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Several years ago, I was working full-time in a corporate environment with a two-hour daily drive. To say it was draining is an understatement. My husband and I had several discussions about me quitting work and becoming a one-income family. The plan was for me to do some virtual assistant work but not to count on any of that money should I make a go at it. I’ve shared our story in More Was My Catalyst. Check it out for some further background.
With the decision to become a one income family I had to learn some new skills. Scratch that – LOTS of new skills. While I knew how to cook I wasn’t the one who did the majority of the cooking when working the full-time job. We were like a lot of households in that we were normal, with consumer debt and a consumption mindset. Debt and no savings. Doesn’t that sound stressful?
We had to ask ourselves, what steps could we take to reduce that stress and succeed in our plans to start homesteading?
Start with the Food
June 2014 began my foray into being a homesteader and home economist. All the skills needed to be successful in both endeavors don’t just happen overnight. Well not most. The first thing I had to do was become more proficient in cooking from scratch. And while I was pretty good at planning and organizing I had to get better. Menu planning is of utmost importance when trying to reduce the grocery budget.
How can a pre-determined menu help lower the grocery bill? Planning helps avoid waste and stretch the food longer. I purchase my bacon from Zaycon Fresh. The packages are three pounds of thick cut bacon. Best bacon ever in my opinion. Anyway, my family cannot eat three pounds for one meal so I’ll cook up the entire package. We can then have eggs and bacon for breakfast, freeze some to have BLT’s in the future, save some to have on a cobb salad, and use some for a bacon wrapped chicken dinner. Yes, I started with three pounds but I’ve also saved myself time to do something else because I bulk cooked that bacon at one time. It wasn’t spread over four different meals.
Want to know another way to make food stretch and save money? Buy a whole chicken instead of the parts. It’s much cheaper and you get more meals out of it. Cook the whole chicken. That’s meal one. Use the leftover chicken for chicken salad, or on a BBQ chicken pizza, pick off the smaller pieces of chicken and freeze to be used later for chicken quesadillas. Or leave it on and use some of the chicken to make chicken soup. Did you know you can use those bones more than once to make chicken stock?
Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs has more great ideas on how to stretch a whole chicken to feed a family. She also has some great suggestions for stretching pork loin and using it in different ways. I hope these examples give you some ideas on ways you can make your money go further. Another great website to check out for budget-friendly meals is Budget Bytes.
How else can you save money on groceries? Grow some of your own! Most fruits require a long-term plan, think fruit trees that take several years to produce, but there are some that may produce the first year (although the second year is better) like strawberries and some raspberries. My raspberries produced first year (planted spring and had a small harvest in the fall). If you know you’re going to stay in place for long-term you may want to consider investing in fruit trees. Otherwise, try planting some berries for a quicker harvest.
Grow Your Own
Most people think of vegetables when the topic of growing food comes up. Is gardening easy? Yes. And No. If you have no experience there is a learning curve. And if you’re really interested in growing food year-round it’ll take research into techniques, what varieties will work best for your particular climate, and by understanding your growing zone! Most people though focus on the summer garden. Which is ok. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That’s mostly what I did the first year. Tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, peppers, summer squash, and beans were what I concentrated on most. I’ve added on every year since incorporating more of the cool weather crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, beets, spinach, lettuce, etc. Have they all been successful? Nope, not at all. But I keep trying. My biggest nemesis has been groundhogs…and weeds. Oh man, those weeds! I could probably write a full page just about my feelings about them.
But you know what? I keep trying because it’s so worth eating homegrown food! It tastes so much better. The freshness just cannot be beaten! And there’s a pride to be taken in putting in the work to feed your family high-quality food. And do you know what else you can do with this food you grow? Can it! I just love pulling a jar of crushed tomatoes off the shelf to make my homemade pizza sauce. Best sauce ever! And it only costs about 50 cents (that’s if I don’t grow the tomatoes and buy a bushel from the local farmers market). That’s a pretty good savings from what you can get at the grocery store. I don’t even know what that cost would be because I haven’t bought pizza sauce in three years!
Cook From Scratch
Earlier I mentioned cooking from scratch. Do you know how easy it is to make pizza dough? When I was working full-time we would plan our menu (mostly) because we never got home until 6 at the earliest. This means we would get out whatever meat needed to thaw the night before (it’s still a habit) and whatever else needed done. Back then we didn’t make pizza sauce but we did do the dough. We’d make it and then just keep it in the fridge overnight lightly oiled and covered with plastic wrap. I say this to show you that if you are still working full-time you can still do many of these habits. It just takes a little planning.
