Friday, October 12, 2012

Living Frugally: Eating Well on a Budget

I am going to do a new series about living frugally.  We have been working hard to save money and live well below our means lately.   I will be sharing my tips and tricks that we learn along the way.  If you have any you would like to share, I would love to include you in this!  Just leave a comment.  Thanks! 

I don't know if you have noticed but food prices are insanely high lately.  Maybe we have noticed because we are buying for 5 people (it's amazing how much school aged kids eat!), but in the past six months at least we have most definitely taken a hit.  Every few months or so we re-evaluate our family budget to see where we are spending too much, what we can cut out and save, and what has changed.
We realized our biggest expenditure (other than our mortgage) was actually our monthly food bill. It was amazing to me how much we were spending on our groceries, and then eating out instead of eating what we had already spent money on.  In my opinion, there is no point in eating out on a regular basis if you have a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer.  We have all 3 all of the time.  There is technically no reason for us to spend money on eating out during the week.  Even with a hectic schedule of softball games, drama classes, Girl Scouts, and so on it is still pretty easy to find time to cook. It may not be a gourmet meal, but it will be healthy and homemade (and already paid for).

When I sat down and did the math for our grocery shopping I realized with 5 people in our family we eat roughly 105 meals a week at home. (Since my husband works from home some of the time or takes his lunch and/or breakfast with him when he's not I am rounding this up.)  That is A LOT of food!  Add on to that the fact that we are trying to eat a lot of organic foods and fresh foods that are just getting more expensive.  I had to find a way to cut costs without cutting quality.  I thought I would share some tips and tricks that have been working for me lately.

~ Make a bi-weekly menu and a detailed grocery list. Take both with you when you go to the grocery stores. Mark next to your list the items you have coupons for with a "C".  You'll remember you have them and actually use them.

~Buy meat from a local farm. We buy a quarter of a cow twice a year.  The price per pound is considerably less, and our beef is organic and free range. It's a lot of money up front, but in the end you actually save quite a bit. If you plan ahead for this it won't be so tough on your budget.

~Visit your local farmer's market or farm stand weekly for your produce.  When they have a surplus of something- like tomatoes or peppers- buy a large quantity and freeze them.You can freeze peppers whole (don't wash them first), and you can find the method for freezing tomatoes here.  The owner of the farm stand we go to weekly gave me at least 20lbs of tomatoes for $10 just because I asked.

~ Repeat a few meals, or plan other meals from the leftovers. If you make chili, have nachos the next night, or make empanadas. If you roast a chicken, have chicken salad pitas or curried chicken salad the next night.

~If you can, don't take your kids shopping. I know, this sounds TERRIBLE, but if you shop alone you will pay better attention to what you are buying and spending. Plus the kids won't be hounding you for the extra junk food they "have to have".  I always grab a special treat for my girls when I shop but it's always a healthy treat.

~If you have to take the kids, make your husband go too. We almost always shop as a family.  One wrangles the kiddos while the other shops.

~If your kids are older, turn shopping into a math lesson.  Not only will they learn something, but you'll pay closer attention to the prices of items as well.

~Make a list of the things you are throwing into the cart along with their prices.  This takes some extra time, but you'll watch the cost add up and you'll be less likely to throw impulse items into the cart.

~Buy in bulk the items that you use often and a lot of.  But be careful! Sometimes bulk doesn't mean cheaper.  You have to pay attention to the unit price.

Some things that we buy in bulk:

  • canned tomatoes
  • cereal 
  • bread
  • peanut butter
  • sandwich buns
  • pickles (my kids LOVE pickle chips)
  • Mayo
  • Ketchup
  • Broths
  • Organic Juice (100% organic cranberry juice is a lot cheaper at BJ's!)
  • Chicken breasts and wings
  • Snacks- pretzels/animal crackers/graham crackers
  • Nuts (almonds, pistachios)
  • Vinegar and baking soda (for cleaning)
  • K-cups
  • Almond milk
  • toilet paper 
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce (makes easy meal starters)
  • pasta
  • olive oil
  • flour for baking
  • applesauce
  • laundry detergent and dyer sheets
  • beer - seriously.  Our BJ's has a huge beer selection and we found that buying a case there to keep in the beer fridge saved us a ton of money rather than having my hubby stop and grab some on his way home. We  like Sam Adams Oktoberfest, which is more pricey than other beers. Our club ran a special, so we grabbed a case, which we are still working on. 
Of course we buy other things, but that's a good example. Our BJ's actually carries a lot of organic items, and even has coupons for them often.  I save a ton on our organic food.

I don't go to the grocery store in between pay days unless I run out of a staple- like almond milk.  This saves me time, gas, and the risk of impulse buys in the check out line.:-)

By following these tips, I have managed to come in under budget for a few months now.   We eat well, have full healthy meals 3 times a day, but it's not breaking the bank.

