Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cleaning out the Pantry

After all of the extra expenditures this month and some other factors, our budget is pushed to the limit right now.  Our food budget is no exception.  We are just over for the month with one week left.  Luckily, Thanksgiving meals will cover us for a couple of days.  I do need to pick up milk and bread tomorrow to get us through, but I just did my meal plan for the next week and I think we can get by on what we already have in both the pantry and fridge.  We'll just have to get a little creative with lunches if there aren't enough leftovers.

I should probably re-evaluate the amount I budget every month for groceries (FYI, I do lump food and personal care/cleaning supplies all together as "groceries".  Diapers and pet food are separate.)  Our allotted budget isn't crazy, probably more on the high side for 3 people ($450) but definitely lower than the average family I would assume.  But we seem to go over budget more often than not.  BTW, I read a lot of other PF blogs and how-oh-how do people feed 3-4 people on less than $350-400/month.  Nevermind those crazy extreme couponers.  I'm talking about regular, semi-frugal people here.  I wonder if they're exaggerating, or their kids eat breakfast/lunch at daycare or school and those meals aren't coming out of their food budget. Seriously, I don't understand how this amount is possible.

I feel like I utilize a lot of money-saving tactics when I shop-- we plan our meals around what we have on hand, have an organized shopping list categorized by store aisle/section, shop once a week with a calculator and a pre-determined weekly budget, use 'regular' ingredients (not organic, not exotic or expensive, relatively healthy), don't buy many convenience foods, and shop at the cheapest store around (Aldi.)  I also match coupons with sales when I have time and I feel the deals are worth the trip to an additional store (Aldi doesn't take coupons so going somewhere else requires an extra trip out of my way.)  Hubby takes his lunches and snacks to work every day.

But...even though we rarely eat out in restaurants, we do pick up fast food from time to time when we're crunched for time.  That is what always seems to put us over.  Our actual grocery expenses are always quite a bit under budget--it's those little $10-15 drive thru stops that kill it.  We need to eliminate those stops just like we did when Hubby was unemployed.  We were really good about it back then but have gotten lazy since he started working.  Let's be honest--it's not like we'll never ever eat out.  We just need to cut way back.

Anyway, all of the meals for this week should take minimal time and ingredients to prep.  This is a must for us, since we tend to go for fast food when we're low on ingredients, or when we get home late, bedtime is fast-approaching and our planned meals will take too long.

I need to be better about cooking more double batches (eat one, freeze the other) or look up some freezer cooking or make ahead recipes.  It seems I go through phases, where I do a lot of it over a week or two, then nothing for a couple of months.  At the beginning of last month I made double batches of two different soups and froze them for the winter.  It was expensive to buy all the ingredients up front, but the recipes I chose had a lot of shared elements (chicken broth, carrots, celery, onions, diced chicken.)  And everything I bought got used--I didn't have any half-used bunches of celery or sacks of carrots in my fridge that went to waste.

Another thing I need to try to do more consistently is prep in advance, such as chopping, marinating, etc.  That would help in time savings and motivation. A few weeks ago, we made a trip to Sam's to get some ground beef and chicken breasts.  We normally divide the huge bulk pack of chicken into quart-sized freezer bags with 2 breasts each before freezing.  I knew I had to have cubed chicken breasts for a recipe that week, so instead of doing my normal routine, I cubed a couple of breasts before putting them in the bag.  It was so nice to pull out my ingredients to make dinner and not have to take the extra 5 minutes to chop up my chicken.

I am slowly adding to my reserve of slow cooker recipes.  I try to do one or two a week, but they usually fall on Hubby's nights off so he doesn't have to worry about cooking while looking after our son.  (Sidenote: Those slow cooker liners are worth every penny!)

We'll see how the next week goes...How do you stretch your food budget at the end of the month?

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