Cutting down on the grocery bill is always a goal of mine.
With a few significant extra expenses in the last few weeks (some expected and some unexpected) combined with my husband losing his job a couple months ago, cutting back everywhere I can is higher on the list of priorities than ever.
We have eight mouths to feed right now. There’s me and my husband. Then a 17-year-old, 12-year-old, 11-year-old, 8-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old. The three younger kids don’t eat massive amounts of food. But the other three kids eat a lot. A LOT. They are growing and doing sports and it seems that they are burning off more calories than they can keep in their bodies.
So we need a decent amount of food.
I try to stick to a $250/ week grocery budget. This budget includes other things, too. Laundry detergent, toiletries, cat food, etc. I come pretty close to that each week.
But the last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to keep it under $200.
I’ve been doing it, but I’ve had to make some changes to the way I’ve been doing things.
And I think these changes are going to lead to even more changes which will enable me to get my grocery bill down closer to $650/month, which is my goal.
So what changes have I made?
First, let me rewind.
When I was in high school, I went on an exchange trip to France where I lived with a French family for three weeks. One of the biggest differences between life in France and life in the United States was how meals were shopped for, planned, prepared, and eaten. Shopping was done on pretty much a daily basis. Nobody rushed through meals or ate in the car and the kids never ate goldfish and granola bars and bags of chips (I don’t think I ever even saw a bag of chips while I was there).
Eating was an experience. Meals were prepared daily and they were delicious. There were plenty of treats. We’s have one snack when we got home from school. The one I remember the most was a chocolate sandwich. It was part of a baguette hollowed out with a few slices of chocolate put in the middle.
OhMyGod it was SO GOOD.
If you’ve ever been to Europe, you probably noticed that they don’t have refrigerators the size of Rhode Island in their houses and apartments, and they don’t have stockpiles of fifty boxes of cereal and enough bottles of shampoo and conditioner to last until their kids graduate from college.
So I thought about that.
I also have been bothered by the amount of food that gets thrown away in this house.
It happens quite often for a number of reasons.
First, there is too much crap in our fridge, and it’s rarely organized. Second, I buy food in bulk which would make sense for a family the size of ours, but then I often don’t cook it immediately, or I don’t freeze it immediately, or I make more than we can eat at once and have plans to do something with the leftovers, but then for whatever reason, I get off track in the meal planning and prep department, and I forget to use it.
Then, two weeks later, I find it buried in the back of the fridge where it’s on its way to becoming penicillin.
So back to the changes I made…
1) I stopped buying processed snacks again.
All of them. No chips. No crackers. No salty junk at all, really.
I struggle with this. I struggle with the worry that if I don’t let my kids eat garbage that when they go off to college or are living on their own, they’ll just binge nonstop on the crap they weren’t allowed to have as kids.
But here is the thing. They already do that.
Whenever I buy crap, it’s the only thing my kids want to eat. When we have cereal, that’s the only thing they want for breakfast. When we have junk, the more junk they eat, the more junk they crave. Shitty food is designed to make you crave more shitty food.
And that’s exactly what happens with them.
So I hope to teach them about the cost of food and how to prepare food that tastes really good but is also halfway decent for them.
And I am trying to teach my kids that it’s okay to be hungry. Hunger is a healthy thing.
We have this mindset here in the United States that our kids should never be hungry. That’s not true!
I am definitely guilty of this fear-of-my-kids-being-hungry thing.
How many times have I fed my kids and then packed four million snacks to take with us before we walk out the door so they aren’t hungry at all wherever we are going?
Then we become adults who don’t eat because we are hungry. We eat because we haven’t learned how to cope with any amount of hunger at all!
It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Slight discomfort is not equivalent to malnutrition.
This being-hungry-thing happened just yesterday.
It was 5 pm and Number 5 was starving. She was going to die.
I was actually in the kitchen at the time starting to get dinner ready. I assured her she was not going to die, and I told her she’d have to wait until dinner was ready to eat.
She stomped out of the room yelling about her impending starvation-related death.
I made some pretty good stuff for dinner. I made a version of these cheeseburger quesadillas, corn, a green salad, three-bean salad and smoothie popsicles for dessert.
(It was almost as if we were eating dinner in Paris 😉 ).
When dinner was ready, I called the kids into the kitchen.
And you know what Number 5 said?
She said, Hold on Mom, I just want to finish watching this show.
She wasn’t gonna die anymore!!! It was a miracle.
So, as I had suspected, her hunger wasn’t life threatening and her death wasn’t imminent.
In fact, it took her all of ten minutes to forget she was even hungry at all.
But when it was time for dinner, the kids ate, and they ate well. Their appetite hadn’t been ruined by mindlessly snacking on a bunch of garbage an hour earlier, and they willingly ingested vegetables.
Then the next thing I did…
2) I cleaned out the fridge.
If it’s not organized, I won’t know what’s in there. How I’m going to discipline myself to stay on top of this, I’m not sure. (But #4 is going to help).
3) I used the leftovers immediately for snack.
There were a couple quesadillas left over last night. I heated those up for a snack along with some hard boiled eggs and grapes.
It was easy to find the quesadillas because the fridge was clean and neat! Plus, using that for snack immediately the next day prevented me from completely forgetting about them until they became something completely unrecognizable.
Killing two birds with one stone and having the kids eat leftovers for snack and decluttering the fridge is extremely satisfying.
4) I’ve started going to the grocery store almost daily.
This is a big change. It probably takes about an extra hour out of my week to make the extra trips.
But because I’m not doing a massive weekly shopping trip and consequently opening the refrigerator door and struggling to find space in the fridge for everything I’ve just bought, this has cut down on any food being wasted, forgotten about, and thrown away which is saving me a significant amount of money.
This new way of looking at shopping for my family and preparing food will take some tweaking to really be as efficient as possible. I still plan to prep and plan meals and buy only things that are on sale. I’ll use coupons when I can. And I plan to make double batches of things that I can freeze and reheat on those super crazy nights and weeks.
Maybe one Sunday a week will be a big meal prep day. I don’t know. I still have to figure that out.
I also have another plan to cut down on expenses…
Our electric bill is not small. We have a second fridge in the mudroom which is at least fifteen years old. It’s definitely not energy efficient. We also have a chest freezer.
With this new way of shopping and thinking about food, we don’t need two full size refrigerators and a freezer!
I think it’s time to get rid of that second fridge. Not only will that help us to be more efficient with the food, it should make a pretty big dent in our electric bill.
I’m kind of — okay — really excited about this new direction. I’ll keep you updated on anything else I find to be helpful in the upcoming months.
Stay tuned for updates and tweaks that you might also be able to incorporate to cut down on your monthly food bill, too!