I feel the need to explain myself.

Today’s post is Part II of the ‘Saving Money in the Kitchen’ series which started yesterday.

When I sat down to write about saving money in the kitchen I expected to knock out a quick post with a few hints.  As I carried on I realized quickly that I had too much material to cram into one crazy, unfocused piece.  You know why?  I’ve spent most of my adult life refining my methods.

A little history is in order here.

It wasn’t just  my naturally, er, attentive-to-detail personality (My parents might call this a euphemism for stubborn and obsessive but this is my blog.  I’ll call it attentive-to-detail.) that inspired me to cut back the money spent in pursuit of good food.    I had five kids in eight years.  That alone required me to rethink how I spent money.   The fact that I decided I wanted to be home with my kids and that my husband supported that decision added yet another reason I needed to be careful with our food money.  We went from a two-income home where we ate what we wanted when we wanted to to a one-income home where I had to get creative to make sure we ate how we wanted to with what we had to spend.  If I didn’t change my ways, we would’ve been hungry, malnourished, cranky or all of the above.

There were growing pains, of course. But it occurred to me the other night that perhaps my growing pains could save someone else a little grief.  And that’s where this series comes in to play.

Using the categories of “Thrifty”, “Low-Cost”, “Moderate” and “Liberal”, the USDA calculates the amount of money families spend monthly based on the number of mouths they feed. A little research found that the money I spend each month to feed our family of five children and two adults was far below the USDA’s lowest projected amount on the “Thrifty” plan. I had known I was doing well with my food budget management, but I didn’t know I was doing that well.  This I had to share on Foodie With Family.

After doing the happy dance and bragging to my husband I started talking about my success with my friends.  Specifically, I started talking about this with my friend, Krysta. I told my her about my idea to talk about how little I spend each month on groceries.  Our conversation revealed that we both approach managing our kitchens in similar ways. Krysta kindly volunteered that I could divulge her family’s food spending habits. This could signify a couple things.  Either we both want to help people or we have very few personal disclosure boundaries.  Or both.

To refresh your memory, I spend $500 monthly to feed a family of seven and Krysta spends between $650 and $700 to feed a family of six.  No crying foul here.  Krysta lives in California and I live in New York.  If you live in California, that statement needs no qualification.  To clarify for the rest of us, California is a reeeeeeeeeeaaaally expensive place to buy, well, anything.

Some of the practices that we  share might seem counter-intuitive when you’re talking about saving moolah, but I promise you our numbers are accurate.  First, here’s what we don’t do.

  1. We do not coupon shop. (Neither of us regularly buys the things that most frequently offer coupons. )
  2. We do not use a lot of pre-packaged foods.  (This is part of why the coupons aren’t so helpful, but more on this later.)
  3. We do not obsessively bargain hunt.  (Me not obsessively doing something?  It’s a break from the norm, I know.  I like to inject a little unpredictability every now and then.  Mostly on even numbered days.  But I digress…)
  4. We do not buy low-quality ingredients.
  5. We do not spend hours of time making this happen.

That’s a bunch of don’ts.  For now, and for lack of a better term, we’ll call that the ‘No-no List’.  I don’t know about you, but I work better when inspired than when told what to do.  (Maybe I’ve mentioned my authority problem?)   So that’s enough of what we don’t do for now.  I will get back to it.  For now, I want to focus on what we do do.

  1. Know your preferences.
  2. Keep staples on hand.
  3. Know what you have on hand.
  4. Plan your potential meals and make the most of what you already have available before you shop.
  5. Know what you need beyond what you have to make those meals.
  6. Build flexibility into your plan.
  7. Build change into your plan.
  8. Have a back-up plan.
  9. Relax, dangit!  It’s food!

This is the ‘Better Living List’.  Let’s look at items ‘1’, ‘2’, and ‘3’ today.

If you’ve never really given any advance thought to what you’re going to eat beyond the current day, this might be a little outside your comfort zone, but stick with me.  The first time you sit down to do this it’s going to take a little time, but it’s worth it.  Grab a notebook and a pencil.  Here we go.