One thing that has also been helpful and this is something we did back before I became “retired” as my husband would say, is to make up several meals to put in the freezer. We’d set aside a weekend to fill the freezer with things like chicken pot pie, lasagna or baked ziti, homemade chicken nuggets, etc. Many of these will yield more than one meals worth. If you find it hard to set aside a whole weekend try to find a day that you can do just a couple meals. It really is worth it. All else fails, double up on dinners (or breakfasts – we make extra pancakes, waffles, breakfast burritos, etc. to freeze for quick on the go meals during the week) and freeze the extra half.
Don’t Waste Food
Do you know what has been a huge cost saver for us? As a general rule, we don’t buy “lunch” food. I may purchase a package or two of sliced lunchmeat but that’s about it. My husband and daughter usually take dinner leftovers for lunch. For example, I’ll make a big pot of soup and that will feed us dinner and about two lunches worth for all of us. It’s pretty easy for my husband as he has access to a microwave to heat his lunch. For my daughter who doesn’t have access to a microwave, we purchased a Hydroflask thermos. We have three and have never had an issue with them. They work great for her to have a hot lunch without buying something thru the school cafeteria that is of questionable nutritional quality.
Buy In Season
It makes me feel really good knowing that my family is eating food that I prepared and possibly grown. If I don’t grow it, I try to get it from the local farmer’s market. I’ve gotten fruits and vegetables, honey, and eggs there. Often times I’ll buy stuff in bulk while it’s in season and at its peak and preserve it by canning, dehydrating, and possibly freezing.
For those items that I can’t get from the farmer’s market, I’ll try to find a local supplier (for example, I recently learned that there is an organic grain farm not too far from me so I’ll be purchasing my flour from there). Other items that I don’t have a local supplier, such as cashews, pecans, sugar, dried beans, etc. I’ll purchase in bulk from Azure Standard. It’s just like Zaycon Fresh in that you are given your pick-up time, meet the semi-truck and take your delivery from the back of a semi. It’s really easy and pretty seamless. With both, you need to check their website for local drop locations.
Buy In Bulk
Did you catch that I mentioned a bulk purchase of flour? I buy 50 pounds at a time. And I go thru it in less than a year. I make bread, pizza dough, pastry dough, tortillas (NOTHING like the taste of homemade!) and other baked goods. I’ve had friends say to me that they don’t know when they last used flour and it astounds me. Homemade just tastes so good! And it really isn’t hard. Homemade pasta sauce is to die for too. My recommendation is to choose one thing and start with just that. Perfect it. Then pick something else. For us, it was pizza dough first and then the sauce. We have homemade pizza every Friday. To get the same pizza (pepperoni, black olives and green olives – Yes, I know how much salt that is) from our favorite local pizzeria is about $14. As previously mentioned, the sauce is about 50 cents homemade, the dough is roughly the same cost. We use turkey pepperoni which is about $3–4 per package (I need to see if I can find this elsewhere!) and use about ½ a package. Then the olives come in less than $1. That homemade pizza feeds the three of us dinner and two of us lunch for $4. (Side note: in case you’re curious we’ve started incorporating other types of pizza for variety.)
Are Coupons Worth It?
You’re probably wondering, what about using coupons?? Many people will say that one key to saving money is to clip coupons. In my experience, you can save some money but in the overall scheme of things, if you’re cooking from scratch and buying store brands vs. name brands, you won’t have much savings. I personally still go thru the coupons but I don’t clip nearly as many as I have in the past. It takes me five minutes to go thru them and put them in my coupon sorter (something I got years ago for $1. It doesn’t have to be expensive!). Then, before I go to the grocery store, I pull out the coupons I’ll most likely use based on my grocery list, which was made based on what is needed (close to being out, what I may be buying extra of because it’s on sale – like pasta, and what is absolutely necessary for the meals on the menu or something that is purchased every week, like milk). This week I had $2.65 in coupon savings. Some weeks it’s only $0.25. In the long run, it adds up.
This is a multi-part series on how my family has taken action to save and start winning with money. Next time, I’ll review another area where we’ve achieved some wonderful savings and talk about apps that I’ve used in my endeavor to keep as much of our hard-earned income.
Do YOU have any tips you would like to share on saving money with food?
Is there something specific YOU do to control your food costs?