Friday, April 8, 2011

Summing it up...

Today concludes my "Saving Money at the Grocery Store" series. I enjoyed sharing my money-saving practices with you all, and I hope that you all have found something helpful and practical for your families. I realize that not all ideas will work for every family structure because we all have different ideas of how much we're willing to be inconvenienced in order to save money.

Because, really, it is much more convenient to just hop in the car with no plan, credit cards in hand, and buy all the prepackaged, pop-in-the-oven meals that the freezer section holds. It's more convenient to do this until those credit card bills come rolling in requiring payment and our health begins to deteriorate from all the processed junk we've been ingesting.

And so I just want to end this series with a few more practical money-saving (and health saving) tips. As I've already said, some of you may find some of these ideas inconvenient or overwhelming while others may be ready to try anything. Only do what works for you and your family, but, at the same time, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

Tip 1 Buying Organic

A reader said that she spends about as much as I do on my family of five as she does on her family of three. She asked if I buy organic because that really adds the dollars onto her grocery bill. So, I will say that I typically do not buy organic. I used to buy organic when both my husband and I worked because, although it was expensive, we had two incomes coming in and had more dispensable income to work with.

Now, having said that, all of our veggies are organic because we have a HUGE garden in the summer in which we grow massive amounts of veggies which we then preserve. This stock lasts us enough until the next garden is ready to harvest. This is such a blessing!

But that still leaves fruit, and I do buy a lot of fruit. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for me to fork over $4.99 for a small container of strawberries compared to $1.99 for regular ones. Same with all the other fruits. So I wash everything carefully and thoroughly. Apples, which contain high levels of pesticides in their skin, are a staple in our home during the winter. So anytime we eat an apple, the skin gets peeled off. And in the fall, we head to my grandparent's old farm and stock up on fresh-from-the-tree organic apples. Apples keep a really long time if you store them properly.

I had tried buying from a local farmer's market once, but they even admitted that they had to spray their crops to prevent insect invasion. This was quite disappointing.

There are also fruits that you can buy that do not contain high levels of pesticides. Fruits that have thick, inedible skins, are very safe to eat ~ pineapples, cantaloupes, melons, bananas, oranges, etc. So I buy a lot of these things when they are in season and at reasonable prices.

And the fruits that are some of the highest for pesticides, such as grapes and strawberries, you can wash them in a solution of water and vinegar. It's amazing the gunk that this solution gets off of the fruit.

What I do is dump the container of berries in a big bowl, pour about 1/4 cup of white vinegar in and fill the bowl the rest of the way up with cold water. Let it soak for five minutes or so and then rinse well. No, your fruit will not taste like vinegar, but it will be so much cleaner than if you just rinse them in the colander under running water for a few seconds.

Brad and I and my sister and her husband planted a pear and apple orchard back behind our house. It's been about five or six years since they were planted, so they will soon begin producing fruit. My dad also has a bunch of blueberry bushes that are grown organically, and they produce massive quantities of blueberries in July and August. Couple that with all the wild blackberries and the cherry trees that grow around our property, and we're usually set for the summer with fruit.

I do buy as healthy as I can within our budget. For example, I spend a little extra money to buy whole wheat flour and unenriched white whole wheat flour (both made by King Arthur) and any pasta I buy is whole wheat. I also buy 100% whole wheat bread which is more expensive than a loaf of white bread. So I buy very little in way of white flour products. I'm in the process of experimenting with making my own crackers and graham crackers so that I can have these products with whole grains.

Tip 2 Grow your own food.

Planting a garden has saved us a TON of money. I've already discussed the how's and why's up above. In addition to what we plant every year, I also want to try some strawberry plants one of these years. I put some in several years ago, but the plants all failed. Bummer.

I also have a herb garden that my wonderful hubby put in for me last spring for Mother's Day. I LOVE my herb garden. It runs the whole length of our back deck, right off the kitchen, and with easy access. Most of the herbs I planted are perennials so they will come back each year, and then I also planted some annuals such as basil, lemon verbena, and dill which I use a ton of. I'm still learning how to preserve herbs because I had such success with my plants last year, and, sadly, a lot of the crop went to waste because of my ignorance in how to properly preserve them.

And if you don't know where to start or you think you don't have enough land to garden, The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! is a great book that discusses gardening and such, even if you only own a small plot of land.

Tip 3 Preserve Your Food

Along the lines of growing your own food, comes preserving all the yummy goodies that you've reaped. I freeze most of my veggies and fruits using my Food Saver because this locks in more nutrients than canning.

I do can jams, salsa, spaghetti sauce, beans, ketchup, tomatoes, relishes, and pickles. We have a can cellar in our basement where we keep all of our canned goods.

You can also preserve fruit/veggies/meat that you get on sale at the grocery store. I've never done this, but I was just talking to a friend this past weekend who bought a large amount of beef and was canning it in various ways. What a great idea!

Tip 4 Coupons

Oh, I am SO not a coupon girl. I maybe use three or four (at best) coupons per month. Not because I don't look at the coupons. I do! It's just that most of the coupons are for brand name items or convenience foods that I don't buy anyway. And usually, I can get off-brand names a lot cheaper than the brand name price even after the coupon discount. You have to be smart with coupons.

And I'm definitely not going to buy something just because I have a coupon for it. That kind of defeats the purpose in my mind!

