Tag Archives: food savings

Retirement Frugality: Budgeting Meat & Vegetables

MEAT

In general, chicken is the cheapest meat available, then pork, then beef, with veal being the most expensive. (When I figured this out from perusing years’ worth of USDA data, I stopped buying veal.)

I found a write-up about turning a 3 lb. pork loin into at least 4 meals for 2 people: a roast, sweet & sour, chow mein, and a pork chop meal.

That’s 8 meals. I researched a price per pound for natural pork loin, so I could figure how many meals I’d have to make to get to my magic .25/portion or more realistic .50 ?

I found a price, $3.99/lb. For a 3 lb loin, If I make 8 meals as in the write up, it’s $1.50 a portion. If I can do 12, it’s $1 a portion. And given what I found with the chicken as well as this research, I think an actual, realistic target price per portion is $1 for meat.

The only ways I can see around this are:

      • Abandon the idea of eating organic/natural meats, or
      • Do that (above) AND buy bargain meats only, or
      • Become vegetarian.

We eat “breakfast” one day a week, and lunches are left overs or catch as catch can. That makes 15 meals a week I need to budget for, and there are two of us, so 30 portions. We eat meat for 2 meals a week, so the cost of the protein for those days should be around $4. (We might, or might not, have sausage or bacon with our “breakfast” meal.)

How do  I use this to figure meats I can afford OR decide which meats I can’t?

The most realistic quantity I can come up with uses 1/4 lb of meat for 2 portions. At $1 per portion, that means:

 Any meat I buy has to cost $8/lb OR less!

The pork price I found fits ($3.99), so do the bulk chicken thighs ($2.49) I’ve been using. Ground beef at the local small green grocer, at $8.99/lb does NOT.

chicken-pig-cow


VEGETABLES

This year, I worked hard to find a way to reduce our vegetable cost, and managed to save about $100 by not buying a December share and full farm share, as we have in the past.

Instead, I bought a 1/2 share and a second share (at a different farm)  which starts earlier than the farm we’ve always used. This gives us fresh produce longer, but requires more work on my part retrieving it, meal planning, etc.

We spent approx. $600 this year for the farm veggies. That covers 8 months. Assuming there are 4 weeks per month, it’s $75/month, 18.75 per week, or .63 per portion (for 15 meals, 2 portions each).

This leaves us $125/month of our stated budget ($200 a month) for everything else: supplies, condiments, etc. And, as long as DH is working, that’s realistic. When he retires? I think I need to find ways to do better.

Meat & veggies aren’t going to be the answer! I don’t see how I can cut much more. As it is, we’re paying bulk prices for months’ worth of food up front, and retrieving it ourselves to avoid delivery fees.


I forgot Stew vegetables for winter! I run out of some, if not all of these every winter: carrot, celery, onion, parsnip & potato. What I have left right now are carrots & onions.

There was a huge quantity of carrots in last December’s share and I bought a 20 lb bag of onions from the farm sometime late fall.

I guess I need to do the same with all the stew veggies this year. Fifty lb bags of “chef” potatoes show up in the fall in some markets, I’ve never bought them as I want organic.  I need to ask the co-op about this or the farm(s)…

In general, we can’t use up wholesale quantities of perishables. I don’t have room to store them and we can’t eat them fast enough. But I hate going out midwinter for a 3 lb bag of onions!

Instead of making up 1/2 made casseroles, etc. like I did in 2019, maybe I need to make up/freeze stew veggies, like the stewed tomatoes and salsa verde I already make?


Assuming we will need to spend 1/2 of what we currently use? That will have to come from supplies and other foods, if possible. That’s another blog!

 

 

Frugality: Why Food? Money-Saving Food Ideas

The three strategies I use to save money are:

  1. Finding a cheaper substitute.
  2. Paying less for the same product.
  3. Doing without.

Any or all of these will save you $. Frequently, when faced with economic stress, people do what I’ve been doing: concentrate on their food expense.

