Thursday, June 26, 2008

Staying Under Budget

It is the end of the month and the countdown until grocery shopping day has begun. We have a a certain amount budgeted for groceries each month. This month, remarkably for our family of 9 (Haven is eating now, yeah!), we are under budget for groceries! How in the world did we do this? I am in awe! However, I am stubborn and have determined that I will not go shopping again until my next scheduled trip for next month's groceries.

So, at the end of the month, I tend to get really creative in my meals. Yes, I suppose I could go to the store to buy the few ingredients I need to make some meals, and make my life a little easier, but I actually enjoy the challenge. I like to see what I can make with what I have left.

Right now, I am out of almost everything: almost all meat, veggies except carrots and potatoes, dairy products, fresh fruit. It is the dregs at the bottom of the pot, folks! Almost every meal idea I come up with, I am missing at least one ingredient to make it work!

Last night, we had stromboli: I found a lb. of pork sausage in the freezer, as well as some frozen spinach and some ham that I bought earlier this month and never got around to using. I luckily found some pepperoni in the fridge. I made one spinach and sausage stromboli and one ham and pepperoni (same as spinach and sausage stromboli BUT: You make a yummy suace to spread on the dough before adding the meat. The sauce is: 2 egg yolks, maybe 1/4 c. of parmesan cheese, a couple T's of olive oil, some garlic and maybe 1 T. oregano. You mix this up in a thick paste and spread on the dough). I did have to run up to the Citgo/FoodMart (closest store for about another 8 miles) to buy some cheese, so I cheated, but I thought this was pretty good under the circumstances. I also made an ambrosia salad with a can of mandarin oranges, a can of pineapple, the remains of a bag of chopped walnuts, a peach yogurt, the remains of a bag of coconut and some marshmallows. I also cut up what was left of a cucumber and sprinkled some sea salt on it.

Today for lunch, I am throwing together a box of pasta, whatever tuna fish I have (3 lousy cans, it takes 6 for our large family just to have sandwiches!) some mayo, lemon juice, dill, sea salt, and the leftover cucumber from last night. I will serve this with the leftover stromboli.

Tonight, I am making lentils and sausage and substituting whatever ingredients I don't have for what I do have. So . . . I don't have a can of tomato sauce, but I do have cream of tomato soup. I also only have a small amount of smoked sauage link, I am talking very small amount--that will have to make do.

It is fun to be creative and use up what I have. I have often discovered new recipes by going to a recipe website and typing in the ingredients I have to try to find something that will work. Sometimes, the dishes I make don't even go together. That's okay.

For snacks: I am out of peanut butter and dry milk powder so I can't make oatmeal balls. I am also out of all fresh fruit! No blue corn chips, no graham crackers. Nothing. So, for snack today, my kids ate raisins and prunes. (deadly combo, I know, but healthy!). I also have ingredients to make oatmeal raisin cookies, with some flax seed or wheat germ thrown in--our afternoon snack! You can also make homemade soft pretzels--so good, even if they aren't exactly good for you! Everyone has flour on hand! (Hmmm . . . I will have to post that recipe!)

I try to let nothing go to waste. We compost our scraps for our garden and give our rabbits leftover veggie peels and such and then use their manure for our garden (Rabbit manure is excellent for a garden!). I freeze leftovers, even if it just one serving and when I am out of ideas for lunch, I defrost all of the mini-meals and we have a sampling of them each for lunch. Yesterday for lunch, we had 2 lasagna roll-ups I had frozen previously, 1 box of macaroni and cheese (lest you think we always eat healthy!) and leftover black bean and sweet potato filling for burritos, but without the tortillas!

To stay under budget, we eat a lot of beans and lentils. They are cheap and healthy. I told Cameron that I think this is one of the reasons I lost my baby weight so quick this time! It is difficult to eat unhealthy when you have a big family. By necessity, you eat healthier! We do eat meat, but it is never the main dish. We do LOTS of crockpot and one-dish meals with meat in them. Healthy eating takes more time and preparation but it is worth it--not only for the health benefits, but also just the feeling of satisfaction I get from making my own. However, that said, we DO eat the occasional hot dog, frozen pizza, and chicken nuggets. Life is just too unpredictable not to have those "emergency" junk food items in the freezer. I usually make those when we are short on time and I don't feel guilty at ALL!

I am determined to stay under budget this month for groceries! I know that I will have to be creative tomorrow as well! I am out of tortillas, but I can make my own . . . we can snack on carrots or even pickles!

What do you do to stay under budget? What are some of the creative meals you have come up with? Am I the only one who is stubborn enough to "make do" just to stay within my grocery budget and not "borrow" from another category?

In Christ, Laura


The Hodges Family said...

Praise God for Dave Ramsey! LOL We've been able to have a financial counselor come and help us out.
But, I'm also thankful for coming from a family that learned how to "make do". Growing up, my Mom was famous with being creative with the food we had in the house until the next paycheck came. So, I've learned to do the same. Praise God.

