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Monday, October 15, 2012

October grocery money journal -- mid-month

If you wonder how a family of 5 can spend so little on groceries, for several months in a row, I believe I have an answer. We have a very productive veggie garden and orchard. The past few months have been peak harvest months for us. I do anticipate needing to spend more than our budgeted amount, later in winter when we have to buy produce.

We harvested somewhere around 50 pounds each of plums and apples, 30 pounds of pears, 25 pounds each of tomatoes and potatoes, around 25 quarts of blackberries, and I haven't even begun to harvest the fall greens of kale, chard, turnip and beet greens and mustard greens.

Oct. 2. It's Tuesday, which is one of my busiest days of the week. A wise friend made a suggestion to me last week, for dinner prep on these busy days. It's obvious advice, but sometimes, we can't see the forest through the trees, or I'm too busy to find the obvious solution to my own problems.

Last Tuesday I wore myself out, with all my running around, chauffeuring, appointments, babysitting, making soup stock, and putting a lovely (and time intensive) dinner on the table. I made chicken in marinara sauce, with rosemary polenta triangles. It was fabulous, but I was frazzled.

This week, I pulled a lasagna from the freezer on Monday, baked it up for Monday's dinner, but only served half. I also made a large batch of garlic bread on Monday. So tonight's dinner is heat and eat. It won't matter that I'm hustling daughter to and from ballet, right when I should be preparing dinner for the family (who thinks up these dance class schedules, anyways?).

Also I baked 3 dozen muffins, my three-way muffins, for the freezer. We'll have these for breakfasts, with soup at lunch and dinner, and for snacks. They'll go quickly!

Oct. 3. I cooked up two large pots of soup, 1 beef-barley-vegetable, the other split pea. I made enough for 3 family dinners each, plus some extra individual containers for a few lunches. This is part of my big batch cooking for the month. It's all soups, stews, chili and chowder. Next week I'll make 2 more large pots of soup for the freezer (Chicken Noodle and Black Bean-Tomato). I've needed to make room in the freezer for this all to fit, so am doing the soups a couple at a time, instead of all in one day. But that's good too. I keeps me from becoming too worn out. I also made a large pot of applesauce, while the soups simmered. I froze 8 pints for future meals.

Oct. 4. My other busy day of the week -- Thursday. Dinner planned -- Soup from yesterday (beef-barley-vegetable, muffins, garlic toast and a large fruit salad. I'll need to grocery shop tomorrow.

Oct. 5. I'm seeing a pattern in my grocery shopping. One month we spend very little, the next month I spend quite a bit in the first week alone. The latter was this week's shopping. I shop a couple of places on my way to my daughters' school. Trader Joe's for soymilk (1/2 gal, $2.99), almonds ($4.99/lb), tofu ($1.29/14 oz. firm), eggs (3 dozen - $1.69/doz.). Egg prices have risen quite a bit this month. I have to remind myself that it's the high feed prices for the hens at fault.  I sometimes catch myself feeling like I should've done better on something. This week, I had the opportunity to get eggs for 19c less per dozen, but I thought Trader Joe's would be cheaper, so I waited for my TJ stop. So, I paid 57c more for my eggs than I could have. I'm doing the best I can, with the information that I have at the moment. Shame and guilt go away!

Stopped at Albertson's for sugar and apple juice (total $5.65). Albertson's is in the same strip as Trader Joe's, so I don't use extra gas for that stop, just walk over. Produce stand next. Everything in the markdown bin was overpriced, IMO. So just got my jalapenos for last batch of salsa (better be the last, I'll be using the very last of the jars, until we can empty a few).

Last stop, the Cash and Carry, restaurant supply. My big disappointment was they didn't have any black eye peas. Stock can be hit or miss there. I guess this was a miss. I chose a large sack of black beans instead. (25 lb. sack for $16.47). A lot of the bean prices seemed awfully high to me -- 25 lbs for upwards of $20. Black beans will be a nice change in chili, refritos, rice and beans, and soup. I may even try them in baked casseroles. Also picked up a 25 lb sack of oats for $14.98, a gallon of soy sauce, gallon of molasses, some powdered sugar, frozen mixed veggies (for making soup), a 110 oz can tomato paste, and two 110 oz cans whole tomatoes. The tomato paste will be for another big batch of pasta sauce, and the canned tomatoes, one for salsa and the other for chili. Spent $65.91 at Cash and Carry, bringing my total so far for the month to $86.51.  I'll need to do another shopping later in the month, and will pick up great deals as I see them, probably bringing me right to or just above our budgeted amount.

