If you’ve ever wondered how I occupy my day as a kept woman, it may just surprise you to know that a large portion of it has to do with food. Another is laundry, but I just plain don’t want to talk about that. Chances are, at any given moment, I’m figuring out a meal, preparing a meal, cleaning from a meal, or being asked what will be served at the next meal. Every now and then, I might get a curious question about our grocery budget, but it doesn’t offend me at all. This is a big cost in everyone’s life, and we’re all trying to do our best. The average Canadian family of four spends roughly $220 a week in food. Our number is roughly a bit less, and it also contains our eating out (which we rarely do) and all other groceries (laundry, toilet paper, personal hygiene, etc.) but it’s for a family of nine. We have people over for meals often, I babysit quite often and I never feel like I can’t be hospitable due to budget constraints. Here are some ways I stay within the lines.
- Shop twice a month. I only go every two weeks or so. We have a second fridge and freezer to store the 7-4L jugs of milk we will go through in that time. I found when I shopped weekly, I spent much more.
- Use a service! Click and Collect has been a lifesaver. I can’t go over budget without it staring me in the face. It tells me easily the price per unit to compare prices, sales and brands so I don’t have a meltdown in the middle of aisle four trying to figure out which baking soda is cheaper. Like, more than twice. I don’t “accidentally” buy more of something than I need when it’s on sale, because I can easily check the pantry or freezer to double check. However- be cautious leaving the website open if you have children who know how the service works. I came home with four candy cups and four packs of Mr. Noodles once. Many stores offer this now.
- Meal Plan. If you are the manager of a home, you really should have two separate meal plans. One is in case of survival mode: at least a week’s worth of meals (allowing for three per day) that can be thrown together quickly; the ingredients are all in the house at any given time; meals that everyone will mostly eat; and will nourish bodies rather than inflame. Think hospital stays, huge stress times, extended illnesses, etc. When families go through tough, hard stuff- which is inevitable- everyone will still need to eat. If you’re doing drive thru windows or super processed stuff, things can go from bad to worse financially or in your health (which will make a bad spot even worse!) Having a meal plan on the inside of your cupboard door that hubby, older kids or friends can see and access will help things go smoother and save a lot of money. Think scrambled eggs and toast, spaghetti sauce, frozen batches of soup, frozen chicken and stirfry veggies, whatever. You can also rotate the same three days or whatever too. Don’t reinvent the wheel. The goal is to fill tummies, be prepared quickly, and be there when you need it. You might know it all off the top of your head, but having it written down adds a nice, peaceful feeling in times of chaos. You can also direct it from your bed, if you’re the one that’s down.
The second meal plan helps with saving money and being a good steward of what you have already purchased “in good faith.” You know, the stuff that was on sale, or healthy, or at the time seemed brilliant. I make my meal plan for the next two weeks based on what is already in my house. I do buy fresh veggies to add to this, but that’s it. This frees up your shopping list to be ONLY WHAT IS ON SALE. I never, ever, ever, pay full price for meat, cheese or big ticket (anything over $5) items. I do pay full price for butter. It bothers me on a deeper level than it should. We go through so much butter. Essentially, I am restocking my pantry and freezer when I shop, or looking for fun new recipes to try in the future, and I buy enough to get me to the next sale. If I’m out of something that’s not on sale, I wait and pray.
- Homeschool. You laugh, but honestly, we eat yummy, nourishing soups at least twice a week. It costs like $2 a pot, or something. Even in the summer. For snacks, we only have seasonal fruit or veggies, popcorn, yogurt, raisins, frozen fruit and *occasionally* cheese strings. Lately I have been buying boxed cookies which has been a hit. They only last a couple days, but it’s made school a bit fun. I wish I baked- I haven’t in years. Hopefully soon. Our oldest daughter is very capable, so I should be taking advantage of that. I buy granola bars and juice boxes but only as a big treat; we grab them when we know we’ll be out of the house for a long time so that we won’t stop somewhere. They don’t eat them at home. I do buy “special snacks” for after we clean the house on Fridays, and popsicles or ice cream for Family Altar, but those are special and hidden. Snack wise, we save the treats for treats. For drinks, we do water, milk, coffee for us parental units, a LOT of teas, and I just recently started buying iced tea for my son who has complained about the variety. Very, very, rarely, we have juice.
