Monday, January 12, 2009

Frugal Meals for a Large Family, Phase One: Shopping


In my effort to save money, I decided that shopping once a month was more economical. There is gas to take into account, so the fewer trips into town = more $$ for groceries. I took my weekly shopping list, and figured out how much food we go through in a month. Dear son Mark decided to reorganize it by topic, thus the "animal flesh" column.

I've never bought everything on that list at one time. I'll print the list out, and go look in the freezers, the fridge, the cupboards and the pantry shelves and see what's missing, and highlight it. Then I'll wrack my brain to think of those three or four items that have been in my head to get at Costco that I can't remember when I actually have the list in front of me.

I have a full-fridge refrigerator in my kitchen. A normal sized one was just NOT working, with 7 adult-sized stomachs, and 4 small ones. I also have an upright freezer in the garage, and a chest freezer that dh found for really cheap and couldn't pass up. It's supposedly the "meat" freezer, and the other one is the "other stuff" freezer.

I shop at Costco, and the local cheapest grocery store in town, Winco. I also go to a restaurant supply store and drool over their huge cooking pots. Their prices rival Costco's, but they have a different inventory and I can get some things there that Costco doesn't carry. Like a three-bean green bean mix with cranberries. Or a gallon jug of Tabasco sauce. (Ok, I've never bought it, but the kids and I always like to look at it...)

Now, I have never been able to follow a menu very well. So basically, I buy ingredients. I very rarely buy convenience foods. They cost so much more ounce per ounce. We generally eat chicken two times a week, and ground beef two or three times, and roast once. Tuna dinner once a week, and in the winter, several soups. So for example, on the chicken, if we have fried legs for one meal, and two whole roast chickens for Shabbat dinner, I'd need four whole chickens per month if we alternate a red meat roast with chicken every other week. We eat approx 15 pieces of chicken per meal, and they come 3 pieces in a package, with 6 packages in a pack, so 2 packs of drumsticks and 2 packs of thighs (a little extra is fine).

The first time I went shopping for a month, I spent $600. I way over-estimated the olive oil usage, and I had to stop at Winco for fresh produce a few times. But I didn't do a major shopping run again for 6 weeks. The next time I went it was around $300 (Dh stole all my recipts. I'll get them back and see how much I spent).

On occasion, I'll take everyone with me. Usually, I'll just take a couple of strong teens to load it and unload it. I can also give them part of the list and we'll go twice as fast that way. Although, I have to check what they put in the basket, otherwise, I'll end up with suprises.

I keep a lot of staples on hand. I suspect we could eat for several months without going shopping, but it wouldn't be pretty. I have about ten 2 1/2 gallon buckets with different kinds of beans. I also keep wheat on hand, rice, and oatmeal. We buy 50lbs of oatmeal at a time. Grains and beans together make a complete protein, so I know we would not starve. I got the buckets at the bakery dept. at a grocery store. They contained frosting, they gave them to me. They are much easier to handle than a 5 gallon bucket.

Some dried food I keep on hand are raisins, mushrooms, and various fruit. I'll buy a whole box of pears, for example, and when they start getting over-ripe and we aren't eating them fast enough, Mark will dry them in the dehydrator. They get used as treats for the little girls, eaten on the sly by hungry teens, and sometimes they make it into the oatmeal for brekky.

Often, food is given to us. Several people have given us their Y2K stashes during the early 2000's. I babysit a little boy and his dad picks up food from the Gleaners organization. Last week he brought a bunch of food, along with a huge bag of mushrooms. I steamed them, then dried them. I used the broth from steaming for a fantastic home-made cream of mushroom soup.

We also will slaughter our own animals. I haven't had to buy meat for a couple of months, because we have plenty of goat, veal and chicken in the freezer. Kit found a goat that someone was giving away, so she butchered it herself and we got 65 lbs of meat from it for free. Someone else had a calf that was going down due to a genetic physical problem, so they gave it to us for free. Ron butchered that one. We also raised some cornish cross chicks that Kit got free from the fair, but to be honest, the feed cost more than they were worth. It would have been cheaper to buy them from Costco. They sure have a better flavor than chickens that are"mass produced" though.

Eggs are also cheap protein. It's worth having chickens if you can feed them on leftovers or let them free-range. Assuming they don't quit laying. A laying hen that is not laying is good for the crockpot. Too tough otherwise.


Martha A. said...

i am going to tell mom to come have a look over here... she though only has four children at home now, but is struggling to follow a meal plan too and ends up eating alot of throw together easy fast meals.

hsmominmo said...

Thanks for the inspiration! My shopping/stocking system is similar to what you've described. It does save me money, time as well. And my grocery list (typed into computer by dd as a school assignment) is organized by aisle at each of the stores I visit. Between the lines of your post I can read the satisfaction of a job well done! Good for you!

Steve Orris said...

Excellent ideas. I'm getting better at shopping less often but I have a long way to go. With a frugal mind like that your kids are getting a good financial education that my parents never gave me. They would spend money before they got it. I picked up some bad habits that way. Now my mission is to save people financially by giving them the tools, hope and education they need to be financially free. This country needs it.

dkt said...

Hey! Did you do anything to your buckets to get the sweet frosting smell out of them??


(If you have any ideas, I left a thread on the Momy's board under "in the kitchen"--looking for help. :-)


Nelly said...

I just scrubbed them out with dish soap and water. I might have used some Borax, too. I've had them so long they smell like oatmeal and wheat or beans now.

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