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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Another tweak to my grocery spending

Last month, I made a couple of small purchases, in an attempt to give myself an easier Sunday, each week. I've been working at making Sunday a truly restful day for me. For lunches, I set out leftovers or a jar of peanut butter and loaf of bread, and everyone helps themselves. But I was still left with making Sunday dinner.

So, in February, trying to simplify dinner prep, twice I bought flour tortillas from Dollar Tree, for making bean burritos. Now these only cost a dollar a package, so no big deal, right? But for this month, at least, as I try to cut my spending to catch up on our budget, I had to make the decision to *not* buy any convenience items, like those flour tortillas.

I have a new plan for Sunday dinners, for the month of March -- making something during the week to heat for Sunday supper. This past week, that was pizza. I made 4 large pizzas during the week, and froze the leftovers. On Sunday, all I needed to do was make carrot sticks, a dip, some dried fruit, and reheat a pizza. For a dip, I made a quickie marinara sauce in the microwave, with tomato paste, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, oil, water, basil and oregano. Both the carrot sticks and the pizza could be dipped in the marinara.

Cooking ahead is not a new idea. However, it's an idea that I'm dedicating to my Sunday dinner prep for the month. This should save us $4 in extra grocery purchases (by not buying those packages o tortillas) for the month of March.

This is not a "forever" plan. But it's helpful in a pinch. If I remind myself that a change from routine is short term, it easier to carry out. In April, once the budget is back on track, I may return to buying packaged tortillas to keep my Sunday supper work to a minimum.



  1. Making Sunday or another day, a day of rest is a good idea that I think everyone should strive for. Has it been hard for you to accomplish this?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I now whole-heartedly agree! It was my son who pushed me into this. He could see I was wearing myself down to the bone each week. He had been after me for months to cut back what I do on Sundays.

      You know the saying, "you teach people how to treat you"? That's true in my own case. I'd let everyone in the family believe that I would do practically anything asked of me, any time, regardless of if I really had the time.

      So, for the most part, I've been able to cut way back on what I do on Sundays, but there is an occasional bit of resentment from one family member, who seems to like things the "old way". That one will come around eventually.

      It also means that I have to think ahead, do things on Saturdays, and catch up on Mondays. But worth it, IMO.

    2. Your son is a keeper! Good for him for being sensitive enough to notice that you need a break. You sound like you have a very giving nature--which is great--but even givers need to "re-fuel". I had someone recently tell me that changing from my old way of "I can do it, I'm capable" to taking more time for myself will result in pushback from others who aren't comfortable with me changing my behaviors. That was eye-opening for me, but so true--I have found if I am aware of the pushback, I can prepare for it and have a better response for it. It's hard sometimes, though.

      Just out of curiosity--I've seen recipes for making my own tortillas but I've never tried them--have you? I'm thinking they have to be fairly simple and are probably pennies to make ...

    3. Hi Kris,
      I totally agree. Funny it took my son pushing me to do this!

      For homemade tortillas, yes they are super cheap to make. I do often make them, there's a recipe/instructions on my blog:

      But they take 20 minutes to make a batch, and clean up the mess, so wasn't wanting to make them myself on Sundays.

    4. I was thinking more in terms of making them and freezing them for future use (since for me, tortillas are the means to an end for a quick meal). I totally get what you mean about wanting the quickest, easiest route to preparing dinner. Any chance you could get one of your kids to cook on Sundays for you?

    5. Like Kris said, your son's a keeper. Anytime there's a change in the family, it takes a while for everyone to adjust. It sounds like you're in the transition period now, but it will smooth out soon. I think taking Sundays off or some more time for yourself is a very good example for you kids, especially your daughters. It shows that that it's okay to put yourself first sometimes and it is actually very important.

    6. Hi Kris,
      In summer, the girls do cook on weekends. During the school year they have choir practice on Sunday afternoons. So, looking forward to summer for more reasons, now!

      My homemade tortillas seem to dry out easily, so don't keep well (beyond a day). But I'll have to look around and see if anyone has a recipe that freezes or keeps well. Thanks for the suggestion!

    7. Live and learn, I agree. And especially so for my daughters. I did grow up watching a mom do everything (where do you suppose I learned that behavior?!). Although my parents were able to afford meals out often enough, so that probably gave my mom a break from cooking at least. But for my daughters, I don't want them growing up to think they have to do everything all the time, especially as they both want careers. Thanks for the worst of support!

    8. That sounded sexist and old-fashioned -- I mean they both plan on working outside the home, in addition to inside the home.

  2. I prefer to keep my Sunday's as a day of rest but I do enjoy having/making a Sunday dinner.

    As in introduction to the Sunday story, I have to start with Saturday. Hubby and I went to get a few groceries on Saturday morning. We ran across a lot of meats that were being discounted up to 50% off. We loaded our cart. At home, we knew we had to separate them into usable packages and we had a couple of boneless pork roasts that I wanted to cut into slices. We froze just about all of it except for a few of those pork slices. We were going to have chicken parmesan for Sunday dinner but instead of chicken it would be pork!

