by Tammy Taylor
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In keeping with our theme of keeping those hard-earned dollars in your pocket where they belong, today we’re looking at trimming waste from your grocery budget. We all may have different reasons for wanting to cut back – maybe a large unexpected bill needs to be paid, maybe you’re saving up for a new home or car, or maybe there’s too much month and just not quite enough money to get to the end of it. For me the motivation was a desire to have a lighter footprint and convenience foods came with a shocking amount of over-packaged waste. It’s interesting though that my desire to have a lighter footprint also saved substantial amounts of money from our grocery budget. Whatever your motivation, one of the worst budget hits is wasted food so make sure all the food you buy goes to fulfilling your family’s nutritional requirements. The good news is that there are many easy ways to make the most of your food dollars.
As I mentioned my goal was initially borne from environmental awareness. It bothered me to see multiple mammoth-sized trash cans lined up at the curb at each and every house TWICE A WEEK – every week – back when we lived in the city. All that trash, where does it come from? I started noticing where our home’s trash came from and it was shocking to see the over-packaged waste in our consumer products. So I started mindfully reducing the amount of trash I brought into our home. Of course I was already recycling everything I could but recycling – although better than landfill-bound trash – is still trash needing to be dealt with. I became more focused on PREcycling – not bringing it into the house to begin with. Boxes and cans of convenience foods were replaced with real honest-to-goodness ingredients and I began cooking from scratch. And those non-recyclable cups from my favorite morning yogurt were eliminated by learning to make my own homemade yogurt in single-serving reusable 1/2-pint canning jars. Each new step I made was successful in eliminating trash from going to the landfill but amazingly those steps also saved lots of money from our grocery budget. Over the years I’ve gained more & more confidence to produce for myself those things I used to buy, and I now typically make my meals, desserts & spice mixes from scratch. Now lest you be very misled yes, convenience foods make an appearance from time to time in my kitchen – for me it’s all about moderation and I’m certainly no SuperWoman. But here are many ways I’ve been able to save lots of money on our grocery budget:
- Cook-once eat-twice – Go ahead & make a LOT of that favorite entree tonight. Enjoy a portion for supper & freeze the rest in portion-sized servings. Now home-cooked healthy meals are as close as your freezer. Just pull out your main dish the night before and allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge. Then for supper all you have to do is heat up your main dish, add a couple of veggie sides and voila – supper from scratch in literally minutes!
- Planned leftovers – That leftover roast you enjoyed tonight can be turned into pulled pork BBQ another night. Leftover mashed potatoes can be made into potato cakes.
- Make Soup! – Keep a container in the freezer and add bits of leftover food and even juice drained from cans of veggies & you’ll be on your way to a great starter point for homemade soup. I like to make endless soup to keep me in hot lunches for a week – it’s EASY, healthy & very inexpensive!
- Store leftovers in repurposed see-through containers – That leftover food has already been bought and prepared so all the hard work has already been done. Don’t let those leftovers sit in the fridge until they become a science fair experiment, keep ’em where you can see ’em & eat those leftovers either for supper the next night or maybe for lunch instead of eating out.
- Use stale food in another dish – Turn that stale bread into french toast or bread crumbs, lightly-soured milk is good for any baked good that calls for buttermilk such as biscuits or pancakes. Potatoes that are starting to get soft can be cooked into mashed potatoes. You get the idea – use it up!
- Use all your food, even traditionally wasted parts – Washed veggie peelings or the bones / skin of chicken, turkey or steak can be made into healthy broth. By following my procedure that delicious broth’s lower in fat too!
- Grow a garden for fresh veggies – This one gets bonus points for exercise too since gardening often results in a healthy workout as well. Oh and it looks pretty too!
- Preserve the veggies you can’t eat fresh – By either canning, freezing, dehydrating.
- Don’t buy more than you can eat – No need to just grab that entire bunch of bananas and head for the register – it’s ok to pull off 3-4 from the bunch if that’s all you’ll eat before they go bad. And I’ve found that oftentimes when I’m buying fruit by the pound I get more value buying the smaller-sized bananas, apples, etc. Typically when eaten as a snack it’s one fruit, large or small. I can get more smaller fruits by the pound than larger ones.
- Second guess things you buy already prepared in the store – Buy popsicle molds and make your own popsicles using sweetened yogurt, the syrup drained from canned fruits, or this recipe for fudgesicles. A fresh jalapeno or sliced cucumber can go into an empty jalapano or pickle jar – the brine leftover in those empty jars will pickle that fresh cucumber or those jalapenos for very little cost and with no waste.
- Choose Less Expensive Snacks – Expensive colas were replaced with sun-brewed tea (Trifecta win – hugely less expensive, much healthier and less trash since the teabag just goes into my * tumbling composter) Popcorn is a fun inexpensive snack but I hated the waste! We buy a bag of popcorn kernels for about a dollar and it pops up GALLONS of popcorn with very little landfill waste.
- Use coupons only when they save money over buying the generic brand or for name-brands that really matter to you. There are sites on the internet that have done the legwork for you showing sales prices, locations of coupons & how much you can save at various grocery stores. One of my faves is Couponing101.com because Stephanie focuses on smart couponing, NOT extreme couponing.
These tips worked great for keeping our grocery budget low, but we’re all in different places in our lives and what works well for an empty-nester family might not work as well for a young family just starting out. What are some of your favorite ways to save those hard earned dollars on your grocery budget?
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