Can you shop once or twice a year? Make it easier...can you shop for your grocery and sundry needs quarterly? Most folks couldn't shop just once a month, let alone consider going every 3 months, but as a prepper, or even a beginning homesteader, you should be able to plan that distance. I'm not very good at it...it's not so much the planning, it's the follow-thru. I start thinking about things I've forgotten, or new recipes pop up and I'm short in this or that area...or we get a touch of gluttony and make too many things not on the menu at all and use up necessary items that way. It's more trouble with our lifestyle than with the premise of stocking up and menu planning.
But it wasn't that long back in our history when grocery trips were spread out considerably more than we do today. We are spoiled by having a 24 hour Super Wal-Mart every 50 miles. Our grandmothers didn't shop the way we do today. Certainly their mothers and their grandmothers didn't have the resources available, either financial or locationally, to shop willy nilly as we do today. Even today, in our so-called Golden Age, folks in other countries don't have the inclination or ability to squander the time and the money by weekly or multi-weekly trips away from home to shop for goods. They garden, they raise livestock, they barter and trade, they shop with a tight fist.
Even in the south-side up economy we've dug into, Wal-Mart is still packed daily, groceries flow pretty much like they did before. Sure, most folks are a little more frugal than they were, but they are still living way out beyond their means. I'm not saying we don't do that here (ugh, those cell phones!) and could do much better, but I watch so many families struggle with the same thing month after month on groups and blogs. Each month they have the same struggles with paying bills, getting needs met, etc. It doesn't have to be that way every month, but we are spoiled in this country and we want what we want now, rather than later. We impulse shop everything from a new car to groceries (I bought boxed doughnuts yesterday...sure didn't need them, but there they sat, right next to the milk, and I was hungry and they looked so gooey and chocolately. Yeah, sugar is flowing this morning around here. I'll be paying for it all day now). We are a society of gluttons in one form or another.
So, Sister Lori has been sharing a few tricks and tips she's learned over the years of her own frugal education thru raising a family putting those frugal ideas into everyday practice again. We started a conversation and she shared so many ideas I just had to post them here, to remind myself and to share a bit of what we do over at A Gathering of Days.
She also reminded me that grains are grains...wheat is wheat, there is not special wheat for livestock, and special feed for humans. Same with corn, and even oats. They are what they are. Now they have to be organic or they will be loaded with chemical this and that and pesticides, and usually not very well 'cleaned' at all, but grains are still grains...and with 50# bags of wheat running around $40 at the bulk store and only $12 or so at the feed store, well, you do the math. If I can get organic oats and wheat, I'm changing suppliers. Sheila here I come with some questions for your suppliers!!
Many of us try to make a weekly menu. Some even go for a month. But for us, we decided that making a quarterly menu and working hard to stick to it would make things easier when marketing day came around:)
The first thing you need to do is make a list of all your favorite meals. Breakfast, lunch AND supper. But be flexible. I found it easiest (at first) to use one of those big desk callendars that has the big pages and lots of room to write:) I wrote down all the meals we like best on a piece of paper and then cut them out.
Sit down with that big callendar and the first thing you do is write down ON that callendar everything you have planned for the month. Trips out, Dr. appointments, Dental appointments, 4H, extra curricular activities for the children etc. Once you've done that, then place your cut out meals around on the callendar to see what works best. Keep in mind the "makeover" meals (those are the leftovers and what you do with them to use them up so they don't get wasted and thrown away) so when you place a meal you can leave room in between to accomodate those.
Don't have enough meals? This is the time to pick out the cookbooks and see what meals you have always wanted to try. Write them down and cut them out and place them too. Remember, we don't eat 1095different meals a year! The nice thing with cutting things out and taping them to your callendar is that you can change them around if you feel like it:) do this on the next two months as well. Keeping close tabs on the types of "makeovers" you can do with your meals.
Once you have your callendar pages filled out, it's time to take stock of ingredients. You need to go over EVERYTHING you put into those meals. Measurements are really important here. This gives you the idea of how much of any one thing you will need. For instance if it takes a cup of flour in 20 different meals over that three months you will want to purchase a minimum of 10lbs of flour since you can get approximately 20 to 25 cups per 10lb bag. This is the hard part...be really careful because if you make your breads, rolls, muffins etc THOSE flour measurements need to be included in your tally!
Once you have figured out how much of every different item you need for these meals make your list. Always remember that you will want to have a little extra of each on hand in case you have company...it never hurts to make a serving or two more:)
Go to your go-down and check your inventory. Once you find what you have in there it's time to check your list again to be sure you have included all that is necessary on that list to make those meals. Do yourself a favor...DO NOT FIGURE IN EATING OUT! Why? Because if you decide NOT to make a particular meal because you decided to eat out instead, you still have the ingredients for that meal for another time and you can just move that meal to another month!
It is very important that you not make anything that you didn't plan or you end up cutting into your meal ingredients. Make provision for snacks and such to cover this part. If you enjoy baked treats and such, make sure you have included the ingredients in your marketing list.
