Cheerful Frugality and the Grocery Budget
It's not easy to make a bare-bones grocery budget, but it's even harder to make one that pleases your family.
Thanks to everyone who commented last week, we've seen a wide range of grocery spending. Actual budgets for some of you are ideal budgets for others. I was struck by how many readers are (more-or-less) satisfied with what they have to spend.
We won't limit ourselves to bare bones today (though they would make an excellent beef stock). After all, frugality is not always about spending the very least. It's about doing the most with what you have. That may mean assigning 25% of each week's grocery money to invest in loss leaders for the pantry. You declare a beans-and-cornbread night so you can bring beef stew to a sick family. Perhaps you don't eat canned chili, but you buy some for the food bank when your coupons made the cans 10-cents apiece.
This March, I was so busy congratulating myself on the success of our Iron Chef Moms Challenge that I barely heard the angry voice from the kitchen.
"Mom, I'm hungry and there's nothing to eat!" my five-year-old yelled. "You never have any food in here. Just ingredients!"
Clearly, I needed to adjust my strategy. Here are a few ideas for developing a grocery budget that pleases your family--and your wallet:
- Don't replace processed snacks with good intentions. Devote the day after grocery shopping to kitchen prep. Spin raw ingredients into family gold with a new cookie recipe, fresh bread, homemade dip with ice cold crudite.
- Track your spending. Save your receipts to analyze your weaknesses. (Mine's frozen food.)
- Devote a tiny sliver of grocery money for "luxury" items. A good bottle of olive oil, a bag of gourmet coffee, even a $1 bottle of sea salt can inspire you for the whole week.
- Study the grocery ads online. Is anyone offering fantastic loss leaders this week, or should you stick to the Aldi basics until next week?
- Invite your family to eat as much fresh fruit and healthy snacks as they like, but don't limit your husband's favorite foods. You want to be a good steward, not a warden.
- Experiment with copycat recipes. Even a not-so-healthy item made at home is usually healthier than its grocery or restaurant counterpart, not to mention cheaper.
- Make ahead and freeze. You don't even have to do the math anymore. Mega Cooking and Frozen Assets tell you everything you need to buy, chop, and saute.
- Expand your grocery comfort zone. International markets are good resources for produce and spices, while salvage stores sell snacks and gourmet foods for pennies on the dollar. It's an adventure!
- Serve whatever you have with a smile: water, ice cold with a sprig of mint from your garden; oatmeal, piping hot with cinnamon across the top; raw vegetables, crisp and attractive on a chilled platter.
Your attitude is key to making a lean grocery budget feel full. As Proverbs 17 says, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”
If you have a moment, I'd love to hear your best tricks for transforming those dry morsels into family-friendly meals!