Your girls will learn from you just like I've learn from my Mom. So, keep setting the standard.


Ginny said...

I am terrible about groceries. I never stay under budget-I always go over. And this despite the fact that we are pretty much vegetarian except for occasional chicken now and again. We also eat lots of beans-but hardly any lentils. I just hate them except for a couple of recipes. We do eat very healthy-no processed foods for the most part and I stopped buying organic because it's just too expensive. I shop at super wal-mart (I used to go to whole foods :(
And I still go over budget. I need your skills!!! Some day I want to take a day and drive down to visit and pick your brain.

Emily said...

To stay under budget, my hubbie likes to come up with "egg creations." He pitches whatever he can find into an omelet. He adds enough seasonings to make it taste good! I've stopped asking, "What's in this?" Not super healthy, but it helps on the budget!

Martie and Heather said...

You have to love Dave Ramsey. I am the same. I like to give my pantry and freezer a good clean out from time to time. However we are different. My hubby loves meat for dinner. He is 100% a meat and potatoes guy. He just grew up like that. I'm the opposite, but I cook to satisfy him. He also likes bread with every meal. I watch his dad and grandpa and they are the same. Funny what we get used to.

Campbell's Hope said...

Just wondering how much is your monthly budget for a family of 9?
Just wondering how far off I"m with a family of 8.


Wife to the Rockstar said...

I am so like this. This post made me laugh because I do the exact same thing.

laura mouro said...

Wife to the Rockstar,

Good I am not alone!

Robin--Okay, I am going to have to check into our budget total for groceries because I need to clarify with Cameron if it includes the occasional "splurge" when we eat out. I know what the # is, but I want to clarify what it includes. We include ALL of our household products in our grocery budget--diapers, wipes, hair products, lotion, baby wash, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, paper towels, sponges, detergent, dishwaher soap, etc. etc. etc. That stuff alone eats up a good chunk of it. Food-wise?? HMMMM . . . My guess would be $500-$600??

How do I compare?

In Christ, Laura

The Hodges Family said...

Wow! Everyone's food budget is high to me. LOL

Although we're a family of 6, I don't think we'd spend that much when we grow to a family of 9. Right now, we do well on our $100 budget. Praise God.

But, everyone is different.


Anonymous said...

Laura - I am trying to work on this too, but I'm not good at keeping track of my numbers. I have a general sense though. We do a lot of rice and beans and the power cooking recipes that I have are inexpensive, healthy, and last for days! For lunch today I cooked some rice, heated up some canned pintos (with southwest seasoning), added cheese and had burritoes. Quick, easy and the boys love it! I love how you said that keeping to a budget keeps you eating healthy. So many articles say that having less money means eating an unhealthy diet. I disagree. Junk food is expensive. Pound for pound, fruits, veggies, and grains are cheaper. You can't do much better than rice, beans and in-season fruits and veggies. It's all in what and how much we eat. -Kathy

laura mouro said...

Zinnada, $100 a month? WHAT!? That's only $25 a week! How do you do that with 4 kids and including formula? I need your tips! You will have to share how you do it!

In Christ, Laura

laura mouro said...

I was just thinking that I thought $500-$600 for a family of 9 was pretty good. I know a family with only 4 kids (all older than mine) that spends over $1000 a month on groceries. There is a website that shows what the average family in America spends and we are WAY below it! Just milk alone is close to $20 a week!


Ginny said...

I am doing really bad here-our budget includes all the extras-diapers, cleaning produts etc. and we are spending 800+ and I don't buy convenience foods-and I have three kids. Maybe it't the gluten free stuff? I also buy a ton of fruit. If I didn't Seth would starve. I don't know. I stink at this bigtime! Clearly I need someone to go with me to the grocery store and hold my hand. Typically when I buy my weeks worth at Wal-Mart I spend about 100-then somehow I keep needing more stuff throughout the week and make another quick trip for more fruit or milk. We are about to get our own chickens I think because we go through three dozen or so eggs a week. Maybe we just eat a ton!

laura mouro said...

No, Ginny--that sounds about right. We spend about $800 when you include diapers, wipes, cleaning products, body care products, spices, milk, fresh produce and such--and we don't eat much meat! It is buying fresh produce that costs a lot. I refuse to eat unhealthy just to save money. I know that a box of animal crackers is cheaper than a bag of apples, but I will buy the fruit over the crackers--and it only lasts 2 days in my house! When every child eats a banana, plus me, there goes 7 bananas in one day! I buy natural peanut butter, clearly more expensive than other brands. We also go through lots of cheese! My children go through A TON of veggies because we eat fresh veggies and dip for lunch!

Don't feel bad about your grocery spending. Food is expensive and prices have gone up with higher gas prices.

