Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Grocery Plans for April

The month of March is wrapping up and my family did really well on our budget. We still have a couple of months before the income reduction takes place, but we do want to see what is possible for us, in order to judge if this is doable or if we need greater income. Here's a really good sign -- we had a super-low credit card bill this month, perhaps the lowest that it's been in a couple of years.

The Groceries

One of the issues with working with basic ingredients is the need to regularly prepare foods from scratch. With this idea in mind, I've spent some time each day preparing individual food items for ease of use, such as peeling and trimming a dozen carrots at a time, shredding a head of cabbage and making a bottle of cole slaw dressing, toasting some raw almonds for snacking, and making scratch pudding and putting into small jars for homemade snack-pack pudding cups. I estimate that I spend 1 hour per day (in addition to regular meal prep) making these easy to grab foods that are appreciated by myself and my family. So, for 7 extra hours per week, or 31 extra hours this month, I've been able to strip away about $125.00 from our grocery budget. $4.03 is not a great hourly wage, but I've been able to do these little kitchen jobs anytime that it works out for me.

Besides the money savings, I feel that we are eating more real foods and less processed junk. It seems "cleaner," more like how we're supposed to eat. I think this is a fantastic bonus!

While I sit here and make out next month's shopping list, I have $1.87 leftover from March's grocery budget to roll over to April's. I don't feel the need to go out and buy anything else in these last couple of days with that $1.87. So, going into April, I have $126.87 for food items. In making out my list, again I had to whittle it away a bit to fit the budget. I primarily made my choices based on nutrition for the dollar spent, allowing for a couple of non-nutritive items, too, such as coffee and sugar.

This past month, my two big stock-up items were a 25-lb bag of yellow onions and 21 pounds of ground beef. I still have a lot of both of those items in stock. My two big stock-up items for April will be a 25-lb sack of dried pinto beans and a 50-lb sack of all-purpose flour. Both of those items are in amounts which should last our family several months, providing an inexpensive protein source and a basic baking ingredient for our meals and snacks. Pinto beans tend to be the least expensive dried bean in my area, with versatility to use them in several different preparations.

In addition to the beans and flour, I'll also be buying smaller amounts of dried white beans (for sandwich spread), butter, orange juice, apple juice, raisins, bananas, carrots, potatoes, frozen spinach, chicken leg quarters, hot dogs, whole wheat flour, canned tomato paste, shredded cheese, sugar, coffee, and enough milk and eggs to last the month. (One of my promises to our family at the beginning of this month was that there would always be plenty of eggs, milk, and bread. I kept that promise, ensuring family members that there would always be something from which to make a meal or snack.) I'll be shopping at Walmart, WinCo, Fred Meyer (Senior Discount Day on April 2 -- just have to be 55+ -- no special card, just tell the cashier you're over 55), and Smart Foods/Cash & Carry.

Easter is in April, but I do have a budgeted amount to spend for this holiday that is separate from the grocery budget. I've reduced this budget considerably from last year, but there is still enough to cover the cost of a ham and next years' Easter egg hunt candy. (You may recall that I buy the next year's Easter candy on clearance after the holiday and store until the following year.) So, at least there is no need to use the grocery budget for the Easter ham. We also have 2 birthdays in this month. We have a couple of gifts cards for a restaurant in our area. I offered these to our daughters for their birthday celebration, but they turned us down, wanting burgers and fries at home instead. So, we'll have a dual birthday lunch celebration in a restaurant using those gift cards. (Lunch is often less expensive than dinner, hence the lunch celebration.)

We're doing really, really well, and I'm about as surprised as anyone else! I'm still not sure if this is sustainable. Although, if there had to be an optimal time to begin this, it is now in early spring. I've begun planting the vegetable garden. I planted snow peas last week and have just this week started cool season greens from seeds, indoors. Our early spring garden has lots of watercress, sorrel, chives, kale, garlic chives, and Swiss chard to provide variety to the narrow range of veggies that I'm purchasing. Plus, our rhubarb is now up and should be ready to harvest in mid-April. And, I still have some canned and frozen vegetables in store. We're taking this just one month at a time. Life is good.




20 comments:

  1. You should be proud of yourself! I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel like you are eating cleaner. I'm certainly not a purist when it comes to food--convenience foods are, well, convenient at times--but reducing your expenses and improving your nutrition are great successes.

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    1. Thanks, Kris. You're right, convenience foods are very convenient and necessary at times. Fortunately, healthier convenience options seem to pop up all of the time, such as pre-wash salad greens. That would have been unheard of in my mother's homemaking days.

