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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grocery Store Sticker Shock, Constant Bad News and Ways I'm Keeping My Costs Down

Boy I hate to even read my paper anymore, or watch my news.

I'm betting most of us feel that way. Its like so much bad news and so many dire predictions! What's even worse is grocery shopping. I went out yesterday to three stores and noticed prices were up--noticably up-- I'm thinking up to 1/3 higher than usual. Not for everything, but certainly for MOST things. Dairy remains lower than last year--which is good for me, not so much for the farmers. The kids 'life blood' Diet Coke is up--but not by as much if you buy the 2 liter bottles. (my kids really need to rediscover H20)

Looking at fresh produce I was dumbfounded. I had planned to have steamed brocoli with our dinner-- well it would have cost about $6.00 to add that to our meal in a quantity that could feed all of us. $6.00 for a side dish? I think not, especially after looking at meat prices. HOLY MOLY! I've stepped up my cost cutting measures since our income keeps shrinking, and the prices keep rising.


SAVING ON MEATS

I've been buying more and more whole chickens--and driving about to find the best deal on those. I generally have been first searing them on the stove top and finishing them off in a 375 degree oven. They are delicious! I make two for our family then the next morning I pick off all the leftover meat and package it and freeze it for stir fry or soup or casseroles etc. I then use the bones to make 2 big pots of stock--which I usually make soup of one and freeze the other in zip top bags. I find that if I lay the bags on a cookie sheet or tray in my freezer I have flat frozen stock in various quantities. A quart bag is great for a 2 cup portion. I no longer buy the chicken base I used to use, I needed to cut the salt anyhow and this stuff is free.

I've gotten less picky about my stock making process. I throw in some onion and celery and carrot--if I don't have all of those I make it anyhow. I add some peppercorns, a little kosher salt and a couple of bay leaves. It always comes out delicious and I simply strain it, cool it for about an hour and then put in a big pitcher in the fridge overnight. The next morning I pack it to freeze after skimming off the fat. I preserve and freeze some of the fat for use in things like matza balls. It has lots of great free flavor.

I'm still using my Grocery Game currently, but because I have been too busy to do the couponing right I am letting it go soon. I just have to. I run between 2 states to often--especially on the weekends which is prime deal time with GG--so I just have to adopt different strategies. For me, the Price Book is getting more use than ever as well as carefully making sure leftovers get used or frozen on time to use later. I've been considering expanding my pricebook, currently I only track prices at Sam's Club and Aldi and use those as a comparison for deciding if sale prices at other stores are worthwhile. I like the simple easy Bare Bones Price Book I have now--but I am not sure it will always be enough. I started it back in November and try to update it whenever I shop at those stores. Even Sams and Aldi's have had some price increases. Its hard not to feel a bit panicky in the stores these days--especially when you are conscious of the fact that you MUST stay in your budget.

WAYS I'M CUTTING COSTS ON FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

One thing I am doing is buying almost all my canned veggies at Aldi now. They are generally 49 cents a can. No change in that price yet. Even their tomatoes with peppers combination (similar to Ro-tel) is 49 cents and the can is bigger than the Ro-tel can. I use it with fresh tomatoes in my salsa and in other dishes.

I don't buy canned kidney beans or black beans or white beans anymore I cook dry beans and then freeze them in portions--this is about half the price of canned--even using Aldi prices.

I sometimes purchase my veggies at the Mexican Grocery store: Compare Foods. They usually have some low prices on things that are staples--tomatoes, celery, peppers..

I take much more care with veggies in my fridge and make sure to check that they are all used. I have been having some luck with using green bags-- the trick is that the produce needs to be fresh to begin with and dry--don't wash it before storing in a green bag. Then you can keep it fairly long that way. I've kept produce fresh while I'm out of town using green bags. I don't use these for everything. I keep some of my veggies already cut up and clean for quick access in a bowl of water which I freshen daily. I wash my green bags out and hang them to dry so I can re-use them--they are pricey! So I don't want to buy them again for a LONG time. I can see them being useful with the garden kick in especially as you always have times when there is too much of something.

Speaking of the garden-- another strategy for saving on fresh food is the garden. I purchased strawberry plants this year for my new garden and they are on the way! I got them mail order because it is far less pricey than buying plants locally. I plan to have my own little vineyard and fruit garden as well as herb and veggie gardens at the new house. This year I do plan to have grow quite a few veggies even though we are still working on the house and have not begun to move in. I'm there often enough to tend it and with mulching it should do fine between my visits. I won't likely have any time to do canning this summer, but I will use my freezer and possibly we will purchase another freezer at some point. We shall see.

How do I get so much done? Well for one thing I am only working part time. For another thing I do not have small children. Third--I just keep at it and keep busy doing a bit of this and a bit of that and try to challenge myself to get a little more done before I 'rest' each day. It works. The less I procrastinate the more I get done! I tell myself: "just get this done, how about that too?"


Of course looking at rising prices is pretty motivating too! When the store is advertising a sale on canned veggies at 80 cents a can and you don't want to pay more than 50 cents--well--you start to think--what will they charge after the sale? 80 cents on SALE for canned beans? Over 60 cents a pound for a banana? Do I need a $2.00 bell pepper? Time to plant some seeds.

Since I am almost sure I am losing my job July 1st I also think I will have more time to garden this summer even with our move. In high summer I generally do my garden chores either early in the morning or later in the evening. Most of the summer chores have to do with watering in summer. If it rains some watering is not as essential. I do other chores as well-but watering is most essential. Checking for bugs is another thing I do daily and then deal with that asap if I there is a problem. I mulch to keep watering needs to a minimum. Last year I also buried some plastic milk jugs near some of my plants and used them as 'reservoirs'. I'd fill them up when I watered and let them slowly add moisture near plant roots. They were hidden under mulch and didn't make the garden ugly.

Anyhow those are things that I am doing. I'm treading water here! I will admit we didn't have brocoli last night, we had instead some canned corn from Aldi and some other sides. Note to self* next winter you best have brocoli growing!

Ya, the news is bad, the prices are crazy--most likely they will get worse--When the going gets tough-- the tough get going-- more tough.

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