- Emergency Situations. I kinda eluded to this in the meal plan point, but sometimes, stuff comes up. You need to have a meal or two that you can throw together FAST and take with you on the go, or get on the table as soon as you get home. Also, a way to eat out if things go sideways. We live 45 minutes from the city, so there have been times we had to pick something up because it was cheaper than running home and coming back! In those situations, we will grab the $6 pizzas from Little Ceasar’s, and we can all eat under $25. We’ve also gotten a rotisserie chicken and a bag of buns to eat in a park. I can count on one hand the amount of times we got fast food last year- it costs us upwards of $70 to feed our herd. We all do, admittedly, love it, but it’s just not worth it in any stretch of the imagination. Once, we thought doing a Chinese buffet would be cheaper. Spoiler alert: it was not. We paid over $100 and two kids only ate tater tots.
- Pack meals. We are able to do a lot of super fun things, only because we bring our own food. I pack a lunch for the hot guy I live with or, bless his heart, he would eat out every single day. He works out of his vehicle, so I get it, but this has helped limit the midday munchies. I’ll do a future post on this, but as a hint- make sure you have some kind of “treat.” It makes it way more fun and not such a drudgery. For us, beef jerky, canned iced tea, fruit snacks, chips, strawberries- all of it helps deter from joining the food lineups where they are usually serving worse food for more money.
- Cook everything from scratch. All the mixes add up. All the sauces add up. There are recipes online for just about everything. Keep in mind there’s always a lot of added junk in canned soups, broths or packages. I do buy all our condiments, but for the most part, if I can make it I will. Whatever I can’t gets added to the list, and I buy it on sale.
- Have some convenience foods. Hahaha. Made you glance at the last one again. We eat predominantly whole foods. The only thing in our rotation that I can think of, offhand, that isn’t, is pasta. Fine, and potato chips. Don’t judge me. But I do keep frozen pizzas, chicken burgers or wings on hand in case I need something quick. Again- it’s not the goal, but it’s still better and cheaper than eating out. They aren’t in my “meal plan,” but if we have an opportunity to go out for dinner sans enfants, I am NOT cooking first! Very “worst case” scenario- they get freezer burnt and need to be tossed out. Best case scenario- someone drops off their kids, you have twelve to feed on short notice, and you can. Ask me how I know.
- Time your sales, know your prices, and research. I tried Costco about seven years (and four children) ago. It wouldn’t have saved us money then. I’m interested to try again but they don’t have click and collect here, and I just don’t have the time right now. Soon. For us, at the time, sales prices at our main store were cheaper than the regular prices at Costco. Keep in mind that I don’t buy gluten free stuff (other than a few things in the pantry for those who come over) or have any diet issues. I’m sure that makes a difference. Also note that most things go on sale in most stores around a six to eight week cycle. When it comes to base prices, I have my own little guidelines that I try and follow that help me know if something is *really* on sale. Please know that the stores are deceitful and will make things “look” like they are discounted- when it’s an awkward size, or on the end of the aisle, or with a fancy tag. You must know how much things cost. For example, I don’t spend more than $1/100g for cheese. For meat, at the grocery store, I will do $3.50 a pound for anything boneless, and $2 a pound for stuff that has bones. When I’m buying better quality meats, I double that happily. I used to keep a special binder where I tracked the sales prices at the three biggest stores around here. Sigh. Those days are gone.
- Spend money on the good things. There are times when you need to buckle down, and times where the belt’s a bit looser (get it?) I try to spend the extra money on better quality meats, veggies and fruits. In the summertime, we lavishly eat the produce in abundance; I freeze and preserve what I can, and we live like kings. In the wintertime, the prices go UP and the quality goes DOWN where we live. I won’t pay a lot of money for fresh stuff that I know has been trucked in from the ends of the earth and is loaded with junk to make it look good. Find where your value is, and make sure that’s where the funds are directed. We love good roasts and ribs, so I try to buy them when I can on sale, and save in other ways. I want to be very clear- I could cut our budget by around $100 a month by buying less quality ingredients or less veggies and fruits. I’ve chosen not to. But some things that I would like to change and achieve in our diet, I simply can’t right now. I would be putting my own personal ideals above the good of our family. Now, that line is different for everyone. I encourage you to find it for yourselves and to stay true to what you decide, and to get rid of the guilt and pressure. It makes no sense to buy organic apples and leave the power bill unpaid.