It’s one of the few areas left where the consumer controls everything they spend. You can’t suddenly decide to pay less for your mortgage, you can decide to give the bank less, but the amount you owe hasn’t changed. Also fuel for heat/cooking, insurance and most other regular expenses have costs set by others. But you CAN decide you’ll have mac & cheese for dinner, or soup, instead of going out or eating steak.

The only real problem is that food is 10% of an average American’s paycheck. If you cut it in 1/2, no mean feat, you’re still only saving 5%. The trick is to use that small saving to pay down debt or other set expenses, so the available cash/savings grows. That isn’t easy to do when it feels like you’re saving pennies instead of dollars!

The easiest way to reduce that 10%? Stop wasting food. Americans, on average, waste 40% of their food dollar. If you spend $10 a week and want to spend $5 instead? Stop throwing out food and you’ll save $4!

To this end, for some time, I’ve had a “flow” when I cook. Most of it is dealing with left over food in a way that resembles but is not exactly the same as the original. Also, much of it adds other foods for the second meal.

  • Cut bigger pieces down: cut meat from a cooked roast/bird and use it in another meal. Same with rough cut veggies: carrots, parsnips, onion, celery, etc.
  • Put previously cooked food in a thick sauce. This is what stew is, right? Also anything served with gravy over it. Make this a fairly bland dish. Make crepes and use this as a filling.
  • Dilute a thick sauce/gravy with water or stock — make soup or ? Transform whatever with gravy into something with a thin sauce  or soup. Make this more pungent.
  • The old trick of serving whatever with a starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains or bread. Things with gravy can be served atop a starch or with the starch in them (like stew with potatoes).
  • Use the bits & pieces to make soup or stock: this reduces waste and the cost, while it increases nutritional value.

Using these ideas, I turn 1 lb of chicken thighs into 4 meals. The protein costs $2.49/lb. That’s about .62 per meal! I have a great source for chicken. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in 1 lb containers. Depending on what I’m cooking I may or may not serve 2 thighs as dinner, then salvage the scraps/bones and make stock with the 3rd thigh for the next meal.

The last time I did this, I made oven-roasted chicken: we ate 2 thighs, the next day I made stir fry, heavy on the garlic. One portion is left over, it’s in the freezer; someone will eat it for lunch, or it will get added to soup. That’s 5 meals from $2.49 worth of meat, or .50 each meal for the protein.

If you do the math, the extreme frugality menus I linked to last time are about .25 per meal, protein and all. I thought what I was doing was pretty extreme, obviously, I still need to work on it!

So, how much should you spend? Figure 6% of your take home pay, if you aren’t wasting food or 10% when you do. If you’re spending more than that? You’re probably stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over and at least when I do that, I throw out a lot!

I’ll have to see what I can do to cut my costs!

What comes to mind —

  • Making schmaltz and using it instead of bottled cooking oils, (Using less, #2 above).
  • Making yogurt. (Finding a cheaper substitute, #1 above).
  • Baking bread. (Also #1.) We’d found a cheap, acceptable bread, $2.99 a loaf, so we’ve been buying bread rather than baking. The market has hiked this brand up to $3.99 a loaf again. DH still makes biscuits and pancakes when needed. I make crepes.
  • Stop having dessert. (Doing without, #3.) We will have a piece of fruit or maybe ice cream, but we haven’t had dessert as a planned part of a meal for some time.
  • Get rid of more junk food. We don’t eat these all the time, but yes, we do eat some: crackers and chips mostly. (Do without #3.)
  • Find high-priced items we still use and use any of the three strategies to reduce costs!

The best other discussion I’ve found about how to save money on groceries is this one.

Frugality: Schmaltz and Extreme Food Frugality Discussion/Links

Partly because of some reading I’ve been doing about fats and cooking more frugally, I’ve been doing a few things differently.

My dad every now and then would cut fat from a steak and cook it in its own grease. Tasted great. We hardly eat beef these days, mostly because of cost, but there’s also environmental concerns.

