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Real food on a budget

j0438442We’re re-examining what we spend on our grocery budget to find ways to continue to prepare healthy and delicious food while reducing the amount we spend each month.  Let’s face it, eating REAL food (not processed, preservative and additive-laden food STUFF) is not cheap.  If you’re a farmer or have gobs of land for a huge garden, then perhaps it’s not as expensive as the typical city dweller who relies upon the local grocer for food.

So, I’m on a mission to do a couple things around our home to make eating REAL food affordable.  First, I want us to reduce the amount we spend each month on groceries.  I’ve discovered two areas where we can be kinder to our wallet in this regard:

1. Menu plan around grocery circular sales, and plan around your work week. I work 3 days a week, and 2 of those days are consecutive.  If I menu plan to have a dinner options that will make things simpler on the days that I work, we’ll get fed at a decent time.  I also plan around camping trips and vacations so that we’ll have something I pre-made stored in the freezer that’s easy to warm-up when we return.

I used to shop based on whatever I wanted to make.  That was insanely expensive.  Now, I grocery shop based on what I already have and menu plan around those ingredients.  I also check the grocery circulars and sales weekly or at least once a month and stock up on items that are reduced.

  • Do this one thing, and your grocery expenses will be reduced 25 – 50%.

2. Brown bag your lunch–no exceptions.

OK, a power networking meeting might be an exception.  But seriously, chances of finding a place where you can get a decent lunch for less than $5 or $6 is rare.

In our town, most places lunch runs around $8 at a restaurant.  Add tax and tip and you’re pushing $10.

Run to the local bakery for a sandwich, $4.80 – $7.

However, make your own sandwich, or chicken salad, add in a piece of fruit and a trail mix of almonds and raisins and you’ll spend less than $3 per lunch daily.

Let’s say you make your lunch 5 days a week for 1 month.  Compared to buying your lunch, you’d save anywhere from $40 to $200 depending on your lunch purchasing habits.  I can think of a lot better ways to spend that kind of money than on lunches!

The other fantastico bonus of making your lunch is that you know exactly what’s in it.  Not into gluten or grains, then skip the bread and make a lettuce wrap instead.  Or rather, make a salad, or soup, or chili–whatever your fancy!

3. Grow a garden

You don’t have to have a huge backyard, or any yard at all to grow a few choice things that will save time, money, and taste mmm so good!

It’s easy to use an old plastic 5 gallon bucket, drill a hole into the bottom (or pound a nail or two for drainage holes), and add some gravel/pebbles, and then soil.

Plant a tomato starter plant OR a bell pepper plant OR a few small herb plants like oregano and cilantro.

You can leave your mini garden buckets outside your door in direct sunlight.  In winter months, you can continue to use your herbs by leaving the planter inside.

If you have a yard, go for it.  We planted 4 tomato plants, 2 bell peppers in a 4 foot x 3 foot area.  Can’t wait for those heirloom tomatoes to ripen!  It’s so much less expensive to make my own marinara or cacciatore sauces from my own garden tomatoes.

If you don’t know the first thing about gardening, ask someone who does.  Check out a library book, or surf the web.  Wherever you live, you’ll be able to grow something.

Your own garden could save you a ton in grocery expenses, and the fresh flavors are exceptional.

4. Freeze, can, and preserve the harvest at its peak

When summer squash goes on sale for $1 per pound at the market, I stock up.  I may not cook it all at once, but I at least chop it up and store it in my deep freezer for the months when the lovely squash isn’t in season and definitely doesn’t sell for such a steal of a price.

The same principle applies for tomatoes, apples, berries, and other harvest goodies.

Want to make a fresh apple pie in December, but you don’t want to pay the winter apple prices? Peel. Slice. Store. Freeze. Then, pull them out when you need them.

Save money by having the produce you want when it’s not in season.  Also, you stretch out the fruits of the season for a longer duration.

Try the 4 tips above and you’ll be on your way to incorporating REAL food into a more economic grocery budget. Happy eats!

–By Dr. Dolly
Twitter me: drdolly