- REUSABLE. We don’t do paper towels, disposable pads, paper plates or napkins, plastic cutlery, etc. I was doing awesome with cloth diapering until I fell off the wagon during my last, really hard, pregnancy. Hoping to get back on pretty soon! I had to fit the disposable diapers in the budget, and it simply is, what it is. There are times you can’t do everything, but it sure saves money when you can (and it’s so much cuter.)
- Plan ahead. Whether it’s a garden in the summer of the things you eat the most, or getting ready for Christmas, know that chances are pretty good you will also be eating food next season. We had a bunch of extra-special game days during the holiday season which required extra-special snacks. I started buying a few here and there in October and stashing them. I buy discounted halloween candy for the stockings at Christmas. (I also buy the Halloween packs of chips for a special treat when we go out for the day. I have three cases in the back of our seldom-used car that I keep forgetting about.) I buy big pork loins on sale in the spring, and slice them and freeze them in marinade for grilling.
- Rewards. Don’t spend extra to get them, but hopefully there is some kind of bonus offered to you. I save all my grocery points all year, and then used half of them at Christmas. I had three turkey dinner meals, two birthdays, a lot of fun foods, and we had a great time when it came to the food. We’ve never eaten so lavishly, and we were still able to stay well under budget.
So, I’m writing this somewhat late in the evening, and our oldest son came home from youth and read it. He started complaining about soup, and the fact that we never have juice or free reign over granola bars and stuff. “Mom, you make us sound super weird, like we’re in poverty!” We then spent the next half hour talking about the dire situation most of our nation is in. Almost HALF of our country is $200 away from not being able to pay their bills. We looked up all the foreclosures in the area. The desperate posts looking for help and people to drop off leftovers, as they don’t even have a way to pick them up. We had a huge heart to heart- which he said I could share- about how we, in our home, have gotten into debt, and gotten out. And then in, and then out. And how it is hard to provide in this “economy,” but how we do have a lot of control over our situation, in our family at least. And how entitlement could kill us all, and it can start easily with the snacks we eat. We have dreams, this family of mine, and we can achieve them only if we are good stewards of what we have, and don’t spend what we don’t. I ended up crying at the end: he said, “Wow. Thank you, Mom. Seriously,” high fived me and walked away. No promises not to complain in the future, but it really blessed my mama heart.
Cough, cough. Stepping onto soapbox.
We are leaving a legacy for our children. One that says convenience trumps budget. “Wants” trump “needs.” Taste trumps nutrition. We, as individuals within a nation, are desperately close to falling apart at the next small, inevitable, crisis. We must, as home managers, be able to provide what our families need within our means. If the bills are racking up, or there is a lot of debt, we should be slashing the expenses that we can, mercilessly. There’s not much we can do about the mortgage, car insurance or power. Shop around, but it is what it is. The groceries and household spending is what WE CAN change. And not only to make sure that our family is financially healthy, but physically healthy as well. This, in turn, will help our children to be able to take care of themselves when they leave the nest, also. Otherwise, we are one accident, job loss, traumatic event from losing EVERYTHING. And not only that, but we are bringing up our children to make the same mistakes. No one deserves special snacks, fancy drinks or eating out. It’s just food. There is enjoyment there, meals and snacks can be fun and delicious, but if everything we eat has to be sugary, labeled cleverly, fancy or convenient, then I think we are facing a massive attitude problem. If everything is categorized within ourselves as deserved, or a reward, I think the root of entitlement may lay there. We could easily have been born in any other country, and live in extreme poverty (as in, no access to water/education/etc.) How many people classify themselves as poor or broke, and then buy a $4 coffee like it’s okay? I get it; I’ve been there. It’s not right. Maybe I feel the pressure more as a mom of many, but it is no less real for everyone else. I encourage you, if this hits home, to look into Dave Ramsey budgeting info, or reach out. It’s never too late to turn it around.
My prayer is that this awfully long post has something that helps or at least inspires you to look for ways to save money, and live a bit more intentionally. To sum everything up- we should be putting our money into the things that we value, and not spending it in places we don’t.