Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the magic number is... 100

I've had this bee in my bonnet the last couple weeks to attempt to feed our family for a week on $100. What this really means is that I only spend $100 at the grocery store for the big week's shopping. In fact, we've spent more than $100, because I pay $1.90 for a lovely elementary school breakfast each morning, usually buy a tea from a vending machine during the day, and B's lunch money is not part of it. Oh, and we usually eat out somewhere once a week. But, at least, the major shopping has a direct $100 limit.

Mixed results so far. It would be quite easy to do if we lived on ramen and oatmeal, but I'm trying to do actual balanced meals with, you know, a starch, a vegie, and usually a meat, for dinner. We want to eat "regularly" just affordably. We pulled it off quite handily in week one, but we ate most of our meats out of the freezer. Those are now gone. Due to my meticulously adding up each item, I've been able to concentrate more on just where the money is going. Turns out I can get a whole bunch of vegies and fruits (well, not exotic ones) for $30 or so. Really not bad. Then the Crystal Light drink mix was $7. Meats are butt expensive. It has caused us to experiment a bit more there, such as the cubed steak, and they bizarrely had 4 frozen guinea hens on sale for $4.99. I've also been a bit creative with the exact meal. For instance, today and tomorrow's lunch is red potatoes, inch-long asparagus, and a can of salmon with a vinaigrette.

Not sure yet how I'm going to handle big multi-week purchases. For instance, the only real way to have salmon regularly without paying 7.99, 8.99 a pound and such is to buy the big package of frozen filets at Costco. Since we eat them, it's definitely a good deal over time, but the initial purchase is a bit hefty. The obvious solution would be to have, like, $400 for a month rather than $100 a week.

So what little money-stretching gimmicks have you found for the grocery aisle? Any favorite, cheap recipes?

Perhaps I should start watching Clara and her Great Depression cooking show again. Mmmm... dandelion salad.


Robin S. said...

My mother is from 'the hills', and they were very poor coal-mining hills in Western Kentucky. Those people knew how to stretch a buck, mainly because they didn't have many. Esp. during the Depression.

Obviously they grew a lot of veggies and they had apple trees, etc., and my grandfather killed game and brought it home, and he fished, and they ate whatever fish he caught.

Also bartered with farmers for a side of beef for mechanical work he'd do for them, etc.

But the main things were - to stretch proteins. So- they'd cook a big beef roast - usually the cheap cuts, but bake them on low for hours, and have in the baking dish potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. Make a thick gravy out of the juice - eat roast and veg the first day, hash or stew the next, and maybe set some meat aside for open-faced roast beed sandwiches with mashed potatoes and fresh tomatoes on the side another day.

Also: beans. Beans fill you up, they're protein-filled, and you can eat them with anything, just about. And dirt cheap if you just buy them in a bag and cook yourself - and super good for you.

Cook a huge pot of navy beans with carrots and onion - you can doll them up with spices if you like. Same with lentils. Cheap as dirt - they freeze well after cooking. Add carrots, potatoes, onion, a bit of garlic, a little red wine and some salt and let them cook for an hour or so.

If you have beans and/or potatoes as the main course a few times a week, and save the rest for lunches, whatever, with a big slab of good bread, you save a ltt of money and it's healthy food.

Does that help? Hope so!

Robin S. said...

P.S. Also look through old cookbooks for recipes for 'quick breads'. They're tasty and can double for breakfast on the run.

McKoala said...

We spend between $150-$180 a week, while the average Aussie family of four spends around $250. I think our bill is a little more than $100 US, so it is possible. (Um, that doesn't include wine, though. Separate budget for that... :-) )

We don't eat tons of meat - a portion that feeds a family of four for a night will feed us for two. Heaps of veggies and pasta/rice/spuds fill the rest of the gaps. That's more of a health choice than a money saving one for us. But, money-wise, test out all the own brand stuff - some is inedible, but some is OK. Like Robin says, cheap meats make the best stews, just yum. Otherwise, but I think you do this already, we buy very few processed foods, I make pretty much everything from scratch. Lunch is sandwiches/leftovers/salad. Oh, and we drink mostly tea/water/fruit juice, soft drinks are only for special occasions, such as lunch with Paca. That's about all the ideas I have.