1.  Know your preferences.

  • If you don’t already have a solid idea of what you and your family love in meals, snacks and food in general, take some time to learn.  You might be surprised.  List each family member.  Sit down with them and ask what their favorite foods are and what they like at meal times.  Ask them what they don’t like.  And make sure they’re honest.  This is going to save you grief in the long run.
  • Based on the list of likes and dislikes, do a little brainstorming.  Do you see any dishes you could make that take advantage of the preferences?   Do you see any you should avoid based on the dislikes? Make note!  This does not mean you’re relegated to a life of fish sticks and tater tots.  You can be creative based on what they tell you.  Do you have a hamburger and french fries lover?  Try Salisbury Steak and Baked Fries with Gravy.

2.  Keep staples on hand.

  • Look at the list you made of everyone’s likes and dislikes.  Look at the list of meals you came up with for the family.
  • Keep shelf stable items on hand that go into those meals like beans, flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, onions, potatoes and more in your cabinets. Does everyone in the house love chili?  Keep canned beans, ground beef and onions in stock.

3.  Know what you have on hand.

  • As important as keeping items on hand is knowing what you have. Having a flat of pureed tomatoes in the basement isn’t going to help you at all if you don’t use it.  Keep a list of what you have around or at least keep yourself familiar with what’s on the shelves.

That’s enough for one night.  You have some lists to make!  Take the next couple days to give this a real effort.  It’s really going to make a difference.

I’ll cover four through nine on our ‘Better Living List’ on Friday.  And oh, baby  I have a recipe to share with you.  Even with my $500 a month food budget, I make some killer desserts (Think Homemade Twix Bars.)  And there’s a giveaway.  I want to give you a little something for you to keep on your shelves.  …But I’ll tell you all about that on Friday!

Comments

  1. Ginny Kochis says

    These are great tips – and thankfully they are things I pretty much do already! What I love the most is the “what not to do” list. It validates what I’ve always thought about keeping my grocery bill down and the quality of food that I feed my family high.

  2. Rebecca says

    Ginny- Great minds think alike! I’m going to go into why the ‘No-no List’ is as important as the ‘Better Living List’ in the next couple posts, too.

    Warner- Amen. The key is to know what the general prices per pound are for everything. I then consider that information that with what I plan to do with the chicken and whether I can use the other parts as well. If I get to the store and see that drumsticks are on sale for $0.29/lb, I’m likely to snap them up, though.

  3. Da Poppa says

    If anyone ever has the nerve (not my first choice for that word) to ask what you do for a living or if you “work outside the house” just show them this post.

  4. Andrea says

    Hi! Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this blog… I am a young married gal, no kids yet. I love your humour, and recipes. Living in Vancouver, BC means that like California, I have to deal with the highest cost of living in our country. But I have been aspiring to cook more frugally and creatively… Thanks for this series… it is something I think about alot. Could you do a post on beans sometime? (exciting I know) But I want to figure out how to cook more with them, and using dried instead of canned. They’re just so cheap! Any good links?? Thanks for all your wisdom!

    • Rebecca says

      Da Poppa- Thank you! I just might…

      Andrea- You are very welcome. Beans are a very popular food in our home and not just for their, er, musical properties. You’re right, they’re cheap! If you go up to the top of this page and enter ‘beans’ in the search bar on the right, I think you might be pleased at the number of bean recipes (many of them from dry) I have here. And I’ll definitely be adding to that as time passes. We eat them at least three times a week, so I have plenty of opportunity to experiment. How do you feel about lentils?

  5. says

    One thing I really have tried to learn is to know what I have on hand so that nothing goes to waste. It’s been a huge help. I no longer waste herbs and produce because I make the effort to plan a meal around them. I’m not sure what else I should be doing, but I’m sure you’ll tell me. I feel like I have disadvantages, like a small freezer, but I know there have to be ways to work with that.

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