While at Cash and Carry, I priced butter, $2.40 a pound. That's a pretty good regular price. Trader Joe's was selling their butter for $2.99 a pound. I'll stock up on as much as they'll let me during the holiday sales, switching back to butter is one of my priorities for this next year. The price difference between butter and margarine is not as great as it was a couple of years ago.

Groceries in general seem to be priced higher than just a month or two ago. But I still feel we're fortunate in our time and place to have reasonably priced (and readily available) food, in comparison to salaries. There was a time when the cost of food ate up a much larger percentage of one's budget.

Oct. 6. We went to the pumpkin patches and u-pick corn farm today. Bought 16 ears of corn for $4 and a small winter squash for 75c. Having corn with dinner tonight. I can hardly wait!

While visiting one of the farms, I got it into my head that I wanted to try making onion rings again. I made them many years ago. I'd like to try them again this week, to go with the chili cheese dogs that I can't get off my mind. Remember those tofu hot dogs that I thought were a bit rubbery? I think that was due to baking them on top of a bean casserole. I microwaved a couple of them this week, and they weren't bad at all! I'll be making some whole wheat buns, a batch of black bean chili, and we'll have chili cheese dogs this next week. With a side of onion rings!

Also stopped in at OFC to get 1 gallon of milk. It's a Saturday and I didn't expect there to be any mark down milk left. But we hit the jack-pot. We bought 11 gallons of milk for $21.28. Once home, I froze most of it. The sell-by dates are Oct. 10, 15 and 16. We'll drink a few gallons in the next 10 days, and I'll make a large batch of yogurt tomorrow or Monday. I think yogurt will be featuring heavily in the menus this next month. And it's rather fortunate that all this yogurt will coincide with all our fruit harvested, for fruit-y yogurt.

The frozen milk will last us well into November. It's nice to not have to think about buying milk for a while. And we could've bought even more, but this was the max our freezers could hold. As it was, I had to shift stuff around to make it all fit.

Once again, our freezers, fridges and pantry are stuffed to the gills. We need to start eating in a big way! Total spent so far this month -- $112.54.

Oct. 8. Had to take daughters to the orthodontist. The bakery thrift is near to the office. Stopped in and bought 7 loaves of bread (and got 5 small treats as a bonus!). Spent $10.23. This bread will last about 3 weeks, if I continue to cook up other grains on a regular basis, to keep in the fridge for meals.

Yesterday afternoon I made a large pot of hot rice cereal (long-cooking variety, so made in the afternoon, so we could just heat and eat in the AM). I added maple extract, cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. Quite yummy! There's enough for tomorrow's breakfast, too.

Dinner tonight was really fresh and delicious. I made a black bean, rice and tomato salad. I cooked the black beans according to the directions given on a site about maximizing mineral absorption from dried beans. Also, had corn-on-the-cob (from the pumpkin patch), apple slices (from picking today) and Plum Kuchen for dessert. Never a shortage of good food at our place!

Total spent for the month -- $122.77. I don't think I could go grocery shopping again, if I wanted, as the freezers, fridges and pantry are loaded. As I tried to get the bread into the freezer, other things kept falling out! LOL! I had to have my daughters finish off the ice cream (it was on their required things to do list), just to get the bread in.

Oct. 12. Stopped in at the grocery store to pick up sale items. It was baking items mostly, powdered sugar, chocolate chips, eggs. Spent $7.46. Total so far this month  $130.23.

Our freezer, pantry and fridge are quite full, due in part to a good harvest in the orchard and veggie garden. But also, I have a significant amount of milk, meat and bread in the freezer, plus cooked entrees and soups. I may not need to buy much else this month. We'll see.


  1. Wow, your eggs are cheap. Around here ours are at least twice that price.

    I continue to be amazed at the amount of food you bring into your house. I understand about your harvest because that is always hit or miss and you have to "make hay while the sun shines," so to speak. However, its hard for me to imagine how all of that food gets worked into the eating rotation. However, you are very organized with the whole thing, so you know must know what you're doing. Are you still in the stock up for the winter phase?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      yes, still stocking up for winter. I have the late pears to harvest, later today if the weather cooperates. And the cranberries should be ready by the weekend. My pumpkins are still in the garden, as are beets, carrots and greens.

      There is quite a bit of repetition of produce in our meals. We joke that everyone "has" to eat their share of the plums daily. We have plums every single day, sometimes twice a day. Fortunately the fresh plums will run out this week. My family will be grateful to know that. And we're entering the "everyone must eat their share of tomatoes" phase soon, too. They've been ripening rapidly in the garage this month.

      Rummaging through the freezer this morning I could see that we're getting a little low on meat. We eat meat about 3-4 nights per week on average. I should have enough to get through the end of the month, then will need to buy more. Fortunately turkey time is just around the corner.

