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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

March grocery money journal (and Easter wrap-up)

I usually spend the day after a holiday cleaning up -- putting things away, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, that sort of thing. I also like to give thought to how the holiday went. Did I overestimate how much I could do (one of my stumbling blocks)? How was the menu received? What would I change for next year? What went especially well?

I think Easter was fairly well-planned this year. We got an early start on the day, attending our church's earliest service (we are not first service people, more like walking in 5 minutes late to the last service types. But for one Sunday, we figured we could manage this. And it did help us start the day out right, and gave us the luxury of extra time throughout the day. The brunch menu had one too many items for a quickly prepared meal. I ditched the sage biscuits at the last minute. We just wanted to get brunch prepared quickly. So, if a savory bread is a priority for next year, I'll make the biscuit dough ahead of time and freeze, until just before baking. The rest of the menu came together quickly, with the help of all of my kids. We had very pleasant weather, so had brunch on the deck, and actually needed the comfort of the umbrella's shade.

The dinner menu was perfect and very simple -- one meat entree, one starchy side dish, and one plain vegetable (I didn't even butter or salt the asparagus). We cut the pie up, before dinner, placing at each person's spot at the table, so I didn't even need to get up to serve dessert. This menu was a keeper. I'll be doing the same next year. What did you serve for Easter? Any changes you'd make to your menu for the future or things you know you'll definitely do again?

In addition to post-holiday work and wrap-up, I had the task of reconciling the budget with our expenses, so we could move forward into April's budget. As you will see, we sort of deviated from our usual ultra-frugal grocery spending, sort of a lot! But, we had the surplus from previous months to tap in to, so we're okay overall. I also think I got some excellent deals on meat, butter and eggs, and even bought and froze some asparagus for future meals. Our freezer is completely packed, and could hold us over for a month or more, if need be. I like that feeling. So, without further ado, here's my grocery money journal for March.

March 1. Stopped in at QFC for milk. Bought 1 gallon ($2.59) and found turkey franks for 89c a package. Bought 2 packages. Total spent $4.37

Also, Cash and Carry restaurant supply. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts - frozen, 1 gallon vegetable oil, 4 qts soy milk, bananas, 5 lbs carrots, 2 lbs raisins, 5 lb bag fuji apples. Spent $36.21

March 2. Monthly stop at Trader Joes for cocoa powder, eggs, almond milk, sliced almonds, tofu, more bananas, and bagged navel oranges. Spent $16.07

March 3. getting gas at Safeway, popped in for 1 gallon whole milk -- $2.59

Total spent for month-to-date -- $59.24

March 5. Needed tea and decaf coffee. Spent $12.27 (gulp, that's a lot to spend on beverages) at Fred Meyer. I don't shop there often, as they're not as convenient for me, but they have my favorite teas, and good prices on coffee.

March 7. Out of milk, so stopped at QFC on way home and found 3 gallons of whole milk marked at $1.99 ea, with sell-by date of March 17. Spent $5.97

Still trying to use up frozen fruit and veggies in one of the freezers. I've made blackberry sauce and plum sauce to go with dinners this week. Also, some cooked pumpkin and sweet potatoes from autumn were used. The last bit of both of those were combined and baked into a loaf of yeast bread, flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon, in the bread machine. It made very delicious toast on Saturday and Sunday morning.

Total spent month-to-date  --  $77.48

I finally transferred the remaining frozen garden fruits and vegetables from the small freezer into the other spare freezer. I unplugged the small freezer, to remain off until mid to late summer. I've got it thawing now, and will give it a thorough wipe-down in the morning. I came across several more containers of frozen blackberries, tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries. And to think, the rhubarb is already coming up and we shall begin the rhubarb harvest in a little over a month! The spring garden is underway.

March 14. Stopped at Safeway, while there found eggs for $1.09 doz. only 2 left, and cabbage for 49 cents per pound, bought 6 heads. Spent $9.24  month-to-date total spent $86.72

March 15. Two weeks since the last time I stopped at Trader Joe's. That's an improvement over the once a week stops of previous months.. I am trying to do a better job of stocking up, so I'm not running to the store so often. At Trader Joe's, today, I bought bananas (18 at 19 cents each, all stages of ripening, these should keep for about 1 week), tofu, a 4 lb bag of oranges and a treat for my birthday girls -- real maple syrup for their birthday breakfast of blueberry pancakes! Spent $13.39 By the way, we usually make pancake syrup with white sugar, molasses, water, maple extract and a pinch of salt. I just thought this would be a treat to have the real thing. It was $5.49 for 8 oz. You can see why we hardly ever buy the real maple syrup.

