Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Budget Stretchers

My friend just asked me today what we spend on groceries every week and it lead to a little texting discussion on groceries and ways to lower your grocery expenses and get more for your money.  Now I am not going to bother getting into the nitty-gritty of numbers, because grocery budgets will vary from income to income, family to family.  I think what's important is to target some areas of our own grocery budgets and see if we can make improvements, whether it involves actually spending less money or getting more food/better food for the same amount of money.  As a homemaker, working on the grocery budget is one of the biggest ways I can impact our family's finances.  So for now, I will highlight a few areas that have really helped our grocery bill the most.  I would love for people to then give their own ways they best save money on their groceries or just stretch their food budget, because I can always use more and new ideas.  With food prices rising, I am sure we could all benefit from some tip-sharing in this area.

My Best Budget Stretchers and Savers

1. A pot of soup each week made from homemade broth - I know I have probably beat this one like a dead horse on my blog, but I am convinced that our weekly pot of soup gets us some of the most bang for our buck with our grocery budget.  We usually get 3 to 5 meals(a few dinners and a few lunches) from our large pot of soup each week and I dare say we ever spend more than $10 on ingredients for the soup.  I most recognize how crucial our weekly soup is to our grocery budget in the hottest days of summer when it is just not feasible to make or eat hot soup in our non-air conditioned home.  In the dog days of summer, our grocery bill seems to suffer from the lack of soup.  Some people might complain that they couldn't eat the same soup that many times in a week.  If that's the case, eat it only twice and freeze the rest for a few weeks later.  The kids do sometimes say, "we are having soup again" but this is just a reality for our family financially and the same soup won't kill them.  I try and remind myself in many cultures people eat the exact same food for all their meals their entire lives.  Its just us spoiled Americans that don't want to repeat meals more than once a month.  Another way I make soup more appealing to the family is to pair it with some homemade muffins, biscuits or bread, which we usually don't serve with our other meals. 

2. The incredible edible egg - Even with our tight food budget, I really aim to serve meat at least at every dinner, except for about once a week when we substitute eggs instead.  When money is really tight, we may have eggs for several dinners because you just can't beat the price for the amount of protein you get.  Some people eat eggs on most mornings, so this may not be a way that you want to stretch your food budget.  Or, you could consider a different breakfast option on a day that you want to serve eggs for dinner. 

3. Homemade yogurt - Store bought yogurt is convenient, but it is also expensive.  Our whole entire family LOVES yogurt, and in years past I used to spend a significant amount each grocery trip on yogurt.  But now every week I just make yogurt from a gallon of milk.  I can usually get the gallon for under $3 and I get a whole gallon of yogurt.  I used to spend $3 for just one container that my family polished off in one breakfast.  This has really helped save us money on breakfast.  I'll be the first to admit I was majorly intimidated by the idea of making yogurt, but after a few batches I realized it wasn't a big deal and now it is just part of my weekly kitchen routine.

4. Whole Roaster Chickens - While in no way, shape or form am I going to endorse the health benefits of such chickens, I am going to endorse their cheapness.  We buy a whole chicken every two weeks for around $4.  That chicken usually gets stretched into 3 meals.  We roast it for the first meal.  Nate cleans off all the left-over meat for the second meal.  Then I make a pot of broth from the carcass.  Nate and I were not used to handling a whole chicken at first, but over time it has become habit and it saves us a ton of money.

5. Dried Beans - Beans, beans the magical know the rest.  Nate and I rarely ate beans until a few years ago.  Then we started using canned beans, but I just couldn't ignore the cost difference of the bags of dried bean.  We now eat quite a variety of dried beans, including navy, black, kidney, pinto, lima beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas.  Dried beans require a bit of forethought, but you will start to notice a trend that you pay more for convenience.  Dried beans are much healthier for you because almost all canned foods are lined with BPA plastic coating and certain types of beans contain artificial preservatives to retain their color.  As far as the magical fruit thing, there are a few things you can do to make them more digestible.  First, soak your beans overnight.  This reduces the phytic acid in the beans and activates natural enzymes in the bean to make it more digestible.  Second, eat more beans.  The more beans are part of your diet, the more your body will be used to them.  Lastly, if you really struggle with beans but want to make them part of your diet, consider supplementing enzymes that will aid your body in the digestion process.  If you think you don't like beans, consider looking up recipes to prepare them differently.  I find that plenty of good fats (butter, olive oil, bacon grease) and seasonings can make any bean quite tasty.  If you can't stomach them plain, then sneak them into recipes like soup, tacos, salads, etc.

