Posted: 23 Sep 2011 01:00 PM PDT
Dinner with My Family is on a one week hiatus (which is party explained below). It will return next week.
Over the last month, Sarah and I have been experimenting with a longer period between grocery store trips.
Prior to this month, we had almost always done a weekly grocery store visit, usually on Saturday but occasionally on Sunday or Monday. This enabled us to do a single week meal plan, a process I described in detail a while back.
Simply put, we would just make a list of all of the meals we would make during the upcoming week, then we would buy groceries to fulfill those meals, along with staples like milk and so on.
Over the past few weeks, however, we’ve made a commitment to extend that period between grocery store visits for several reasons.
First, our pantry has a lot of stuff in it that needs to be used up. It’s almost full to the brim and it would be very good for us to use the stored food before some of it goes bad, such as the half-full container of quinoa or the egg noodles or the spices we purchased several months ago. This is purely a money-saving tactic, of course.
Second, our time constraints are different now. Sarah has returned to work and our two oldest children have a bevy of evening activities. This makes preparing a fresh meal from scratch every evening substantially more difficult than it was during the summer or when Sarah was off on maternity leave.
Third, we wanted to really explore options for make-ahead meals. Lately, we’ve been looking carefully at meals that we can make mostly in advance and store for the future. We want to try making a diversity of meals this way, from soups and stews to casseroles and pizzas.
Finally, we want to prolong the magic of our garden as we enter fall. If we can take some of those vegetables and use them in meals that we can use down the road, we’re extending the life of the fresh vegetables in our garden without putting them to waste. If we can use three more onions and three more tomatoes from our garden, that’s a good thing.
The end result of all of this is that over the last month, we’ve only been to the grocery store twice. How did we do it? Here are some of the specific tactics we used.
We switched to drinking water with our meals. This is something I’ve always done, but my wife and my two oldest children consistently drink skim milk with their evening meal. A month ago, we switched. The exception to this is our youngest child, whose pediatrician recommended that we keep him on whole milk for a while longer. Thus, we buy whole milk just for him, which lasted perfectly for two weeks twice now.
We’ve tried making double batches of almost every meal. If I make a homemade pizza, I make another one for the freezer. If we make soup, we store an extra batch of it in a gallon-sized freezer container. If we make a casserole, we make another one for the freezer. If we make burritos, we make a bunch of extra ones for the freezer.
We’ve tried to base meals on the items we have in our pantry. What can we do with a lot of quinoa and barley? How can we use a half a pound of ground tarragon? What can we do with this buckwheat flour? These are all questions we’ve considered over the last month or so – and most of them have come to good answers.
The end result of these methods is that for the month of August 15 to September 15, our grocery bill was about 50% lower than our average month of groceries. At the same time, we’ve also banked several meals into the freezer that we’ll be able to use in future months. (Yes, part of that reduction was due to an influx of vegetables from the garden, but not nearly all of it.)
The biggest reason why this has happened, in my opinion, is that we’re drastically reducing our impulse buys. Even with a grocery list, we usually tend to make a few impulse buys on each grocery store visit. This not only saves us money, but it also helps with our health as well.
Time, money, health – this move is a triple win, in my eyes.
Posted: 23 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT
Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar's Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I'm going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Jacqui writes in: Canning. I’ve been told it can be really cheap, but from what I can tell unless you are growing your own, it isn’t worth it.
Sarah and I do a small amount of canning, mostly tomato-based things in a water bath. We can things like tomato sauce, salsa, pasta sauce, and so on. However, beyond that, we actually don’t can very much. We find it more cost-efficient to freeze vegetables in the fall and use them in the winter instead.
So, what are the comparative costs here?
Canning requires jars, lids, and rings. You’ll also need a large pot (for acidic items) and/or a pressure cooker (for other items). I won’t include the pots in this calculation because they’re easily used for other purposes. I’ll also only count 1/10th of the cost of the jars because they can be reused quite a few times.
You can get quart jars for about $1.40 apiece new. If you reuse them ten times, that’s $0.14 per jar. You can also get bands and lids for about $0.70 per set, and since you’re able to reuse the bands, you can also get just lids for about $0.40 apiece. Thus, your cost per canned jar for the materials is about $0.54 with some additional startup costs.
Canned goods You can buy a pint can of many canned vegetables at the store for $0.89 or $0.99. Many other items will cost substantially more than that. Thus, it’s pretty clear that if you have a source for fresh vegetables, you can save significant money by canning yourself.
Flash frozen goods You can get about a quart of flash frozen vegetables at the store for $1.39. Obviously, as with canned goods, the selection at that price is fairly limited.
Freezing requires containers and a freezer. We’ve had a standalone deep freezer for years. As I calculated before, the cost of maintaining and using a deep freezer is about $130 a year.
On average, we freeze an item for six months and it takes up about 1/2% of the freezer, so our cost for that individual item in the freezer is $0.32. We use freezer containers over and over again to freeze items, so the cost for the container is $0.01 or $0.02. This gives us a total cost of roughly $0.34 to freeze a quart of vegetables ourselves if we use it in six months.
Simply put, the raw cost of freezing or canning is cheaper if you do it yourself, but only if you have a source of free or extremely inexpensive vegetables and fruits.
The cost of even deeply discounted fruits and vegetables easily pushes the cost of freezing and canning yourself up into the range of “no longer a bargain” and “most likely a loss.” Freezing and canning yourself has startup costs, too.
You can save dollars, not pennies by canning (or freezing) if you have an abundant garden. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.
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