Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Grocery Exile

in my previous post, i detailed the ways in which money does not grow on trees on the estoll property. as a result of this, i have been looking at cutting discretionary spending, the biggest category of which is the grocery budget. at times like this, i have done this little game i call 'grocery exile'. basically, i plan meals as much as possible around the staples we already have in the house, instead of what i usually do--which is, what sounds good to eat? (not that the things i make this way don't sound good to eat, just that it isn't the first consideration.)

so, we have 3 lbs of brown rice and no noodles? then, stir fry extravaganza. have a bunch of orphaned veggies left over from previous meal plans? veggie soup. feel like grilling pork chops, but the only meat in the freezer is cooked turkey? ok, turkey rice casserole it is. also, it helps to get things used up and cleaned out...for example, it seems like the tail end of the cereal boxes seem to linger on forever, once a new (and thus, more exciting) flavor has made its appearance. during grocery exile, new things don't make appearances, so the old stuff has to be used up (or, face a cereal-less breakfast existence....sad, sad day.)

this has also led me to thinking a lot about the freedom i normally have to buy whatever food i want, whenever want it. within reason, of course, since i don't get to have sushi once a week, but you get the picture. i am easily able to cook a balanced and filling meal for my family, as often as i want to (and sometimes, more often than i want to.) having a month or 2 of grocery exile can be good for the gratitude meter, if i allow myself to think in those terms, rather than, "poor me, i can't buy any new meat this month." even during exile, we still have plenty to fill our plates.

the usda puts out a report each month on the cost of food and how much it takes to feed different family sizes. the most recent one for december 2006 is posted here. according to their calculations, in order to feed a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 kids under 5) on the 'thrifty plan', it takes about $505 per month, which averages out to be a little under $120 a week. which on paper seems like a lot, but even when i'm on grocery exile, it is a struggle to come in under $100.

so, where do you fall? anyone have any good, frugal tips for those times in the wilderness?
Photo credit: Flickr/Camo's pics


Anonymous said...

Frugal food shopping is one of my goals in life. I hate it when I realize how much money I spend on food. I seem to go through cycles in being thrifty at the grocery store. At time I am the grocery nazi and refuse to buy anything fancy or labeled especially for kids (because you know it then costs 2x's as much) but then I feel as though I am depriving my kids when I see them around other kids with their cool juice boxes or fun fruit snacks in packaging covered in fun superheros or the most beautiful princess ever. So then I give in and buy high fructose laden "fun looking" snacks that cost as much as two lbs of yummy apples.

As you I have recently been inspired. I was at a kiddie party last week and a mom shared with me how she was sick of all the expensive junk she was bringing into her home and how expensive it is to buy prepackaged "healthy stuff" so she has gone back to the basics. Buying whole grains and beans and making most everything herself.

So I have taken a baby step towards this... I have ordered 45lbs (around $14) of wheat berries. My imagination has overwhelmed me with all the wonderful things I can make with this grain. I plan on starting small and just making my own $3.50 loaf of healthy bread for what I estimate around $.50.

I will let you know how it goes...

joysnatcher said...

We were on an insanely strict grocery budget for a while - $200/month. But Thomas was just starting baby food, so it was only for two adults and a toddler. I became the food nazi. We had a "cheese budget" - I grated the cheese into bags for each meal planned that contained cheese, then the leftover cheese was what could be used for snacks or lunches or whatever. How crazy! But I always had the cheese that I needed.

Anyway, I think you are way more frugal than you think. From what you blog it sounds like you are very concerned with being healthy and financially responsible.

The best thing for me was going shopping without the boys, and using a calculator as I shopped. Then I could go by my list, but keep close tabs on what my total bill was. (I did feel pretty silly at times). Plus no children making me feel rushed or asking for certain expensive treats.

I don't know who "anonymous" above is, but I have had the same feelings of depriving my kids when I compare what the other kids are eating. Especially when they're asking for the treats...but that's what Grandmas are for. And then a bag of "Nemo" fruit snacks (shouldn't it just be called candy?) is EXTRA special.

Judith ( said...

A Little slow on the reply (I check in about once a month/two months) so you probably won't even see my comments:

As any young family we fight the food budget as well. I find the only things that have worked for me is meal planning (what a concept), preparing every meal to last for two nights, and for all the healthy/organic options Trader Joes vs whole foods (no idea what stores you have out there but near me Whole foods is twice as pricey as Trader Joes). All that said and done for the five of us (Nanny included) I spend about $120/week.