Nothing brings out the … hmmm … essence of people more than the holidays. Since there is so much dysfunction in our society around food and money, we thought we’d combine them and tackle them both.
November’s group meeting focused on food; the cost of it, the wasting of it, and both the enjoyment and work of creating Thanksgiving dinner.
We talked about the American lifestyle not being terribly conducive to meal planning, eating together or nutrition. Perhaps that’s why Thanksgiving has the cache it does; it’s the one time of the year when we simply must plan a meal, shop for what we need, prepare it (with love) and sit down and enjoy it with those we cherish (more or less).
It was interesting to hear the different traditions, and what some people call “traditional.” Some like it straight forward: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, maybe sweet potatoes or carrots, cranberry sauce, apple pie. I like to bring pumpkin bisque to my husband’s family’s gathering. I’m usually the only one who eats it, though. And salad with fruit and nuts in it? Who invited this weirdo? Whereas my family’s meal has more unknowns than knowns (my sister Donna’s purple mashed potatoes comes to mind) but everything is always delicious.
No matter what you have, you must spend money for it…so back to the budgeting discussion.
We discussed that the key to budgeting for food items is meal planning. Here are the 6 steps:
1. Start by checking your schedule for the week, knowing when you can make a full meal, when you can make part of a meal or crock pot it, and when you’re most likely to need take out. Also, choose the day you will shop.
2. Then, check your pantry for what you already have. It’s good to keep some items in stock at all times for a quick meal, such as oatmeal, peanut butter (barring allergies), eggs and some form of bread.
3. Select meals you will cook (ideally based on what you already have) and check the recipe for remaining ingredients. Identify what you will need for breakfasts and lunches. Make a list in order of the store layout (this saves time).
4. Check sales & coupons and set your budget. Try to choose a realistic amount for the week’s groceries (I find I spend more if I go several times during the week versus just once) and take and use only CASH. This really limits you and helps you stick to your budget. If you use your debit card, you’re still not sticking to a budget, not like cash. Trust me, you’ll save on average 30% than if you use credit or debit cards or a check.
5. Shop. If you go to several stores because each offers different deals, try to make them in one fell swoop to save time and gas (no sense saving on food if you’re spending on gas). Also, if you’re shopping during warmer weather, keep a cooler and ice in your trunk.
Don’t buy stuff you think you may use; only what you know you will use.
If you notice, this takes the largest chunk of time, that thing none of us ever seem to have enough of. Look at your schedule and choose which day of the week and time is reasonable to get this done, then do it.
6. Make it! If you’re a single person, you may not be able to delegate (and you may be allowing yourself to eat in less than healthy ways). But if you have a partner or two in the kitchen, try to determine who is good at preparation, who is good at the actual cooking, and who can help put things into containers for lunches for the next day. Do it together!
But what to do with leftovers?
Many people in the group complained about throwing money away because they couldn’t eat all of the food in time before it spoils (this is a reasonable argument against the once-a-week shopping). Most, including I, said that we use leftovers, but only to a point. The day after, you may or may not feel like having the same thing, the second day it loses it’s freshness and the third day you think it’s gone bad. What you need is a leftover buddy! My dear friend Cathy Jo (don’t you love her name?) and I are leftover buddies; I give her the carrot ginger soup we’ve grown tired of and she gives us spaghetti and sausage (sometimes with the warning, “eat it today, though, or freeze it.”) Or take leftovers to an elderly neighbor or a busy mom. Mark the item with what it is and when you gave it so they can decide whether to eat or freeze it.
Lastly, we talked about the pros and cons of coupons and warehouse store shopping. Couponing can be a part time job and you certainly can save money but most coupons are usually for processed food, which we should be limiting anyways. So consider the healthfulness of anything you buy, and if you would buy it without a coupon. Chances are, if the item was worth eating, it’s worth the money. But, on the rare occasion you find a BOGO on organic spinach and have a coupon for that brand, have at it (provided, of course, that you’ll eat it!). (Hint: I put chopped spinach in many, many recipes.)
Warehouse store shopping can be a great savings if you have a big family; which most of us don’t. I don’t care how good a price there is on a 12 pack of cinnamon buns; we simply should not have them around if we’re trying to watch our weight. Also, one group member was asked by a professional organizer (that she hired, at $75/hour) if she really needed a BJs in her basement. Case closed.
Photos courtesy of ClipArt.