Also stopped at the Cash and Carry restaurant supply for the first time in 2 weeks. I bought 10 lbs potatoes ($1.33), 4 lbs peanut butter ($8.67, the price on peanut butter appears to be trickling down just a bit), 5 lbs of apples, 5 lbs of carrots, a 2 lb bag of powdered sugar and 5 lbs of shredded cheddar cheese. Total spent $28.65

Month-to-date spending is creeping up. $128.76 for the month, so far. Aside from what I'll want to have on Easter, I think we're almost covered for groceries for the month. I'll still need eggs and milk, as always.

March 20. This afternoon was the day that my daughters wanted to have their ears pierced (a birthday gift from me to them). The jewelers who pierces ears is right next door to QFC. I popped into QFC and bought a gallon of whole milk and a dozen eggs, for $2.50. You must be thinking "wow, they have super low prices." Alas, I had a coupon for the eggs -- free. The milk was on sale for $2.50/gallon.

Month to date spending -- $131.26

March 27. Albertson's had a great price on boneless, skinless chicken breasts ($1.69/lb), I bought the limit - 10 lbs. Also found some mark downs in the packaged deli, 2 packs maple sausage, 4 packs Nathan's kosher beef franks, and butter (1 lb for $1.88 - limit 4). I also found 1 package of ground beef for $2.99/lb for 7% fat/93% lean ground beef. I packaged and froze this for burgers one night and meatballs another, for later next month. Also, I happened by the fresh deli, and found Black Forest ham on sale for $3.96/lb. I bought enough very thin slices to make stuffed chicken breasts for 10 servings (once for Easter, and again for one of the April birthdays). When I got home, I divided the chicken breasts into cooking portions to freeze, and went ahead and made all the stuffed chicken breasts for the 2 dinners. I had some Swiss cheese that had been given to us, so I pounded out the chicken breasts, laid a slice each of ham and Swiss in each one, then rolled up. They're in the freezer now, and I'll bread them to bake on the day that I serve them. Total spent today -- $51.23

March 28. Walgreen's had eggs on sale for 99c/ dozen. I bought 12 dozen, plus 1 gallon milk for $2.49. Spent $14.37

TOP Foods is one of the all-around, low-priced stores in the area. They had butter for $1.77/lb w/ coupon, limit 2 and sirloin tip roasts for $2.47/lb (I bought 10 lbs). I'll cut one of the large roasts into steaks and stew meat and the other into 3 smaller roasts, and freeze. 

I also picked up sugar snap peas, garden peas and a variegated sage plant for the garden. (Since these are food plants, they come out of the grocery budget). Spent $33.56

Last stop of the day, my favorite produce stand, Country Farms, opened today!! It's right next to my daughters's school. I've been watching them set up all week. Today I bought a 10 lb bag of oranges for $3.98, 4 avocados for 25c each, red garnet yams for 69c/lb and almost 5 lbs of asparagus for 99c/lb. I've got the asparagus standing in water in the fridge now. Most of it, I'll chop and blanch and freeze, but some of it is for Easter dinner. 99c a pound is a pretty good price for asparagus here, and I've had trouble growing it in my garden. I'd like to build a raised bed dedicated to growing asparagus, and amend the soil and choose a site that will foster it's growth here. But that will have to wait until next year. It's a bit late to plant asparagus roots for this season.

So, this has been a bit of a stock-up month. I am hoping to get by one last store, again for butter, to buy as much at this low price as I can, but only if it's on my way somewhere. No real gain if I'm spending an extra dollar or two on gas, just to save a dollar or two on food. Otherwise, for the month so far I've spent $243.24. Over budget (and I was hoping to come in low, oh well), but I still have surplus in the grocery budget from a couple of months ago, to draw from.