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    2. Yes. I tell my kids all of the time that when I was younger, you couldn't go to the store & by pre-made anything--salad, pre-cut veggies for stir-fry, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, etc. Even a t.v. dinner took 45 minutes to cook in the oven. Melissa

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    3. I had forgotten that TV dinners took so long to bake! How life has changed.

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  2. Amazing, and so much discipline to stick to an actual dollar budget amount. The good thing is once you have figured it out, the rest is rinse and repeat. Not so much the specific menu, but the process of figuring out the how, when, where, and why of shopping and meal prep. I know you mentioned that you spread buying bulky items over several months, and compared store prices for the cheapest. Also zeroing in on foods that have the highest nutritive value per dollar.

    I do that too, and find as many ways for incorporating cheap basics into our diet. Carrots for .69/lb come to mind. Recently, we bought canned fish steaks for .25/ 3.4 oz can. So tasty served over rice gruel (fewer carbs since the rice is cooked in a large volume of water). I guess for us, we are not picky eaters. I can easily focus on nutritritive value than on listening to cravings.

    Have a great day,
    YHF

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    1. Hi YHF,
      While part of me is motivated by the challenge, unfortunately, part of me is motivated by fear. But I think that once I've shown myself that we can do this, or that we can afford to increase our grocery spending, the fear will subside.
      I think you must be the queen of frugal seafood dining! You have found some remarkable deals on fish, now and in the past. Do you regularly find carrots for 69 cents/lb? I think that's a steal for island produce prices. I've always imagined that all of your prices ar much higher than on the mainland. You're right, though, carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage -- those seem to be the basic frugal veggies.
      I hope that you day is going well!

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    2. That carrot price is currently a special price at our local grocery. Normally, it is .79 on sale. That store also has the cheapest potato, onion and cabbage on this island, and is located only a few blocks away.

      Good memory. Yes, we do eat lots of fish. We find that as we get older, fish seems more agreeable to our palate than meat. I have absolutely horrible cholesterol test results, so that shows fish is not going to bring cholesterol down for everyone. The .25 cans of fish was near expiration, now it is expired. I thought of taking it out of the can and freezing it, but husband and I disagreed on that. He insists Best Buy dates are not hard fast. We're eating our cans pretty fast (why do I sound like a cat), and so far so good.

      I'm having an ok day, just got through spending several hours in the garden... argh

      YHF

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    3. I'm having trouble posting from my tablet today. Lili, please delete the double post.

      I am really curious what your opinion is on nutritive value by cost, and how do you make that determination? Is it by weight/serving as in your peanut butter vs egg salad comparison, although in that post I don't recall protein per serving being discussed. Also, I do believe we don't need 100% recommended everyday, but within a reasonable time frame. The goal is variety and moderation. This is where cheap substitutes eaten regularly may not be good. I remember having a discussion with my husband recently about this. I told him, we should make a point to eat a variety, even beef for example, is a good source of zinc, that is unparalleled in other protein sources.

      YHF

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    4. Hi YHF,
      I probably would have frozen the canned fish, but then my fear of botulism or other toxin may be exaggerated. But your husband is right that "best buy" simply means the quality of the food may deteriorate, but it is still safe. But you're managing to eat it all, and that's good, right?

      I have another friend who uses a tablet and has issue with posting comments, here. So, you're not alone.

      Variety is what I try to go for. I've been wondering, though, does it need to be variety within a short time frame, or can variety be good enough if it is seasonal?

      For how to determine what's a good value for my family with fruit, I've gone by a calorie range to determine a serving size. I've come up with a guideline that is acceptable for us in our current situation. I've got a rough, written out document that I can polish up and post, here. Maybe by Monday.
      Have a great evening.

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    5. I should Google that question about nutrition requirements. For the known nutrients, we know the biochemical pathways and the role each pathway serves in maintaining good health at the cellular level. Some nutrients are stored for a long time, and others are needed in our diet frequently. And we differ so much at the cellular level, as individuals, I am amazed we can find an average requirement to speak of. Then you factor in aging and other diseased states and the numbers stray even more. So, bottomline, I think the RDA is only a general, SAFE LIMIT and guideline, and the best nutrition advice is variety and moderation. I personally don't use RDA as often as I should in meal planning, and like you would add variety seasonally. However, we tend to fall into habits like buying the same foods often, so my point to husband was, let's keep our eyes open during grocery shopping for foods we normally wouldn't think of buying that are budget friendly. That means spending more time at the grocery aisle. What is so frustrating to me about nutrition is there are so many variables known and unknown, including enviromental, and there are anomalies, conflicts and synergies, and diseased states that affect the nutrition status within our cells constantly, and changing by the minute, that even professionals cannot agree on the effect (hence everchanging and differing conclusions). IMHO, all they can do is study nutrition at the population level to get a better picture of how various factors contribute to diet and disease.