We also eat very little fish, that’s been true much longer, I decided back in the 1980s we were over fishing and stopped using fish as a regular food.

That leaves poultry. Recently, I’ve been doing Dad’s trick, but with chicken. I take the skin/fat off the pieces of meat, and use the chicken fat to grease the pan. This is easiest when the chicken is partly frozen, but the fat is a resource I’ve frequently ignored in the past. Laying chicken skin, fat side down in the pan where you’re cooking onions you’ll add to the chicken a bit later isn’t all that hard, tastes good, creates less waste, and costs $0! (Remove the skins with a fork after the fat melts, or you can make them cracklings, I rarely do.)

I finally found a recipe for schmaltz, but have yet to make it. If I’m skinning the chicken and not using the fat otherwise, I’ve been freezing the skins/fat, with the idea that I’ll make schmaltz. Not quite enough in the freezer yet…soon!

Don’t know what schmaltz is? It’s rendered chicken fat. Here’s a recipe.


The spring CSA we’re a part of this year put up an expected harvest chart, so I’ve spent much of the morning figuring what to make with it. On average, the produce cost us $3-$4/lb, not including the overhead to get it. That price is right in line/a little bit cheaper than organic produce at the local market. It will be fresher,  local, and supporting a local farm too. All good!


I found a youtube channel with a woman doing extreme frugality for a family of 6. It was interesting to watch her make up 126 meals for $31. Don’t know that I’d like to eat all the food she made without additions — but it sure reminded me how nice it is to have a backlog of herbs/spices/condiments to just casually add to make a meal more satisfying!

You can find her youtube video here.

Things I don’t do that she does?

  • I don’t shop at Walmart.
  • I don’t use house brands.
  • I don’t use chicken boullion.
  • I can’t eat tomato paste out of a can without having a major stomach upset, so I don’t.

I could do all of that and if I need to in the future, I will. I’ve admitted before that we’re food snobs. We are. But I’m also a realist.

My job, as long as we can manage it, is to keep the food as we like it, at a price we can afford. If our economics changes? Obviously, other things change too.

She’s making 126 meals for $31  — I spend on average $50 a week to make lunch/dinner, or 10-14 meals, with staples and other items set aside towards future meals.

In the video, she says one criticism she’s gotten is using foods she already has in stock, so she didn’t do that in this extreme frugality post.

 

Extreme Food Planning: Part 2

Other things I can do:
  • Look at the bulk price per lb for turkey parts at the co-op. I don’t like the taste of turkey as well as chicken, but turkey pound for pound, with bone in, is usually a better deal — there are fewer bones.
  • Get the coupon file up to date, haven’t done this since April.
  • Make food from recipes I have using foods I almost always have, first.
  • Figure out how many potatoes and onions I’m likely to need over the winter. (Garlic is < 1 full braid, so are chilis. Carrots approx. 6 dozen.) Onions and potatoes were all used or tossed a month or more ago. After I have a number, I can explore purchasing enough to make it through winter, my goal.
  • Develop a basic stew/soup veg recipe and conversion recipes, so I’m not putting food aside to toss the following spring. Found something to try, a veggie soup recipe that has 2 distinct parts, the first pretty generic!
  • Make more “stewed” tomatoes this year so I don’t run out in Feb. again.
  • Try the celery thing.
  • Make a sourdough starter and USE it.
  • See if you can find unpasturized wine so you can make your own vinegar?

lobostudio-hamburg-33674-unsplash

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

Note:

  • 17 heads of garlic still on braid, one in basket.
  • Cayenne ristra jarred. Old pepper flakes discarded. 5/16/19

Extreme Food Planning: Part 1

Most Americans spend < 10% of their income on food. However, unlike mortgage interest, credit card minimum payments, utility costs, etc. it is one expense we all control.

Some of this is certainly dictated by location and available income. You can’t afford to buy $50 worth of bulk soap if you need to feed 3 people for $60 a week and you have a hard time doing that.

