Thursday, March 22, 2012

Use What You Have

This is the first part of what (I hope) will be a series sharing how I, as a mother of nine living in a one-income family, keep bellies full when the wallet is empty. If you have blogged on this topic, please leave a comment with a link to your post. 

Theoretically, I make a 2 week menu and go shopping every other week. In reality, the nature of my self-employed husband's occupation doesn't always allow for that. Sometimes he has unexpected gaps between jobs due to schedules being rearranged (he is a trim carpenter and can't trim until other phases of construction have been completed) or he hasn't gotten paid because the job isn't completed. In fact, there are often times when I need to stretch "two weeks" worth of groceries into three or four weeks. Once we even went six weeks without money for groceries. What does a mother of nine do when she has hungry mouths to feed, and "nothing" in the house to feed them?

The best way to make grocery money go farther is to not spend any of it. It is truly amazing how many meals I have been able to make when I have "nothing in the house" by using what was found in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. This take a little bit of skill in knowing what types of foods taste good together and creativity in coming up with a substitute for a missing ingredient. But it really isn't that hard once you've had a little practice. I like to make a game of it, and sometimes I am (slightly) disappointed when the paycheck comes before I completely run out of food.

If you are used to being able to buy groceries whenever you need to, you might find it easy to over look the obvious when considering what you have on hand. For instance, I spent years throwing away perfectly good broth created by roasting chicken. Now I never take any of those cooking 'by products" for granted. Much of the time I will cook meats before adding sauces and seasonings so I can save the broth for other recipes. This broth is put into a container so the fat can harden and be skimmed off. Often I will use this grease for cooking purposes. (Hamburger grease from high quality beef is much healthier for frying eggs than chemical laden margarine.) If I de-bone meat, I save the bones for soup stock. If we have bits of leftover vegetables, I put them in a container in the freezer to make vegetable soup. I also save the water off canned vegetables for this purpose. I even save the water from canned tuna! It makes a great addition to seafood chowders.

Also, do your best to use food before it spoils. This is the greatest benefit of using what you have on hand. Not only does it keep you from spending more money, but it ensures that the money you've already spent has not been wasted.

For more budget stretching ideas, check out this article by my friend, Jimmie, on How To Skip Buying Groceries For a Week. She has done a great job of outlining a step-by-step process for creating a menu based on what's in your home. It is almost exactly the same method I use when cooking "from the pantry."

Part Two: Three More Ways To Save Money On the Grocery Bill

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