    Later that day we got an email from our youngest college daughter and she wanted to bring three friends home for church, breakfast and lunch! So I retrieved a few more pork slices from the freezer (they hadn't frozen yet) and I pounded them all down to thin slices and refrigerated overnight.

    On Sunday, after church, I dipped them in garlic butter and breadcrumbs (I used my homemade bread ends) mixed with Italian seasoning, salt, parmesan cheese and quickly fried them. They went into the oven to finish cooking while I got the spaghetti and the sauce ready. I realized I needed something to go with it but only had about 1/2 head of lettuce so that was made into a greek salad with leftover kalamata olives, red onion slices, feta cheese and dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice and Italian seasoning. Then we used a nearly stale loaf of bread into garlic bread using garlic butter.

    Mother in law brought a small jar of applesauce and we had dinner for 8!
    This meal didn't cost me hardly a thing and we used up some things that needed to be used up (lettuce, bread) and we had a bunch of happy young people get a home cooked delicious meal!

    All three kids will be home next week for spring break so all the meats we bought will be perfect for feeding 5 adults next week. I have no more money budgeted for groceries for the rest of the month except for milk, eggs and yogurt so we'll se how this works out.

    Luckily, I'm a fairly creative cook and I don't often need recipes so I'm sure we'll make it just fine!

    That's my adventure!


    1. Hi Alice,
      That is an amazing feast that you there together, last minute!

      Can I ask you -- you said you are about out of grocer money for the month. Do you ever borrow from the coming month's budget? Or do you adhere the month at hand's budget? I am looking to hear how other people manage grocery budgets. I feel like I lost some discipline in the last few months.

      Good luck feeding all 5 of you next week! I'm guessing you're really looking forward to the whole family being together at meal times, again! I feel the same way. even though my 2 youngest live at home and commute to campus, they haven't been here at dinner for the most part, all quarter.

    2. Our life is kind of weird but here is the best explanation. My husband is retired but we still have three kids depending on us since they are all in college. He has not found other steady work and I work fulltime outside the home. All of our income goes into savings and I get about 1/8 of his pension to use for any and all bill paying and that means the utilities/groceries/prescriptions/toiletries etc. The rest is used for tuition for three kids. The 1/8 I use can go slowly or it can go quickly but if I need more, I can use from the 7/8 that has gone into savings. I do have about $299 left but I really need to save that for other utility bills that will come in during the month. But I can use it for groceries but we're pretty well stocked up and I can make just about anything from the freezer and pantry.

      I needed new tires on my van last week so I did need to use some of the 7/8. I often use most of the 7/8 for tuition but there is a little left over for things like tires and we had a new roof put on between Christmas and New Years.

      We also planned for college a long time ago and saved for many years. We are dipping into that a little bit now and then but God has blessed us much that we can pay for all the kids' tuition (yes, they have student loans but not so much). We have a cushion but it was planned for a long time ago and is part of what we save each month. We drive 17 yo, 12 yo, and 11 yo vehicles between the 5 of us and I'm ready for a newer vehicle but not until the kids are done with school. This May our oldest graduates so she will have to start doing more for herself and we have two more years until the our son graduates and three more for our youngest.

      People think we are crazy but there simply is no other way to get money to pay for education and the last thing I'll do is get a parent loan only to repay that when I'm getting ready to retire!


    3. It doesn't sound weird or crazy at all, Alice. It sounds like you have found a financial system that keeps you current on all bills AND sets aside for retirement. Thanks for sharing.

      For our own family, I could take money out of what we've set aside for the future, to spend on groceries, but that could leave us in want later on. It just makes more sense for us to economize as much as we can now, so that we will be able to take care of ourselves later. This seems to be difficult to explain to a culture that wants what it wants, when it wants.

  3. This doesn't help in terms of making your Sundays any easier, because this recipe isn't exactly a "quickie," but this is hands-down THE BEST home made flour tortilla recipe I've found - and it's much cheaper than buying the pre-made variety:

    1. I'll check those out, Cat. Thanks for the suggestion. My usual recipe is an old one from Laurel's Kitchen (cookbook circa the 70s).

