Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

I Cut Our Food Bill By 44%–Can America’s Cheapest Family Get It Lower?

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Lots of good tips, although I may have to work my way up to buying chubs of ham and asking the meat counter to slice it for me (their solution for expensive lunch meat).

So I’ve been making a Monthly Meal Plan menu and grocery lists for four months now–yay! I stopped posting my spreadsheets every month because I figured you’ve got the gist of them, but you can find past examples here.

Overall, planning out our menu has been very successful. We’ve averaged a monthly savings of 29.4% on groceries compared to our previous six-month average, plus we’ve saved 32.7% on restaurants. That means our average monthly food savings is 44%–which is insane!

But you know me: I figure I just cut the waste I should have had under control long ago. Surely there’s a way I can peel another 11% off our groceries, right? So I went to my beloved library and checked out Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides, which had a lot of tips–some useful (create a price list), and some ridiculous (go out to eat at hospital cafeterias, I kid you not).

I don’t want to lay out all of their tips here, but there were a couple that struck a chord:

  1. Create a price list. I was bragging to Sid last week that I bought avocados on sale at five for $5, and he asked, “What do they normally cost?” Yup. Grocery stores advertise lots of “deals,” but if you don’t know the relative price of, say, a gallon of milk, how do you know you’re really getting a discount? The Economides (yes that’s their real name) have a “buy price” for almost anything–they won’t buy, say, chuck steak for more than a certain price, and if they find it at a deep discount, they stock up. I realized I shop at WinCo because the total bill is cheaper, but I really had no idea how much things generally cost off the top of my head. It’s going to be tedious, but I’ll be using my receipts to build a price list of all the things we buy regularly.
  2. Shop around. I really disliked the idea of this–I like to make grocery shopping simple, and usually just go to WinCo once a month (to stock up) and to Fred Meyer weekly for produce and dairy (because it’s close and I like it). I didn’t want to be slave to the weekly ads! But the book pointed out that every store has “loss leaders,” aka attractive items at rock-bottom prices, to get people in the door. Why not read the ads and see what I could find?
  3. Plan your monthly meal plan around grocery deals. This is so simple and obvious I should have been doing this before. Instead of making menus off the top of my head, I will definitely at least check our stores’ online ads and see what’s on sale.

I kept these ideas in mind this month and realized that Safeway (not my favorite store) was having a special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (something we eat every month) at $1.69 a pound, compared to $3.29 a pound at Fred Meyer.

Because I’ve been keeping track with my monthly spreadsheets, I knew we ate four pounds of chicken breast per month. So I went and bought eight pounds, and separated and froze them all (note: I didn’t just buy chicken breasts–I did all my weekly shopping there, concentrating on loss leaders). The next time I was at WinCo, I checked out their prices: $2.69 per pound! So I saved eight dollars.

Of course, saving eight dollars over two months is not terribly exciting–gee, what’s that, a dollar a week? But that’s also only one item on my list. I’m hoping that by shopping a little smarter and using my freezer more efficiently, the savings will add up.

So . . . am I crazy? Just a little crazier than normal? I’ll keep you updated (on both our savings and my tenuous mental health). Got any tips? Post them below. And be honest: who among you have eaten at a hospital cafeteria . . . to save money?

Advertisements
Avengers Sons of Serpent Trump

Happy Monday! #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain & Xena Cosplay

Avengers Sons of Serpent Trump

Donald’s totally under that mask, isn’t he? Avengers image via Comic Book Resources.

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? I went through about 10 pounds of sugar. I am not kidding even a little bit. Fortunately, all of the resulting chocolate cake is out of my house, except for four chocolate cupcakes.

Links!

Politics

Politics? Elisabeth, you don’t post about politics! It’s true. I think most of the yelling about politics on the Internet and via the media is counterproductive. Plus I don’t want to get into any fights with people I love.

But mostly, I honestly thought this wave of Trump jingoism would blow over. I mean, it was a joke, right? I didn’t believe Trump even really wanted to be president–I thought it was all for publicity for his “brand.” But here we are. A lying, racist, grandiose piece of crap has a very good chance of being the GOP candidate for president. Even the GOP doesn’t want this!

