Sunday, January 1, 2012
Planning for a Month of Meals
As we begin a new year, my Mister and I have resolved to spend less, consume less, and play more. There is always something that needs to be done here on the farm, so playing more might be a little more difficult to achieve than spending and consuming less.
Course, we could just be broken. Nah, that's not it...☺
While tallying up our monthly expenses for 2011, we noticed a trend that I'm not proud of. Our grocery bill seemed to grow by the month. Maybe that's because we didn't budget. With 3 freezers full of meats, poultry, fish, fruit, veggies, and ice cream (Don't judge.), there is no excuse for the $1200 average we've been spending. With that number, we also noticed a lot of waste in fresh fruits & vegetables that weren't being eaten before they spoiled. We lost a lot of bread. (R.I.P sourdough starter.) We tossed a lot of leftovers to the chickens to make room for the new groceries. It was disgusting the amount of food that was being fed to our animals. Shameful.
After sitting down and taking a good hard look at how things were being run in the kitchen, I realized that it came down to a couple of things.
#1. Poor planning. Even though I made a weekly meal plan, I wasn't using the pantry/freezer items as the base for our meals. I was using them as accompaniments to the store-bought foods. During the growing season, I was still not using all that I could have from the garden. It would be easy to blame it on my thyroid issues (tiredness), but in reality, it was just easier to write down a grocery list and pick up lettuce while I was buying cheese.
#2. Coupon shopping & impulse buying. Yes, I saved money on certain items. But it is only saving money if the food that was bought was actually used. I firmly believe that coupon shopping does NOT save a person the money they think it does. Coupons are used as tools to get the consumer into the stores. It takes great discipline to only purchase those items for which you have coupons for. And here's a little secret....the stores know this. And deep down, we know this too. When I enter a store, coupons in hand, there are ALWAYS in-store "deals" to be had. What started out as a $50 shopping trip, quickly turns into a $100 trip. Which of course, always leads to the justification stage of impulse buying. "But I shaved $60 off my bill!" No I didn't. I spent $50 more than I had planned, thus repelling my grocery budget into the stratosphere. Who makes money on my impulse buying? Not me.
Which leads me to another beef I have with couponing. Coupons come out every week, sometimes twice, which means that I need to visit the grocery store multiple times to use my coupons before they expire. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.
So how do I shave money off my grocery budget? Lean in a little closer and I'll tell you.
Are you ready?
Spend less time in the grocery stores.
I know, I was shocked too. This doesn't mean that I'm going to start harvesting bark and digging up grubs for my family. This just means that instead of a 3-times-a-week habit, I'll be down to once a month. (The only thing this doesn't include is our weekly 3 gallons of raw milk, but once Tilly "freshens", this trip will be eliminated too.) In order to do this, a plan of action is needed.
#1. Make a master list of pantry staples. Mine looks like this...
*Spices, Oils, Sweeteners, Sauces (such as fish/oyster sauce, maple syrup, coconut oil, etc...)
*Baking (includes chocolate chips, baking powder, yeast, etc...)
*Bulk Grains, Beans, Flours
*Cleaners (laundry, and homemade cleaner ingredients)
*Paper/Storage Items (includes sandwich/freezer bags, aluminum foil, toilet paper, kleenex)
*Personals (feminine products, deodorant, etc..)
*Miscellaneous (organic coffee)
This list is on-going. There is no way to write down every single item that is used in the kitchen. Just keep it handy and add as you go.
(We do not include our pet supplies in the master grocery list. All of our animal feed comes from the feed store and is part of our farm budget.)
#2. Make a list of family favorites. For us this would be breakfast and dinner meals. (Lunch is usually left-overs or in an emergency, a sandwich using one of the loaves we always have in the freezer.) Have the family help with the list, you might be surprised at the simpleness of their meals! Make sure to include all elements of the meal; main dish and any side dishes. The ingredients for those side dishes do not magically appear...☺
#3. Plan a month's worth of meals. For week 1, include any fresh produce. Week 2, include produce that has a longer shelf life (i.e. carrots, celery, potatoes). Weeks 3 & 4, plan on using frozen/canned/dried produce for meals. Since we have a lot of different meats in the freezers, I plan around those. In the winter, we have a lot of meals using beans and rice as these have a very long shelf life. They can also be cooked in large quantities and used in a later-in-the-week meal without the cooking time. Which leads to....
#4. Plan meals using some of the same ingredients in the same week. Example: Cook a pot of pinto beans and plan on chili for Monday and burritos for Thursday. Or, freeze the extras to cut cooking time later. If ham is on the menu, plan on using some of the ham in scrambled eggs, and the ham bone later in the week to season a pot of split peas or navy beans. Extra rice? How about a dessert of rice pudding, or use it for breakfast with a handful of raisins, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a drizzling of honey or maple syrup, and a splash of milk.
#5. Make a grocery list. This is not limited to only 1 grocery store. Look at the ads, clip coupons if needed, and search for the best deals. Include (in the spring for me) farmer's markets and your own garden produce. This is where eating in season comes into play. Unless you live in the tropics, watermelon in January shouldn't be on the list. If you live near a Costco, plan to stop there...just stick to your list and only purchase what you need. (This is especially good if you have children at home.)
#6. Prepare for the grocery trip. For me, this means doing it on a day that my Mister can be with me. It is much easier to stick to a budget if you have someone to be accountable with. And because a large grocery trip can be stressful, having someone to take a lunch break with can add a little fun to the trip. Before leaving, make sure you have your coupons (yes, I still use them), reusable grocery/produce bags, a cooler (especially good in the summer or if you shop out of your local area), a water bottle or travel mug of your favorite hot beverage, and comfy shoes.
#7. And finally, use cash. Determine what your monthly food budget will be and pay with paper money. This is a foreign concept to many (including me!), but if you only have cash with you, it is much easier to stick to a plan. For us, it will be $600/month. If I were shopping for 2 weeks at a time, I would only carry half of that with me. Keep it in an envelope, and make sure to save your receipts. Last week I bought a little over a pound of fresh broccoli florets. At $0.99/lb., the total should've been $1.23. As I looked over my receipt, I noticed that I was charged $9.90! It makes me wonder how many times I missed a whopper mistake like that!
Maybe all of this just boils down to self-discipline. Maybe I have too many things on my metaphoric plate and need to make more lists to keep track of everything. Or maybe, the time I waste in the grocery store every week would be better spent enjoying this blessed life I have been given. Whatever your reason may be, having a plan leaves you with more money in your pocket...
And more time to play.
This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.