Monday, March 10, 2014

How to plan and save money on groceries

March 10, 2013

I've taken the past several months off from blogging. I needed a break. A friend had some questions about how I plan and save money on groceries and that is all it took to spark my interest in my blog again. I will probably not go back to posting daily (it takes so much time away from my family) but I do enjoy writing a post when I can.

The first step to saving money on groceries is to plan meals. It sounds cliche. I never used to plan meals. I would buy whatever looked or sounded good at the grocery store. My cupboards would be over flowing with random items that once I got them home, they would sit untouched. There were always items that no longer looked appealing once I was out of the grocery store. Then I started this challenge to save money and started meal planning. Wow. It really does make a difference.

Now that you want to meal plan, where do you start? I start in my kitchen. Remember all those items that you bought and haven't gotten around to using? Those are the first meals that you plan. You wouldn't throw away a five dollar bill so why would you throw out a five dollar ingredient (if you let it expire)? I plan a few meals with items I already have at home whether it be items in the cupboard, freezer, or things that need to be used up in the fridge. Next, I turn to Pinterest. I get a lot of meal ideas on there. I may not follow recipes exactly but they at least get my creativity flowing and get us out of dinner ruts. As you are browsing for recipe ideas, keep in mind what meals you have already planned for the week. You don't want to end up with three nights of pasta meals (well, I wouldn't mind that much pasta but the rest of my family might!). Also, I like to tie two meals together. If you need to buy an ingredient for one meal, you may as well plan another meal that will use up the rest of that ingredient. If you use it in a completely different way, you won't feel like the dinners are repetitive. Lastly, don't forget to keep your schedule in mind. I like to have easy meals for nights where the kids have multiple activities.

Here is an example of my meal planning:

I mentioned tying meals together. I need to buy sweetened coconut flakes for the sunflower cookies that I am craving. A bag of coconut is way too much and I don't want the rest to go to waste. So I planned a meal around using up some more of the coconut. I LOVE the coconut sauce (copycat of Red Lobster's) and it needs coconut flakes. Perfect. The sauce also uses some pineapple. This leads me into the pineapple and portobello tacos. Ok, bear with me. These next tied together meals will sound strange but when my hubby tried it months ago..... it was pure genius. I made a batch of cream of potato, leek, and fennel soup and the following day he used some of the leftover soup as a pizza sauce. It was incredible. Pasta night is a quick meal for busy nights. My hubby bought me a pasta roller/cutter set and I have been having so much fun making homemade pasta. We dry some of the pasta to keep for busy week night meals. Shepherd's pie is the perfect follow up meal when you have leftover mashed potatoes. Not all weeks flow so nicely together.

Last week's menu:

  • Buffalo cauliflower & quesadillas
  • Fish tacos
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes
  • Roasted red pepper mozzerella, & arugula pesto sandwiches
  • Pasta
  • Burgers (vegetarian grillers or roasted garlic & quinoa)
  • Enchiladas
  • Salmon

Last week's meals didn't really tie together but I had a lot of the ingredients at home. I had a head of cauliflower from the week prior. I always have tortillas (quesadillas and enchiladas). I had two types of fish in the freezer. I had burger buns that needed to get used up.

After you meal plan, the next step you can take is to use up leftovers. Ugh. I just said the dreaded "L" word. We were horrible about leftovers prior to this challenge. We still have a way to go but for the most part we are well on our way to not being so wasteful. The kids pack lunches with most days leftovers or at least using up our never ending supply of bread on sandwiches. The best way to use up leftovers is to use it in a completely different way. Then it won't feel like a leftover. I have used leftover vegetable and quinoa soup (scooping it out as to not use too much of the broth) as a base for shepherd's pie. It turned out so well that my daughter asked me to make more for lunch the next day. Leftover mashed potatoes, mashed rutabagas, or mashed sweet potatoes are perfect for shepherd's pie. It makes it a quick meal versus a labor intensive one. Shepherd's pie is so versatile. You can use up leftover ham, turkey, ground meat, beans, and I've even used leftover vegetarian meatballs chopped up for shepherd's pie. I always seem to have too much bread. If you plan a meal outside of the box, it will make it more appealing to use up leftover bread. To me, breakfast is boring. I hardly ever eat breakfast. But, serve it to me at dinner and somehow it becomes fun. Ha. Grilled cheese made like from my childhood (simply with american cheese) ....Boring! Now we make them with caramelized onions, tomato, avocado, and a variety of cheeses. This past week we made them with sourdough bread, swiss, dill havarti, horseradish cheddar, sauerkraut, and mustard. It was delicious!

Here are a few ideas to help you create your meal plan:
If you have extra:                                                                           Make:

  • Arugula                                                                            Pesto
  • Bread                                                                               Croutons, Bread crumbs
  • Bread as dinner item                                                        Breakfast for dinner, fancy grilled cheese
  • Chili                                                                                 Pasta sauce (put through food processor)
  • Cooked cauliflower                                                         Cauliflower soup
  • Tortillas                                                                           Tacos, Enchiladas, Homemade chips
  • Hotdog/Hamburger buns                                                 Garlic bread
  • Cream of potato/leek/fennel soup (any cream soup)        White pizza sauce
Examples of tying meals together:
First night's meal:                                                                        Second night's meal:

  • Stir fry with rice                                                                Stuffed peppers with leftover rice
  • Rotisserie chicken                                                             Casserole, soup, or broth
  • Sausage & sauerkraut                                                        Reuben sandwiches
  • Ham (or any meat) & mashed potatoes                              Shepherd's pie
Will all of this save you money? It did for me. I took an average of what I spend at the grocery store ($175) and restaurants ($80) each week. If I spent less than that in each category this week, then I "save" that money. I also count the money that is saved if the kids pack lunch for school versus buying lunch. The big incentive for me to stick with this challenge is to actually save the money. Many times people will spend less and call it saving. You aren't actually saving if you only spend less. Put that money into a special account. I only use that money to pay for special things. I used it for a couple vacations and to buy our sweet little puppy, who turns one today. Happy Birthday Chief! You could use this money to start retirement savings, a down payment on a car, college savings for kiddos, etc. Keep track of how much you save. You will want to get more creative, save more money, and stick with it longer as you see your savings grow. The first year of this challenge we saved $5,036.79. As of 140 days (almost 40%) into the second year, we have saved $1,348.75. I'm saving a little bit less so far this year but I am ok with that. This is something I want to stick with forever and if that means allowing a little more play room a few weeks, then so be it. The biggest thing to remember is that YOU set the rules/boundaries for your own challenge.  If we have a week where we go over the averages and end up in the hole for the week, I do not take money out of our savings. I simply count that week as a zero. The averages that I use are just that: averages. Remember that there were weeks that you spent more prior to this challenge so why would you think it isn't ok to have weeks like that during the challenge? Don't get down on yourself. Take a breath, eat a leftover, and try again next week!