First off I wish to acknowledge Angela Vanderlinda Russell. I went to grade school with her and she has started this amazing ministry called The Coupon Project. She is the one who got me thinking about how I could make our one income stretch and feed the tribe.
I also wish to thank my hubs. He will probably never read this but he works very hard to provide for us. He is the best mechanic I know. While it isn't extravagant or lucrative I love the way his mind works at problem solving and yes I even love the grease under his fingernails. Hardworking hands were my only prerequisite in finding a man. And yes, I understand that that makes me a little weird. But, guess what, I don't care!
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own amazing mother. Who is and was the queen of making food stretch. She raised the six of us on a restaurant managers salary which was something like $20,000 a year. She always made warm and inviting meals and even though Dad worked nights all of us sat down and had dinner around a table.
I started my journey looking for work outside the home. It was one of those despairing moments that I am sure you all have faced. Financial woes. A "how are we gonna make it" moment. It was at this point that I came across Angela on Facebook and she had just started up this company called The Coupon Project. I dove into the idea of coupons. It took time and effort and a longer trip to a few grocery stores but it was fun, challenging and WAY better than getting a job outside of my home. On average I was saving between 50% and 70% on my grocery bills. I learned dozens of valuable principles through this time and still employ many of them.
Then I got pregnant. With #7. Believe it or not pregnancy is pretty hard on me. People always assume that I have all these kids because I just love being pregnant. Well, I don't love it. It is hard and painful and it seemed my coupon days were numbered. The hubs and I regrouped and decided to try out buying bulk items and filling in with generic brands for other items that we couldn't find in large quantities. It has been amazing. Of course the initial cost is high. We couldn't afford to bulk up all at once but did a few items to start off. I think corn meal, flour, and lentils were our first purchases with our regular groceries, of course. We bought two kinds of containers.
First we found these:
Next we found these at Winco. They have a twist on lid and are also airtight. I think they hold about 40 pounds of goodness. It is time to bulk up on this bin again.
The next thing that I am going to tell you might come as a shock...but....here goes.....we gave up on Costco. I know, crazy right? Before I had started with coupons I had grown increasingly discouraged with how much we were spending there. It was not uncommon for us to leave having spent close to $600. Ouch. I started to Really pay attention to what I was buying there and began realizing that it was rarely a "good" deal.
You will now find me frequently at Cash & Carry. Not everything is a better deal here but this is where I get the majority of my bulk foods. They carry Bob's Red Mill products in bulk which is pretty great. I buy bulk Adam's Peanut Butter, Honey, Coffee, Canned Goods, Dairy and Fresh Fruits and Veggies here. I buy butter in block form it is cheaper that way and I can stick it in the freezer. I get the rest of my bulk foods at Winco. Did you know that almost anything they sell in their bulk bins you can ask for in a 25 pound bag and someone will go to the back and haul it out for you. As for other food items I try my best to buy generic or I still use coupons when I can. If anything ALWAYS grab the flyer before heading into your local grocery store. Safeway, Albertsons and Fred Meyer always have coupons in the flyer to save you a couple extra bucks. I still employ principles at "regular" grocery stores that Angela taught me about store cycles and knowing that when you find an amazing deal you should fill up your cart. There is nothing more exciting than finding crazy cheap non-perishable food and stocking your pantry for the next year. Love that feeling.
Meat is a tough one. It is expensive. There are nine of us. Our favorite thing to do is to go to Blue Max Beef on Canyon. They have different size freezer packs that offer a savings and stock the freezer for some time. Great because they have a wide variety and I love not having to think about buying meat for a couple of months. The other place that I buy meat is from the discount section at Safeway & Fred Meyer. This idea might gross some people out but everything I buy is marked down about 50% and I stick it right in the freezer when I get home.
Using these principles I now basically have a grocery store at home. Aside from milk and produce I hardly have to purchase anything else on a given grocery trip. My home grocery store has large quantities of corn meal, flour, white and brown rice, barley, brown sugar, old fashioned & steel cut oats, black/pinto/kidney & white beans, pasta, coffee, spices, yeast, lentils, etc. etc...you get the idea. One thing that I really like about this system is that if we have a tight month we still have plenty of things to make meals out of. I mean Laura Ingalls lived off of cornbread for years, right?
Some things I no longer buy because the expense is just way too high. Breakfast cereal is one of those. We get it on special occasions but that is all. We eat a lot of eggs. We have about 12 hens which are laying beautifully right now. In the winter though I buy eggs in bulk to supplement. I always buy the five dozen case because we have NO problem eating that many. The first thing that I teach my kids to cook is an egg. I make Large batches of granola too. My life has also been recently revolutionized by this:
Steel Cut Oats in the rice cooker. I have tried them in the crockpot and they were slimy, blech. This has been so wonderful. I put 4 cups of oats in with 8 cups of water at night. In the morning I press the button and in 15 or 20 minutes we have breakfast. Of course add what topping s you wish. So great.
I have also discovered a wonderful trick for dried beans. I used to cook and stir them on the stove all day which was a terrible pain. Now I put them to soak two nights before we plan to have them. Give them a rinse and then cover them with water in a crockpot low setting over night and through the next day. You don't even have to think about them until your ready to toss them in to chili, or whatever. I always make extras and fill two quart size ziploc freezer bags and put them in the freezer for refrieds when we do a mexican night. Cheaper than canned beans and they taste way better.
I also make some of the simplest things now that over time will save hundreds. Salad dressing is a big one. We make vinaigrettes and homemade buttermilk ranch. It takes a few seconds. Did you know how cheap buttermilk is?
I also use a bread maker for savings and simplicity.
The major way that I probably differ from most people is that I don't go to the store to buy specific food for specific recipes. I go to the store and find the best deals come home and then plan my meals around what I have purchased and what is stocked in my pantry. Sometimes I get an amazing deal on chicken, bacon and italian sausage. That will determine what meals come out of the kitchen that week. Next time I might find good deals on ground beef, and pork chops so our dinners will reflect those.
Pretty sure you get the drift. Now that I have a fully stocked pantry I can make do with a $350 grocery budget. It is pretty grand. I realize it won't make sense for all of you but it has been a lifesaver for us. I hope that somethings I have said might be helpful in your homes as you try to make food and money go a little further.