A budget favorite: Grandma's Buttermilk Pie
I've already written about how I plan and the lists I make, and I'll elaborate on that below, but I think the best way to show how I'm accomplishing this seemingly impossible feat is to share with you what we eat. Let's start with recent weeks, for instance.
Our budget the past few weeks was $60 less than usual and the cupboards after the holidays were nearly bare, so it was even more of a challenge than usual. We haven't been eating like kings, but nobody is starving and I've even had requests for seconds on several of these meals.
In no particular order, our dinner menus for 8 of those days were:
- Italian Eggs and turkey bacon
- Burgers in gravy with rice and fresh green beans
- Turkey Sliders and Baked Parmesan potato wedges
- Chili and corn chips (one pot with beans and one without)
- Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and sweet corn
- Chuck Roast with potatoes, carrots, salad and rolls
- Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic cheese rolls
- French toast and turkey bacon
Total cost for all of these meals was less than $70 - about $10 per meal, less than $1 per person.
The best part is the extras from leftovers. The Potato and Ham Chowder from A Thousand Soups was made of leftover potatoes from Sunday's dinner; we had a vegetable beef soup that was made from leftover potatoes, carrots, chuck roast and green beans from two dinners; lunch one day was a soup thrown together from leftover chili.
It doesn't matter what my culinary aspirations are, when it comes to keeping my family fed, I go with what works and what I know they will eat. Some of what you read below is from my Dinner Menus page on my site.
A couple tips that help me to keep costs down :
Make a list! This is where the whole list of menus on my website came from. I find that if I figure out what we will eat and make a list to stick to that my bill is lower.
Make another list! I know, some of you just aren't list makers but this one has really helped me; I go through my cupboards and refrigerator/freezer and make a list of everything I have (not spices, etc.) and take a look at that first before I make my shopping list. This has saved me from buying multiples because I wasn't sure if I had the item on hand or not. I am also sometimes able to make full meal plans from what I already have on hand and buy less for that week because of it.
Be flexible! For instance, if I make my list up and get to the store to find that one thing is on sale or just far cheaper that week than another then I try to adapt and plans change a bit. I do try to keep the main dishes the same and make sure that I check the ads FIRST so I know what is on sale or not.
Check the "dented cans" section. Many times I have checked here to find items that were completely fine (and not dented at all!) but were there because the store was phasing them out. I've gotten many things from beans to holiday coffees and candies etc. in this section at a mere fraction of the price, most often as little as 30% of the original. If I don't use the item that week because it wasn't "planned" it simply goes onto the "have-on-hand" list the next week and usually gets used then.
Buying in bulk doesn't always work. Say you're down to the last $5 of your budget and you still need potatoes. There's a large 50 pound bag available for $10 - which is far cheaper than the $4 for 10 pounds you were looking at. Well, if all you have is $5 you go with the smaller package, even if it costs more per pound. Keep in mind that you need adequate storage space for bulk items and that some things can spoil before you're able to use them.
Cooking ahead saves time and money. Not everyone has the time to do full-blown Once A Month Cooking excursions, but often times a little planning ahead for leftovers can save money. Buying a large roast with the plan to get a second meal from it is a good idea. When there were just 7 of us, I did a whole month of food for less than $200 - that would translate to about $400 right now, but that's still a considerable savings over the usual budget.
Think seasonal! Anything bought within season is generally better and cheaper than when purchased off-season. With shipping the way it is nowadays, you can certainly get almost any food at any time, but you're still paying more than if you were to pick it up when it's at its peak.
Don't throw it away! Before you think that a half cup of vegetables won't amount to anything, consider the fact that several of those half cups can be added to soup or stew, tossed into an omelet or frittata or added to a casserole. I keep bacon grease on-hand in the freezer along with bread heels, nuts, stock, gravy, leftover soup and anything else I have that isn't enough to serve as-is.
Keep coupons to a minimum. I don't mean don't use them, but don't buy an item just because you have a coupon for it. I have gotten some great deals in the past using coupons like getting items completely free or at a very large savings, but in general I don't save enough on a national brand to make it cheaper than what I get at ALDI.
So, where do I shop that allows me to keep within my budget? Here in the Lehigh Valley, I shop primarily at:
Valley Farm Market
I get out to Wegmans occasionally for items I'm not able to find at my regular stores and I also like Elias Market for things like bulk beans, nuts, seeds, Middle Eastern foods and very affordable produce.
About ALDI - I did a post at Family.com about ALDI that got a bit of interest. ALDI seems to be a love-it or hat-it affair, but I can honestly say there is nothing to hate. Please keep in mind that I have a culinary education and have cooked and eaten some of the finest food there is. ALDI really does compare well to other stores and save a very few items, everything is as good as or better than other brands. ALDI's packaging is often far larger than national brands, making the savings even greater. I would say I get at least 85% of my shopping done at ALDI, and sometimes more.
I'm hoping this information helps someone and if you have any other questions, please feel free to email me at irishones7 (at) juno (dot) com.
*This was written in 2009 and a few things have changed since then. The amount of people I now cook for is 7 most days (divorce and one kid living elsewhere), but the budget is still relatively the same. I shop more often at Price Rite for the time being, but I will always recommend ALDI!