Once you have your list ready, pack a couple coolers into your car, some boxes and bags for the extras (or in our case we take our own satchel bags instead of using the plastic store bags...whenever possible that is). Before you go out that door, be sure you know exactly the stores you will need to go to, plan all your stops, including any meals out, to maximize your time. Our quarterly marketing can sometimes take us three days to accomplish depending on weather, traffic and timing (I am careful with sales:P) We ALWAYS eat out those days unless it's particularly good weather, in which case we take a picnic at least for noon meal:)
Get out there and SHOP YOUR LIST! Be VERY careful of the teasers. You will be tempted to purchase things that you don't have on your list...DON'T! Keep to that list no matter what! To stock your go-down more, you will want to take into consideration, purchasing extra of things on your list. For instance...I keep at least two cases of any canned goods that we use often. Green beans, (cut, whole and julienne), corn, creamed corn, kidney beans, black beans, black refried beans, red refried beans etc etc etc) Buy only when they are on an incredible sale with no limits. Our last marketing trip yielded us 5 cases of creamed corn because it was on sale for 55 cents a can! Same with the tomato sauce...it was on sale for 38 cents a can with no limit. Take advantage of those sales!
At first it will seem a little intimidating and overwhelming but once you've done it a few times you'll be an old pro and it will seem like the most natural thing of all:) Marketing this way will also fill your go-down so that you can have an emergency foodstore. I have always had at least 2 years worth of food down there. When my husband was layed off a couple times it kept us from having to put out money on food (with the exception of some perishables) for a long time! I will put a post in the pantry section on stocking and maintaining the larder.
I put aside a certain amount of money each week into the marketing fund. This money is strictly for food. I have another fund for cleaning and dry goods. I always stay in that budget but more often than not I follow sale trends and clip coupons which leaves me with leftover money in that fund...it STAYS THERE! I NEVER use it elsewhere. It never gets touched for anything but food. This extra money that is left over goes toward perishables and anything that might arise in need.
The most important thing to remember is that you are marketing for the menu first and foremost. Stick to that menu no matter what. You can move the meals around but never change the meals themselves. Those meals that you come across that you want to try...stick them into the next quarterly menu. It's not going anywhere:)
Buy in bulk when you can. I don't mean fancy bulk like Sam's Club or Costco although they do offer a good sale on certain items now and then. Most of their bulk isn't really a savings at all! Oh...and take a calculator with you. this not only helps to tally up what you are spending but it helps you to compare prices per unit. If you aren't sure if something is cheaper one brand to another, compare the unit price. You will find that on the tag on the shelving. It will say something like 8.99 as the price but it will break it down in small print of 13.6 cents per unit. You might find, for instance, that a package of toilet paper...lets say 4 rolls cost more per unit than the 12 roll package. And sometimes you will find that the 12 roll package actually costs more per unit than the 4!! It's true so be careful and compare:)
Don't be afraid to purchase no name brands. Most folks don't realize that those no names are packaged at the very same place as the name brand! It's true! How do I know for sure? My father used to work for Del Monte cannery. They canned the very same stuff, but labelled cans according to orders. The no name brands are cheaper (most of the time) because they don't have a fancy label which costs money to produce, and they order in much larger quantities than the others. The quality and ingredients are identical. This is not ALWAYS the case so always be sure to read labels, but MOST of the items are exactly the same:)
Sometimes those boxes mixes are cheaper than making it from scratch. The ingredients are identical to what you would put in them. Don't be fooled by the ingredients on the boxes...although they sound just awful, they are using the latin names for those ingredients which make them sound worse than they really are. Again, it's not ALWAYS the case so again, read labels:) If your family enjoys cakes, brownies, puddings etc, look for a good sale and buy a LOT. Whenever I see the brownie mixes go on sale (our family loves their brownies) for under a dollar I purchase a case of them at least. Depending on the sale, I might buy several cases:) These are now sealed in plastic and are airtight so the chances of them going bad before using them up is slight. Keep in a cool place and they will stay fresh for a long time:)
If you bake a lot and use a lot of nuts and seasonings, buy it in bulk. I am allergic to walnuts but I can eat pecans so that's what we buy. Pecans can be outrageously expensive! I purchase these in bulk and on great sales...Christmas is a great time to find pecans on sale...and take them home, repackage them in my food saver and put them into the freezer. It keeps them fresh for a very long time (2 years) and all I need to do is pull out a bag and open it, use what I need and put the rest in the glass jar that I have alloted for it:) I throw a handful into chicken dishes, soups and baked goods:)
For those perishables, during the summer and fall, we are using our vegetables from the garden, Fruit is purchased in large quantites and kept in the dark in the cool packed in straw to keep them fresh longer. A sort of softish apple isn't a bad apple and doesn't make a lick of difference if you are using it in a pie or sauce. If you want a crisp apple to snack on, cut it in chunks and sprinkle with a tiny bit of water and lemon juice so it doesn't brown and place it in the icebox for an hour. It will crisp right up:)
I keep a bowl of water in the icebox and drop in cut up carrots, celery and cukes in it with just a touch of vinegar. this keeps the veggies crispy and when we want a little snack, we just reach in and take a few:)
In answer to one question on freezing perishables. You CAN freeze sour cream, however, you want to be sure to thaw it completely before you open it then pour it into a blender or food processor and whip it up to remix the separated fats and give it a little life:) The same with other things like cottage cheese, etc. I have frozen cream cheese before and whipping it up in the mixer makes it good as new again:)
You can freeze eggs too. I crack them into ice trays and place a plastic sheet over the top of them (to keep out freezer burn) and freeze them. Once they are frozen I pop them out and throw them into a food saver bag and suck the air out. When I need any eggs I just pull them out and place them in a bowl and let them thaw. Now these don't make good frying eggs unless you are scrambling them but they are great for baking and cooking when you need those eggs:) We use so many eggs for so many things around here that there's little time to freeze them, but rather than have them go bad, I will freeze them if I think the eggs are getting too old.
