Monday, January 19, 2009

Compacting In The Kitchen

I know this is long... but it's chock full of information. If you are trying to cut back but don't know how this might be worth reading. Skip half way down (below the bold line) to check out the dollar for dollar changes we're making now. We are saving some serious money without giving up our quality of food. Sure a few of the changes are more time consuming... but not as much as they sound. Last year I wouldn't have thought there was much I could take out of our spending... I was seriously deluded. Oh and check out the link at the end of the post.

Not even a year ago we were spending over $200 a week for our groceries... and that didn't count takeout or eating out (2-3 times a week), or Mr F's lunches at work. That might seem like a lot but it's actually the national average! At that time we had been buying high end brands and some (more and more over time) organic foods. But we were throwing out rotting produce and meat EVERY week.

I started meal planning and that helped some but the lure of the $5 Hot & Ready often meant I pushed meals around and/or never got around to making them. Before we left MI I had worked pretty hard to lower our grocery spending to around $180/week for nearly all organic foods but we were still doing plenty of take out and still wasting food. When we moved we had a completely stocked fridge/freezer and pantry of partial opened foods that we had to give away!

Moving here actually gave me a clean slate and instead of filling them back up with everything we had had before I decided to only buy things AS NEEDED. Which meant not buying every kind of vinegar, oil, and baking ingredient "just in case", etc. I really switched my head space from buying things to make a new recipe to trying not to buy things... like if I don't have "x" let's just scrap that and find something I can make with what I've got. Is my cooking somewhat less adventurous?... yep... but it's also a hell of a lot cheaper.

When we started "compacting" a couple of months ago I decided to take meal planning one step further. Instead of thinking of meals and then seeing which components we had and buying the rest, I started carefully assessing what we had and trying to make a meal plan around buying as little as possible. It's a subtle but important difference that resulted in... oh... $40-$50 a week. To make that work most effectively we do a monthly stock up on our basic meal components that we eat EVERY SINGLE WEEK: frozen vegetables, frozen fish filets, pasta, rice, peanut butter, jam, butter, popcorn kernels, instant oatmeal, dry cereal, pancake mix,chicken stock, tomato soup, canned salmon, pasta sauce, and apple juice.

Did you get all that? Because we are buying all organic foods the cheapest way to get them is to buy the store brand. Organic food rarely has coupons (sigh) so the store brands are where it is at... and the bulk bins! I have found (and believe me I have diligently searched and price checked) that Whole Foods has the cheapest (and best quality) of store brand organics. We don't have one here but Mr F drives about an hour and half with a cooler in his trunk and loads us up. It is winter so the cheapest (and best quality) produce is frozen.

Now at this point we don't buy more than a months worth of food... because we don't have a chest freezer or a lot of pantry space... and we can't front that much money. The stock up costs us about $80-$140 bucks depending on how much we needed to replace. That lets us limit our weekly spending to fresh ingredients: dairy, eggs, meat, bread, some vegetables, and fruit. Doing that brought my weekly spending down to about $75-$80 with the monthly stock up bringing our monthly spending to about $440. When we started compacting Mr F also started packing his breakfast and lunch and we only got take out or a restaurant meal once a week. So our total monthly food budget went from about $1200 a month to $520 (that counts one night of takeout once compacting started).

Now we are down to $400 a month... maybe less... time will tell. Here are the changes we've made (some since Compacting some since January):

From buying 2-3 loaves of organic bread each week for $4.50 each
To making our own bread in a bread machine (it was free!) for $1.25 per loaf

From buying lunch meat for Mr F's & my lunches for $9 - $12 a week
To buying a rotisserie chicken and eating chicken & chicken salad sandwiches for $5 a week

From making 2 cups of coffee every time we made coffee for a total of 2 pounds of coffee a week $16
To making 1 cup at a time and not pouring any down the drain for a total of 1 pound of coffee a week $8

From having several beverages in the house to having ONE beverage choice other than water per person. KId gets milk, Baby (still breastfed) gets apple juice, Mr F & I have coffee w/half & half. Savings for us $12- $16 dollars a week!

We don't have premade packaged snacks we now have fruit, yogurt, cereal, pb &j, or popcorn for snacks. Mr F & I have both lost 3 pounds in 3 weeks just by getting rid of packaged snacks. It took a little adjustment but the kids are doing just fine ;) Once a week I make homemade muffins using up whatever apples or carrots are getting old. Savings of $5-$10 a week. (and a pound a week)

From ordering pizza once a week for $17 (it was fantastic)
To making it or having a frozen pizza for $4-$5. Saving $12-$13 a week!

