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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Budgeting and stocking my pantry

Right now, mid-autumn, finds some of the lowest prices of the year on many basic grocery items, including potatoes, fresh squash, canned vegetables, canned pineapple, cream cheese, butter, turkey, ham, fresh celery, canned pumpkin, nuts and other holiday baking items, and coffee. This is the time of year that I do the largest of my stocking up, to feed us well, through several months, and avoid some of the high produce prices of mid to late winter.

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.

baking supplies
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.


  1. I totally agree with your approach and use many of the same tactics to keep our budget lower than most. I also am turning to canned and fzn produce options, capitalizing on regional, local items when possible. I was at Stop and Shop yesterday,where they have DelMonte canned vegetables @ 44/can if you buy 12. I like this brand as they have a no salt version. I also had a 40 cent, doubled coupon to 80 cents off, so out the door, I paid 37 cents/can-cheaper than Aldi's. I got creamed and kernal corn, cut and Fr green beans, spinach. 10 lb bags of spuds are cheapest here @ $4/bag. That said, onions, celery, cabbage, winter squash all remain cheap. We eat seasonally, so menus adjust themselves accordingly. Great post.

    1. Hi Carol,
      that sounds like a great deal on the Del Monte vegetables, especially for your area of the country. And awesome that they make a no salt version. I know that's a medical need for you.

      Have a great day, Carol!

  2. I really like how you think through things. I do the same, but not quite as fully, and I should. Last week, Aldi had cabbages for $1.19 which is higher than the .99 they are sometimes. But then I looked at the actual cabbages and they were HUGE! Easily double the size they had been lately. One would make a meal for my crew of 7 big eaters (my kids love cabbage). So I got two, and will plan to get more as fridge space allows.

    1. Hi Cat,
      a produce stand near where my daughters went to high school would carry these super huge cabbages in September every year. They called them kraut cabbage. If I remember correctly, they sold them at about 39 cents per pound, 10 to 20 cents per pound less than the regular cabbage.
      It sounds like lots of cabbage meals are in your immediate future! Its always a happy thing when the family enjoys these surpluses!

      Have a great day, Cat!

    2. That's the thing I love about Aldi--while other stores sell their asparagus/cabbage/squashes by the pound normally, theirs are a set price per item, so it's an extra great deal when the item is huge!

    3. In our area, Trader Joe's prices produce per piece, not pound. Sometimes it's a really great deal, like on bananas at 19 cents each, when they're really large bananas. I'll go through the entire batch of bananas looking for super large ones. In our house, it's not unusual for someone to cut a banana in half to eat, and leave the other half on the counter for the next person. So the really large bananas are not a problem and none goes to waste.

  3. I'm in stock-up mode, as well. My Kroger had the first of their major fall sales this week.

    I bought 15 pounds of butter at $1.99 per pound. I know they run this sale every couple of weeks through mid-December, so I'm planning to get probably 15 more pounds.

    The Green Giant canned veggies were $0.49 per can. That's our rock bottom price in my area. I bought 20 cans each of creamed corn, whole kernel corn, french style green beans, and cut green beans.

    Del Monte canned diced tomatoes were on sale for $0.49 per can as well. I bought 20 cans as their stock was running low. I plan to get 20 or 30 more cans. It sounds like a lot but I use these tomatoes in chili, beef stew, and Mexican dishes.

    Creamette pasta was $0.49 per pound. Kroger was out of almost all of the varieties. I was going to ask for a rain check. Then at the end of the pasta aisle, they had a special shelf set up with Barilla pasta priced at $0.35 per pound. I was thinking it must be close to the use by date but it was all dated use by March 2019. I bought 40 boxes with a mix of spaghetti, penne, rotini, and elbow macaroni. I was thrilled!

    It's so nice to be able to stock my pantry this time of year. I'll be looking for Kroger to have rock bottom prices on sugar, flour, oil and chocolate chips in the next couple of weeks.

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Angie,
      I'm watching for butter prices to drop, here, too. You'll have quite a stock of butter by the time New Year's rolls around!
      That's a super deal on the pasta! I've never seen it that low, here. 40 lbs should last your family quite a while.

      Have a wonderful day, Angie!

  4. I might try and buy more canned things. The freezer we
    have on the side by side is not that great. Trying to figure out how to get around this and stock up. It freezes meat and already frozen veggies and fruit just fine. Freezing fruit is fine. I can't freeze celery,potatoes, carrots after they are cooked like make stew and freeze part. The texture comes out weird
    and not appetizing. So I am learning to cook smaller and every day. Casserols are a no go again they don't
    do very well in the freezer. So I think cans will be my
    friend. I hope to find butter,chocolate chips and nuts.
    Thank you for the great post. Did you score any pumpkins? Have a great day! Our projected high is 92
    today but it is already over 80 so I am guessing it will be warmer.

    1. Hi Patti,
      It sounds like you have found what works and doesn't work for you. I don't freeze a lot of casseroles, unless they are rice-based, or something like lasagna where the noodles seem to do okay. The only potatoes that freeze well for me are mashed/whipped and mixed with a lot of high fat ingredients, like sour cream, cheese, cream cheese and butter. Chunks of cooked potatoes come out mushy for me. And any soup thickened with flour freeze strangely, like a blob of mass, in a puddle of whey when thawed. It's okay if the soup is pureed, because I can blend it back together, but not stews.
      No pumpkins, yet. I may still find some. It was a little later in fall when I found them for free last year. If I don't get any free ones, I'll have to make do with canned, and might be just as well, as I really don't feel like processing a lot of pumpkins this year.

