Food Budget Reform
Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Mary Ostyn from Owl Haven, at a Created for Care retreat. She’s a lovely lady, fellow adoptive mom, and mother of ten. I read her book A Sane Woman’s Guide To Raising a Large Family while we were in Africa getting ready to bring the girls home. I had been eye-balling her money-saving cookbook for years but never took the plunge until recently when I received an email from a friend who is expecting baby number seven just a couple of months behind me. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in purchasing the book and then we could go through it together and bounce ideas off of each other while seeing how much money we could save applying Mary’s advice and recipes from her book. I jumped on it and immediately ordered Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Ironically, it’s currently out of stock on Amazon, but check back soon because it’s worth every penny. If you’re anything like me, you see a book like this and think, I could probably find a few new recipes but can she really say anything about saving money on groceries that I haven’t already heard before or don’t do? Well those were my thoughts as I clicked “buy now.” Boy was I wrong! I was incredibly impressed with the many suggestions and tips she shares in the first several chapters. I’m not going to give it all away because I really want you to buy the book but I will share my progress and results as I put her advice into practice. I’m always super curious about other people’s spending habits, certain areas of their budget, etc but am rarely brave (or crazy) enough to ask. As a result, I’m going to assume you’re probably just as curious as me so I’m going to be completely transparent and share all of the nitty-gritty details with you along the way.
Here are some facts about our food and budget up until now:
We are a family of 9, soon to be 10.
We have been spending an average of $1200-$1500 per month on food. The majority of that total is spent at the grocery store but about $200 of it is usually made up of Dunkin Donuts coffee, Sonic Happy Hour, and an occasional restaurant trip with the family (like once every month or two because let’s face it, feeding nine people at a restaurant is ridiculously expensive when we can eat the same quality food at home for 1/10 of the price).
I go to the store way too often. Many weeks I will do my big shopping trip on Monday or Tuesday and then return to somewhere like Walmart or Aldi later in the week for more bread, milk, or maybe a treat like ice cream or a bottle of wine. This bad habit has sabotaged my grocery budget for years. YEARS!
We have been purchasing four large $5 pizzas from Little Caesar’s every Friday night for the past 15 months. Friday night became pizza night when the girls came home and it’s something easy and relatively cheap that we all looked forward to at the end of each week. However, we can eat much better than Little Caesar’s pizza and for less than $20 and some change if we just plan ahead and cook at home. For example, tomorrow night is Friday and I’m trying out Mary’s recipes for Orange Chicken and fried rice. The whole family loves Chinese food but this meal will cost us around $7 instead of the $30+ we would pay for our favorite local Chinese take-out.
We have all been eating too much. Mary points out in her book, the importance of portion size with regards to meat or the main dish. My adopted daughters have experienced true hunger in their lives and they know what it’s like to eat one crappy meal per day or only be given a very small amount of food so we’ve been very careful to make sure food is no longer a source of insecurity for them. As a result however, they’ve been eating man-size portions for the past year. It’s amazing that none of them have become overweight as a result. We also have three sons and two of them are 12 and 13 so they naturally could eat enough for a small army in their current pubescent state. All that to say, we have all been eating far more than healthy portions particularly at dinner time.
Here’s the plan:
I am now planning our menu to include every single breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and potential treat or dessert. I take inventory of the food already in our fridge, freezer, and pantries and then make my grocery list accordingly. Using the Price Notebook that Mary taught me how to create in her book, I then create my grocery list according to where I can find the items I need for the best price. My two main grocery stores are Aldi and Sam’s Club. They both provide great prices on the things I purchase most often but I was amazed at the price differences I found when creating my Price Notebook. There are quite a few items I can buy significantly cheaper at Aldi vs. Sam’s and the other way around! For example, cheddar cheese is $.21/ounce at Aldi and only $.15/ounce at Sam’s. That’s a big difference when you factor in that our family goes through 3-4 lbs of cheddar per week! Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $2.29/lb at Aldi and only $1.88/lb at Sam’s! Butter and milk are also cheaper at Sam’s. However, eggs are $1.29 per dozen at Sam’s while Aldi has eggs for only $.89 per dozen! Cream cheese, deli meat, and bagels are all significantly cheaper at Aldi vs. Sam’s. This is where the Price Notebook has already begun to save me money.
I really appreciate that Mary touches on the issue of food quality in her book. She addresses organic produce and good quality meat and dairy. Basically, she is certain that even if you choose to buy all organic for your family, there are still ways you can save money on groceries. I like to buy organic fruits and veggies that are on the dirty dozen list. I also like to purchase two whole organic chickens once a month from Costco and use the carcasses to make and can about 14 quarts of organic, rich bone broth that I can use throughout the month. We buy raw milk from a local farmer but also drink conventional milk when the weekly raw milk (which is $7/gallon) runs out. We make the best choices we can for our family in the season we’re in right now. After a long, expensive adoption, selling our home, and continuing to work hard to get out of debt, we’re in a season of financial recovery. As a result, I’m thankful for the eggs that are $.89/dozen instead of the organic eggs we were buying at Costco for $3.75/dozen (which is a great deal on organic eggs!).
Part of my menu planning and the making of my grocery list includes being realistic about the quantity that we need to feed our family. I’m working hard to use less meat and more beans and veggies in our main dishes. I’m also making sure I buy enough eggs, bread, bagels, and milk to get us through the week without having to make any extra, budget-busting trips back to the store. Today I shopped at Sam’s and Aldi for the next week’s worth of food. Here’s whats on the menu and how much I spent:
**All of these items are homemade. I don’t typically buy boxed, pre-packed, or highly processed foods when I can easily make it from scratch for less and with better quality ingredients.**
blueberry muffins, pancakes, eggs with biscuits and gravy, raisin bran muffins, bagels and cream cheese, banana bread
(I will double or triple the muffins and banana bread recipes in order to put some in the freezer for when baby Charlie arrives in a couple of weeks)
Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, deviled eggs and fruit, macaroni and cheese, leftovers
String cheese or cheese cubes, apples with peanut butter, fruit salad, smoothies/protein shakes, rice krispie treats, banana pudding, peanut butter fudge, homemade granola bars
Chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole, salad, and bread
Quick Beef Stroganoff, salad, and bread
Orange Chicken and Fried Rice
Chili Corn Pone Pie (I doubled this and put one in the freezer)
Creamy Salsa Chicken (I will double this and freeze the extra), Spanish Rice, and guacamole
Cheddar Spinach Quiche and marinated tomato and cucumber salad
I bought an extra 3 lbs of ground beef and 7 lbs of chicken so I could go ahead and cook, season, and freeze it for post-baby convenience. I also bought an extra three dozen eggs and two pounds of ground sausage so I could make and freeze two large breakfast casseroles.
Here’s a picture of today’s haul from Sam’s and Aldi as well as a picture of my receipts in case you’re curious how it all adds up. I was spending an average of $300-$375 per week in previous months. My grand total today was $192.59 with almost an entire extra week’s worth of meat and pre-cooked meals going in the freezer for after baby arrives. I’m very happy with this week’s grocery trip. I’ll be 37 weeks tomorrow so I’m trying to get ahead of the game and make sure we don’t slip into a convenience food black hole when I go into labor and come home from the hospital. So far, so good!
This was a very long post, otherwise I’d link to some of my favorite recipes that I listed in this week’s menu. I will try to do that in the coming weeks’ posts. Please let me know if you have any questions or money saving tips of your own. There’s so much more to say, but this will be an ongoing series of posts so I’ll get to more of that later.
I look forward to seeing how much money I can save on food this month. I love a good challenge!