I make exactly 4 portions of dinner. Kid, Mr F & I each have one and Baby has 1/2. The remaining 1/2 is immediately packed up for Kid's lunch the next day.

I have lowered our protein portion down an ounce per person and raised the carbs up a small bit to make up the difference.

I have figured out the costs of each dinner I typically make and keep that in mind when I'm meal planning. Tomato & Meatball Soup is about $5 for 4, Brown Sugar & Ginger Salmon w/ rice & broccoli is about $12 for 4. Our dinners have not lost any of their nutritional value I just try to plan more cheap meals versus expensive per week.

Using frozen vegetables saves me about $1-$2 per pound which is $7-$14 a week. And I have mastered the art of cooking them so they are not mushy and you would never know it wasn't fresh broccoli.

We do not go out for dinner. Period. Saving us about $80- $200 a month. For us, right now, we just can't afford to. And the expense just isn't worth it for what you get when your dining companions are 2 and 6 years old.

For our sweet tooth we still have dessert.... just not lots of choices. I have my Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered caramels. The kids & Mr F have Newman's Own Organic Fig Newman's or Newman's O's (cheapest at Target). We have vanilla ice cream and we have chocolate sauce. We make a simple icing-less chocolate cake that is a depression era recipe that has no dairy or eggs (it's moist and it is cheap) once a week. We make cookie dough and freeze them in portioned balls... so we only bake what we need for that dinner. We eat less of them saving money and calories. I'm not sure how much money this saves certainly a couple of bucks a week.

My whole philosophy with all this is to strip it down to what we NEED. We buy fresh fruit as needed. No more bowl on the counter with rotting fruit just because something looked good at the store that day. When it's gone we buy more. That's the great thing about living in modern times.. we can just go to the store. I find we don't need to go as much as we thought we did... we can make do with what's on hand. And the less times you go to the store (in my experience) the less you spend.


Oh and if you are at all interested in coupons or don't know where to start hop over here. Scroll down and she's got an introductory post... but, dude, she just got 21 jars of Ragu for less than a buck! It's almost enticing enough to make me cross back over the conventional/organic divide!


Colleen said...

I've become a couponing queen and have almost mastered the coupon/sale match up. Even though it is just my husband and myself, I've got quite the stockpile looming in my basement (yes, 31 tubes of toothpaste...namebrands only, baby!). Stockpiling good deals has been the biggest change (and money saver) and it has allowed me to give, give, give to family, friends, and charity. Now, if only I had more room, or more time to figure out the best deals...

Mrs Furious said...

I just started reading Amy Lawson's sister's blog
Happily Average she posts on coupons and maximizing them... you might like it!

Amy said...

Isn't my sister insane?
Seriously...20 jars of sauce for a buck?

Mrs Furious said...

Oh yeah she's serious... I couldn't believe the whole Walgreen's sauce transaction. But it did get me thinking.

Katy said...

Thanks for the link Mrs. Furious! Now I'd better actually post some good stuff!

(Feeling pressure...)

Liz said...

I've learned to keep my cooking relatively basic, too. No lists of fancy ingredients. I do a lot of frozen stuff- mostly due to also working full time and frozen is just faster and easier.

We stock up when there is a meat sale or frozen veggie sale. Best Valentine's Day ever was when hubs got me a chest freezer for the garage.

My biggest challenge used to be to not take advantage of a sale simply because it is on sale. If I already have 50 things of deoderant, I really don't need to buy 3 more. If I choose to go ahead and purchase, I make sure to donate to food pantries and such. But really- if I already have too much, why buy more? I used to have this thing about fancy, scented soaps back before I had babies... and I had at least 20 partially used bottles of various brands of over priced, over scented soaps and gels and such. Giving that up was a definite save in the wallet!

julie said...

Mrs F, you are the bad ass in organics and cutting food costs. I am so inspired. I loved the "snack buffet" comment. That's how my kids are...I have seriously cut down on what snacks are in the house.

Marie said...

That is so great!!! I think we've done basically the same things at our house (menu planning, very minimal prepackaged stuff, no lunchmeat, using what we have already..). My dd's (4, 3, and 18 months) are big believers in the "snack buffet"...I've started doing a snack at 10am and again at 3pm. Hopefully they can get into this routine rather than "grazing" all day...