      It sounds like a warm one for you, today. We hit 70 here, yesterday. It was so beautiful. Even in the evening when I had to go out and get a daughter, I was just wearing a sweat jacket, it was so pleasant out.

      Enjoy your day, Patti!

    2. Lili,
      Thanks for heads up on freezing things. That really helps. You could even have some carrots
      in your pumpkin pies and breads. It sounds really beautiful up there. I am so glad the sun came out. I hope you get a few free pumpkins. My daughter bought 3 big pumpkins at 99 cents only, So that will make plenty of pumpkin. I was surprised to see the big guys for 99 cents. They are decor right now.
      Have a fun day.

    3. Patti, that's awesome about the 3 large pumpkins! Those will make a lot of pies, bread, muffins, etc!

  5. I've been grabbing a couple of extra bags of chocolate chips at Aldi lately--tis the season for deals! I'm glad I paid attention to the ads,though--our Meijer store (midwest chain, kinda similar to Walmart with a big grocery section) was cheaper than Aldi with butter prices this week. That's an unusual event! My hubby is the one who stocks up on turkey and ham.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I remember in past years you have stocked up on chocolate chips at Aldi in fall. Do you ever have trouble keeping them from being snacked on? Good job watching the ads, and finding butter on sale at Meijer!

      have a lovely day, Kris! I hope the weather is beautiful in your neck of the woods.

    2. I'm the guilty party with snacking up chocolate chips. *hangs head in shame*.

      We are having an unusually gorgeous fall. The tree colors were late to turn, which means that we still have a decent amount of fall color here--normally our trees would be bare. It's been warmer than usual with lots of sunshine. Hooray!

    3. When Wally was at home, he was the choc. chip snacker. I would go to the pantry thinking we had some, only to find half of the bag gone. We had to set some new ground rules after this happened a couple of times.

    4. I'm pretty guilty of snacking away at the chocolate chips, myself. I try making them inaccessible even to me (freezer, back of a closet, etc), but alas, when those chocolate cravings hit, nothing else will do.

  6. I bought some of the Winco white chocolate chips. I debated trying them as the cheap brands of regular chocolate chips are usually a lot more "other" ingredients than chocolate, but since the white ones are not really chocolate chips, but vanilla, I thought I'd give them a go. WOW! They taste great, and are much cheaper than the other brands, so I can use these in white chocolate chip cookies. This isn't really a seasonal sale, though--it's their regular price. I have a little treat I am making for a party at the beginning of December that calls for white chocolate chips, which was my primary reason for buying them, but I will probably make a batch of cookies as well.

    We've had many bean-based meals, as well as meatless soups, but we've also been eating up some of the meat in the freezer to make room for new meat purchases.

    It's very warm here and I have been craving greens besides the chard in my garden, so I bought lettuce. Hopefully mine will grow soon in the garden, it was too warm to plant earlier and now I just have tiny seedlings coming up in some places (and sadly, nothing at all in most places!)

    1. Hi Brandy,
      Good to know about WinCo's white chips. I think the semi-sweet chocolate chips from WinCo are pretty good, too, for use in cookies. While they're not as creamy as a gourmet chocolate chip (like Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate chips), they are great in cookies, and have a good cocoa flavor. The past few weeks, our WinCo has had all of their house-brand chocolate chips on sale for $1.68 bag.

      I hope your garden lettuce begins to produce for you soon. I understand cravings for fresh salad greens!

      Have a great day, Brandy!

  7. I'll be hitting up the Yoke's Fresh Friday baking sale this Friday. Powdered & brown sugar for 50cents/lb bag, Hershey's baking chips for 1.67 each, Darigold butter for 1.99, cream cheese for 97 cents each. Since all of these have limits, I'll limit out there & then head to Walmart to price match the same items. I have to respect limits when price matching, but it's still a great deal. It'll be worth my time & it seems I always have something I'm needing at Walmart anyway.

    I'm waiting for WinCo to get their turkey deal going. Last year they had spend $100 (including price of turkey), get the turkey for 28 cents/lb. The meat guy told me that they will run the sale & decide the price after they see the competitor's ads. I think I'll also pick up more canned green beans (already picked up 12 cases). I do want to get there earlier than later for that deal as I remember last year the price went up closer to Thanksgiving. I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I'll be looking to stock up on more than my usual stuff. Melissa

    1. Melissa, the Walmart that I go to has stopped matching prices. I thought it was an all over policy, but there must be regional variations.

    2. Yes. I had heard that. Our Walmart will no longer allow coupons with price matches, but will still price match. Melissa

    3. Hi Melissa,
      Great price on the butter! I hope you bought all you were allowed to. I'm running low on butter, and still waiting for a good sale. Keeping fingers crossed. I'm also waiting to hear what the turkey deals will be this year. I have a hard time spending $100 at WinCo, but I'm making my list, including things like bath tissue, facial tissue, OTC meds. If I can't come up with $100 to spend, Fred Meyer usually has a good deal, and I can find more items there to buy that I would be wanting anyways. We'll just have to see.

      Have a great day, Melissa!


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