canned vegetables, potatoes and celery
When I find a stellar deal, I think in terms of months, not weeks, to gauge how much I want to buy. WinCo has had canned vegetables on sale for 33 cents per can for the last couple of weeks. I calculated how many cans we'd likely go through between now and early March, and bought 8 cases, and may pick up 1 or 2 more cases (12 cans per case). It sounds like a lot, but we will go through all of this, and probably faster than anticipate.
I also noticed that canned pumpkin and canned yams, in the larger 29-oz cans, were a good price at WinCo when I stopped in last week. I picked up a few cans with the remaining cash I had with me. I will be stopping in this coming Friday, to stock up further on those. And in looking at this week's ad for Fred Meyer, potatoes in 10-lb bags are advertised for 88 cents/bag (limit 2). Fresh potatoes will keep in my pantry and fridge, through January. I will be buying about 80 lbs. this year.
By purchasing so many of our vegetables in cans, this year, I have freed up space in my freezer for a particular, non-canned vegetable -- celery. I will be buying several (maybe 8-10, depending on price) bunches of celery, to chop and freeze, to use in soups and casseroles, throughout winter.
loss-leader meat purchases
Turkeys and hams are also a good buy between now and Christmas. I will buy 1 whole turkey for Thanksgiving, and a second for the freezer., to roast in late winter. I have 1 ham remaining from last year, still in the freezer. I will use that over the holidays, and buy 1 or 2 more for the freezer. (I can usually find ham at the same sale price just before Easter, as I can at Christmas, therefore no need to really stock up on ham.)
I've been watching the retail price for whole turkeys by reading the weekly USDA retail report on turkey supply and price. If you follow that link, there are prices for the different regions of the US. All but the PNW and Alaska have a retail price available for whole turkey this week. The low end of prices on whole turkeys is 37 to 69 cents per pound. There's also this, from the USDA "Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook", October 18, 2016, "Price forecasts were reduced across broilers, turkeys, and eggs for 2016 and reduced for broilers and eggs for 2017." This is in an article talking about export production and price. But this information, combined with the weekly price report, does suggest that local retail prices on whole turkeys could be lower this year, over last year's pre-Thanksgiving deals.
I have already bought about 15 pounds of nuts, about a dozen packages of chocolate chips, a couple of bags of coconut, and enough powdered sugar to get through the year's baking needs.
ability to afford these stock-up months
How does one afford to do all of this stocking up? In part, I have set aside grocery money in the past few months, just for this purpose. In the late summer and early fall months, I deliberately spend less than my monthly budgeted amount of $190, in order to save extra for the months of November and December.
But also -- many of these items are a bargain, compared to comparable foods we might eat. Such as canned vegetables (33 cents/15 oz) compared to some of the fresh/frozen vegetables (often 79 cents/lb and up). During a big stock-up month, like right now, we shift our eating patterns to focus on these less expensive versions of foods.
A couple of my "rules" for sparing cash in the budget, this month:
- This is not the time of year to be buying out-of-season strawberries, or expensive cuts of meat.
- We eat from some of our stock-up items, as a way to curb spending right now.
- Menus rely heavily on the less expensive foods, like beans and whole grains, and eggs when bought as loss-leaders.
- Limit splurges, and convenience items, as much as possible. To make humble meals more interesting, this time of year, I begin opening jars of homemade pickles, chutneys and relishes.
Those 8 cases of canned vegetables are not just for mid-winter. Our meals are using those right now. Canned green beans, peas and corn are good just as is, but are also versatile in what you can do with, or add to them.
Canned peas are good hot or cold. As a hot vegetable, I rinse them, then add dried mint and butter. Or, I can make a simple hot soup, with canned peas, pureed, as the base, and cubed, cooked potatoes and carrots added, plus some ham or chicken stock with bits of meat. As a cold vegetable, canned peas are nice added to macaroni and potato salads, slaws, or gelatin aspic salads.
Canned corn is great added to Tex-Mex dishes, or, made into an egg-based entree, like Corn Pudding, or, baked in cornbread. As a cold dish, canned corn is good made into a relish, adding some green or red peppers (or canned pimentos), onions, vinegar, sugar, salt and pickling spice.
I have always been fond of canned green beans just as they are. But I also like to serve them hot, with either sauteed mushrooms, or, chopped, toasted almonds, or, topped with a cracker and butter crumb topping. As well, canned green beans are good cold, in multi-bean salads, dressed in a vinaigrette.
WinCo has had acorn squash for 78 cents each -- not per pound, but each, where I live. I pick out the 4 or 5 heaviest ones. At over 3 pounds each, our cost is about 25 cents per pound -- and that's an excellent price per pound for a vegetable. We're eating acorn squash 3 to 4 meals per week. Yes, it can be redundant. But I am trying to savor this time of year, with fresh squash in abundance.
We are eating bean-based meals about half of each week, and frozen, low-cost meats like the remaining turkey from last year, chicken hindquarters, and ground beef bought for under $2/lb, for the remainder of each week.
Right now, I am holding off on buying fresh oranges and avocados. In about 1 month, the price on both of those items will begin dropping, and will be more affordable.
Instead, our fresh fruit selection is limited to a few remaining pears and apples, plus bananas, purchased either at Trader Joe's for 19 cents each, or at WinCo or Cash & Carry, from 40 to 48 cents per pound. We also have foraged blackberries, our tree plums, and rhubarb sauce in the freezer, to round out some of the fruit selection in November.
By eating less expensive meals for this entire month, we free up enough cash in the grocery budget to afford to stock up for future months. As I was looking through my purchases last Friday, I noted that about 75% of what I bought that day were purely stock-up items, foods that will last us longer than 2 weeks.