  4. This year I am dedicating more time to analyzing our food budget as well as all other expenses. In a year and a half we will start our SS benefits, so in preparation for life on fixed income, I told husband we need to "practice". I have been tracking our food budget over a decade, and found we consistently spend about $500-600/ mo for three adults (myself, husband and my dad), with last year being $522. This includes groceries, alcohol (the occasional beer and wine), eating out, toiletries, paper goods, HABA, including vitamins, but not expensive supplements for my dad. To live within our SS means, I want to reduce our food budget to $450. We eat so simple, and cheaply as a whole. I read other frugal blogs that describe their menu plans for the week and I get the impression they do a lot better serving delicious meals for much less than what we spend. So I am in the process of dissecting our food budget by listing on a spreadsheet, what we buy, quantity, and price. I have a unit price list that I carry with my on shopping trips so I know a solid unit buy price in my area (Hawaii). Sometimes, it could be the higher cost of living here, but we've been to California and Nevada a lot and for the most part it is not true. Costco prices seems to be almost exactly same. I figured that we spend too much for non nutritious food items. Roughly, 40% for alcohol, junk, carbohydrates, and fast food conveniences (we rarely eat restaurant style), 50% for fruits, vegetables, and protein sources including garden seeds, etc, and 10% for nonfood HABA items. I'd like to change that to 30% carbs and junk for starters.
    I don't think I've answered your question about monthly under and overages, but I like to keep track of annual averages anyway, so my answer is it doesn't matter to me so much, because if a sale is good I like to stock up.

    Your Hawaii Fan (YHF)

    1. That's interesting, Hawaii Fan. I would have thought that groceries would be a lot more expensive there. Go figure.

      Your analysis sounds very thorough, I'm sure you'll be able to nail down a couple of areas that you can reduce.

      Does your Costco sell institutional size packages, like what restaurants use? As you've read, I do a lot of my shopping at a restaurant supply, and I buy large packages, like those #10 size cans of tomato products. I save a lot by buying sizing typical of a restaurant.

      I think that's smart to try living on a retired person's income for a year. You can see where you need to make changes, and whether or not retiring right now is in your best interests. Best wishes with that!

    2. I read a couple of your past blog posts and you mentioned Cash and Carry. I googled it and now see why your food costs are lower. My gosh 25 and 50 lb bags of produce. Costco and Sam's Club are the only bulk shopping stores in our area. I would love to buy onions and carrots at your price, here I'm lucky to buy either for 79c per lb. This week a local store is selling cabbage for 19c per lb, so I'm going back tomorrow to buy another 10 - 20 lbs. I plan to freeze it. So wonderful when I can buy at these prices. Dairy might also be another category that is more expensive here.

      I want to change our spending HABITS (mindless spending routines). I like your concept of portion control and will adopt that. We used to eat according to our appetites...what a waste of money and why we are not in the best of health either. Buying on sale at terrific prices is not the only way to trim our food budget, finding cheaper nutrient sources and portion control will help also. Growing some of our food, like Kang Kong, is easy and very nutritious. I like having a ready source of vegetable that is easy to grow like a weed.

    3. In our area, we have two types of Costco, one that caters to households, and the other is a business Costco. I've been in the business Costco before, and they sell sizes similar to what I find at Cash and Carry. I'm just wondering where small restaurants would shop in your area, if there's perhaps a business Costco, or equivalent, for you. It really does save me a lot. This week, Cash and Carry has 5-lb blocks of sharp cheddar for $10.98, that's $2.20 per pound. A regular supermarket has 2-lb blocks of cheddar on sale for $5.99 this week, or $3 per pound. That's the kind of difference I find regularly between shopping a restaurant supply and a supermarket.

      Growing your own produce is excellent! I'm sure you find yourself cooking more with vegges as a result, and save $$ plus eat healthier. It sounds like you're making some changes that will significantly lower your grocery costs.

    4. Thanks for your replies. I am learning so much since coming to your blog. Your encouragement is nice too :)

      I did not know there are two types of Costco...if there is a business Costco in this small island, they must sure be keeping it a secret. I can't think of any restaurant supply stores that are open to the public where I live. I was comparing supermarket and Costco/Sam's prices here and the mainland and was puzzled why our food budget seemed so high considering we are not eating nice entree style meals like other bloggers. Again thank you so much for your replies.


    5. When I first began shopping at Cash and Carry, they would only take cash from non-businesses/restaurants. But they were happy to let me shop there. Now they make it public that anyone can shop there. Anyways, my point is, one of the restaurant suppliers in your area, may at some point accept any customer.

      There was another place we shopped years ago. It was the Darigold distributor, directly, for 55 lb sacks of powdered milk. Their office would let us pay cash for those large sacks. There may be other places/distributors who will sell direct to you, if you're making a large purchase and using cash.

      You could also fill out a request form for sizes of products that you'd like to buy at a place like Sam's. They may or may not take your suggestion, but if enough people make it known that they're interested in large institutional sizes, they may begin to stock some of them.

      We have a chain here called Fred Meyer. They have a bulk bin section, where you buy as much or little of things like flour as you want. Before I found Cash and Carry, whenever whole wheat flour went on sale at Fred Meyer's bulk section, I contacted the dept manager and asked for her/him to set aside 2 50-lb sacks for me. Sometimes, they'd have to order those 2 sacks from the warehouse. But I was able to get the bulk bin sale price in a super large quantity, without having to fill up dozens of those small produce-size plastic bags.

      Good luck!


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