So, on one hand, John Oliver’s take down of Trump and his #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain hashtag makes me feel a little better. But mostly it’s just depressing, because it probably won’t change anything. But you should watch it!

I’m currently reading the Avengers Omnibus Volume 2 to Sid at bedtime, and we just finished a story arc where the Sons of the Serpent decide to spread racism, nationalism, and fear to control the American public because they’re so easily led. This was written in the 1963, but feels entirely relevant to today. Think about that.

Food

I haven’t written a full update on this month’s meal planning, but I’m happy to say it looks like we’ve saved 37.5% over our average pre-planning monthly grocery bill! Last month, we saved 25%. While I did plan this month’s menu around a lot of bulk staples I already had in the house, I was also able to do the following on a budget:

  • Have house guests for two days
  • Host two dinner parties
  • Make a giant cake and 84 chocolate cupcakes for various events

Speaking of dinner parties, I’m having a small one tomorrow. One of our guests is vegetarian. I’m a little tired of pasta (for once) so I came up with the following menu: Sour Cream Enchiladas, Mexican Couscous Express, and Crazy for Coconut Bundt Cake.

Fashion

My sweater came! My sweater came! And it’s everything I hoped it would be. I can finally post my 10-item wardrobe! Err, once I take pictures.

Geeky Stuff

I’ve been thinking more and more about making a Xena costume. Yes, I’m 15 years too old and six inches too short. I don’t care! Plus, I found this incredible tutorial for a Xena Warrior Princess Dress. Hmm!

That’s what I’ve got for today! Post a comment to cheer me up!

Xena Comics Sam Woolley

Happy Monday! Breakfast Corn Dogs & Xena Comics

Xena Comics Sam Woolley

New Xena comics! Art by Sam Woolley. Image from io9.

Happy Monday! Oh wow, when’s the last time I actually did a Happy Monday post on Monday? Never mind, I’m not looking it up. Hope your week was awesome! We had a good week topped by a weekend that included 1) a Terraria party/sleepover with Sid’s friends, 2) dinner at a friend’s house, 3) friends from out of town coming to stay with us, leading us to 4) a dinner party and karaoke tonight.

Plus, for one brief, shining moment yesterday, I had all the laundry done. All of it. Clothes, sheets, towels, dishcloths, diapers . . . it was glorious. And then I cleaned the laundry room because, guests. DUH! Don’t you do that? Just kidding, I’m a maniac.

Links!

Divine Geekery

The second annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics were held this weekend at Long Beach Expo, and G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel won! Ms. Marvel is a fantastic comic–if you haven’t read it yet, TFAW has Ms. Marvel here!

The latest episode of Rachel & Miles XPlain the X-Men is up, and they’re covering early Captain Britain and pre-Psylocke Betsy Braddock! I cannot wait to listen.

Omigosh! So, as I have written before, I am watching Xena: Warrior Princess for the first time and loving it. So I’m excited and worried that there’s going to be a new Xena comic, set toward the end of the series. Fortunately, io9 had Javier Grillo-Marxuach, showrunner of the new Xena TV show, and Genevieve Valentine, the writer of the new Xena comic, interview each other. It’s promising!

Food

Breakfast Corn Dogs

Breakfast corn dogs?!?

Since Sid’s friend Ernie (who’s a champion eater) spent the night, I used him as an excuse to make the Pioneer Woman’s Sausage Pancakes-on-a-Stick. They were glorious, and I used the extra batter to make pancakes. Yum.

If you missed it, my latest Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets are available. Tonight: Lipton Onion Soup Meatloaf and Shells & Cheese With Bacon & Peas (it’s a real fancy dinner party).

Fashion

Vintage Fisherman's Sweater

Are you The One?!?

Aw yeah fashion! Ha. I posted about beloved articles of clothing that needed to be put out of their misery this weekend. I’m pretty sure I’ll finally be able to post my Winter 10-Item Wardrobe this week! You know, since it’s almost spring.

