Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to Afford Groceries

I got my feelings hurt yesterday when I saw the total of my grocery bill. I didn't fall down crying but I wanted to. Looking around the store, I saw that almost every customer had that same sad look. Some of us are living on budgets that are squeezed beyond anything we ever imagined. Some of us are living paycheck to paycheck, while others are trying to make an unemployment check stretch out just a few days more. There are hiring freezes, pay freezes, downsizing and prices rising. I couldn't believe the prices I saw. I knew they were creeping up but things that cost .79 are now 1.29. And if it lived, breathed and roamed the plains it's so expensive, who could afford it. Let's just call it like it is and say we're living in tough times. I strongly urge people to stock up as often as possible, but this post is about taking care of the moment when the money is really, really tight.l

We can do without a vacation, the cell phone, the fancy kitchen counter upgrade but we cannot do without eating. You can't exactly eliminate breakfast and lunch everyday. You are stretching pennies until they scream and you're wondering "How am I going to afford to eat without living on ramen noodles and Kool-Aid?"

You can do it and it isn't as hard as you think. But you have to THINK before you shop. Don't get in a panic. I know a person who fed 4 people for a week for less than $30 and the very meager remains in the cupboard. If he can do it, we all can. You will not be eating lobster, but you will be full as well as nourished.

Get a general idea of what you will be needing from your shopping trip. Skip the junk food and the bakery. Think minimal but hearty. On the front of an envelope jot down some meal ideas. Utilize what you already have and try to make one meal last for two. On the back of the envelope, jot down the supplies you will need to pick up. Try to shop in one spot, rather than driving all over town wasting gas that cost more than the car did. If you've got a coupon, put that inside the envelope and an asterick by the item so you know to give the cashier that coupon. Think minimal without being stingy. My kids love apples. And I love that they are very multipurpose: sliced plain or dipped in peanut butter, chopped into a fruit salad, on a peanut butter bagel, etc. One apple will last my little one all day. I use what I need, refrigerate the rest then slice the thin brown part away that's caused by the air and eat the frest part. I don't need to buy 5 pounds of apples today. If my budget is small, I can just by 3 singles.

As for those coupons, this is Survival Week, so we aren't stocking up as usual. We're only getting what we need. Use your coupons carefully. This is a good time to use them on paper goods and laundry.  Skip the Mega Lasagne Italiano on sale for 9.99 with a coupon. That's going to hurt your wallet, not help it. Make spaghetti then use the leftovers three days later for Baked Spaghetti. Way better for the tight budget.

Think of multipupose foods. Chicken breasts, bagels (they hold up great in a lunch), ground beef, foods like that. Just ask yourself  "what else can I do with that?"  Take your ground beef and brown all of it. Use half in your spaghetti sauce because you need to cut back on the meat any way.  Later in the week, break out those ramen noodles (don't deny it, you have some) Throw in the ramaining ground beef, thinkly sliced onion, the whites of two hard boiled eggs, some leftover broccoli or peas from spaghetti night and you have a meal that will fill you up. This summer my brother will be sharing his plums and blackberries and I will gladly take all I can. My kids don't like them, so that will be my fruits of choice, saving the apples, grapes and oranges for them.

Also skip the processed junk food. A box of Cheerios cost the same as a large bag of Doritos. But you cannot pour chips in a bowl for breakfast, You can, however, snack on Cheerios. Sometimes I like them better than the microwave popcorn. You will actually eat healthier because you are being so selective. A head of lettuce is cheaper than the bagged stuff and if it isn't in a salad or on a sandwich, you can shred it for Taco Night (there's another use for half the ground beef). I realize the ramen isn't high on the nutrition scale, but one meal like that is fine. Remember, you are looking at the overall weekly meal plan.

None of us want to live like this all the time. You can do it until payday. We've done this and we ate better, without any hiccups.  Nobody died from lack of snack cakes. Nobody complained. If someone asked if there were any chips, I merely said we were out and look for something else. People were snacking on yogurt (which was also a breakfast meal with some grapes and a glass of milk).

Things will get better.  Just remember: you are smart, efficient and very capable of tweaking the grocery store numbers to work in your favor. Let me know how you're stretching your food dollars.

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