Simplifying Dinner: Part 1 – Budgeting

Simplifying Dinner

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine requested I write a post on meal planning and grocery shopping, and I’m just now getting the first post of the series finished. That’s right, it is going to be a series called Simplifying Dinner.  I started writing and there is just too much to cover for it to fit into one or two posts.  So over a few posts I will write about budgeting, meal planning, freezer meals & grocery shopping.  Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I hope that sharing what I’ve learned and what has worked for me will help you, too!  So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Create Your Grocery Budget

The very first thing you need to do is determine what your grocery budget is.  THIS. IS. KEY.  You need to know what your grocery budget is before you meal plan and before you shop.  It will influence the types of meals you plan for.

Also, if you don’t have a family budget, make one while you are making your grocery budget!  Make sure it doesn’t just include bills, but groceries, gasoline, savings, emergency fund, etc.  It will help cut out a lot of waste and enable you to see exactly where your money is going.  This is somewhat of a side note, but if you do struggle in any way financially, with keeping to a budget or eliminating debt, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book, “The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.” Dave Ramsey really offers practical, no-nonsense advice that can really help change your life.  Ok, back on topic… 🙂

Do you have your *magic* number all figured out?  Good!

Now, if you have tried budgeting before, and find it hard to stick to, try withdrawing the money from your bank account and using the cash, rather than a debit or credit card.  Once the cash is gone, it’s gone.  Sometimes it’s easier when you actually see the money leaving your hand.  You could even make it a rule that when the cash is gone, you’re going to have to scavenge for food in the back of the pantry until the next payday 🙂

Prioritize Your Foods

Unless you have unlimited funds, you will need to prioritize the foods that are most important to you that you are willing to spend more on and where you are willing to sacrifice.  This is crucial for anyone who has specific dietary needs or concerns.  For example, the items we spend the most money on are quality meats and fats, and raw milk.  I stick to the “Dirty Dozen” for organic produce, but buy mostly conventional on the rest.  Once you know what is most important in your eyes, it will be easier to portion out your budget accordingly.

Learn Who Has The Best Prices

Now comes the hardest part, in my opinion.  It really isn’t hard, but it just takes time if you haven’t been paying attention in the past.  To really make your budget work, you will need to learn what stores have the best prices on specific items.  I really like Costco for some items, like Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil (78oz for $21.99 – AMAZING price) or Organic Quinoa (4lbs for $9.99).  But I only buy certain items I know are a good deal from Costco.  Just because it comes in a bulk package doesn’t make it a better deal!

Here’s a quick breakdown of the staples I buy at each store.  Your staples might be different, and depending on the stores around you, you will need to find what the best prices for you are.  This is just to give you an idea of how I break down my shopping for the most part:

  • Trader Joe’s:
    • Frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon
    • Frozen Wild Cod or Hake
    • Raw Milk Cheese (or any cheese for that matter)
    • Applegate Organic Grass-Fed Beef Hot Dogs ($3 per pack less than Whole Foods!)
    • Dark Chocolate
  • Red Apple:
    • Raw Milk (this isn’t at every store – just my local store.  If you’re interested in raw milk, check out www.realmilk.com to find out where you can get it locally)
  • Bill the Butcher:
    • Grass-fed beef (this is a local store, but you can search online for stores like this in your are)
  • Costco:
    • Coconut Oil
    • Quinoa
    • Whole Organic Chickens
    • Kerrygold Grass-fed Butter (I didn’t know they sold this until recently when a friend mentioned it.  I used to buy it at Trader Joe’s, but Costco is even cheaper!)
  • Fred Meyer:
    • Everything else for the most part

Additional Budget-Cutting Tips

  • Use less meat than a recipe calls for – You won’t be able to tell a difference in most recipes and meat can be expensive!
  • Don’t be brand loyal – Buy generic unless you have coupons that make the name-brand cheaper
  • Cook as much as you can from scratch
  • Don’t buy pre-cut produce – Cut whole produce yourself and save money
  • Buy in-season produce in bulk and freeze for the off-season – For example, buy or pick blueberries in bulk when they are at their peak and freeze them for the winter.  Then you won’t end up buying the expensive blueberries in the middle of January.
  • Use coupons if possible (more on that in a future post)

I hope these tips will help you be able to stretch your grocery budget (and create one if you didn’t have one already).  We will talk more about cutting the budget throughout this series, as it applies to the various topics.

Update: Part 2 – Meal Planning is now posted!

 

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