I've been reading some news stories today about higher grocery prices in the coming year, I drove past some gas stations yesterday with even higher gas prices, and my grocery bill LAST WEEK was almost 15% higher for the EXACT SAME stuff I normally buy. This is the stuff that is affecting us all. This is not a rant about unemployment (because I've got friends who have desperately needed unemployment benefits in the past couple of years - jobs are tough out there!) This is not a rant about the disabled folks who are receiving social security, this is not, in short, about people who need help. Period. Heck, this isn't even about the people who are abusing the system. This is ENTIRELY about what WE can do to become more self sufficient and not rely on the government. In my family, this self-sufficiency is prefaced with saying that by the grace of God we are able to do the things we do. Tonight, in this blog post, however, I am not going to focus on the homesteady - grow your own, raise your own, butcher your own and make your own health drinks from scratch side of things. I am going to focus on the real life of every day folks who are trying to make a go of life without the benefit of having home-grown back ups. Grocery Shopping 101 that I've learned through the years. Some of it might apply more to the more natural, cook from scratch types, some of it applies to everyone. I desperately hope it helps someone save some money in their food budget. This is a topic that is very, very, vitally important in the day to day lives of people all over this country and the world. The tips, along with my experiences, in no particular order:
BUYING FOOD ON A BUDGET
* Make a plan - A Meal Plan. Know what you are going to make for each meal and for each and every day. If you know what you need for those meals, you know what you need to buy, and what NOT to buy at the market. Be sure to check what you have in your pantry so you don't duplicate items that you already have during times of an extremely tight budget.
* Make a list. Stick to the list.
* Start Stockpiling Food and other items (toiletries, paper products). Even spending an extra $5 a week will start your stockpile to be used in case of an emergency. (For Example, just $20 in one month can buy a large can of peanut butter (6 pounds - this is how I buy peanut butter all the time), 2 pounds of rice, 3 pounds of beans (dry) 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of whole wheat flour. OR, cut down the peanut butter purchase to just a jar or two and instead of the extra money for peanut butter, use it to buy some spices to make the beans and rice more interesting) That is just for one month. The following month, I'd get (with your second $20), shortening, powdered milk, yeast, mayonnaise, tuna and salt. Keep adding to your stockpile and please (PLEASE, PLEASE) purchase foods for your stockpile that you will use. You'll need to constantly rotate older foods to the front and use and replace them. The worst possible time to get used to a change in diet is in an emergency situation. I'm not a fan of canned foods, but do believe that canned foods (especially home canned foods) have their place in a stockpile. The exception to this that I would make would be canned pasta type foods that could be eaten (::Shudder::) without being heated. They would provide protein and carbs and even a modest amount of vegetable nutrients. Other things that I think are vital to have stockpiled: jerky (in packs with oxygen absorbers, can be home made jerky), flours (frozen for 24 hours and then stored in air tight buckets with moisture absorbers and oxygen absorbers), home canned (or frozen) fruits (or store bought fruits in fruit juice), nuts (raw), seeds to sprout, seeds (heirloom) to plant in your own garden. I also recommend storing up grains, yes, pastas, but real grains: oatmeal, barley, quinoa, bulgur wheat....these items will add nutrition and variety to your diets by using them as cereals, but also by adding them to your breads.
In addition to things you need to purchase, stockpiling can include things that you've grown, frozen or canned veggies and fruits, and other garden goodies... many things can be stored in cold storage and last throughout the winter, I still have a couple dozen winter squash sitting in cold storage, waiting to use when we have the taste for it, other things that do well in cold storage: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips... all good items for wonderful winter soups that don't require a bit of meat for a hearty meal.) Which brings me to the next tip...
* Not many of you will want to hear this (OK, most of you reading a blog like this couldn't care less, but your husbands might care...), but here it is... Cut down on meat. Use roasted chicken breast strips on top of a nice big salad full of veggies instead of having two chicken breasts with a side salad. You'll still get plenty of protein. I've become very good at using a cut of meat for multiple uses. I am cooking for 9 people every single day, so I if I can make things stretch with a house full of growing boys... it can be done. A couple of examples.... I will roast a chicken. For the first night, the breasts and legs are cut up into a casserole. For a second night, the carcass and remaining meat are made into either chicken noodle soup or chicken and (homemade) dumplings with a side of veggies. Both healthful meals with ZERO waste (because, as awful as it sounds, all meal scraps go to the chickens... veggie scraps alone go to the goats, mixed scraps go to the chickens). Hams are even more "fun". The first night, we have a ham roast. we'll wait a couple days and I'll use the meat I've cut off the ham to make scalloped potatoes and ham or ham salad for lunches and then on yet another day, the ham bone and meat that is attached to that is used to make a tasty navy bean or split pea soup. No Waste. And, I'm going to do the quick calculation here... we spend just under $140 on a meat bundle, but I'll round it to $140. It lasts us for 8 weeks (yes, with 9 people, and occasional guests) and that is an average cost of ($140 divided by 56 days) $2.50 a day - for meat for 9 people. This bundle includes some breakfast meat (3 pounds of bacon and a ham steak), ground beef, pork sausage, a few roasts, a full ham, several chickens, pepper steaks, ribs and a few other things,... I think it is about 67 - 70 pounds of meat... granted, we do not eat meat every day, but I'd say that is not too bad.
* Next, if you are on a tight budget, you really need to examine how many "luxury" items you are purchasing. Convenience foods are a luxury when you can cook the same thing at home with the expenditure of a little bit of time. Convenience foods have no place in my kitchen. I don't want to feel the preservatives and colors to my children. Each of us has to decide what is acceptable to our family and adjust accordingly. I feel very strongly that I am home, I am the homemaker and it is my job to nourish my children by providing them the best food I can, and I feel that food comes from my effort cooking the food and not opening a box. The convenience foods that I regularly buy are dried pasta (i can make it, and do, but only when time allows and children are not all over not allowing space and time for drying), blocks of cheese (we do make our own , but we go through quite a bit) and peanut butter. Chips, soda and other nutrient empty foods are not in the food budget and I refused to buy them unless it is tortilla chips for homemade salsa or for a special occasion.
I buy frozen veggies when I need to supplement our home frozen and canned and I buy fresh and frozen fruit to supplement our frozen and canned from our garden..
*Coupons - I ONLY use coupons if I NEED the item and will USE the item. (One caveat: If I get coupons for free items that I will not use, I will get the item and donate it to either a family in need or to a local food pantry, not going to let something perfectly good go to waste) Also, only use the coupon if the brand name item's cost, with the coupon deducted, is cheaper than the store brand. Don't be a brand snob. It doesn't pay. (My example: I wrote to the company that makes Pull ups training pants. I just received 5 -$4 off coupons for Pull Ups. I normally use the store brand, but taking the coupon off of the pull ups, I save $2 per package on pull ups, which are a monthly expense. I need to buy them anyhow, I might as well get it cheaper.
That's it for Part One. I have another half to go but I am falling asleep. So I bid you goodnight my friends. Right at this very moment, I'm so sleepy I am going to be thankful for spell check.