If I do buy a coupon, it is most likely for a toiletry such as shampoo or shaving cream or toothpaste or deodorant. I would say that those are the coupons I use most often. And sometimes I get really lucky and my local grocery store puts one of those items on sale and they double coupons, so I get a really good deal! But that doesn't happen so often! So, I am, admittedly, not a coupon guru.

So, my advice is to use a coupon only if you would usually buy that product at full price. And check to make sure that the generic isn't even cheaper still than the coupon price.

Tip 5 Cook from Scratch

I am a big proponent of cooking from scratch. In fact, I make almost everything from scratch. Exceptions would be bread and yogurt (although I have been experimenting with making my own yogurt as of late) as well as some snacks like pretzels and tortilla chips. But all of my dinners and desserts are made from scratch. It's healthier and much more economical. I understand that it's difficult for working moms to cook all of their meals from scratch, so maybe you could commit to making two from-scratch meals per week, and look for meals that would utilize the crockpot (a lifesaver for busy moms.)

I love cooking from scratch. I find a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that my hands and hard work produced the end result. And it's fun!

Tip 6 Watch sale flyers

I always check out the sales flyers every week that I receive in the mail. However, most of my shopping is done at Aldi's and Walmart. Once a month I go to Aldi's and buy the majority of my food, and then I head across the street to WalMart for the rest. Shopping at Aldi's has saved me a huge amount of money. Check the Internet to see if you have one near you.

But if I find that our local grocery store is running a great sale, I will stop by if I'm going to be in town. I typically don't make a special trip in for sales. This is another area when my price book comes in handy because I can check from home whether the sale price really is a good price.

I also shop for the majority of my meat at this local store because they always mark down their meat at the end of the week (a lot of grocery stores do this) when it is reaching the end of its shelf date. Then I bring the meat home, divide it up into appropriate proportions, and freeze it in our deep freeze. I then mark what meat I have in the freezer on my calendar, and I then plan my next month's meals around that.

Thank you so much for reading along this week! It's been a pleasure to share this with you all, and I do hope that you find some of it helpful or at least feel motivated to find ways to save money at the grocery store. And please feel free to share any of your own tips in the comment section. I love new ideas!

Blessings to you and your family!


Just Another Day In Paradise said...

Best post ever! Thank you so much for doing this! And can you please come visit Paradise so you can show me how to can? I am AMAZED by your garden, and envious of the space you have. I think we will plant some berry bushes this year. We have a big-for-Paradise garden (because most lots are postage stamp sized), but I think we'll bump it up this year. Our girl will gladly eat fruit vs. ice cream (!?!?!) so we like to encourage this. Thanks for sharing the vinegar wash. Any thoughts on organic milk? Its $$$$ (she's the only one that drinks milk, dh is allergic, and I just dont care for it). Dh cooks from scratch 95% of the time, and I will not buy any food that my grandmother wouldnt recognize. Packaged foods gives me the heebie jeebies...

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post! Gardening, canning, freezing, home-grown herbs, fruit trees...
I'm not a big coupon person either, for all the reasons you wrote about. I used to be more so, but eventually, after the 3rd baby, when my husband started doing more of the "picking up sale items" while he was out, and I didn't have the time or energy to browse the stores so much, I realized that I had been spending a lot of money on things I didn't need to buy, or could make a healthier substitute for so much cheaper (like granola bars and yogurt - by the way, my husband found a crock-pot yogurt method that actually worked, and we weren't even that scientific about following the directions! I'll have to send it to you.)
I usually buy at least 3 extra 20-lb turkeys when they're super-cheap around Thanksgivin and freeze them. Then after I roast one of them for a nice dinner for our little family over the course of the winter, I can the rest of the meat and broth. We usually get at least 3 nice roasted turkey meals out of one turkey, and then also about 9 or 10 pints of canned meat, and at least 6 or 7 quarts of the most awesome turkey broth you've ever tasted. There is nothing more convenient for a last minute supper than a pot of soup made from a jar of each. And the canned breast meat makes wonderful turkey salad for sandwiches - the possibilities are endless! I use it in any recipe that called for cooked chicken.
Thanks so much for the effort you put into your blog. You're such an inspiration to me!

Miriam Brown

Wendi said...

Thanks for sharing how you wash your fruit. On a blog once someone ask the question if you would spray an apple with a can of Raid then run it under water and eat it. The thought grosses me out and makes me think everytime I buy fruit.

I enjoyed hearing how you shop and save. I loved seeing all of your home canned goods. It is just so homey!

Anonymous said...

I'd love for you to share your ketchup recipe with us! We've had a garden for a few years now but our tomatoes never did well. This year our property has changed so we won't have a garden but I can still get amazing deal at the local farmer's market.

The McEacherns said...

Thanks for the series!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Excellent post with great advice! People don't seem to realize when they are spending money on convenience, it's really not convenience.
My husband always says, "pay now or pay later"; iow, eat healthfully now OR pay the price later for bad food choices in poor health.
I've preserved food for more than four decades and love having a pantry full of clean, healthful food at the ready.
It's spring turkey season here and a neighbor is, hopefully, bringing me a gobbler this week.

Unknown said...

Great post. We do most of the same things as you. I also agree with the "organic" things. Many times I just can't see the value in buying everything organic when if you clean it well it's usually ok.
I'm surprised you don't make your own bread though. My mom bought me a nutrimill for Christmas & I love it. If you have a food co-op around you can get the wheat berries for a good deal. Anyhow, keep up the good work. I look forward to visiting your blog again.