The missing piece (hopefully) is arriving today: this vintage fisherman’s sweater I found on Etsy. I’m hoping it’s going to be my year-round, goes-with-almost-everything, wearable blanket. No pressure, sweater.

So that’s what I’ve got so far! What do you think of the sweater? Are you looking forward to more Xena? We’re still in Season Two (we only have Sid every other week and average about four episodes a week), so I may have to wait.

 

 

Monthly Meal Planning Take 2: Bulk Overload

Meal Planning Zero Waste

So many lentils and beans. And almonds! Next month . . .

So I dusted off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets last month and gave them a spin. Overall, it was pretty great: not only did I feel more prepared at mealtimes and waste less food, but we saved 25%–even though I threw a Super Bowl party. Yay!

However, when I started planning this month, I realized I still had some issues to work out: mainly, the jars and jars of dry bulk food in my cabinets. I love to purchase beans, grains, etc. from the bulk bins with my own bags! My problem: I am a terrible judge of how much we actually need. Plus, I decided to make mason jar mixes as gifts for Christmas and really went overboard.

So, Challenge #1: create a menu that would use up my surplus, focusing on:

  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Couscous
  • Pecans
  • Oatmeal
  • Sundried tomatoes

Challenge #2 was I wanted to still save 25% or more over our average monthly grocery bill, yet I wanted to splurge for Valentine’s Day with steak and lobster tails. However, I think Challenge #1 will actually make that quite easy, since we’ll be eating so many things we already have on hand.

Challenge #3 is that we’re having house guests this month for a couple of days. Yay! My problem is I always want to go a little bigger when guests are here. Just yogurt doesn’t really seem like an adequate breakfast! The other issue is one of our guests is a pickier eater and doesn’t care for vegetables. But this is actually something I can really work with. I mean, I’ve already gone through Sid’s picky period. And really, this is just an excuse to make a lot of comfort food like meatloaf (with Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix) and homemade macaroni and cheese (with the rest of the Velveeta from the Super Bowl party.

So here’s what I came up with! You can download my February Meal Plan here. You can also peek back and download my January Monthly Meal planning spreadsheets here.

If you haven’t read my previous posts, here’s the deal: I make a meal plan for the entire month, create a shopping list, and sort it by store, department, and week. I try to buy almost everything for the month in Week 1 at WinCo, because it’s the cheapest, and freeze all of our meat, etc. That mainly just leaves weekly dairy and produce, which I buy at our Fred Meyer grocery, which is closer and more convenient.

This month went according to plan, except . . . when I went to WinCo, I discovered that I had someone lost my list of like 53 items. Aargh. With no other choice, I buckled Sarah into our cart and went to work. When I got home and checked against the list, I was surprised–I had remember 51 things! Clearly, writing everything down and having an idea of what I was going to cook helped a lot. But still. What a dumbass.

We’re in the middle of Week 2 and going strong! Here are links to several of the recipes we’re making this month:

Banana Wheat Muffins
Black Beans with Couscous and Avocado (recipe calls for brown rice but I subbed)
Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies
Butter-Poached Lobster with Orzo
The Best. Coffee Cake. Ever.
Curried Lentil Soup
El Dorado Casserole
Lipton Onion Soup Meatloaf
Shells & Cheese (With Bacon & Peas)
Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with OMG Sauce
Tenderloin Steak

Is anyone else trying to plan their meals? What have you done in the past? Comment below!

 

 

Monthly Meal Planning: Eat Better and Save Money & Time

 I’ve been in a rut after the holidays–feeling stressed, uninspired, and like I’m always playing catch-up with my grocery shopping. I love to cook, like, I love to cook, but it was getting to the point where I couldn’t even figure what to make for dinner. I felt like I was spending too much money, wasting food, and just generally working way too hard. So I decided to brush off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets (something I started working on last year) and use them this month.

Plus, I’m sharing them with you: one, because hopefully they might help someone else, but two, I would love feedback on their usability, etc. Help me make them better!

