Friday, June 17, 2016

Hot sausage and mustard!

Recently, a friend asked how Blake and I save money on groceries. I realize that it's not the most exciting thing to turn into a blog after months of not blogging, but I wanted to start somewhere! This was a few weeks ago, and I can tell you that our margherita pizzas and chicken and waffles were delicious! The onion I mention at the end got cut up to use into a sauce.

This has taken a lot of practice and I've developed a small, but well stocked pantry, which I'm rather proud of. Some of this going to change in a few months, but for now, this is how we do it!

Now, we both enjoy cooking, so that helps, but we only cook dinners a couple of nights a week. Usually Sunday nights, one or two weeknights, and then pizza night. The rest of the time is leftovers, which we both enjoy. We don't burn out on cooking something new everyday and it saves us time/money. Breakfast on the weekdays is almost always scrambled eggs with a protein or fajita veggies and either toast or a fruit/veg smoothie. Lunches are grilled chicken breasts we cooked up altogether over the weekend (different marinade each week), a veg (almost always carrots) and fruit. Keeping these things the same everyday reduces the time/effort that goes into such prep and we use up what we have. We can keep dinner more creative.

Regardless of what you do, one major key is to PLAN. Meal planning is pretty much a love it or hate it thing, but I happen to love it. I look over our schedule (what nights do I need to have something fast, how many nights will this meal last us, etc.) and what we already have in the fridge/pantry. If we can make something new with what we already have on hand - awesome. Fewer new ingredients we have to buy. For example, right now I have half a ball of mozzarella and some fresh basil in the fridge. I'm out of tomatoes for the caprese salads I was making with these things, but we do have pizza sauce and frozen pizza dough, so one night after Blake gets home, we're going to have margherita pizza. I bought one can of pizza/pasta sauce for $.95 and divided it into 5 equal containers - no more need to buy sauce for a month. Actually, we have two more cans in the pantry, so we're set for the whole summer. I also have some frozen waffles from a grocery store freebie recently, and a coupon for $.55 off some chicken tenders. So chicken and waffles it is! Occasionally, I'll have to buy all new ingredients for whatever, but there is usually something leftover from something else that I can incorporate into the next week.

Once I plan, I make my grocery list and try not to deviate from it. If there is a really good deal on something that I pass, I might get it, but I stick to my list as closely as possible. I also check my preferred stores' ads to see what's on sale, especially produce and meat. Cucumbers on sale this week? That's our dinner vegetable! I also then get a good idea of what a good price is for a certain item. If I have wiggle room in my budget that week, I can get whatever meat is on sale and stash it in the freezer for the future. I buy in bulk when it makes sense, and not when it doesn't. We keep a lot of our meals simple, so that we don't have to buy very much. I use coupons sometimes, but I'm not crazy about it. Right now I'm shopping mostly at Aldi and Shoppers. Aldi just has good prices on produce and dairy. Shoppers has weekly freebies, frequent $5 off $25 or $10 off $50, and a variety of other coupons, and yes I will walk around the store with my calculator just to reach the $25/$50, if I'm close enough with what I'm already planning to buy. I love me some Trader Joe's, but it's not convenient most of the time.

I also diy a lot of my foods. We make our own bread, brown sugar, pizza dough, salsa (sometimes), buttermilk, ice cream, and whatever else I can. If it's a specialty thing that doesn't come up a lot in my recipes, I see if there is a cheaper alternative/substitute (like making my own self-rising flour or subbing grape juice for wine, etc.) before I add it to my pantry. It takes practice, and sometimes we go over $200/month, but we're pretty close and we still eat really well.

And I typed up that post and grabbed out my lunch to microwave when I realized that instead of my grilled chicken I packed the sliced half an onion I was going to use in the sauce I'm making for manicotti (celebratory favorite dinner of husband deserves real sauce, not canned). Soooo, I'm not perfect. However! Another money saving example - onions were on a crazy sale at Aldi, but only in bulk, like 3lbs for the price of 1lb. So, I found out how one can store onions, bought the very large bag, and am set on onions for awhile. I sliced up half for a salad recently, and figured I'd know what to do with the other half eventually. Also, thank goodness I had a slice of cake at the faculty baby shower, because I'm not eating this onion.