Have you thought about maybe doing a small garden this summer? Last year we planted our first one and it was WONDERFUL!!! The easiest things were the summer squash and zucchini...honestly I threw the seeds in the dirt, watered every blue moon, and they TOOK OFF!! By the end of August we were sick of it, but really its great to supplement.. And the girls loved checking it out and seeing if anything grew. For the zucchini and squash, it cost us about $5 for the organic seeds and a bag of organic compost..

And do you have a favorite bread recipe? I'm still on a hunt for a good sandwich type the King Arthurs Easiest Bread Ever recipe and use it for soups, etc.. but haven't fallen in love w/ a sandwich bread yet...

julie said...

That's the great thing about living in modern times.. we can just go to the store. I am so guilty of this...acting like I will never get to the store like when my kids were babies. Do I really need to have 4 boxes of cheddar bunnies on hand at all times? I am trying to allow myself to run out of things.

And the less times you go to the store (in my experience) the less you spend. Yes, Yes, Yes!!

All right, I better get off the blogs today. It is Jack's birthday and really, do I want him to remember it as mom was on the computer the whole time? um, no.

Mrs Furious said...

Happy Birthday Jack!!

Yes to both.

I'll post the bread recipe but it is basic and even Mr F eats it... so that's a good endorsement!

1.5 c water
4.25 c flour (2 c bread, 2.25 whole wheat)
2 T powdered milk
3 T white sugar (it works best)
1.5 t salt
2 t yeast
2 T butter

I've tried all different kinds of sugar (brown, honey, molasses) and the white sugar produces the most even crumb... so it slices much better.

And I am thinking of doing a garden. My only problem is that I'll be gone to MI for all of July so I'm trying to pick things like late tomatoes and early veggies that we can harvest before and after we go. I'm worried about my back not being healed enough so we might just try some simple container gardens for this year.

Mrs Furious said...

What you've got up is great! Don't stress.

Missives From Suburbia said...

Okay, so I'm not compacting, but something you said a while back and repeated in this post resonated with me, and it was about not making anticipatory purchases. I have simply stopped doing that. It's amazing how much money I'm saving just with that one little change.

I have a friend who scores from Walgreen's constantly and ends up buying 100 boxes of rice for $10. It is insanely inspiring, although I have yet to get there mentally myself.

Mrs Furious said...

That in and of itself is half the savings... at least. I can't believe how much less I actually need to buy when I just buy what we're going to use. It's crazy. And completely explains why we were able to fill a complete dumpster with crap before we moved.

Elizabeth said...

mom planted grape tomatoes near the back door this year. She was up north for a lot of the summer, and they kept producing through September, I bet down here they'd keep up at least that long! It was fantastic to just be able to grab some!

I may even plant some here, and I"ll be gone May to August.

Heather said...

I thought of you tonight as I drove past Trader Joe's. I'm out of natural peanut butter (which apparently is a good thing if you read the headlines), and normally would stop to get some, along with $10-20 of other things. But I didn't stop; this morning I made oatmeal with oats from the Whole Foods bulk bins, with banana and walnuts we've had for a zillion years and for whatever reason, haven't eaten. Long story short: I saved us $20. Woo-hoo!

Mrs Furious said...

As usual I had no clue what was going on... yikes to the pb! Hopefully the WFM brand is okay.

How did I miss your comment?!
Agreed... my whole shopping mission used to revolve around trolling Target for sales. I'm trying hard not to stockpile... but I think it is a weird human instinct!

Yes I think they could last longer here. I'm going to try it! Worst case scenario the squirrels will enjoy them.

Renee said...

Mrs. are truly the bad ass of compacting and it is worth repeating again, and again, and again....THANK YOU for making a HUGE difference in my life, budget, and sanity! :)

Christy said...

What kind of soap do you use to bathe the girls? Do you make your own?

Mrs Furious said...

No I don't make our own soap.
We buy whatever "green" shampoo is cheapest at Target and combine it with our 10% shopping days we get from getting our Rx filled there. They use shampoo for body wash too.
We used to get California Baby stuff but it really is expensive. Right now they've got a Jason Kid's shampoo. We use a regular Johnson's Buddies easy comb detangler (spray)... I'm pretty sure it's okay. It doesn't have any of the main "bad" ingredients.

For hand soap we use Method (I get it at Target) foaming handwash in the pumps. I have repeatedly gotten these and the refill for super cheap in the Clearance section of the beauty section. I don't know if they have Method at other stores.

We stopped going to CVS because Mr F had some impulse issues there... but I'm thinking I might be able to get things cheaper there. I'm going to look into it.

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