Download my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet now, and then I’ll break down my method. Note: This is an example, not a complete list of items you would need to make all of these meals. This is because I had some items on hand, so I didn’t need to buy them.

This is a six-page Excel workbook that I’ve found very helpful. But first, as with any project, you should establish your goals. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish:

  • Feed my family a variety of meals, but:
  • Choose recipes that have common ingredients
  • Go only once a month to WinCo (an amazing, large, cheap grocery store we have with dozens and dozens of bulk bins that is a 20+ minute drive for me, hence the once-a-month schedule)
  • Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them
  • Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up

Here we go!

Menu

Monthly Meal Planning

As you can see, I plotted this out via several categories, beginning with dinner (which is my top priority). To help jog my creativity and make meal planning easier, I try to choose a pasta or rice dish each week, a taco (Taco Tuesday!), a soup, a meat or other entree, and seafood. Monday is devoted to either Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a vegetable or grilled cheese and tomato soup (or something else I have in the freezer that is virtually instant). I like Mondays to be easy. As a rule, I only plot five or so dinners per week, because we may go out to dinner or eat leftovers.

Lunches are basic–I pack a bag for my husband and feed myself and Sarah sandwiches or leftovers.

Breakfast is my crucible, so planning really helps me. Categories include muffin or cake, smoothie, griddle, or yogurt. I used to have eggs in here, but I’m not a huge fan and our son Sid’s been saying he hates eggs, so we’re taking a break.

Snacks are pretty self-explanatory–for me and Scott to munch on, and for Sid after school. Desserts are also standard.

You’ll notice that some things repeat every couple of weeks this month: spaghetti, salmon, muffins, sandwiches, cookies. I’ll be making large batches and freezing them (and freezing half our fish and lunch meat) for simplicity’s sake.

Master Shopping List

I can only show you a small portion in the screenshot–this ended up being a list of 83 items! In addition to food, I went through and figured out what items we needed for cleaning, personal care, etc. I then added categories for stores (I’ll be shopping at four places: WinCo, the People’s Co-Op–I can get oils and such in bulk there–Fred Meyer, and Flying Fish, our local fish market), department, how much I need, and what week I need to buy it. Then I sort by week, store, and department.

I try to buy as much as I can in Week 1: non-perishables and freezables, weekly dairy and produce, etc. Then in Weeks 2-4, in a perfect world, I’d only need to pick up the weekly dairy and produce at the store. It never works out that way, but I can dream . . .

Week 1 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.31 PM.png

I then copy and paste each week’s items in their own spreadsheet. Again, I can only show a small portion of Week 1–it contains a whopping 59 items. The only thing I would do to improve this is to move the departments around to mirror how the store is actually laid out–produce, then deli, then meat–but I’ll continue to refine this until it’s just the way I want it–then I can save it and pull it out every couple of months and save myself some work. In an ideal world, I would have four or five perfect months planned out that I could rotate and update, depending on what I have on hand.

Week 2 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.43 PM

I won’t bore you with screenshots of the rest, I just wanted to show you the difference in the rest of the month–11 items in Week 2, baby! I’m living the dream! I’m only buying cavatappi pasta at Fred Meyer’s because they don’t sell it at WinCo and it’s my son’s favorite.

Sunday I went out to WinCo and did Week 1’s shopping. While I bought tons of food, including a whole chicken, four pounds of chicken breasts, two pounds of shrimp, ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, breakfast, four pounds of dried beans, 25 servings of fruit–and on, and on–it totaled about a quarter of what I usually spend on groceries in a month, so I’m hopeful!

So what do you think? What changes would you make? I’ll continue to blog weekly and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll link to a bunch of the recipes I chose, in case you’re interested!

Banana-Spinach Smoothie
Chicken Soup With Rice
Chicken Hash
Coconut Braised Spinach With Chickpeas and Lemon
Cowboy Cookies
Coconut Curry Spaghetti Squash With Shrimp
Free French Vegetable Soup
Kale Smoothie with Pineapple and Banana
Pumpkin Smoothie
Refried Beans
Roast Chicken and Potatoes
Sid’s Chicken
Spaghetti
Strawberry-Flaxseed Smoothie

White Christmas cross stitch

White Christmas Cross Stitch Pattern

White Christmas cross stitchOh my god. When I created this White Christmas cross stitch pattern two years ago, I had no idea how difficult it would be to convert my lowly Excel spreadsheet into something someone else could use!

