bottled soft drinks, juice or sports drinks, I buy a 2 liter or powdered mix and re-use our bottles. I don’t buy individual servings of chips or cookies, instead I buy a whole bag, then if divide them into baggies. It’s important to know when to cheat on this though. I always buy the individual servings-packages of pudding and applesauce. My husband likes the consistency of store-bought pudding (which I think is completely disgusting!) and I have yet to find a plastic container that seals up suitably to carry individual servings of apple sauce. Plus these new flavors and colors of apple sauce are so cool.
- Start from scratch. Those packaged dinners in the frozen isle are convenient but they are also very expensive, I only buy them if I know I’m going to have to ask Daniel to cook. Also boxed things like hamburger-helper or those meals in a box are quick and easy but not cost-effective. If you don’t know how to make things like baked chicken, enchiladas or lasagna I’d encourage you to find another woman in your church and ask her to teach you. She probably has a bunch of recipes you can copy and would love to have you come and hang out with her in her kitchen! Other things like pasta side dishes and rice-a-roni are not cost effective. I try to buy a package of plain pasta or rice. I also avoid making pancakes and muffins with a mix, and I don’t even look at the frozen breakfast foods isle!
- Make your own. You can make your own salad dressings and meat marinades with minimal effort. I buy seasoning mix packages for my meat marinades that are about seventy cents each. There are also great seasoning mixes that you can buy in bottles which are even more versatile and cost effective. You can also make your own BBQ sauce and maple syrup (if you’re interested I can post my recipes). I don’t buy shredded or sliced cheese either (except Kraft sliced cheese for Daniel’s sandwiches. Again it’s important to know when and where to “cheat”) and I usually try to make my own soup. My mom used to keep a container in her freezer in which she collected the leftover vegetables from the pan after dinner then once a month or so she’d make a soup with them. I would also like to learn how to make my own spaghetti sauce but I’ve not had much success with that yet.
-Simplify your menu. I’ve noticed that the most expensive meals to prepare are the more complicated ones that require lots of ingredients. It’s much less expensive to just serve meat (I marinate it and then grill, sauté or broil), vegetables or salad and some sort of starch like rice, bread, pasta or potatoes. I usually cook extra meat and put it in the fridge before I serve dinner to use in a pasta salad or something like that. I only serve about two meals like that in a week, and then I fill in the menu with other less expensive meals preferably without a lot of meat. Tuna toasties, Taco mac, grilled cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti, quesadillas, chili mac, fish sticks, salad, and soup are some of our favorites, then of course there is the ever-versatile pasta-salad, which I’ve made a lot this summer.
-Serve breakfast for dinner. A fun family night and a really inexpensive meal might include French toast, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or biscuits and gravy. When I was growing up we would have pancake night regularly, and I discovered how to make all kinds of dinner pancakes. We made pancakes out of cornmeal and added creamed corn and topped with cheese and salsa, we also made stick-to-you-ribs pancakes with oatmeal and topped with peanut butter. Cocktail sausages are also delicious in pancakes so are chocolate chips. We would top our pancakes with canned fruit, pie filling, pudding, apple sauce, cottage cheese, of course maple syrup and I’m sure there were others I’m forgetting. It was so much fun! Dad would also sprinkle brown sugar into cookie cutters on the tops of some small pancakes once the brown sugar melted into the pancake it would leave a neat little picture and that would be pancake or he would shape the brown sugar into our initials.
- Simplify breakfast. The simplest, most cost-effective option for breakfast that I have found is hot cereal. Oatmeal and grits both come in large containers in a shopper’s brand. To oatmeal you can add cheese, or peanut butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, molasses, raisins, dates or other dried fruit, apple sauce, etc. To grits you can add butter or cheese. My dad liked to even add salsa to his! I try to limit buying only one bag of cereal a month and that is mostly for the baby and I’ve stopped buying cereal bars altogether. Taking breakfast on the road? Try making your own breakfast burrito at home. (I can post the recipe for this as well, it is very simple) or try measuring water into a plastic container and your hot cereal into a baggie, I’ve often made sausage egg and cheese biscuits from scratch for Daniel to take to work. Other ideas for a simple meal at home: homemade muffins, scones (very quick and easy), pancakes, waffles, eggs (there are must be a hundred ways to cook eggs!) biscuits or toast.
-Serve less. This might seem obvious but it is one of the hardest things for us to do. I’ll serve smaller portions - I know sometimes I eat what’s on my plate without even thinking about it because I’m busy dealing with my girls - or I’ll pack up leftovers after I’ve served up the plates so that there are no second helpings, we eat that for lunch. I serve deserts more infrequently and try to serve fruit or veggies and cheese for a snack instead of cereal and crackers.
-Use wisdom. Recognize where you can add special things. I buy a box of swiss rolls every now and then because my husband enjoys them so much. Instead of buying a three dollar box of cookies I buy a fifty cent bag of jelly beans. The most important thing in planning and preparing meals if finding balance; the balance of taste and nutrition and economy, the balance of really enjoying God’s blessings through food while being content to live within your means. One person commented on a suggestion (to cut out processed foods and most meats) in the article I mentioned above saying “You might live longer but wish you were dead.” That’s not what we want for our families and it takes wisdom to find the balance.
-Pray. I try to pray over every step of meal planning and preparation. I pray when I sit down to plan my menu and write my grocery list. I pray before I get out of the van to go into the grocery store. I ought to pray as I start preparing my meals – I hadn’t thought of that until just now! God is able to help us in this, He helps us at a heart-level which transforms even our shopping and cooking, and he also helps us practically. There have been times when I’ve really needed to be frugal and God helped me as I shopped. A friend posted on my other blog that she once went to the grocery store with seventeen dollars, she got what she needed and when she finished at the check out the total came to EXACTLY seventeen dollars. That is a miracle, and I am so encouraged to keep on seeking God’s help as I try to serve my family.

I hope this helped you!

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