Mommy said...

we have a deep freezer that allows us to buy in bulk when meat is on sale. there was a huge meat sale (buy 1 get 2 free, meat at $.99 a pound, etc) at the beginning of the summer. I think we spent $100 in meat that would have normally been 2 or 3 times as much. we still have a freezer full of meat. also we buy whole chickens, which you can get for as little as $3, and butcher them ourselves. There's at least 3 full meals in a whole chicken (something with the breasts, something with the legs and thighs, and any thing left can go on salads)

Then of course fruits and veggies. we've been concentrating on fruit recently because it is easier to eat. We have a garden that at harvest time is very nice. But, with a freezer full of meat abd a big canister of rice in the pantry all we have to buy weekly is fruits, veggies, breads and dairy.

Dairy is another big ticket item. I found that I consume less of the full fat dairy products so in the long run it saves us money (i'll drink 1/2 cup of whole milk instead of 2 cups of skim.)

this is something we have been working on for a while and there is always room for improvement.

also, i never got back to comment but I would read a book about trying everything in the grocery store. I've read a year of living biblically, a year without made in china, and a year without shopping (the shopping book go to political thnough). if you can keep it light, funny and informative i think it would work.

Courtney said...

Since Galen and I went Vegetarian a month ago, we've dropped from $120 a week on food to $80-90 a week. Dairy and Meat are so expensive and in my opinion, bad for u too. Anyways. We each eat the same breakfast every morning. Galen has strawberry oatmeal, tea or OJ. I have Greek Gods yogurt with Kashi's Mountain granola mix. Extremely yummy stuff with cranberries and almonds! Then lunch is a Meditation Veggie wrap in sun dried tomato or spinach basil tortillas or left over dinner if I get lazy for Galen. He also has spinach salad and I have black bean soup with veggies or mushroom soup with a spinach salad too. Dinner alternates with curries with tofu, a small starch with tons of veggies. Veggie homemade pizza, avocado and artichoke heart is my favorite. Our snacks consist of fruit with something like celery or apples with homemade peanut butter, blue corn chips with ranch dip, or hummus and wheat crackers.
When I shop, I typically go to 3 places. Don’t laugh. I’m a chef and a girl who loves shopping= the best of both worlds is grocery stores. Anyways... Whole Foods for fresher fruit and veggies. Asian markets are cheaper than anything its fantastic and I bet u have good ones in HI. Then I go to the normal grocery store for certain things we like and need: the 3-gallon water bottle, a specific brand of blue corn chips, salad dressing and such. There is a grocery store I can get all this in 1 place but is 30mins down south.
My advice in all this detail is... eat healthy, even if u eat dairy and meat. Fruits and veggies are cheap! And u doesn’t have to buy organic. It might be fresher but also won't last past 3 days either. I have found the healthier I eat I have more energy and have stopped over eating!!! Don’t fill up on bulk starch either; eat the fruits and veggies! Remember that a serving size is only the size of your hand. 1 slice of bread is a serving size. Teach your stomach what it really needs amount wise and you'll eat less, which is also cheaper.
Other tricks, I kept tea bags and mug at my old job. Always have healthy snacks in your bag like dried fruit, I love mango! It will keep you from spending extra dollars here and there and keep the diet healthy. Also, when you eat healthy, you’ll find that you have more than enough energy so you won’t want things from vending machines or gas stations. O and eat more sushi! I’ve found I like it very much. Mine are only veggie, but its cheap and can also be made at home.

Emily E. Albarillo said...

Beans beans beans! (one pound dried for under $2 usually). Also we buy two whole chickens at Sams Club ($10-11 for the two), bake them with veggies for one meal (plus lots of leftovers), and then boil the carcasses to make soup. With beans, of course :)

Sammy Jankis said...

Five words for you man, "WHOLE CHICKEN IN A CAN."

writtenwyrdd said...

$100 a week in Hawaii? Wow! Sure hope you can manage it. I can't here in Maine; everything you touch seems to be $3-$5.