Grocery Shopping on a Budget….Again!

Back when I was single, grocery shopping meant stopping by the store to pick up something for dinner on the rare occasion that I wasn’t eating out or eating at my parents’ house.  When I first got married, we grocery shopped twice a month (on payday) and just bought whatever we felt like eating at the time.  We still ate dinner out fairly often and stopped by the store if what we had at home didn’t sound appealing that day.  A year and a half later, we were a single-income family of four buying diapers and formula and going broke.

We decided that we needed a budget (and quick!).  We sat down and figured the cost of our bills and necessities and set an amount for groceries and gas.  That amount was quite small!  But, we had to make it work if I was to continue to stay at home with the kids.  This called for some planning.

Since Hubby only got paid twice a month, I needed to get enough groceries to last from payday to payday. So, I sat down and made a menu.  I had to not only plan 15 meals for our family, but they had to be inexpensive meals!  Lucky for me, Hubby will pretty much eat whatever I put in front of him without complaint.  Me?  Not so much.  I like steak and shrimp and pork chops and the like.  We couldn’t really afford stuff like that though.  

I started clipping coupons and planning my menu from the grocery store sales papers.  I made more stuff from scratch.  I used more fresh vegetables, especially during the summer months when the in-laws would provide squash and okra from their garden.  Since I was raised on meat and potatoes, I don’t get full on just veggies the way Hubby does.  So, I started making casseroles.  They had veggies for Hubby and were more filling for me.  Broccoli Casserole, Squash Casserole, and Spinach Pie quickly became staples on the menu.  I also chose meals like hotdogs and tacos because they are fairly inexpensive.  We ate frozen pot pies and tater tots because that entire meal only cost $5!  I also added a lunch menu for myself and the kids and planned enough so Hubby could take leftovers to work for lunch.  

Once my menu was made, I made my grocery list.  I checked the cabinets and fridge first and only added things to the list that I needed.  I eventually memorized the  layout of my grocery store.  I made my grocery list by aisle, making it easier to shop without missing something on my list.  I still do this.  I’m obsessive like that.  

As I go through the grocery store marking things off my list, I keep a running total of how much I’m spending.  I just round up from the amount to the nearest dollar or half dollar and keep the total going in the margin.  By rounding up, I’m essentially figuring in the sales tax.   This way, I know how I’m doing on my budget and if I see that I’m able to come in under the planned amount, I can then buy special snacks or something new to try.  If I see that I’m going to be over budget, I may try to change out a more expensive meal for something cheaper.  

I have to admit that I’ve gotten away from my grocery budgeting these past couple of years.  I still make my menu and I still shop from my menu but I don’t always keep that running total as I shop and I don’t always stick to the list.  This is how I end up spending over $200 at the grocery store!  With Hubby’s new truck payment, we’re back to hard-core budgeting again.  We’re back to limiting the amount of times we eat dinner out and I’m back to composing a menu of inexpensive meals.  I’m back to clipping coupons – especially for baby food and diapers.  I’m also keeping a running total while I shop again.  So far, the past two times I’ve gone to the grocery store I’ve spent $40 less than usual!  I love that!

So, what do you do to save money at the grocery store?  I’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks!  Oh, and do you know your grocery store by aisle or am I the only weirdo that does that?

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Real Baked Potatoes

This past weekend when we had a couple of friends over, I wanted the meal I cooked to be perfect.  Who doesn’t like to impress?  I certainly do!  I knew we were going to grill steaks and, in my opinion, a steak isn’t complete without a baked potato.  Lordy, do I ever love steak and baked potatoes!  

Years ago, I just washed my potatoes and poked them with a fork, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and baked them forever.  I checked to see if they were done just the same way that my mother had taught me – stick a fork in it and see how easily it slides off.  These past few years, I’ve washed my potatoes, poked them, brushed them with oil and salted them then rolled them in foil and proceeded to cook them forever. But, Saturday, I wanted them to be just right.  So I hit the internet to find out how to cook the perfect spud.

Did you know that a true baked potato is not wrapped in aluminum foil?  I did not know this.  Apparently, if you wrap a potato in foil, the foil holds in the moisture and actually steams the potato, giving it a more boiled flavor and a different texture.  Personally, I put so much butter and sour cream on mine, it just tastes like a potato.  But, this theory makes sense to me.  So, I did not bake my potatoes in foil.   

Also, I found out that in order for your baked potato to be light and flaky, you need to use mature, baking-type potatoes.  You should also make sure your potato is a nice brown color and doesn’t have a green cast to it.   Try to make sure your potatoes are similar in size so they all get done at about the same time. 

Here’s what I did:

1.  Scrubbed my potatoes.  Don’t just wash them off, you want to make sure they’re really clean so you can eat the skins.  That’s the best part, right?

2.  Dried the potatoes well with a towel.

3.  Poked holes in the potatoes with the tines of a fork.  Four times on each side, to be precise!

4.  Brushed each potato with olive oil and rubbed with kosher salt.  I tried rolling it in the salt but it was too much salt so I ended up just sprinkling it over the potatoes and rubbing it around to make sure it was covered.

5.  Placed my prepared potaoes directly on the oven rack in my preheated 400 degree oven.  

6.  Baked the potatoes for approximately 90 minutes.  I was busy chit-chatting with the guests to keep and exact time but it was about 90 minutes or so. 

7.  I tested for doneness by gently squeezing the middle of the potato (while wearing an oven mitt, obviously).  When they “gave a little”, they were done!  

These were the best baked potatoes I’ve ever made – by far!  

Never failing to impress, I had cut up some green onions and cooked & crumbled bacon earlier in the day so I could serve my potatoes “loaded”.  YUM!

So, do you have a potato tip?  Maybe you have a tasty ‘tater recipe?  We’re always eating potatoes around here so I’d love to hear from you!

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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