And, I am now well-stocked on meat, enough to last us a couple of months, so that's good. I do wish that I had a meat grinder, though. It's crazy that best price on sirloin tip roasts were less than best price on ground beef. I'll be keeping an eye out for vintage hand-crank meat grinders at second hand stores. I may try to "grind" some beef in my food processor, for the occasional times when we'd like burgers. I'm totally turned off of fast food burgers these days. I'd much rather make my own and be able to see with my own eyes, what goes into both the burgers and the buns.

March 29. I stopped in at the Cash and Carry after school on Friday. I was going to put it off until Monday (which would be April's budget), but I really needed some soy milk for baking this weekend. Since I'm just going by the Cash and Carry once every 2 weeks, this would also be my opportunity to stock up on needed supplies. Pinto beans were at a good price for the 50 lb sack --$25.96, and I was almost out of whole wheat flour, stone ground was $18.39  for 50 lbs. I bought 4 quarts of soy milk, 2 pounds of margarine (I prefer butter for most uses, but a 1/2 and 1/2 mix of butter and margarine makes my cookies turn out better), 5 lbs of carrots and 2 lbs of raisins. We decided to skip the peanut butter this time, and have egg salad sandwiches for most lunches for the coming weeks. With the price of peanut butter still high, these days, and finding eggs on sale for so low, egg salad will be the better bargain. Spent $61.28

March 31. After church stopped by Albertson's to pick up 4 more lbs of butter at $1.88/lb. Spent $7.52. Total spent for the month $312.04

Way, way, way over budget, but still within our budget plus surplus amount.

I am in the process of planting our vegetable garden. I do just a little bit of work each day. And before I know it, I'll have the spring garden all planted.

I began fruit and vegetable gardening as a way to save money. Now, I just find great pleasure in going out to the garden, and picking the freshest produce for our family's meals. I believe that I would garden even if I didn't save any money with it. The fresh flavor can't be beat. And I know for a fact that there are no chemicals sprayed on my produce. Plus, having it all right there, at my back door, I find that I am more likely to step outside and pinch off just a bit more of this, and use a handful more of that, as I cook.

A sampling of our March springtime menus
From the garden, we now have watercress, sorrel, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, broccoli, and rhubarb.


Cranberry-orange bread with cream cheese

Rhubarb oatmeal and milk

Scrambled eggs and chard, with toast


Weekends -- various soups using the greens from the garden, lentils, asparagus blanching water for stock, along with toast, buns or cornbread

Weekdays -- peanut butter and jam sandwiches, or egg salad and watercress sandwiches, along with fresh fruit, fruit sauce made with frozen fruit from last summer, or raisins


Vegetable-beef soup (using watercress and thyme from the garden) with French bread croutons, gingerbread cookies

Cream of greens soup (assortment of garden greens in a cream soup base), popovers, cole slaw

Beans and greens (kale from garden) over rice

Chicken and dumplings with sorrel, sage and parsley from the garden, and onions and carrots from the store

Chicken fried rice with cabbage (from pre-St. Patrick Day sale), carrots and onions

Sage and orange marmalade roasted chicken with gravy, cornbread-sage stuffing, watercress and orange pasta salad, braised cabbage

This next month, I'm looking forward to even more coming from the garden. Late in the month, we'll begin harvesting lettuce for fresh salads, and the rhubarb should become quite abundant.

Did you find any great deals at the grocery stores in your area this month? What are you looking forward to at the market in April?


  1. That's crazy that ground beef is more expensive than non-ground. I've looked into grinding meat in the food processor before and apparently it helps to freeze it a bit first, so it doesn't just turn to mush. But you probably know that already :)

    I buy organic chicken and a whole chicken is the same price per kilo as chicken breast, which annoys me since it's supposed to be frugal to buy a whole one and use all the parts and then make soup from the carcass. Instead I buy drumsticks, which are about a third of the price, and easy for one person.

    Sage and marmalade roasted chicken sounds delicious though :)

    1. Hi Economies,
      I can sometimes find chicken legs (the thigh and drumstick still attached) for a super bargain in 10 lb bags. Those are tasty in a teriyaki glaze. That is ridiculous that a whole chicken would be the same per pound as the breasts. I always expect the whole chickens to be less by at least 20 percent. Just like how that ground beef was so expensive this month, compared to the roasts. I am going to try "grinding" some beef in my food processor. Thanks for the tip on freezing the beef first. I didn't know that. I really like the idea of grinding my own beef. I can trim out any unappetizing parts first, and have just what I want in my beef.