That said? I’m fortunate enough to be in the pool of people that can afford to use food planning to reduce our expenditures, at least for now.

So, along that line, I decided to do a category food plan. I’m not doing menu planning. When I did detailed menu planning, I hated cooking, it became a chore I had to get through, like scrubbing a toilet, just another chore. My idea here is to make a loose framework, not a menu plan.

There are two or three things going into this:
  1. I have to empty the freezer by the end of this month to be ready for the summer flood of veggies.
  2. I want to save every nickel I can.
  3. I want to use the above two items as a goad to both finally organize my cooking information and eliminate excess stuff.

What to do?

Convertible meals. One meal that becomes 2 or 3. Right now I have 2 lbs of cooked chicken and consommé in the fridge. That is easily 2 meals. I also have some cooked rice. Okay. Chicken and rice soup is one meal.

The others? The meat pulled off the bone can be made into chicken salad for lunch or dinner or lemon chicken. I have lemons and we’ve both been fighting colds for more than a month. I could add the chicken to the end of the salsa and we could have tacos, which would use up some of the tortillas, or….

Getting 3 meals from 2 lbs of chicken isn’t hard. I think I have 1 more lb of chicken, divided, in the freezer.

I also have a small pork roast, and some bacon. (I wanted pork while I still trusted it.)

I guess that’s another thing I can add to my learn-to-do-this list: learn to make a sausage substitute from chicken and grains…. it’s my observation that self-regulation never works. There are historical reasons why food regulations are so cumbersome. Go back and look at an old cookbook which talks about testing for chalk in flour, etc. before you buy it. I have those books, I have no desire to go back to arsenic in eye drops, chalk in flour, etc.

In my opinion? People are going to die and/or get very sick and then things will start the other way again. That’s a few years in the future yet… in the meantime, I can stop buying so much processed food and do more diy. I also sent a question to my local organic food organization asking about organic pork processing and how it differs from conventional?

Categories.
  • Egg. One egg meal per week. Quiche or omelette or just breakfast. Eggs, unless they get too warm are hard to adulterate and usually cheap protein.
  • Soup/Salad/Veg. Salad or soup or just a veggie plate night, maybe with hummus or other dip. Use up those bits & pieces!
  • Double Meals. One or more double meal nights or converted food nights. Any large piece of meat, large veg, casserole, etc.
  • Sandwich. Self-explanatory.
M -Veg enough for 2 meals
Tu -Soup or salad, using the uneaten and no plan for it bits and pieces
W – LO veg
Th – Egg
F – Meat meal enough for 2 meals
Sa – Sandwich
Su – LO meat

That should work. It’s broad enough that I probably won’t get bored. It also doesn’t give us meat 7 days a week, has a built-in left over day, and uses eggs to drastically lower food costs, as eggs are, after dried beans, almost the cheapest high protein source available. I’m not cooking complicated meals on the weekends, when DH and I tend to do home improvements.

Menu Planning That Isn’t

I discovered that one of my war-time books has a chart with how much food should be used, how often, and what that corresponds to for stored foods (canned, brined, frozen or dried).

Yes, I know the nutritional amounts are likely off, but the last information I found like this was how many row feet of each veggie you needed to grow, per person, per year.

That’s great, if you grow most of your food,  in feet rows; I don’t. I have a few garden beds and get food from markets and a CSA. Also, I don’t regularly buy things like 25 lb bags of wheat berries from Honeyville or other such suppliers.

What I had/could find made it hard to have any idea how much food I’d need to store. Do I have room? Do I really want to do this? (Probably not.) But it was an impossible question to answer before I found this chart.

I believe in the pantry principal, as a money saver, and have for years. (See Barbara Salsbury’s Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half.) But again, how much is sane? What is ridiculous? Where will it just be too much and wasted?

I’ve been working on it. The CSA runs 6 months a year. The plan has always been to not only use the fresh stuff while it runs, but set aside enough to use the rest of the year. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it as it increases our food budget 25% for the year. But if we can buy less during the other 6 months, then it means that I suddenly can afford to feed us organic, fresh or home-preserved food.

