Monday, October 29, 2018

My Five-Step Plan for STRETCHING Food Dollars

What do you do when you are short on food dollars? 

We have all had it happen! You get to the end of the month to find that your food budget is quickly running out.  I had it happen a few months ago when I wrote this post

 You need to feed your family. You need to stay within budget.  You need help!

Here's my tried and true five step plan for making it to the end of the month with both your sanity and your budget in tact.  

STEP #1: Take Stock of what you already have in the house. 

  Check your freezer.  Check your pantry.  If you need ideas and inspiration on organizing your pantry check out my post entitled, "Your Pantry:  Disorder Costs Money".  Make a physical list of available ingredients.  As you make your list, various possible meal combinations will occur to you.  When this happens, make a notation of these in the margin of the paper.  I like to use a red pen, so that it stands out from the rest of the print on the page. 

STEP #2: Use Grocery Store Flyers to Find Loss Leader Items

Every major grocery store chain has their weekly flyer available on their website.  Focus on the loss-leader items.  These are items which are,  "sold below market cost in order to stimulate sales in other areas of the store."  Let me translate that for you.  Stores are hoping that you will come in, buy their special loss leader items, and then stick around and buy a whole lot of other over-priced items.  Ultimately, they wind up making money, not losing money.  But, don't you do it!  The name of the game is:  go in with a list, stick to the list, buy the lowest priced items, and then get out of the store!    When you make your list of loss-leader items be sure that you focus on real food, not processed food.  Single ingredient, whole foods are more versatile and go a lot further than processed foods.  (For more grocery store tips read my post entitled, "Before you head to the store, do these six things".)

STEP #3:  Look for Markdowns!

Every grocery store has a special areas in which they showcase markdowns. You'll find them in the dairy, meat, bakery, produce, and general merchandise areas.  So, you'll need to check your store carefully to find all these little corners or baskets of marked down goodness. If you can't find them, ask an employee to show you where they are at!    It is critical that call your store and ask what time of day they do their markdowns!  This is important, because it will be different for every store - even if you have more than one of the same franchise in your town.  We have several Kroger stores.  They all do their markdowns at different times of the day.  Don't be afraid to buy markdowns!  They aren't bad.  Sometimes they are discontinued.  Sometimes they are close to the expiration dates.  Sometimes they are end-of-the-season items.  Regardless, they mean fantastic savings for you!   I generally head to the markdown sections first.  Then, I double back and do the rest of my shopping.  Here's a link to a tutorial I wrote on how to shop at Kroger

STEP #4:  Brainstorm low-cost ingredients

This is actually kind of fun to do, even if your monthly grocery budget isn't currently on life-support. I have an ongoing list of basic items, which can be used in a variety of recipes. In general, there are no prepared foods on this list.  You won't find chips.  But, you will see baking potatoes on the list.  Why?  Because your kids can inhale that bag of chips in about 5 minutes.  But, a big bag of potatoes will cost you roughly the same amount,  you can stretch those spuds and include them in at least four different recipes throughout the week.  These low-cost items can save you big time, if you are trying to get to the end of the month and only have a few dollars for groceries.   Let me give you examples.  

Here's my list of $21 worth of low-cost budget stretching ingredients, along with the average price, which I would expect to pay for each item. 

8# of potatoes - $4.00
5# of dried beans - $6.00
1# pasta - $1.50
1# brown rice - $1.50
5# flour - $2.50  (about double that price for whole wheat flour)
20 corn tortillas - $2.00
10 flour tortillas - $1.00 
32 oz. rolled oats - $2.50

STEP #5:  Make a Menu Plan

Okay, you've made a list of items you have on-hand.  You've searched for the loss-leader items currently available at local grocery stores.  You've scoured the racks of markdowns. You've brainstormed low cost ingredients, which you can use in a variety of ways.  As you compare the three lists, you should be able to put together a menu plan in about 10 minutes.  Seriously!  If you need additional inspiration, you can Google a few of the ingredients on your list, with "recipe" after the words.  You'll find a huge variety of recipes, all using the ingredients you have on hand, can get on sale, or can purchase at a bargain price.  

Here's My Example!

Here's an example of a weekly menu plan, based on my list of low-cost ingredients from Step #3:


Pancakes (2 days) - Easy to make and they freeze well! 
Oatmeal (2 days) 
Homemade muffins and fruit (1 day) 
Soaked Oat Muesli (1 day)


Black bean chili soup (2 days)
Loaded Baked Potato soup (2 days)
Homemade Muffins
Homemade dinner rolls (easy and fast to make from scratch!) 
Pasta with homemade marinara (1 day)
Refried black beans top with cheese or salsa (1 day) 


Hot baked potato bar
Homemade biscuits topped with white gravy
Smoky black bean filling (spread on corn tortillas and top with cheese, salsa, or veggies)
Stir-fried rice (use bits of leftover veggies, egg, etc.)
Roll-ups - made with leftover stir fry rolled up in flour tortillas
Layered tortilla casserole   

While, clearly, you would need to add additional veggies, fruit, and maybe a little dessert, I wanted to show you how far about $20 worth of basic ingredients will go to stretch those food dollars. 

What did I miss?

What are your "go to" items when money is tight and you need to make it to the end of the month?
I'd love to hear from you!  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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