  2. We found a few good deals on canned items. Pineapple and such. Mostly I had to replenish some items I'd used up.

    April for us is going to mean restocking our meats which always seems to hike the bills. I try like you to allow a little surplus other months to balance it out.

    Like you I'll be looking for best prices. I'm hoping April weather will allow for some grilling out and plan to shop accordingly.

    Your menu sounds like it was fabulous! I can't decide which dish appeals to me more.

    1. Hi Shara,
      I hear you on how stocking up on meat really puts a dent in your budget. But the way to get the best price per pound is often to buy in the large packs and divide once home. Even though I'm saving money in the long run, it hurts a bit in the short term to see how much I've spent.

      Mmmmm, grilling, that sounds so wonderful right now, after a winter of stove and oven meals!

  3. Holy Moly! Well, as expected you put me to shame. Perhaps the butter I got for $2.50/lb wasn't such a good deal after all!

    I'm curious about your experience with Albertson's. I don't usually shop there because it's not very convenient for me to get to. But I went there twice this month, and both times the advertised specials were nowhere to be found. I went yesterday because they had advertised frozen veggies for $.88/lb, but when I got there the price was more than double that! And last time I went it was because there was a coupon for bags of oranges, but at the store they only had loose oranges.

    Anyhow, have you had that experience there? I'm wondering if it was just a fluke, or maybe it's just this particular store, or maybe I'm just missing something.

    p.s. I think my best deal of the month would have to be cabbage for $.25/lb - or maybe oranges at $1/dozen.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Well, prices are all relative to your area. Maybe our butter was a better deal here, but your produce was a better deal there. We have a large dairy industry north of our area (lots of rain grows large pastures of grass). So, our dairy prices might be lower. If it's any consolation, though, the other best price I'll find on butter is through the wholesaler, at $2.40/lb in a 30 lb case, all 1 lb blocks, no individual sticks. That's my back-up supply of butter, for when we run out of this latest stock-up.

      I lived in Utah for a couple of years and didn't care for the Albertson's there. It was one of the most expensive stores in the area. In our area, we have 2 Albertson's close to home. One of them, I really don't like to shop in, as they are always out of the sale items. The other Albertson's is a dream shopping experience. They are so, so nice and helpful. If they're out of something advertised, they will substitute something of better presumed quality. But they don't have that many really great deals per week on basic ingredients. So I tend to only go there a couple of times per month, and only buy the sale items. Some of their regular prices are too high, compared to Trader Joes, the produce stand or the wholesaler/restaurant supply.
      I think all stores in a chain are subject to differences due to poor or good management.Your Albertsons may be poorly managed. It doesn't hurt to send an email off to their corporate headquarters and let them know your experience. Sometimes that's what it takes to light a fire under the management to get their act together.

  4. Your menu sounds delicious as usual, Lili. :)Sometimes we all go over budget. I know I did in January, so I pulled in the reins the last two months. I am really hoping to do better this month. I'm off to a good start, which is encouraging.

    Great price on the pinto beans. That is close to 50¢ per pound, which is an incredible price. They have really gone up in price in the one pound bags here, so buying in bulk is much cheaper. WTG. :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      thanks. I can already see that I won't need to spend as much in April. So that makes me feel somewhat better.

      I know (pinto bean prices)! Since when did pintos become so pricey? I wasn't planning on buying pinto beans that day, but couldn't pass up that price. Something happened just a few years back and suddenly pinto bean prices jumped, a lot! They had always been the "cheap" bean for us.

      Good luck with your grocery spending this next month!

    2. Thank you.

      And I agree on the pinto beans. Used to be always under $1.00 per pound, but not these days.

  5. Lili,

    I just don't know how you do such a good job-You have created such a great mind set-I think my downfall is that we have grocery stores too close to us! I most assuredly lack discipline!

    I am going to continue to use your approach to help me stay on track!

    1. Hi Jemma,
      Thank you. I wouldn't worry about your discipline. My manner of grocery shopping is certainly not everyone's thing, and I completely realize that!
      Have a nice evening!


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