|Sourdough Boule and Black Bean Soup|
Often the ideas come from small families with a couple of small children. I don't care how ravenous your three year old is, my 17 year old runner could eat your three year's weight in meat every week. Heck, he could eat his OWN weight in meat every week. When I see what they list as being a twice a month shopping trip I know it would feed my family for 4 days.
Here is my bubble bursting for real food shopping for small armies:
Bubble Bursting: Home CanningOkay, I do this, but it is more about quality than frugality. The home canned jellies, jams, and compotes are awesome. The tomatoes aren't any better than Muir Glen organic. I don't think it's me, my mom's aren't either. But the cost of buying fruits and veggies and lids and the hours it takes aren't competitive with the cost of buying them at Costco. I will only can items I grow with the exception of tomatoes. The pop in your mouth of a perfectly ripe tomato makes saving them to can a waste. I would totally rather eat these fresh and I can't stop hubby anyway.
My World: Canning in Part, Buying in Part, Drying in PartI can things we grow, like grapes and plums. But for the most I buy canned chiles (because we eat way more than we can grow) and canned tomatoes (because we eat the ones we grow immediately). But I also dry the hottest chiles for ground chile powder, or crush them for red pepper flakes. I am planning on drying more onions because I received an actual dehydrater for Christmas. I have an oven with a very low warm setting and a convection fan which worked...until now! I'm cranking it up this afternoon!
As for tomatoes, organic canned is 98 cents a can. I can't grow tomatoes (with the price of water here in high and dry Colorado) for that. The big companies can do it for less than me. Remember economies of scale? I wish I could buy them from farmers and can them, but I have a budget. And hungry boys. I go through at least a dozen cans a month. A full gross of canned tomatoes a year is just too much work. Remember I would rather catch 40 winks? Not that I'll get the chance, but just that I would rather.
Bubble Bursting: CSAs and Farmer's MarketsI like them, really I do, I just cannot afford them. You are not saving any money here, at least I am not, despite all the good they do. Every summer, though, I go out and buy a few things. But just a few. I KNOW the farmer deserves a decent and fair wage. A friend's sister ran an organic farm until the costs of materials and labor lead them to sell this past Thanksgiving. I keep a list of the unit price all food items in our area so I can compare items and know when a sale price is a tease. In my experience, all the farmer's markets are more expensive than the sale prices at the health food store. Especially CSAs! I want to join one so bad but the idea of spending $1600 in a single summer to get enough shares to get the 450# of produce we eat a summer gives my financial planner husband chest pains. In a perfect world I would join up and shell out whatever it costs but this isn't a perfect world. We can't support farmers if we can't support ourselves.
My World: Buy Health Food Store Loss Leaders, Costco StaplesWhen you buy 150# of produce a month, you learn a few tricks. I buy the heavily advertised produce sale items and almost only those. They are designed to lure you into the store with a low price and up-sell you when you get there. Don't give! I load up on 99 cents a pound broccoli, apples, pears or whatever. We eat what's on sale. Costco's regular price on organic carrots and onions is great, about $1/#. I budget $50 a week for this and try to get 30-40# or so. The other budget reality: EAT what you buy! You aren't saving money if you throw it out!
Bubble Busting: Farm Fresh Pastured Meat, EggsI have not read ANY good recommendations here. I have looked at the CSA and farmer's prices and can't justify it. It wouldn't matter how well we eat if we lost our house. I am pretty sure the homeless eat worse than we do now. I buy about 125# a month of meat and we eat it all and still have it only for the main meal and are vegetarian every Friday. The exception to my store-bought routine would be the turkey and eggs I buy from a family at church. They have an unreal price on them! Here I just got lucky. Fabuloso eggs and turki-est turkey I have ever had, if that makes sense.
My World: Costco Case PriceI buy organic meat by the case at Costco. If you talk to the meat department you can get a case of meat and a discount on even the Costco price. I can get a case of 10 organic chickens for $1.74/#. I did get conventional pork loin by the case at $2.02/#, last time. Every pay day I am there buying a case of one kind of meat or another. The prices fluctuate a lot so if it dips 15% below the lowest price of last three months, I buy two. Yes, I keep track. I keep a list on my phone. Mama Says also has a great pen/index card old school method.
Word to the wise: when Costco started carrying organic chicken, we switched and loved the flavor. They stock it makes is amazing! I made some conventional thighs left in my freezer and my husband noticed. He told me the chicken tasted bland and less chicken-y. I noticed the stock wasn't jiggly and instead was thin. The next batch made from whole organic chickens was noticeably better. Get whole chickens, get organic and don't look back!
When the cold weather dips and the "B" family's chickens aren't laying, I buy eggs from Costco. The cage free eggs are 19 cents a piece, making them cheap protein. We go through two to three dozen a week. Seriously. There are TWELVE of us after all.
Bubble Bursting: Farm Fresh DairyOne such family with a blogging mom said she buys two gallons every other week. Wow. That would be affordable. I buy 26 gallons a month for drinking, cooking and yogurt. And I still buy butter. I can't spend $208 dollars a month on milk, it is more than 25% of my whole budget of $900!
My World: Buy Local, Pasteurized , Nonhomogenized MilkIt turns out a family run dairy in Northern Colorado delivers (not certified yet) organic, pasteurized but nonhomogenized milk to Whole Foods. It is something of a trek but doable once a week. It is just under $5/gl making my monthly milk budget just $130. This is affordable and we are switching. It's the best we can do.
My half-and-half for my coffee and tea still comes from Sprouts and is ultra-pasteurized but I am considering switching that, too. I must have an addictive personality; caffeine is another vice and don't get me started on my dark chocolate habit! My butter is Costco conventional. I have considered organic, but it is $3.50/# compared to $1.87/# for conventional. Since butter makes up such a small part of our diet, I'll put my husband's cash where it counts and right now that is meat, milk, and produce.
Highlights:I spend about $300 a month on meat, which is 30% of my budget. Milk, butter and cream is $160 a month. I budget $200 on produce. Dried fruits I don't process myself, like cranberries and currents, go under the produce budget. But I can dry grapes (we have concord vines), apples, pears and cherries. I buy 100# of white wheat grain every 3 months, and 25# of pastry grain twice a year. This averages $25 a month. I buy 15# of brown rice every other month and 8# of a brown and wild blend at the same rate at an average of $16 per month. I also buy 5qt can of olive oil and one large jar of coconut oil every other month at an average of $25 a month. Which leaves $174 for dried beans and peas, honey, maple syrup, steel cut oats, nuts, couscous, pasta, popcorn and baking supplies like yeast, baking soda and powder. This mixed bag also covers herbs which we don't grow and dry and spices. Hopefully the garlic and lavender will do better next year so I will have to buy less. The chives and sage grow like crazy! I am thinking as more kids enter the "eat like hibernation is coming" stage I will need to increase my budget $100 (mostly for meat and milk) and a little wiggle room couldn't hurt.
Not accounting for differences in appetite, size, and age we eat an average of $75 per person, per month. This means it is equivalent to $300 a month for a family of four, well under the USDA thrifty food plan. About $120 less. This means my family of twelve eats real food on a real budget of $30 a day or $2.50 per person, per day. That's 87 cents per person, per meal. Even if that includes the baby were still doing well. Not bad. Not bad at all.