6. Become good friends with cheap produce and cheap cuts of meat - If you've never had the chance to do this, take a trip to the store some evening with a pen and a notepad.  Stroll through your produce and meat sections and take note of the most inexpensive options.  Chances are you will come across produce or meat that is unfamiliar to you or you may not know how to cook or prepare it.  Take some time to find a few tasty recipes to incorporate these ingredients into your weekly meals.  Your pocketbook will thank you!  Also, don't forget to check the discounted produce sections to see if anything is worth the price (don't always be fooled by things that are discounted, though).

7. Eliminate or Reduce Prepared and Processed Foods - this kind of overlaps the dried bean section, but your grocery budget will always be higher if these foods are a "staple" of your groceries.  We certainly buy some process/prepared foods, but for most of our regular meals we try and avoid them.  Instead of buying Bisquick like we used to, we just make pancakes and biscuits from scratch.  It really doesn't take much longer.  I used to buy muffin mixes, cookie mixes, rice mixes, frozen foods and all sorts of soup and meal starters.  But over time I figured out how to make those things from scratch and it has made a considerable difference in our food budget.

8. Plan on some affordable "splurges" - It's not always fun to stick to a food budget or cook every single things at home from scratch.  There are some nights that you may not feel like eating leftover soup or whatever is planned for that meal.  To help through these tough spots, its a good idea to build into your budget some fun things or splurges that may give you an emotional boost to stick to your budget the rest of the time.  For our family that means we get pizza once a week.  Sure, I could make a meal much cheaper, but I find that I look forward to our pizza night.  It gives me a break from cooking and the whole family really likes pizza.  There are also times that we just scrap our meal plans and get take-out.  And with our budget that is OK once and a while.  It only hurts us if we do it too much.  And after seeing the take-out bill for our family,  I'm usually pretty motivated to cook a few cheaper meals to make up for the cost difference! 

What are your budget stretcher and savers?  Please share your ideas so we can all benefit from them!


  1. Sarah,
    Love, Love, Love this post! ;~) Anytime you want to expand on this topic and add more cost saving tips or meal ideas, I'd love to read about it! Thanks again for sharing your endless knowledge!

  2. Great post! I can't wait until I have a bit more time to try some different things (I've always wanted to make yogurt, but haven't taken the time to look into it). For the beans, I'm sure you've done this, but I make up a HUGE batch of them and then freeze in 2-cup containers, which is about the equivalent of a can of beans. They're very convenient that way, and I only have to do the prep once a month or so.

  3. Kami, that's a great idea about making a bunch of beans ahead of time!

    Nicole, you should share that Spanish rice recipe you were talking about yesterday!

  4. ~Spanish Rice~
    1/4 cup butter
    1 onion (haven't actually used an onion yet)
    1 cup rice
    2 cups stewed tomatoes (didn't know about the BPA in cans...maybe you have some homemade canned ones)
    1 cup water (not what you make the rice with)

    Salt, pepper & garlic powder
    *I add corn! (Had some frozen sweet corn from corn on the cob)

    I make the rice first then add everything else and let it simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on. It's so simple but actually tastes really good...especially on soft tacos with black beans!

  5. Nicole, that sounds yummy! Thanks for sharing! We will have to give that recipe a try in our house!

  6. Come on readers! I know there are many more of you that have some great tips and recipes to share! Don't be afraid to post them!

  7. I guess if you just mix everything together and simmer it for 20 minutes you wouldn't have to cook the rice first LOL! I make things harder sometimes! haha. All I have been doing for tacos & nachoes lately is making taco meat with black beans already in it and making the rice...then we use whole wheat tortilla shells and tortilla chips and freshly graded's one of my favorite meals right now! The rice really changes things up.

  8. Yeah...come on readers...share your recipes!!! Some of us really need some good ideas! haha :~)

  9. Sarah,
    Here's that recipe I wanted you to try! The only thing I do different is that I add carrots and I put the potatoes, carrots and onion in a big bowl to toss with the soy sauce mixture. Enjoy and let me know what you think when you try it!

    Roasted Herb Chicken & Potatoes

    1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes
    1 large onion, thinly sliced
    1/3 cup Kikkoman Soy Sauce
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    2 cloves garlic, pressed
    1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
    1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
    3/4 teaspoon pepper
    1 (4 pound) whole roasting chicken

    1.Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; cut each piece crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place with onion in large, shallow foil-lined baking pan. Combine next 7 ingredients; drizzle 1 Tbsp. mixture over potato mixture and toss until evenly coated.

    2.Discard giblets and neck from chicken. Rinse chicken under cold running water; drain and pat dry. Place chicken, breast side up, in center of pan, moving potatoes aside. Brush chicken, including cavity, thoroughly with soy sauce mixture.

    3.Roast in 375 degrees F oven about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part not touching bone registers 180 degrees F, brushing chicken with soy sauce mixture every 30 minutes and stirring vegetables. Remove from oven; let chicken stand 10 minutes before carving. Serve with potatoes.