I hope that I've explained it well enough for you. If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to ask.
And this great sharing:
Rice - Rice is stored in buckets here. There is no need to put it in the freezer as the moisture will cause it to age and mold quickly. Rice (white, brown or wild...it doesn't matter) is a food that was intended for dry storage as folks didn't have a way to keep it when it was fresh. It is dried for long storage and even if bugs get into it, it doesn't destroy it. This is why folks in other countries will eat it even WITH the bugs! Okay...I don't agree with eating the bugs (not that we haven't accidentally on occasion) but you get the idea:)
Soooo, get one of those 5 gallon buckets and pour it in! You can either purchase them with lids or visit your local grocer market if they have a bakery and ask them for their empties. Even restaurants carry them and most are more than willing to give them to you no problem:) Pour it in, seal it with the lid and you are good to go:) Our rice keeps for several months...the longest I've kept rice is a year but that's only because it got stuck someplace and I couldn't find it and replaced it...came across it in a move and it was STILL GOOD
Food storage amounts - Some of what I listed was for 2 years worth. Keep in mind that it doesn't sit dormant...we use it and replace it as we use it so that it's there if we ever DID need to just "shop the go-down" A lot of what I listed is for 1 year. You need to determine for your own family's needs, how much it needs to be for whatever length of time you want it for. Some folks do only 6 months and other a year...we like to have 2 years on ours.
Food Discipline - I am asked about this often. How do we keep the food in the go-down long enough? How do we NOT use items up and end up with missing ingredients? What if a family member decided to do something without telling me? Who eats what?
It's very important that the entire family knows and understands the concept of food storage, menu planning and sticking to it! The children get a better feel for "snacking appropriately" when they are part of providing it. What I mean is, let them help you bake! Did you know you can even make your own saltine crackers? It's a simple and fun project for the children, but it also teaches them that it takes time to provide those for everyone and it is a privelege not a right!
The hardest part of the food discipline is not just getting into food because we (or family members) feel like a snack or are bored or just want something but not sure what. This is where we sit down with the entire family and go over our rules on the food issues. Let them know that things have to do some changing on how and when food is eaten. This also tends to get us all away from "comfort food" and mindless snacking. It's not good for us anyway:) It's also important for us to learn to "take our time" when snacking. Just because a cake was baked doesn't mean we have to eat it all at once! Or cookies...those are the worst...TWO COOKIES is plenty! This was the hardest thing for us for certain. Cookies were eaten by the handfuls. And if someone was still craving sweets then they would get ANOTHER handful! Limiting the amount and designating a definite snack time helped a lot:) A glass of milk and three cookies was plenty for anyone. The glass of milk helped the cookies to expand in the tummies making us feel satisfied. It's important to learn to eat till we are satisified and not until we are FULL. This also helps to maintain or take off weight:)
Grains - I am asked often what we use different grains for and why do we purchase them whole. We grind them! Grain mills are a great way to offer your family "fresh" breads:) The whole grain has all it's nutrients and such stored inside of it's hulls. If you grind them only as needed you are getting the immediate benefit of the nutrients before it's dissipated to the air (literally). If you grind it when you need it, you get to bake it into whatever you are making it get more out of it:)
We keep kamut, cracked corn, oats, winter wheat, spring wheat etc on hand in buckets. Again, these can be purchased in 50lb bags and stored in barrels. The buckets make it handier to keep in the kitchen or nearby when you need it:)
The question comes up about the cracked corn a lot It's ground up for cornmeal! Fresh cornbread...yum! Polenta, flapjacks, muffins etc. I used to purchase the cracked corn intended for people until I found out that the organic cracked corn in the feed store was the exact same stuff only it was half the price! And ORGANIC! Soooo, I purchase it for my family:) I know, it sounds weird but did you know that you can do the same thing with dry cob? It's just dry oats! I ONLY do it from the feed store if it's organic though cuz they do put hormones into most animal feeds so be SURE You are getting ORGANIC!
The tally question is answered in another post that I wrote on keeping a tally of your go-down. If anyone needs more information on that or doesn't understand the process I will be more than happy to go over it more thoroughly
Hope this helps and please, don't hesitate to ask me anything you like! And don't think you are silly, or dumb just because you didn't know an answer to your question. For those of you that asked me these questions...YOU WERE NOT ALONE! hehe! I was asked the same questions by several other Sisters who all thought they were asking me a "dumb question".