**This is part of an on-going series. If you missed part one, click here.**
It's been a few days. I hope that gave you enough time to let the planning part of this series sink in. I also hope you made a plan. I needed a few days to sort out my momma-mind and organize this post for you. Win-win for us both, right?
Okay, so now that you have your whole month of meals planned out - or at least your dinners, you need to make a grocery list. The biggest money saver of this activity is shopping in your house. Yup, you heard me right, to eat well on a budget, you need to shop your house.
The second biggest money saver (actually this is just as important as the first) - you have to be willing to cook and bake. Don't know how? Or think your cooking sucks? Just start. It really is that easy. The more you do something, the better you will get at it. It's inevitable. Don't believe me? I was THE WORST cook/baker when I first got married. In fact, I hated it so much, I hardly ever did it. I love it now, almost to a fault, but if you would have told me I would be like this, back when I was a newly wed - I would have thought you were crazy.
Now that we have that out of the way...
The third biggest money saver and an easy way to save a ton on groceries is to forego the packaged foods. When we first started to transition to a healthier, real food diet, the first thing I did was stop buying packaged snack food. No more boxed cookies, breakfast cereals, crackers, bake mixes, puddings, juice boxes, chips and so on. This is much easier to do when you have small children. If your children are older and set in their habits, only buy half the packaged foods (sticking with the healthiest you can) and then slowly transition to none. The goal here is to not start a war in the house over food.
The easiest snack food in the world is fruit and raw veggies. I let my kids eat these whenever they want, and it's not only quick and easy, it's healthy. Our bodies were not created in a lab, and they are not designed to thrive off of food created by science. This is where the "To Make List" comes into play, and I'll explain that more in a moment.
Compile all your recipe ingredients to see what you need in order to make what you want for the month (don't forget to double your quantities - remember, you're cooking two dinners each night to save you from having to do it another night the following week). Now, look in your fridge, your freezer, your pantry (or in my case my basement) and check off everything you already have. Doing this alone will save tons. This turned into a huge deal for me once we started shopping at bulk warehouses. Those big bulk buys can save you tons of money, provided you actually use it all up before it goes bad or you forget about it and double purchase. I've read other blogs where people keep an updated spreadsheet and I think that's amazing and give them so much credit, but I just don't have that in me. I guess I'm not "Type A" enough? Either way, if you're a space-cadet, creative, sleep deprived mom like me, you can still achieve the same goal by doing a quick glance over your freezer, fridge and storage - it takes five minutes and sometimes less, even if those things are on different levels of your house. Write down what you need to buy.
Now take a look at that list. What is on it that you want to purchase organic or local? In our house, we place buying locally at the top of our priority, followed by organic, then minimally processed. I consider myself lucky that we live in an area where farms are literally 2 minutes away and we have a lot of options. If you live in a city or non-farming area, you likely have a farmers market near by (please support your local farmers, they need it), and if not, your grocery store will more often than not advertise that an item is locally sourced. Locally sourced food, in my opinion is your best bet because it costs less to get it to your table, is fresher and eats up less energy than items (think fruit and vegetables) that have to be flown in.
If you plan your meals around what's in season, you'll save more money. Now, there is a catch to this. If something on your list is from the "dirty dozen" - the list of foods with the highest concentration pesticides (click here for this years dirty dozen), buy it organic, unless you're purchasing directly from the farmer and can ask questions. An example of this would be strawberries. Strawberries are always near the top of the dirty dozen list every year. For the life of me, I can not find organic strawberries worth their price anywhere, and of course, they are a favorite in my house. We do, however have an abundance of "pick your own" strawberry farms near by, and one in particular that is just down the street from us - lucky us! I found out that the farm by us only sprays a small amount of watered down pesticide on their plants, prior to the fruit actually budding, once, and that's it. My daughter used to get a rash on the sides of her mouth from eating strawberries from the store, but when she eats strawberries that we pick ourselves she's fine - makes you think, huh? I take my children strawberry picking about every other week during the season. We gather as much as we possibly can and make jam, pies, and freeze whole berries - enough for the entire year. I know they think I'm strange, I typically get a "You guys are back AGAIN?" from someone, but it's always with a smile and sometimes a discount. It also makes for an inexpensive summer activity to keep the kids happy and busy - they love it, I love it, again, win-win.
I suppose this brings up another point, the freezer. If you can find an additional freezer (assuming you don't already have one), get it - it's worth the investment. Check the energy costs if you're not sure, but if you have a family, and cook most of your meals at home, I can almost guarantee it will be worth it. Check Craigslist or your newspaper for used ones. I got super lucky a couple years ago and found an almost new upright freezer on craigslist for only $100. It was worth every penny.
Okay, so back to the list. If you only buy exactly what you need, I'm pretty sure you can find a way to squeeze in some organic produce into your budget. If not though, don't skimp on the produce - local, organic or not, it's always healthier to eat the produce than to skip it because it's not "pure" enough.
Incase you're getting lost or over-whelmed, here's a quick breakdown of the shopping order.
Buy it local
Buy it organic
Buy it at a warehouse
Buy it at a store
I should also add that the longer you do this, the cheaper and easier it will get. I only go shopping for groceries once a week, and sometimes less. Most of the time it's for "filler" items that I don't already have on hand. Where ever the bulk of the items I need to get are located, that's where I pick up all of my items. So instead of stopping at four different places and getting exactly what I want from each store and "saving" $5, I buy it all at one place. Sometimes that means I'm at Costco picking up produce (that may not be as organic or local as I want) as well as my huge package of toilet paper. Don't get crazy or elitist about your shopping. You always have to take into consideration the gas money involved in getting from point A to point B. If you're riding your bike to the store with a trailer, well then, that's entirely different and you should go to as many places as you want.
It pretty much boils down to just sticking to the list, and nothing more. Don't allow yourself to be tempted into impulse buys. You can avoid this by eating prior to shopping (buying food while you're hungry is never a good idea, trust me), and if your kids can't handle all the goldfish and ice cream rejections, go alone if you can. I've gone grocery shopping at midnight - not exactly my idea of a night out, but sometimes it's necessary.
Now, on to the "To Make List". Eating well on a budget and saving money on food is easy when you have a plan. Just like you made a plan for the month with meals, you should make a plan of what items you want to make ahead for quick breakfasts, snacks and what I like to refer to as The Mad Dash Out The Door Because We're Running Late foods (by the way, we're always running late).
Here's a list of what is typically on my "To Make List"(though not every week so don't get scared): -Bread -Pumpkin Scones -Oatmeal Breakfast "Cookies" -Waffles -Pancakes -Breakfast Sausage Patties -Biscuits, rolls or burger buns -Granola -Granola bars -Ketchup -Mayo
Just like your dinners, you're going to be making more than you need. Anything that can be frozen, I highly recommend making quadruple what you need. Seriously. If I'm about to make something that I know my whole family likes, I make the biggest batch I can and freeze everything we don't use.
I can't tell you how nice it is to just pull something out of the freezer and pop it in the toaster in the mornings, or do a quick defrost in the microwave. One giant batch of pancakes or waffles will last us two months, easy, because we don't eat them every morning. I'm pretty sure anyone reading this could handle making pancakes six times a year.
I think that's it for now. Part 3 is coming soon. Please feel free to ask questions if you have any - I read every comment left on this blog.