I haven’t managed this yet. Two reasons: year one I had no idea how much food I was going to get. Last year (year two) our fridge broke then worked then broke — and we tossed a huge amount of produce accordingly.

But now I know what I SHOULD have!

On the “I’m trying to empty the pantry and freezer by June 30” quest. . . I had one large loin pork chop in the freezer. We had it baked over sweet potatoes, onion, a small amount of raisins, and water. I made gravy from the drippings. Turned out exactly the way I planned, yummy. Today we ate the other 1/2 of this, I diluted the gravy for stock, added some more Better Than Bullion (chicken), chopped the meat added some thyme and made cornbread of a sort. Great lunch. One $3 piece of meat, 4 meals. (It was on sale.)

Not only did I use the pork chop from the freezer, but sweet potatoes and onion from the pantry as well as raisins, BTB, thyme and the fixin’s for cornbread. No recipe for the entrees, no preplanning, just the seat of my pants. I did use a recipe for the bread.

Tonight we should do meatless, but I have a partially picked chicken in the fridge to deal with . . . we’ll see!

One of my other discoveries from the WWII booklet is that I probably should feed us more elaborate meals, I usually do 2  items a veg and entree, sometimes salad. When you’re trying to stretch things the plate gets a bit empty sometimes, more items would help that and also with the empty the stores project too.

Domestic City

Breakfast was cherry crepes with cherry/apple syrup. It was too sweet! The crepes need to be stuffed with something like ricotta and very little sweet fruit and the syrup on top, or something. Sweet cherries in crepes with syrup? Too sweet! We both agreed that “cleaning our plate” with plain crepes was about right.

Other $ savings on food: our local market has started selling “Amish Style” butter in 2 lb chubs. I got one and divided it into two 1/2 lb lots (fit in my 1 pt freezer square containers) and one 1 lb + in a quart container. All but one 1/2 lb container are in the freezer. It’s cheaper than the pre-formed sticks, and it really didn’t take that long to divvy up. Also, buying it in bulk and then being able to put it into the containers I use/plan for anyway, well, that was an unexpected plus. However, I don’t expect the idea of the larger package to “catch” so I may buy another chub just to freeze, before they go “away.” It seems that when I find something food-wise or brand-wise I really like, it’s unpopular, and soon unavailable.

Right now I’ve got one bag of mixed leaves (bok choy and lettuce) and the last of the cherries dehydrating.

DH got the outside trim up for the new window. Looks great!

We’ll go to the dump again today (went yesterday), probably in the bigger car, as there’s now largish pieces of wood/trim etc. to go.

I also need to figure out what to do for dinner?

I have strip steaks we bought yesterday, it would be easy to start a stew and then I could just leave it bubbling in the oven. . . hmm. Hot rolls along with? Then dinner would be: salad, stew and rolls — sounds like a plan! Minimal standing in the kitchen prepping or over a hot stove, uses what we have, multiple uses of the oven, also saves our energy $. Still need to bake bread too, but the oven will be hot, or maybe bake the bread along with rolls and the stew? If I can get it all in there, that’s what I’ll do!

The above “conversation” with myself is why I never use menu plans. I know I’m supposed to. I know it supposedly would save us money, but . . . .

I start with: what’s in the fridge/freezer which needs to be used first? How can I make it a meal? The freezer isn’t bad right now, because I cleaned it out two weeks ago. Yes there are a lot of greens in the fridge, but they’re being dealt with. The steak tips we didn’t grill last night are in the freezer; I should use something older, but I’m not sure what we have.

I didn’t inventory the freezer 2 weeks ago, because I soon should have new freezer space available. I thought I’d have it by now. I know I need to do a complete inventory when that occurs, because food will be in 2 locations. I thought, why do an inventory now and then do it over in a week or two? So I didn’t do an inventory.

Shows you — the best laid plans are nearly always doomed!