Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Rules To Stretch Your Food Budget

New Rules To Stretch Your Food Budget

Several days earlier this month, August 2008 we blew our food budget for the month before the month was over. We generally have a flexible food budget where we can spend extra money because we generally have some extra money in the checking account. But this month was different. Some of our other bills had to be paid and they went up in price such as our real estate taxes, grocery, utilities, energy, and our health insurance premiums. It is getting difficult to find items under $1 in the grocery or produce departments. Most health and beauty items are more than $1. Nothing is less than $2 per package in the meat department. Everything is over $1 in the dairy except yoghurt and that is rapidly approaching $1. Most bread is more than $3. It was noticeable that we were almost out of money for the month in the checking account. Our family discussed the problem and decided to try the approaches below.

Less Eating Out
Food prices have jumped at the restaurants and we decided to avoid eating out as much. We generally have an entree and a beverage sometimes with a salad if it is included in the price. We already avoid deserts. We carry water and sometimes soda usually with some fresh fruit in the car so that we can make it home for a meal rather than stopping on the road someplace.

Some restaurants have advertised early bird sales and others have coupons. When we do go to a restaurant we favor those with early bird specials and coupons.

No More Coffee on the Road
Currently a small coffee is more than $1 and a donut costs $.95 each. In the past if we were outside of the house, we would take morning, afternoon, and evening coffee breaks without hesitation. Now we do our best to make it home and make our own coffee for about a nickel or no more than a dime per cup. We carry water and usually soda from home in the car, sometimes with fresh fruit for breaks.

Sales and Coupons
We follow the ads and cut coupons. We used shop only in one supermarket but now when there are sale items that we need we may also shop at one or more additional supermarkets each week. One supermarket tracks what we spend and what we saved and we are saving about 20% of what we spend by using the store price card, in store sales, and coupons.

Shelf Tags
We also look at shelf tags and compare prices. We found one week that store brand peanut butter was cheaper in the smaller size than in any of the bigger sizes. We used to pick the bigger sizes because we thought we got a quantity discount, but now you have to use the shelf tags.

Expand Food Repetoire
We have been eating the same things during the past 2 decades and decided to expand our choices. It was easy to add pickled beets and olives to our salads once in a while. We also added a couple of salad dressings to choose from at home. We added a couple of cold cereals. We always baked chicken but just started to sautee chicken breasts using spray olive oil on the pan. I never made home made lasagna or beef barley soup and some other things that I am experimenting with now.

Portion Control
Portion control is important to us now especially with meats, poultry, and seafood. If you buy boneless and skinless chicken breasts family packs, usually there are small ones and big ones in the same package. We split up the big breasts for two servings instead of one. We used to pig out and eat until there was no more left. Now we portion out good first servings and for seconds we portion out much smaller servings with the aim to save enough for a lunch or even another dinner for the remaining leftovers.

We like our delicatessen items but now many things are over $10 per pound and almost nothing is currently under $5 per pound which is outrageous. We try to stay away from the products with nitrates or other chemicals like bologna and salami, but I do like hard salami once in a while and instead of buying it a pound at a time, I buy just one quarter of a pound just to satisfy my cravings occasionally. Sliced ham, turkey, and roast beef are real pricey now in New Jersey. Sliced ham is usually the cheapest on sale sometimes at $3.95 per pound. Turkey is usually at least $5.95 per pound and roast beef is astronomical at usually at least $7.95 per pound.

We found that boneless and skinless chicken breasts in the family pack are one good substitute for deli meats. We can find them at $1.99 per pound on sale and they can be sliced with a knife easily and baked or sauteed in minutes. Homemade sliced chicken breasts are half the price of the cheapest sliced meats offered in the deli. We bake more slices than we need and store the rest in the refrigerator for cold sandwiches the next day.

We are eating more PB&J sandwiches, too. Sometimes we spread some peanut butter on a few crackers. We also added soft cream cheese for variety.

Bakery items sky rocketted in price. We are substituting cakes and pies with canned fruit or sugar free jello which are expensive but still cheaper than the bakery items. Some whipped topping sometimes makes it special.

Meal Planning
In the past we usually made up our minds what we wanted for dinner each day just before it was time to prepare it and frequently the decision was to eat out. Now we plan our meals which is better because frequently a meal can be prepared in advance so it only needs to be heated up. This saves the extra cost of restaurant meals and enables us to make meals at home more appealing and better add variety to our meals by choosing what to eat in advance. It enables us to have the ingredients available to use for each meal and to portion control the meals better.

In the past most leftover items went bad before we used them. But now we know that something is a given day's meal and we use it then.

Home Water Filter
We buy a lot of water in the individual bottle and gallon sizes. A home water filter for the kitchen sink will save us from buying water for the home. We rinse out individual bottles and reuse them a couple of times which will save us from buying much of the water we use outdoors. But reused bottles can get contaminated with germs so we recycle them after a couple of uses.

We try to stock up on items we use a lot that are on sale and especially if we also have coupons. There are a lot of items that seem to go on sale once each month that we try to buy what we need for the month instead of buying for the week and paying full price the other weeks. We stock excess items in the heated back porch until we can place them on the kitchen shelves.

Brown or Yellow Bag
When we know we are going to be away from home for 4 hours or more we fill a brown paper or yellow plastic bag with beverage, maybe a sandwich, fruit, cookies, maybe yoghurt and plastic spoons and other things. This way we can pull in at a highway rest stop or just about anyplace and take a break and have refreshment. Most times we do not have to buy food or beverage on the road. But occasionally, we'll buy cofffee at Burger King and other times a bag of french fries from Nathan's to share.

By following our new rules to stretch the food budget we expect to save another 10 to 20% beyond what we already save while maintaining healthy diets. But as prices seem to rapidly rise it will not be as pleasant to deal with the food price increase crises. One thing will be to get my backyard garden back from the deer that eat up anything grown and I will pester the county to cull the local herd.