We, too, want to get chickens. We go through at least 14-16 eggs in one morning if we have scrambled eggs. We go through about 9 dozen a month or more!

Hopefully, having a garden this summer will help us.

Oh, and Zinnada clarified for me--it is $100 per week, or per paycheck I think, not per month. I was gonna say!

In Christ, Laura

DeniseinSC said...

Hey Lauara, 8 mouths to feed here... questions:
How many times a month do you shop?
Do you do Sam's?
Do you have a cc of your monthly meals and standard grocery list that you follow day by day?
What do you eat for breakfasts?? Thanks!!!!


Kim said...

I do buy organic for the most part, and some other local animal foods from a farmer. It is rather expensive compared to Shoppers Food Warehouse, but I also think that it's much more nutrient-dense, and therefore more satisfying. My portions have naturally decreased over time to the point where I can eat about half of what I used to for breakfast, half for dinner, and sometimes skip lunch and I feel fine! My husband on the other hand....I should mention that I only have one child, a girl. I'm sure it would be more difficult to keep up with this with more children. I have often wondered how much our budget would change if I got pregnant again. I also wonder if those who are buying most of their food from the big chain grocery stores will soon be caught up with those who buy local. I haven't found my food prices going up that much. I think the fact that it's local (and therefore not requiring so much gas money) makes a huge difference.

laura mouro said...


Here are the answers to your questions: :)

We don't do Sam's--I found a lot of the items there to be not that much of a deal. Also, it is way too over-stimulating for me, esp. with 7 kids to keep track of. I would dread it if I had to go there.

We shop at Aldi's and I do my BIG trip just once a month. I buy all that I will need and then Cameron will run to the store on the way home from work for milk, fruit, veggies and any ingredient that I am missing. Occasionally, I do have to run out to get stuff, but it is such a small amount. Why do I do this to myself? Take 7 kids and shop for a whole months worth of groceries? For me, it gets it done and out of the way. That way, only one day is taken away from school and one day is stressful. I LOVE Aldi's--there is only one brand, so it is not overwhelming. It is small and fast and worth the long drive for us (about 35 miles). The only stressful part is you have to bag your own groceries. I just set all my children on the counter, give them a bag and hand them stuff to put away. We always reward ourselves with a treat. We also do SuperWalmart, usually the same day. That to me is stressful because, again, it is so over-stimulating and they deliberately spread their stuff all over the store--the shampoo is nowhere near the food!!

I buy the same stuff every month--staple things--and then make meals from that. I used to make a menu, but don't have to anymore. I just stock my pantry and freezer with the same basic essentials each month. If I come across an ingredient I need, Cameron picks it up on his way home.

For breakfast: We do cream of wheat, oatmeal, co-co wheats or oatmeal pancakes (the recipe is on this blog under recipes). About once a week I also do scrambled eggs. No convenience foods--no dry cereal, pop tarts, etc. There are just too many of us. We go through a lot of milk, but we save because we eat oatmeal and such.

There may be a better way to do the grocery thing for big families, but this has worked for us. The kids will ask "Is it Aldi's day yet?" becuse they know they will work hard, but they will be rewarded with some type of treat (usually a rare fast food run). I do want to start buying things in bulk--like 25 lb. bags--like oatmeal and black beans and rice, but haven't found where or how to do that yet.

Hope that helps!

Got any tips for me??

Praying for your family and Ellie.

Love in Christ, Laura

Anonymous said...

I don't remember if I've shared this before in a comment, but dry milk is a GREAT budget help. We don't reconstitute and drink it (have tried and it didn't go over well). However, I use it in recipes when milk is needed: white sauce, bread, muffins, pancakes, etc. You mix 1/3 cup dry milk to 1 cup of water for a cup of milk. As long as it's used in a recipe, no one notices or cares. I also use it in my tea, instead of milk. --Kathy

Tereasa said...

I loved this post! I get crazy at the end of the month, too. I try to throw together some "pantry meals" throughout the month so the end doesn't seem too desolate. Still, the best of the food always seems to be gone by the last week. My favorite end of the month meal? Fried rice! We always have rice and we just add whatever is left in the crisper of the fridge along with any meat that might be leftover. Don't forget the egg!

Other ways I save on the grocery money? I bake a lot of bread! I've learned how to make bread, bagels, rolls, cinnamon buns, muffins, hot dog and hamburger buns. Oh, and I grew up on homemade tortillas. Store bought ones taste like glue to me! I recently began using powdered milk for everything but drinks. Hmmm... we eat a lot of beans... and I don't buy snack foods. Well, no we do eat crackers and pretzels. (Maybe I should find a recipe for those, too.) Otherwise, I bake snacks for the kids or dry fuit. We invested in a dehydrator this year, so we can even make our own fruit leather. I love it!!!

In all, for our family of five, we spend $300 a month. It could be less, but we buy a lot of produce.