When Hubby and I were married over 51 years ago, we made very little money and really adhered to a strict budget. I had about $15. a week to spend on food. I would spend that every week at the old Central Market which I could walk to from our apartment. There were very little convenience foods back then, so I bought fresh. Whatever meat and veggies were on sale that week, I would purchase. There was no stocking up not only because we didn’t have the money but because we had 1/2 a freezer above the fridge in the apartment. It was tiny!
I adhered to many strategies so that we could eat well. Many of which we still use today. I cooked simple meals of meat, veggies, and/or potatoes or rice. I only used a couple of spices like oregano for Italian meals and chili powder for Mexican meals. We liked spaghetti and meatless lasagna. I would make a big lasagna with just a little bit of cheese and cottage cheese and we would eat it for 2-3 meals and take it work for lunch. I made stir fry as I do today with whatever meat and vegetables were cheap that week. I made a lot of casseroles and skillet dishes where we could use just 1/4 to 1/2 lb. of meat. I made soups at least once every two weeks- chicken rice with bits of cheap veggies like carrots and celery, bean and ham soup, beef barley with the meat from short ribs. They would give you a ham bone for free at the market if you asked. It always had little bits of ham on it. I made my own chicken and veggie stock as a base. I made stews that were heavy on potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery, and just a little bit of beef.
I try to stay away from expensive ingredients to this day. I find the simpler meals are cheaper and healthier.
We never purchased lunch out. We would pack our lunch faithfully the night before we would take it to work. I would buy a loaf of bread each week for sandwiches. We took peanut butter and jelly most days.
Twenty two months after we were married we moved into our first home. We really had to stretch every dollar to make our mortgage payment and property taxes and save for furniture. We started out with a bed, fridge, and sofa and a bunch of hand me downs. So we had to save, save and save. We also had depleted our savings buying the house so we wanted to make sure we had an emergency fund. We never touched our retirement savings.
I had a Central Market where we moved to so our shopping continued the way we had always done it. On sale that week and just enough for the week. About 4 years after we moved into our home and our first son was born, we purchased a scratch and dent freezer from Sears. At that time, we had more money to spend on food so we would stockpile meats and frozen veggies when we would find them at rock bottom prices. I made some of our son’s baby food from scratch. But because my Father-in Law was constantly dropping off big grocery bags of baby food jars. I think it was because he wanted to see his grandson a lot. Our home was on his way home from his hardware store.
What are rock bottom prices you say? They are the lowest prices you will pay all year for certain items. I still do this today. Turkeys are at their cheapest before Thanksgiving, hams before Christmas, corned beef around St. Patrick’s Day, and hams and lamb around Easter. Butter and other staples are also cheapest around Thanksgiving. I would stock for a year on these items. I still do.
To this day I compare prices and buy the on sale cheapest meats and freeze them. I also freeze fresh fruits and veggies when they are in season to be used over the next year.
We ate easy and cheap breakfasts like oatmeal or cereals or eggs on toast. I still love oatmeal and Hubby loves cereal. We both love eggs and eat them a lot.
As I got older and wiser, I started to make some things like salad dressings, sauces besides spaghetti sauce, and all of our bread. Then I started making our spaghetti sauce from scratch. I still make a lot of those things today but bread not as often. If I can find bread on the markdown rack at Walmart, I will buy it. We use more wraps than bread today in our home. Those are purchased at Aldi.
I shop Aldi more often than any other store these days. It is a discount store. I know some of you shop salvage stores. If I had one close, I would but unfortunately the closest one is almost 2 hours away. Save- A – Lot and Price Rite are two other discounters near me. But Aldi and Super Walmart are closest to me so they are my first choice. If I find a great deal at Top’s I will shop there for that deal. I also buy a lot of my meats on sale at Top’s in bulk because their prices are lower than Aldi’s many times. For example they had whole pork loins on sale for $ 1.49 a lb. this week. If I had needed pork, I would have purchased one and had the butcher cut it into roasts and chops for me.
If you have a discounter or Aldi’s near you, check out their prices against your supermarket prices. I think you will be amazed at how much money you can save each week. We have always kept a price book or online spreadsheet which I update often so that I know who has the lowest prices at any one time.
I also have Niagara Meats and Produce close to me. I buy whatever is in season there if the price is better than Aldi or Walmart.
Another way we save is to eat the proper portion of proteins. No one needs more than 3-4 ounces of meat at a meal. We also eat a lot of bean dishes. I buy huge bags of black beans and northern beans because we use them a lot, I cook up big batches in our slow cooker and freeze them in the portions we use for a meal. Don’t buy the cans unless you can get them for pennies. They are so expensive compared to uncooked beans. When we buy meat, if we are not buying at rock bottom in bulk, I look for reduced for quick sale meat. As long as the sell by date is today or tomorrow, it is okay to buy it. Either cook it that day or freeze it for future use. Your stores may offer this more than mine do. I now rarely find reduced meat.
I always shop with a grocery list that I have made at home after I have checked my pantries and freezers to see what I can use that week. Don’t go into the store and just throw things in your cart that look good! You will spend a fortune and then get home and find out you are missing an ingredient for a meal. I stick to my grocery list most weeks. I rarely buy impulse purchases.
I try to buy as little junk food as possible. It isn’t easy because Hubby likes his junk food. But I have a limit on how many bags I will buy a month.
I also buy store brands as much as possible. I find a lot of them are as good as name brands and they are usually made by the same name brand company. Aldi’s store brand of mayonaise, Burman’s, is Hellman’s. My husband has been eating Hellman’s since he was a kid. He always knows when I don’t buy Hellman’s. He has been eating Burman’s for over a year and doesn’t even realize it.
I try to not overbuy produce. This keeps our food waste down. We also do our best to eat all of our leftovers. We either eat them for lunch, have a “smorgasbord night to use them us up, incorporate them into another meal, or freeze them for a future meal or to make soup. Every week, I check my produce to see what can be used up for lunch or dinner.
I like to make meals that give us at least two dinners. It takes up less of our time that can be used for other money saving pursuits. It also saves us money when we can cook once and eat twice. Heating in the microwave saves us money over using our stove twice. Our second night dinner of Hubby’s homemade chili is pictured above. He just needs to nuke it and make some rice in the rice cooker.
Shop alone! This one is a biggie. The more family members you have with you, the more you will spend. I leave Hubby home 99.% of the time because if bring him, he loads the cart with whatever looks good to him that day. In all of the years we have been married, I only sent him to the market when I got my knee replacements and I sent him with a list and specific coupons. He still came home with extras. So for the rest of my recouperation, I had my groceries delivered. It was much cheaper!
I have written this for the Jones and Noreen and Bruce. A lot of you have seen these suggestions over the years from all of my blogs. But it never hurts to see a reminder.
What do you do to cut food costs?