Grocery Budgets and the Storage Pantry

I have been reading all over the Internet about this subject lately it seems to be the latest trend. I think to myself-WOW you’re a gal’ ahead of your time. By this I mean I have be doing this my entire adult life, my mother and grandmother did this. I actually thought EVERYONE ran their house this way. I live in the country, in New England, a trip to town for supper isn’t always that easy and takes up a lot of time and energy both your energy and fuel. Some days you aren’t going to town no matter how bad you want to go, the driveway isn’t plowed and there is a 12’ high snow bank at the end of it.

I see big lists and advise to go out and buy expensive glass storage containers and special storage buckets. I think… WHAT? Well maybe I have an advantage over others as I have always stored food in glass and have many already. I didn’t go out and buy them. Keep your eyes open and look around, try the local deli or restaurant for the large jars their condiments come in and ask them to save the jars for you. Check the local recycling center and save your own jars you think will work for other items. I have noticed lately most items are in plastic, can’t tell you the last time I saw a glass mayonnaise jar. Ask your family and friends to save the larger ones for you. Check yard sales.

I have in our cellar a large storage cupboard full of unopened items my family eats. This is the start of my shopping list. I know how much of what my family will eat and how often these items go on sale. When I take an item from this cupboard I write it on my list to replace. I always use the first in first out system to keep the stock fresh and use the oldest first.

To do this write the date you purchased it on the top of the container and under that the date it will expire. When you add more slide what you already had to the front and stack the new in the back.

I have a cupboard in the kitchen with open items we are currently using and most of this is in glass jars, and tins and I want to keep it fresh. When something is gone I go to the cellar take what I need to replace it and write it on my list.

I try to do all my cooking and baking from scratch but am not above using a store bought brownie mix to have the brownies for the bake sale I was just asked about at 9pm and need in the morning. I hate baking bread in the summer, it heats the house up and I would rather be outside gardening or riding my horses than cleaning the kitchen after a baking session. Some year I will find the right bread maker on sale and life will be good but until then store bought it is. Summer around here is way to short.

How I do my weekly shopping:
First I will take my list of items I have used from my storage cupboard. I check the fridge for the perishable items that are low or have run out. I then check the sale flyer FOR THE STORE I SHOP AT and don’t bother with the rest. I then compare the two and write a new list of items I’m going to buy. Then check my coupon envelope against the sale flyer for the brand I was looking at. This works sometimes but mostly coupons don’t work for me.

I go to town and shop on Tuesday mornings, this is when the store is less crowded. I first stop at our local discount store and purchase anything from there that is on my list (I already know the price of what I want at the grocery and I just looked at it in the flyer). I then go to my local grocery store and finish up my list. I will check the meat isle for any meat that has been marked down. My store does this on Tuesday mornings. I then will look for any meat that is less than $1.99/lb and purchase as much of this as I can afford that week. I don’t buy meat unless it meets these requirements. I next choose items from the produce and dairy sections, again on sale if I can, but milk is never on sale around here. If I happen to stop an another store during the week I will check their sales and purchase what I need from my list.

I have learned from experience to never freeze meats in the package they came in. I always try to take a package of meat and make at least 2 meals out of it. A good size steak I cut in half, that’s more than enough meat for one meal. Take the time to purchase a good vacuum sealer and use it. Always take the time as soon as you get home to properly put away your groceries. Divide and store what needs to be. Wash and rinse the produce and place in storage containers. You just paid good money for that food take care of it and make it last.

There are people who use a pricing book to keep track of what stores carry what for less. This might work for you, I don’t and can’t stand shopping and driving all over the place and am not an impulse buyer. I guess it’s a gift- so many people I know are and I always shake my head and think to myself when they mention some new wonderful can’t live without purchase. I think good golly yesterday you didn’t even know you needed it…and today you have it. I am perfectly safe going into a store before I have eaten, in fact this is when I need to go, if not I come home with almost nothing and my family looks at me with the why didn’t you buy anything look.

If we had a food co-op in the area I’m sure this would be my favorite place to do my shopping. I’m not a fan of extra packaging and plastic and never have been. See I told you I’m ahead of my time… I do shop our local BJ’s wholesale only because that’s the only choice… Last year I shopped there 6 times and purchased gas 14 times, so I don’t think I will renew my membership. I know this because I track it all in my budgeting software right here on my computer. Add the cost of the membership into the cost of the food I purchased and I don’t think any of it was such a great deal. It would work out if I shopped there more often but I don’t. Some items in there are cost efficient but most are not. Just because a package is larger doesn’t always mean it costs less per unit/pound or contains less packaging. Do you math and figure it out. I also stop to think if I will use it up before it goes bad and how I’m going to store it. For example a 50# bag of rice will not keep well in the cloth package it came in. Do I have another way to store it and the containers? Freezing it would help but I wouldn’t want to use that much storage space on rice my family might only eat a few cups of in a month’s time. 50# would take our family over a year to eat. I do have glass containers I could use but would use a lot of them and again it might go bad before I use it, and what would I put things in I know we will use and replace.