      YHF

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  3. I'm happy that this first month of change went so well. It's always nice to have a good start to set the mood for the rest of the time.

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    1. Thank you for your support, live and learn. I really appreciate it.

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  4. I think you are doing so well. I am so glad you were pleasantly surprised that it went so well. I love your shopping plan, that fact that you promised your family eggs, milk and bread and were able to do that made this new transition reachable for everyone. I find attitude it half the battle! I can't wait to read how April goes.

    Cathie

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    1. Thank you, Cathie. Definitely, a good attitude will take us far.

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  5. Lili, Congratulations on meeting you goal for March! Absorbing a decrease in income can be a challenge to the budget, you've risen to the occasion, developed and trialed a new plan, and it's working! I am on a medically driven journey as regards my own food and it's impact upon my budget. DO you have what I'll call a "Master list" of food ingredients that you will be purchasing over the next year(excluding items like the holiday ham)? I have been slowly over time, purging my pantry/freezer/fridge of what is now determined to be "less desirable foods" sprinkling them into my pre-planned dinner menus until gone, then either eliminating them all together or replacing with a better option, given my medically prescribed eating plan, that I am working with a dietician on, through my local hospital. Upside besides impact on health, is a simplification of my own, newly created "Master list," a decrease in expenditure for what were previously considered staple purchases, and a sharp increase in purchases of fresh fish; fresh organic "misfit" produce thru a subscription program that I've joined (affording any fresh produce from Nov-June is a challenge here). As I looked over the list you shared for April, I had some thoughts (take what helps, toss what doesn't apply): the juices are one item I no longer buy (save a can of fzn oj or cans of pineapple or other high vit C pure juices for sick folks)-selecting fresh fruit instead. I tend to buy block cheese and slice/shred myself for savings. Hotdogs: I am a self confessed hot dog snob, and only buy certain types, usually Kosher beef, no fillers, nitrates/nitrites etc-so in the end, a pricier option for an animal protein. Have you considered the actual cost (hot dog plus bun) vs other options for protein? Again-just some thoughts. HTH. Cheering you on the sidelines from CT! Carol

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    1. Thank you, Carol. It sounds like you understand how overwhelming a massive shift in grocery shopping can feel when it's so sudden. I hope that your new diet will provide significant benefits to your health.

      For my shopping -- for now I've left in the 100% fruit juices, as they are one of my least expensive options for fruit, based on a calculation of calories per serving. (I've written up my own guidelines for how to figure the value of a serving of fruit, whether juice, fresh or dried. I'll share that sometime.) I admit, though, apple juice is more iffy than orange juice, as far as nutrients go. I'll be using some of the apple juice to make homemade cranapple juice, using up frozen whole cranberries from the freezer. At least the apple juice is fortified with Vitamin C. I use it half and half with my spiced tea, for a spiced cider for myself. This time of year, the only fresh fruit in my price range (under 50 cents/ lb) is bananas. I've budgeted for 10 lbs of bananas in April. We are tiring of bananas, somewhat. Raisins just barely fit into my price range per serving of fruit, so I've included them in my plan, too. This goes against common standards, but the shredded cheese is less expensive per pound where I shop. Otherwise, our preference is block cheese. Yeah, I'm not fond of the hot dogs myself. And I do buy the ultra-cheap ones (75 cents/package). My kids and husband like them, and I'll eat one if its cooked over a wood-fire. What I do like about hot dogs, though, is they make a very quick, after-church lunch for us. One happy change to this list for April -- I found an e-coupon that I can use for one of the items, which frees up some budget for additions.

      Thanks for your input. I think it's always good to get feedback.

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  6. You've done so well! It's remarkable! God is good! I'm finding that I need to get over the mental block of prepping foods ahead. I have put off making hard boiled eggs for snacks for 2 weeks. I finally did it today. It's not hard, I just needed to do it. I also made 2 batches of granola. Again, not hard. It just needed to get done. Great job, Lili!

    P.S.--I find a squeeze of lime over our crockpot pintos over brown rice really gives them a bit more pizazz & makes the big people in our family more enthusiastic about that meal. One lime, cut into small wedges, is enough for our whole family. Melissa

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    1. Hi Melissa,
      God is good, indeed!
      Oh, I know that mental block all too well. Good for you getting the eggs done and granola made. I sometimes trick myself into getting things done. I'll tell myself that I'm only going to do something small, like the eggs, then I wind up doing several more kitchen tasks.
      Oh, lime juice over rice and beans sounds yummy. Limes can be a real bargain, too. I sometimes see them at the ethnic market for 10 cents each. I'll remember this. Thanks for the suggestion.

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I'm so glad that you stopped by today. Please comment, and let me know what you're thinking.