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Money Saving: A Season of Cheap Meals

I’ve got no business writing a post with cheap and any sort of reference to food in the title. It is not actually something I am good at. Anyone who remembers my grocery posts will attest. While I still hold the title of reigning champion in our local rounds of the What’s for Dinner Game, I put too much emphasis on meat, organics, local, and where I shop to put a sizable dent in my grocery spending.


But today, there’s a crock pot with beans and ham simmering away in my kitchen. Dry beans I unearthed from the depths of my pantry. Ham from the freezer by way of a bulk purchase, previously used for several breakfast and lunches earlier this week. I just ate (bulk purchased) oatmeal with (also bulk purchased) local peanut butter and the frozen organic berries I froze myself long ago. That was my second breakfast. My first was eggs. You know where those came from. For lunch I’ll have last nights leftovers, before I tuck into that ham and beans.

Huge grocery budget or no, days like today I don’t feel like a slouch.

If I do so well, how do I do so poorly? The trick is, I’m not actually doing well. It’s all how you look at it. Really, I’m just averaging out.

Using bulk purchases, not making them. Let’s see if I can use the word ‘bulk’ a few more times in one post. Bulk.Bulk.Bulk. There. I’m not using it lightly. I’ve got a freezer full of beef and pork, a pantry full of jam, pickles, salsa and tomatoes, (but not enough peaches) dried fruit out the ying yang, and even some frozen pesto still hanging around. This stuff has got to be used. All that money spent while the sun was shining and the days were long, comes in handy during the dark cold weeks of January.

Substitution, the name of the game. Beef and pork, I’ve got. Chicken and Fish, no so much. Right now things are a little light on the poultry, and since my fish intake is limited anyway, the ‘other white meat’ and that reddest of red, that’s whats for dinner. We’ve using some new recipes, but subbing in our bounty for what we lack. We also make due. Those canned tomatoes are whole, but they can be crushed, blended, chopped and roasted as need be. Recipe calls for Chorizo? How about ground pork with your own spices thrown in? Winner, Winner!

Seek new inspiration. Changing things up every so often is important to us. Otherwise the take-out fairies start whispering to you about how much yummier their food is compared to the same ole, same ole at home. But, you’ve gotta consider the source. Most recipes come with beautiful pictures. Unless you know what you are looking at, they can suck your money and bulge your waistline. Read a little Everlasting Meal and include ‘cheap’, ‘frugal’, or ‘budget’ in your recipe search terms. That’s how we stumbled across Budget Bytes, which is currently rocking our world. That homemade chorizo went right into a batch of Chorizo and Sweet Potato Enchiladas. Yum.

The Quiet Season. The are no parties on horizon. No Holidays. No birthdays in our household. Maybe some get togethers where we will all eat simple food and contribute as a group. I am not lamenting my blank dance card. I’m thankful for it. Entertaining costs money, even with all my best efforts. Not having an event to tackle for a little while will help grocery spending considerably.

So 1/2 way through January, I’ve only spent $200 on groceries. For me, that’s damn good. Typically I only do that well if I try. And try hard. This has been pretty effortless. I didn’t write about groceries in December (or November for that matter). You know the story. Our grocery spending really use a mellow month. ‘Nuff said.

And you? Does your grocery spending enjoy a respite this time of year? How do you take advantage of that?

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We budget money for groceries every pay period – for us right now , it’s $120/bi-weekly. Whenever I have some left (it happens!), that stray $20 goes into a separate envelope called the “meat envelope.” Then, when, say, our local butcher shop has whole rib loins for $3.89 a pound, we jump all over that (18 ribeye steaks for $60? Heck yes!).

The plan was, initially, to use EXTRA extra meat money to stock the wine cellar (okay, the wine RACK), but so far, that hasn’t worked out so well. Still, I’m pretty happy to stretch a $10 pork shoulder into 4 or 5 meals – then make soup.


Funny how that ‘extra’ money and intentions often don’t line up. I experience the same thing, unless I immediately put any overages or underages, as they were, away. Out of sight out of mind seems to be the best policy. A whole ‘nother use for the envelope system.


The more your practice tightening your grocery budget, the easier it will become over time, I promise! And it is completely understandable during the summer months that you spend more what with all the canning, etc. I budget about $100/week for grocery purchases; some weeks we go over. Some weeks I can’t manage to find a way to spend $60. It just depends on what we have in the house. I ALWAYS try to base my shopping trips on what I already have. It keeps food storage needs minimal and grocery bills low.


Its funny how some weeks you can’t even think of what to buy. Of course, this very rarely happens to me. But, it does happen. Occasionally. 😉

Erica / Northwest Edible Life

Agreed. Longer I do this the more the quick-then-quiet rhythm applies to everything. Groceries, gardening, egg production. And oh my God that book, Everlasting Meal. So painfully good.


Its a pattern I need to acknowledge more of. That to everything a season, which should help us relish both the feast and the famine of it all. Should.

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