I purchase my spices, herbs, and grains at a local health food store because they buy it in bulk and I can bring my own jars to fill. I have the tare weight (the weight of the jar) written on the bottom of each jar. This saves packaging and I know they are fresh and organic. My spice jars are a practical size and I know I will use it all in a few months time. Nothing is worse than trying to cook a nice meal and find you have stale old herbs to use. I would never buy spices or herbs from the discount store. Spend the money to buy quality/fresh herbs and spices–your family will thank you for it. When I get my garden up and running again I will grow and dry my herbs and spices that I can grow.
I have friends and family that do purchase large amounts of items I only use small amounts of. For example rice, my sister eats rice for almost every meal and I can trade/purchase from her the small quantity I use and still get a good cost per unit price. Don’t be bashful and talk to your family and friends about this, they may be thinking the same thing. I do a lot of trading with people and I’m not looking to get the best deal or take advantage of them, I want things to be fair in both of our minds. I know people who are always trying to get one up on someone else and use so much energy and add stress to a relationship that one day explodes with bad feelings. I’m also not going to let someone always take advantage of me either, I don’t like that stress and don’t need friends like that.

There is a lot of advise out there to make weekly meal plans for say 6 weeks then simply rotate the weeks to add variety. This doesn’t work for me. I can plan on having salad and hamburgers for supper and by the time supper rolls around I may be deep into a project, be tired or just not feel like making that salad and end up with pancakes and fresh maple syrup and fruit. I do my meal planning from my cupboards and it’s what seems tasty at the time. I will take a piece of meat out in the AM and commit myself to that for the day or next few days but that’s as far as it goes. When planning a meal I will first check to see what we have for leftovers and what needs to be used up first then work around that. I hate throwing away food and hardly ever do.

I don’t stick to just the basic same old-same old in my cupboards. The reasoning is I have 2 special needs diets I need to think about. One is a low fat, low carb diabetic diet, and the other is a high fat, high calorie, keep the weight on diet. This is challenging to say the least, so I need variety, variety, and variety. Those bland meal plans where the same basic ingredients are reworked into almost every meal would not work here. Mealtime to our family is enjoyable and fun, not the simple process of adding nutrients and calories to your body to sustain life. It needs to be enjoyable, exciting, tasty, ever changing and an adventure to look forward to. Good food and conversation is what helps knit a family together. Never go a mealtime without spending it with your family.

When my boys were in school I always packed their lunch and tucked in a note, a piece of candy or fruit they didn’t know I had, or even $.50 for a treat from school just to let then know I was thinking about them and wanted their meal to be enjoyable. I do the same for my Husband and now with the cell phone, a day never goes by that he doesn’t call me or I don’t call him to see how the day is going over lunch. Even today both my boys are grown and call me at lunchtime or dinnertime to chat and catch up with family.

So all in all how much do I spend for groceries in a weeks time? Well it depends on the week. Most weeks it’s between $60-$120 for a family of 6+ I never know who will drop in for a visit. Some weeks I don’t go at all, if nothing I need is on sale. If we are out of ice cream and frest fruit, I can use canned friuts and we don’t need the ice cream, I’ll make fudge or cookies. During the winter I may go 2, 3, 4 weeks without shopping, the weather, our budget, or my mood (especially around Christmas, to crowded and people are cranky, pushy, in a hurry and rude) may keep me home. My husband or one of the boys is happy stop at the store on the way home for milk and bread, or I can stop quickly while I’m in town.

Stocking up on food is not a new idea but it’s a great idea! Many people never learned how or why it’s important, their lives where just to busy. I’m glad to see people are looking for ways to slow down and learn the ways of the simple life I have always had and love.

These photos have absolutely nothing to do with food or storage. They were taken in historic Downtown Winchester, VA on a recent trip to see family there. A town deep with history and tradition and that’s what stocking food and budgeting is — traditions and history. Ask most anyone who has always done it and they have tales on how and why they make their simple life work for them.


Posted on August 18, 2008, in Family, Food Storage, House Budgets. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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