  2. I agree, your eggs are super-cheap! Even non-free range ones are around $3 a dozen here, with free range being around $5 and organic $7 a dozen. I'm trying to learn to use flaxseed in baking because it is cheaper.

    I'm also impressed with how much you have managed to put away, it seems like you won't have to do much food shopping over winter either.

    1. Hi Economies,
      I've used ground flax seeds and water for egg substitute, as well as a tablespoon of soy flour and water to sub for eggs. I also just use fewer eggs, when I'm running low. I have a brownie recipe that calls for 2 eggs. Well, guess what, it turns out great with just one egg as well. My daughters are the champions of finding no-egg cookie recipes online. They always seem to want to bake cookies when we're about out of eggs. So I'll tell them to find a recipe that doesn't call for eggs, and they always do. Muffins and quick breads can be made with fewer eggs as well.

      As much as it sounds like I've got stored away (3 freezers, 2 fridges and the pantry), with 5 of us, I estimate we would go through most of this in 60 days or less, if I didn't buy anything else. So I will have to buy more, a lot more. And when the produce runs out, that's where I wind up spending a lot of money in winter. But I'm working on that, too. I have some covers for my garden beds that I'll put over some of the greens, to try and hold them in the garden later into fall, maybe into December. They won't grow will little sun, but will remain edible this way.

  3. I am amazed by your shopping finds. Eggs here are more than double what you found even at TJ, Milk well I've mentioned before is state regulated and we can't get it on sale regardless of the expiration date.

    I have given up shopping around, it drives me crazy. I go with my dil to help with the little ones 2 times a month and pick up what I need there, I live mostly off the farmer's market and what we can grow in the summer, and then rely on a bulk foods store and the local shop for the rest of my needs.

    Our bulk food store has much better prices on beans and sugar than what you found, it's run by Mennonites and they price more than fairly. Oatmeal is one of my grandson's favorite foods for any meal or snack. I get organic oats from them for roughly 23 cents a pound, non organic is even cheaper. Of course not even the bulk food store carries inexpensive butter.

    As for "having" to finish ice cream, that would never have been a hard chore for my boys :-)

    1. Hi Lois,
      I sure wish we had a Mennonite store like yours nearby. We do have one good bulk-type store, but their prices are not great like yours. But it is a good place to get odd things that might cost a lot more packaged up in the regular store, like buckwheat flour.

      I'm sure your daughter-in-law really appreciates having you along on those grocery trips. I can remember taking my own small kids to the store shopping. I could have used an extra pair of hands and eyes!

  4. I'm amazed at how little you manage to spend and feed your family well. I really need to figure out how to get my daughter to eat a few more vegetarian meals. She's very much a meat lover.

    The price of beans and eggs have gone up in our area, too. Beans are well over $1 per lb if you aren't trying to buy in bulk and even then bulk for my area is only a 5 lb bag if you are lucky. Eggs -- the price is hit and miss. As far as milk goes, I rarely buy any. None of us drink it so I use powdered for my cooking. However, I do buy soy milk. Aldi still has my best price on it, so whenever I am in town I try to pick it up there.

    1. Hi Shara,
      I'm a big believer in a person's body telling them what they need (in most cases). Your daughter might really be needing either protein, iron, zinc or vitamin B-12, and hence a preference for meat.

      I used powdered milk several years ago. It worked out to be less expensive than fresh milk, at the time. We bought it from the dairy distributor in our area at first, then our restaurant supply began carrying it in the large 55 pound sacks. The only problem was it was non-instant. So to get it to mix with water I had to put it through the blender.

      That's great that you have an Aldi in town. We don't have that chain out here, but I hear good things about it. I guess we all have to find the best places in our own areas, for various items.

  5. With just 2 of us at home, we don't even have a freezer, just the one on top of the fridge. Sometimes would like to stock up to save money, but for just 2 of us to finish up large quantities, it would be easy to get bored or leave things languish in there!

    1. I can completely see how trying to keep very large quantities might not work for just the two of you. Fortunately there are many good natural bulk stores where you can buy as little or as much grains, legumes, and other pantry staples at favorable price points. And big batch cooking for a couple, may mean making a 4-serving size casserole, batch of soup or lasagna, and freezing half. It's all relative, right?

  6. You do an incredible job of providing meals for your family on so little! Sometime, please write a post about fruit trees, choosing them, caring for them, and how to store all that fruit. I'm just on a small suburban lot, but would like to add a few fruit trees.

    1. Thanks, Janice! And a series of posts on fruit trees is on my mind for mid-winter. Thanks for your interest!


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