Panic set in when money got tight this last year but after a lot of prayer I've been learning more about how to save money and reduce expenses. This learning is a long process that is coming in stages.
Currently my money saving focus is on groceries and household items.
Groceries is one of the biggest expenses for our family, and probably most families, so that's where I first started looking for ways to save. While groceries are expensive overall anymore, the highest costs are in the meat department. In the past I didn't pay much attention to the cost of meat per pound but when Ihad to fit my purchases within a certain budget I knew I would need to start focusing on it.
Of course the better quality meats cost more, which was frustrating to me until I started to watch a couple of cooking shows and learned that meats that are thought of as "lower quality" can be used to create a variety of delicious meals.
There are many sites and cook books available to help you use not only cheaper cuts of meat to make amazing meals, but also supporting ingredients and dishes.
Stretching these cuts of meat by cutting them up and freezing them for later can also reduce the grocery budget.
I try to cook mainly Paleo meals for my family since gluten, dairy and sugar cause different health issues for each of us. If a recipe isn't Paleo, I do my best to adapt it to fit our food lifestyle (I am not a fan of calling Paleo a diet, because I don't eat that way to lose weight, but simply to feel better).
Because the rest of my family is not full Paleo, not every meal I cook adheres to the Paleo guidelines. I do add wheat and dairy to some meals, but avoid it for myself.
If you're wondering what Paleo even means, Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo has a great explanation on her blog.
Michelle's blog is a new source for me for meal planning after she turned me on to cooking with an Instapot via her Facebook live videos. I purchased the Instapot this past week (no, I am not getting any kind of payment from them) and am excited to see how it not only saves on time, but money, in relation to preparing meals for our family.
You can find her instapot recipes HERE.
About a year ago I read some invaluable information on a blog about cutting food expenses. One of the suggestions was to buy meats with the bone still in and skin still on and cut the meat up yourself to avoid the butcher passing the cost of cutting up the meat on to you. It's the same for vegetables and fruits which are priced higher if you purchase them already cleaned and cut for you. While convenient, buying your meats, vegetables and fruit prepackaged can increase your grocery budget. It's also not always the healthiest option as sometimes extra sugar or preservatives are added to keep the products "more fresh" for a longer period of time.
Ree Drummond, otherwise known as The Pioneer Woman, recently opened my eyes to cost saving ways to use various cuts of beef, the highest priced meat on the market. In the past I cooked an entire roast in a crockpot and sometimes used the leftovers for vegetable beef stew. Based on Ree's ideas I've started buying a roast and then cutting it into either cubes for stew, slices for breakfast steak (haven't tried this yet) or strips for stir fry. For chicken I have been buying split chicken breasts with the bone and skin still on, deboning it and then either keeping the breast whole or slicing it into tenders or chunks. I can use the chunks for chicken spiedies (if you're not from the Northeastern part of the United States you can find a definition of those HERE), to add to salads, to make chicken nuggets or to add to a one-pan bake.
I plan to buy whole chickens in the future and cut them up into the cuts I want to use later. Tips on how to cut up and entire chicken or roast or debone chicken and fish, can be found on many sites online, including video tutorials like this one by Gordon Ramsey on YouTube (no swear words in this series, but beware of his salty language in other YouTube clips, of course.). Tips on how to cook a variety of recipes and food can also be found on YouTube.
A few YouTube video tips I've enjoyed include:
Adding vegetables or beans, rice or fruitcan help stretch your meat and budget even more. When it comes to vegetables and fruit savings, a great idea is either growing your own and freezing them for later or stocking up on your favorites when they are on sale and freezing them for later. Buying items you use a lot of when they are on sale is one way my parents, who are on a fixed income, save money. This tactic can be used for groceries, household items, clothing, and just about any other needed product (versus wanted ones.)
Another great idea by Ree to stretch the budget, and make sure you get your veggies, is to make one pan meals with ingredients all piled into a roasting pan. You can find her one pan recipes on her site here.
I will make a quick disclaimer about Ree's recipes - they are not Paleo in the least and often not super healthy. If you have watched her show or bought her cookbook you know she uses tons of flour, grains, dairy and sugar. Despite the fact I try not to use any, or at least less, of these ingredients I enjoy watching her Food Network show and reading her blog (which I followed before she became famous) . She offers some money and time saving tips, I enjoy her posts about her family, she seems very authentic in how she presents herself and I can often "hack"
her recipes to fit my family's eating style.
I've given you a few ideas I've been using to reduce our grocery budget, now it's your turn. I'd love to hear some of your tips in the comments or on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler and with your permission I'll use them in a future blog post about ways to save money.