Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Reining In The Grocery Budget (Part 1)
Last night I was meandering around our local High School track with my neighbor (one of the perks of our neighborhood is that we live two blocks from the school). We were discussing how the economy has been affecting our friends and neighbors. In the course of our discussion we were lamenting how difficult it has been to make ends meet for everyone. My friend mentioned that she didn't know how anyone could live on less than XXX amount of dollars per year. Her comment caught me off guard because we live similar lifestyles, but Dear Hubby and I make less than the amount she had randomly thrown out. That made me stop and think..... how have I been keeping it together all these years!
The first thought that came to mind was the grocery budget. For most of us it is one of the only flexible areas in the budget. I will admit that mine does fluctuate. Summer time is death on my grocery budget. I have four children (and assorted friends) that are constantly grazing at my house. If I had a nickel for every time I heard (and I quote) " There is NOTHING good to eat in this house", I would probably be able to afford to buy groceries! I know they are referring to the fact that I do not buy fruit snacks, pudding cups, fishy crackers, potato chips, or kid soda (as they refer to it) for snacking. I try to keep the kitchen stocked with fresh fruit and veggies, yogurt, granola bars, cheese, chocolate milk mix (bought in bulk), homemade muffins, quick breads, or cookies instead. If I do buy prepackaged snack items it's on sale with coupons, and then they have to be dirt cheap or FREE. I have a dual agenda here; it is cheaper to buy the least packaged option and it is also healthier.
When the budget gets tight at our house (a.k.a. unexpected medical bills, or toilet repairs) I suck up the grocery budget to pay other bills. When that happens I rely on my "stash" of food storage in the basement. Then I only have to buy perishables like milk, cheese, and fresh vegetables. I read several books on frugal lifestyles, and all referred to the pantry principle. Basically, the pantry principle is that you write out a list of basic food and non food items that your family uses regularly. You then set aside XX amount of money each month to stock up on those items when they are on sale or during caselot sales (they suggest anywhere from 3 months to 1 years supply depending on storage space available. This took my a year to do, so PLEASE don't second mortgage the house to buy it all at once). As you use the items out of your "stash" you place that item on the grocery list and replace them when they are on sale. The theory behind this is that you have enough back stock that you can wait to buy items when they are a great deal rather than purchasing them because you are out. Most products go on sale at least every three months!
I also cook from scratch as much as possible. It really is easier than it sounds. There are tons of cookbooks at the library on every aspect and level of cooking. I have checked out numerous cookbooks and photocopied recipes that I knew my family would eat. Food blogs (and there are links to several fabulous ones right here on this blog!) are another great resource. I compiled all of my photocopied recipes in a three ring binder inside page protectors (bought cheap during back to school sales. The protectors also make my recipes spill proof and easily wipeable). They are categorized by main dishes, desserts, side dishes, etc. That way all the recipes that I use frequently are in one easy location. If I am making casserole, lasagna, soup, or stew I will double the recipe and freeze half of it for a busy night.
I could go on and on and on (can you tell I might be a little obsessed with the subject?)! By now I am sure your eyes have glazed over, or you are passed out cold on the floor so I will be back soon to continue my little tirade......um, I mean educational prose, with more ideas and suggestions ( I know you can hardly wait!!).