Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat From the Pantry Challenge ($30 grocery week!)

A lot of blogs I follow advertise doing "eat from the pantry" challenges. Some are for a few days, some as long as a month. I always found that idea overwhelming and unpleasant. But, in our end of the summer budget crunch, we decided to give it a try. We opted to do one week and see what happened. I have to admit, not only did it save us a lot of money, it was quite humbling.

We have never considered ourselves "extra" wasteful (you know, we recycle and donate when we can, try to eat the last bits of cereal, etc...) but what I didn't realize is how many things we buy that weren't getting used. And then, before you know it, they are expired, spoiled, or stale and you throw them out. I've recently had a lot of overwhelming emotions about the number of people just in our own community that don't have food. It sickens me when I think about how much I throw away. So, slowly but surely, we're making changes towards that. Here's how we did the challenge.

First on the list was to take inventory of what we had (this is now actually a running list for our convenience and to help with waste that we keep tacked on the fridge/pantry door/deep freeze and add/cross off items as needed). We marked down lists for the refrigerator, freezers, and pantry. I had a lot of obvious items this time around and didn't have any trouble at all coming up with meal plans. However, should you find yourself in a situation not knowing how to use what you have, go to and click on "ingredients" at the top. You can list items you have and it will give you meal ideas for those items (you still might have to purchase one or two things, but that's better than buying ALL the ingredients for a different item!).

Then, we listed the few items we needed to complete the meals, and use for the household over the next week. We set our budget at $30 (I know, I know, you're thinking WHAT??). This forced me to do two things: get EVERYTHING in one trip (no quick trips during the week) and really seriously watch my budget.

The outcome: we survived! It was actually refreshing to know that we made it a whole week on $30 worth of additional groceries, we had company over for dinner 2 of those nights, and we were able to use up items we already had on hand! We felt really good about being mindful of our pantry. And, this is something I think we will add to the list every month or two-just to clear out "extras" hanging out in the pantry and freezer. Will YOU take the challenge now?

Here are a couple of tips for doing the challenge:
*don't dismiss those half eaten potato chips/pretzels/crackers that may be stale. Crumbled, they make an excellent crunchy coating for meat and veggies!
*consider how much you will REALLY use (it's okay if you actually run out of something!)If you're running really low on something, use just a hint of water in the bottle (like coffee creamer or ketchup), shake it up, and use it.
*if you have leftovers that you won't use for a while, freeze them. Then pull them out on an eat from the pantry week (no purchasing required!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's the Little Things that Count!

Most people think teachers have a glamourous life, with summer breaks and all. What they don't realize is that most teachers don't get a regular paycheck over the summer. So, for our family, this means the last paycheck comes on May 30. Then we have a long stretch until Aug. 30. We have to plan carefully to stretch our money across the summer. But, on occasion, life gets in the way. Like the $400 septic pump we needed put in plus $165 to pump the tank. There went nearly $600 we hadn't budgeted. So, by the end of summer, we're stretching to the next paycheck.

That said, we've been very careful about our budget lately and I've done some exploring. I have to admit, for someone who will jump on a $.75 coupon from a mile away, I sure missed some obvious money-savers. So, I'll attempt to pass on the (obvious) savings to you!

I looked at some things we typically buy and compared them to other, similar options. Amazing what a difference. I'll compare 4 common items on our grocery list:

Shredded cheese: we use shredded cheese in a million and one dishes. But do you realize exactly what a PREMIUM price you pay? I sure didn't...
Great Value brand shredded cheddar cheese (2 cups) $1.98
Great value brand large block cheddar cheese (shredded, yields 6 cups)$3.36
Divided into 2 cups: $1.12

Rice: I've always used minute rice. No particular reason, it's just what I'm used to. But I really never realized what a money pit it is!
Kroger brand quick minute rice $1.60 for a small box
Kroger brand dry bag rice $.98

Salsa: I've been making my own for a while. But it really is a great savings.
Kroger brand jar salsa $1.75
Homemade salsa: one can petite diced tomatoes $.50
sliced jalapenos (one jar is $1.30, but yields 10 batches of
homemade salsa) $.13
lemon juice, salt, cumin $.05
1/2 diced onion $.40
Total: $1.08

Oatmeal: I like the flavored kind. But it's simple to make your own.
Quaker instant oatmel-blueberry delight (6 packets) $2.50 ($.42 per serving)
Great Value quick cooking oats $1.50 (makes 10 servings)
brown sugar, blueberries, and cinnamon to taste $.10 per serving
Total: $.25 per serving

It may not seem like a lot, but for things you buy often, it really adds up. If I buy these 4 things weekly for a year, it adds up to over $100! And imagine the other items you may be paying convenience premiums for!