First: Unfortunately, there’s no background grid. When I set it to “Print Gridlines,” it obscures some of my backstitches! And the alternative–hand-changing all of my borders on every individual square, without ruining my current ones–is not feasible at this time. However! I have provided 10 x 10 grid marks to help you locate the snowflakes.

Next: This pattern owes a huge debt to Wee Little Stitches, my favorite Etsy store. They make amazing Pixel People patterns for all kinds of nerdy things: superheroes, TV shows, etc. The only reason I made my own was because they didn’t have any White Christmas patterns. Buy their stuff!

White Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas movies, one that I’ve actually appreciated more as the years have gone by. I think it’s because the driving force behind the movie isn’t romantic love.

White Christmas movie

The original! You thought it was my pattern, didn’t you?

In case you haven’t seen the movie: we open on World War II, out on the battlefield, where Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are putting on a show to celebrate Christmas and pay tribute to Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger), their beloved leader, who is being replaced by a new General. They even close with a song about how much they love him!

My White Christmas cross stitch pattern, in all its amateur glory.

My White Christmas cross stitch pattern, in all its amateur glory!

These battlefield relationships drive the rest of the film. Phil saves Bob’s life, bonding them, so that they embark on a successful showbiz career. As a favor to a former army colleague (or so they think) they meet the lovely Haynes sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) and join their adventure. And then! When they travel to Vermont and realize their former General has sunk his pension into a failing Inn, they bring their show to his stage to bring customers–but they also move heaven and earth to bring his old division to the Inn to make sure the General knows how much he’s valued. Tear!

Okay, okay. So back to my White Christmas cross stitch. I used Aida cloth instead of my usual linen, because I wanted it to be “VistaVision” worthy and super square. I used a light-blue 14 count fabric, which yielded a design 8″ x 4 1/8″. Download the file here: WhiteChristmas_Final

Sorry this finally went up after Christmas, but really, what better time to get a head start on next year, right?!? Plus: I have also designed, but never made, two other White Christmas pieces: the Haynes sisters in their feathered blue ensemble, and Bob and Phil as . . . the Haynes sisters, as well. Hopefully I’ll have them up by next fall!

Merry Christmas + Lessons Learned

 

Do: avoid messing up the kitchen right before Christmas.


Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day! (My friend Melissa of the insanely good Special K bars has hosted a Boxing Day brunch the past two years and it’s my new favorite tradition.) And sorry.

I meant to post so much more Christmas stuff! Recipes! Presents! My White Christmas cross stitch pattern! But at least I learned a few lessons, which I will post here and review next November.

While this holiday was pretty awesome, upon review, there were a few things I could do to make things easier/less stress-free:

  • Holiday Party: I usually do it earlier in the month, but thought it would be easier to do it later this year (more time to get the decorations up). Wrong: doing a party for 50+ the week before Christmas gave me very little time to get anything else done.
  • Christmas Eve: We started a new tradition this year and had the family over for chili and two soups! It was awesome, but I spent all day cooking. Next year I’ll make the soups ahead of time and freeze them.
  • Christmas cookies: I did most of my dough ahead of time (I did two rounds of cookies, one for the party and one for Christmas), but I waited on my second batch of Chocolate Peppermint Cookies. Next year all the dough is going in the freezer.
  • Christmas movies: I had planned on Christmas Eve to be a big movie marathon. Big mistake. Huge. People are busy! And tired! More movies throughout the month next year.
  • Christmas wrapping: my husband is awesome–and talented–and did most of it. I’m going to continue this next year!
  • Christmas blogging: write posts in October, dummy!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying the weekend! What would you tweak next year? Write ’em in the comments and I’ll remind us all in 2016!