We do work in one night out a pay period.  Usually that is the night we get sushi.  But on average we eat home as much as possible.  I don't feel like I am missing out by not eating out. I would rather have the extra $5.00 than a Starbucks that I can make at home.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share for saving on your grocery shopping?  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Menu

We have so much going on during the week that planning our meals is a must.  We also avoid eating out as much as possible which means I cook at least 6 nights a week.  Sometimes on the weekends we will get take out from our favorite sushi place. We do try to do a date night once a month- but even then before we leave I will cook a meal for our girls.   We grocery shop twice a month- on pay day weekends- with a detailed grocery list.  It takes most of a Saturday or Sunday, but it's worth it to have a well stocked kitchen and to know what we are going to eat every night of the week.  We may have to grab an extra container of almond milk to get us through the week, but for the most part we get everything we need on our  big trips.  We also visit the Farmer's Market or our favorite produce stand on Saturdays to pick up our extra produce for the week.   

We have been keeping up with our menu quite well since the school year started and it is saving us quite a bit of time and money. 

For this post I will include last week's menu as well as this week's.

Last week:
Starting on Saturday the 1st:
  • Saturday: Slow cooker pulled pork BBQ, coleslaw, chips, and green bean casserole (We had a friend in town from South Africa and this is one of the meals she requested)
  • Sunday: We got take out sushi since we were all exhausted. And we had eaten the leftovers for lunch.
  • Monday: Spaghetti and meat sauce (I had my CPR training so I made dinner before I left and ate when I got home)
  • Tuesday:  BBQ Chicken Nachos - it was originally supposed to be beer chicken but I wanted to try my pork BBQ recipe with chicken.
  • Wednesday: Make your own wraps
  • Thursday:  Green Curry
  • Friday: Slow Cooker Fiesta Chicken over Rice 
  • Saturday: Steaks on the grill, steamed clams with garlic butter, homemade potato chips, steamed broccoli.

This week:
  • Sunday: Fall Chili with Skillet Corn Bread ( recipe to come)
  • Monday: Leftover chili or chicken noodle soup (which I made for lunch) since both girls have Scouts tonight.
  • Tuesday: Empanadas
  • Wednesday: Brinner- Pumpkin Pancakes
  • Thursday: Chicken fingers, mixed veggies, and rolls 
  • Friday:Pad Thai
  • Saturday: Burgers on the grill

I made several pumpkin and banana breads that the girls have been eating for breakfast.  They also have the option of cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or oatmeal. 

Lunches: They get to choose from Pb&J, mac and cheese (Annie's organic), leftovers, or quesadillas.  Most days they choose PB&J with applesauce.

We have a morning snack every day- kids learn better when they aren't hungry so we make sure to stop and get a snack.  They like cheese sticks ( since they aren't lactose intolerant). I normally have a Trader Joe's soy yogurt with chia seeds.  
For afternoon snacks they choose from Goldfish, fruit, yogurt, or a cereal bar.

For my snacks I usually snag a handful of almonds or veggies and hummus.

So that's it- our menu for the week. If we have to deviate a little I have options in my freezer and cabinets so we still don't have to eat out. 

What's on  your menu for this week?

Back to Blogging

You may have noticed I have not been posting hardly at all since about July.  I decided to put my blog on the back burner for a while.  The main reason is because this  year I started schooling 2 of my daughters at home and they needed my undivided attention for that.  We don't technically "Homeschool" we "school at home".  What's the difference?  My girls attend an online charter school that is technically considered public school but using a private school curriculum.  We just do it at home instead of going to a brick and mortar building.  (It's not free, but it's not as much as private school either).  The school sends us our classroom materials in August so we have a full classroom in our home with everything they will need to complete their courses.  Because it is sponsored by the state we live in, we have to abide by the same attendance and  testing rules all public school students follow.  Both girls have homeroom teachers who track their progress and make sure we are staying on track.  They also answer any questions I may have and lead the online learning groups and classes both girls have to attend. My job is to be their "Learning Coach".  While the daily plan is already written out for me, I am the one who delivers the lessons, administers their tests, and does any instruction.  I have a 3rd grader and a Kindergartner so as you can imagine it can get quite hectic some days!  It took us about 4 weeks to really get in a good groove.  I also had to figure out what to do with my extremely cute but extremely active 2 year old while we are doing our lessons.  I absolutely love being my girls' teacher (after all it is what I went to college to do),but having them home every day means I get very little free time to do my hobbies- such as this blog.

I have found that now that we have this school schedule down, I am getting a little bit more free time in my day. Not a lot, but I get a few minutes here and there while they are doing their independent work or are in a club meeting.  I am going to try to fit my blogging back into my day.  I make no promises to do it on any sort of schedule. Maybe someday I'll get to do this as more than a hobby, but for now this is something I will do on the side when I have time.  I have so many new recipes, meal ideas, and menu ideas that I really want to share and quitting altogether just was not something I wanted to do. I am going to try to follow somewhat of a schedule: Monday will be our weekly menu, Friday will be my Friday Favorites.  Everything else will fall in between.  There will be no weekend posts because I try to unplug as much as possible on the weekends.

Blog Posts to look forward to:

  • Fall Chili
  • BBQ Chicken Nachos
  • Creamed Potatoes ( South African Style)
  • Shepherd's  Pie (A Harry Potter recipe)
  • Surf and Turf with steamed clams and garlic butter
  • Mango Sriracha  from my friend at It's Good to be the Cook
  • Slow cooker Spicy Chicken Tacos
  • Tried and True recipes from Pinterest
  • Dairy Free Camping Meals
  • Friday Favorites
  • Will be doing my weekly menus for a busy family
I have one recipe coming up very soon, and will be posting as often as I can.  Until then
Happy Cooking!